CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES METHODS OF REVITALISATION
11 June 2013
The Conference on Disarmament this morning held a public plenary meeting to discuss proposals for its revitalisation.
In his opening remarks, Ambassador Mohsen Naziri Asl of Iran, President of the Conference on Disarmament, speaking in his national capacity, said that amidst increasing demands for greater progress on disarmament and parallel tracks, the main challenges facing the Conference were not procedural but substantive. Efforts towards the revitalisation of the Conference should focus on generating momentum and political will. This meeting would allow delegations to elaborate on their positions regarding the revitalization of the Conference on Disarmament, including the ways and means to enhance the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
During the discussion, delegations emphasised both procedural and substantive challenges, including questions about the rules of procedure and the need for political will. Some recalled that the rules of procedure, in particular the consensus rule, had not historically prevented the Conference from negotiating multilateral disarmament instruments. According to others, the number of disarmament initiatives pursued outside of the Conference suggested that the decades-old rules were out of touch with contemporary reality. Others emphasised the lack of political will inside and outside of the Conference and some, in particular, pointed at the interest of nuclear-weapon States in preserving the status quo.
A number of speakers called for the convening of a Fourth Special Session devoted to Disarmament (SSOD4) in order to fully address the main challenges of the United Nations multilateral disarmament machinery at large. Some delegations also urged the Conference to consider the expansion of its membership, while other expressed concerns about including additional controversial issues. Speakers generally highlighted the potential for substantive contributions to the work of the Conference from civil society, academia, and the Conference’s Secretariat. Delegations also reiterated the calls and proposals for the revitalisation of the Conference previously made by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and by the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, Kassim-Jomart Tokayev.
The following delegations took the floor during the plenary: Zimbabwe on behalf of the Group of 21, Switzerland, Czech Republic on behalf of the Informal Group of Observer States, Ireland on behalf of the European Union, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Ecuador, Mexico, Syria[m1] , Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Germany, Portugal, Cuba, Iran, Egypt, and Algeria.
The Conference will hold its next plenary meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 June.
Ambassador MOHSEN NAZIRI ASL of Iran, President of the Conference on Disarmament, thanked delegations for contributing to the discussion on the programme of work and noted that States had shown a tendency towards a pragmatic approach to the programme of work during consultations. Concerning the revitalization of the Conference on Disarmament, and speaking in national capacity, Ambassador Asl said that the Conference played an important part of the multilateral disarmament machinery and in order to address the main challenges to its effectiveness a Fourth Special Session devoted to Disarmament should be convened. Demands for greater progress on disarmament, particularly nuclear disarmament, had been witnessed, and the Conference should pay attention to this priority. The increasing parallel tracks had the potential to undermine the Conference as the sole multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations. The main problem was not procedural but substantive. Efforts towards the revitalisation of the Conference should focus on generating momentum and political will. This meeting would allow delegations to elaborate on their positions regarding the revitalization of the Conference, including ways and means to enhance the participation of NGOs.
Zimbabwe, speaking on behalf of the Group of 21, reiterated that the Conference was the single multilateral negotiating body on disarmament. It was important to redouble efforts to reinforce and revitalize the Conference and to preserve its credibility through the resumption of negotiations. The commencement of negotiations on the elimination of nuclear weapons was of the highest priority. The Group reiterated the danger posed by nuclear weapons and welcomed the convening of a High-level meeting of the General Assembly on nuclear disarmament and encouraged all States to actively participate at the highest level and noted the ongoing work of the Open-ended Working group on nuclear disarmament, hoping that it would contribute to negotiations within the Conference. The Group reiterated the urgent need for the Conference to adopt and implement a balanced programme of work, noted that suitable political environment was crucial for the work of the multilateral machinery, and reaffirmed its support for an early convening of a Fourth Special Session devoted to Disarmament.
Switzerland continued to believe in the importance of the Conference and would like to see it begin negotiations. Switzerland was also prepared to discuss the more general issue of the elaboration of the programme of work and, in this regard, the idea of a simplified programme of work was interesting insofar as it contributed to bringing the Conference closer to negotiations. Attention should also be given to the application of the rule of consensus to procedural decisions, including the adoption of a programme of work. Institutional deficiencies did exist and addressing some of them could contribute to reaching consensus on a workable programme of work. Working methods must facilitate rather than inhibit political processes and the procedures of the Conference should contribute to decision making. In this context, Switzerland proposed a structured process to consider in detail the Conference’s working methods, which was timely and necessary in view of the continued deadlock affecting the Conference and its potential contribution to its revitalisation.
Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the Informal Group of Observer States, said that the Observer States were deeply concerned by the long deadlock of the Conference. Its revitalization constituted a multidimensional process which required strong political will, compromise and unceasing effort. The expansion of its membership was an urgent aspect of this process. Since 1999, when the last enlargement took place, no further action had been taken on membership and it was regretted that not even a single informal or formal debate had been devoted to the topic of enlargement since 2002, when the last special coordinator was appointed. Observer States would like to contribute to prevent the Conference from becoming a relic of the past and from losing its relevance. The revitalisation also entailed procedural reform and the evaluation of its current institutes; a detailed and structured discussion on concrete proposals for revitalisation would enhance the Conference’s legitimacy.
Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, reaffirmed its commitment to the Conference as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. If the current standstill continued, the debate would increasingly focus on other options to allow States to make progress. The adoption and implementation of a programme of work, building on CD/1864, was the highest priority. The European Union appealed to the Conference to show the flexibility required to overcome the stalemate and reiterated its longstanding attachment to the enlargement of its membership. The European Union was keen to explore ways to strengthen the voice of NGOs in the Conference and to associate research institutions. The European Union also took note of Switzerland’s proposal concerning working methods and looked forward to hearing more about these ideas as long as they did substitute negotiations.
France shared the frustration expressed by other delegations concerning the waste of time and resources. The problem was political, including the lack of a consensus on the issue negotiations on an instrument on fissile materials. The consensus rule guaranteed the participation of all interested parties and respect for their legitimate security interests and should be preserved; but it should also involve efforts by all sides to make mutual concessions. Concerning the role of the Presidency, France noted that multilateral bodies working on the basis of consensus required a Presidency capable of making proposals and contributing to finding compromises. The Conference should be able to benefit from expertise from the United Nations family in a much more informal manner, to rely on contributions from an impartial Secretariat and respond to the legitimate candidacies put forward by a number of countries.
Ireland believed that there was significant interest in revitalising the Conference and saw value in examining its methods of work. An examination of the working methods would not provide a quick fix, but it was time to start the exercise. More active engagement with civil society and academia should also be pursued, since they could provide States with technical expertise and information and, through their outreach activities, bring States to a closer understanding of the issues at hand. Ireland had long maintained that the membership of the Conference should be open to all States who wished to join. The multilateral system delivered results and Ireland believed that a structured review of the Conference’s working methods could bring new momentum for meaningful progress.
Netherlands said that the revitalisation of the Conference remained an important topic and should continue to be addressed. Attempts to start discussions in other fora were not to blame, but rather the status quo in the Conference itself. The Netherlands was open to discuss the ideas put forward by Switzerland and looked for favourable suggestions to move towards substantive negotiations. The responsibility for the adoption and implementation of a programme of work should not lie only with the President but be shared by all members. The rules of procedure, the length of its Presidencies, and their potential impact on the work of the Conference should also be discussed. The Netherlands considered that the participation and engagement with civil society also merited discussion.
Bulgaria continued to attach importance to the Conference as the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. Global challenges and national concerns required every State to be active and to work together, making concessions and compromises, as well as political will. The rules of procedures had last been discussed and slightly updated in the late 1980s and it was surprising that some members considered them to be fit to meet current challenges rather than part of the reasons for the current stalemate. Echoing the proposals put forward by the Secretary-General of the Conference, Bulgaria stressed that Member States should be more involved in efforts to develop a programme of work. The Conference should also consider whether it was legitimate to keep United Nations members out and suggested changing the rules of procedure in order to make the enlargement of membership more flexible.
Zimbabwe, speaking on behalf of the Group of 21, reiterated that the Group’s highest priority was nuclear disarmament and expressed concern about the threats posed by nuclear weapons. The Group also reiterated its deep concern over the slow progress towards nuclear disarmament and reaffirmed its readiness to start negotiations on a programme for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The Group also expressed disappointment that the conference on the establishment of a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East had not been convened in 2012 and called for its organization without delay. Among other measures, the Group proposed the adoption of measures to reduce States’ reliance on nuclear weapons, including de-alerting, addressing defence doctrines, and decreasing operational readiness; the adoption of legally binding negative security assurances; and the negotiation of legally binding instruments prohibiting the use and development of nuclear weapons.
United Kingdom said that after many years of stalemate it was tempting to give up hope and to seek new and seemingly easier paths. It was not possible to legislate for security and saying that something was to be banned would not remove it from arsenals in one stroke. Differences of opinion did not mean that a common ground in the Conference could not be found. Important work would be needed to assemble the building blocks which would underpin real complete nuclear disarmament, though there may be disagreements about the sequencing of some of the steps. A consensus mandate gave States the protection they needed to take part in negotiations and the Conference would offer the same protection for negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons (FMCT). The United Kingdom reiterated the case for focussing on the FMCT, an issue that had gone beyond rhetoric and theory.
Ecuador said that more flexibility and political will were needed on the part of some States, particularly nuclear weapons states, to achieve progress in the Conference. It was not possible to attribute the lack of progress to the rules of procedure and the conditions for greater transparency, trust and political will should be created. The time had come to begin substantive work on the basis of a programme of work acceptable to everyone. Ecuador noted with concern the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly at its sixty-seventh session concerning the work of the Conference. For Ecuador, as part of the Non-Align Movement, nuclear disarmament was the absolute priority. Concerning negative security assurances, while the only guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would be their elimination, legally binding instruments should be developed to protect non-nuclear weapon States.
Mexico said that the lack of substantive work in the Conference was not due to outside reasons or forces but to its institutional structure. The only way to breathe new life into the Conference would be to adopt a programme of work and to commence negotiations. Multilateralism was based on the premise that international organizations promoted processes through which States could solve common problems. At times, however, the work of bodies hampered the decision making process itself. In the past, the Conference had served to maintain a balance but this function was no longer relevant. The rules of procedure had eroded its work and the Conference stood at a standstill while other process had developed, such as the Arms Trade Treaty and instruments on landmines and cluster bombs, in other fora. This evidenced the will of the international community to engage on multilateral disarmament.
Syria said that the rules of procedure guaranteed the legitimate security interests of all States and thus allowed for the implementation of agreements. It was important to protect the rules of the Conference amidst efforts to achieve its revitalisation. Syria did not believe that the FMCT was the only issue ripe for negotiation, this was a vision promoted by parties promoting a selective approach to disarmament. For Syria, the priority was nuclear disarmament given the threat posed by these weapons to humanity as a whole and called for the negotiation of legally binding instruments for their elimination.
Pakistan said that the challenges in the field of disarmament pertained to the entire disarmament machinery created by the First Special Session devoted to Disarmament. It was important to acknowledge that the situation in the Conference reflected the prevalent political realities. No treaties could be negotiated in the Conference against the interest of States and the failure of the Conference could not be attributed to its rules, which had elsewhere allowed for progress. Given global security imbalances, Pakistan had been forced to take a step against exceptionalism. All issues should be treated on an equal and balanced manner and the lack of progress on one issue should not lead to an impasse on others. A treaty on negative security assurances should be ripe for negotiations, since it would not undermine the security of any States; and policies based on double standards, selectivity and discrimination should come to an end.
Indonesia shared the importance granted to the issue of the revitalisation of the Conference, including questions regarding the participation of civil society. Frustration continued to be heard concerning the incapacity of the Conference to fulfil its mandate, but there were also voices calling for its preservation. In the light of challenges preventing further progress, initiatives had been taken to allow debates on disarmament to take place outside the Conference. Some States had demonstrated a continuous interest in becoming members of the Conference, which evidenced the relevance attached to this body. Special and continued efforts should be made to revitalise its work, including concerning the participation of civil society, amidst other prominent issues that should be addressed.
Turkey wished to see the immediate resumption of substantive work in the Conference, with its present membership, and the achievement of consensus on a programme of work. Such a development would pave the way towards the commencement of negotiations and only then the Conference would be revitalised. The consensus rule was important to maintain the security interests of all its members. It was important to see the larger picture and not to assess the work of the Conference in abstraction from other disarmament efforts. There was no consensus on the expansion of membership and, therefore, efforts should not be diluted by introducing additional points of contention.
Germany, in an effort to promote a more interactive dialogue in the Conference, asked Zimbabwe and other members of the Group of 21 about their joint statement and the omission of the project for negotiations on an instrument for the prohibition of fissile materials. Germany recalled that the gist of the two documents which had been close to achieving consensus, the proposals of Algeria and Egypt, both members of the Group of 21, had been that along discussions on other issues the Conference would work on an instrument on the prohibition of fissile material. Should it be understood that the Group of 21 was backtracking from the decision to work on negotiations on an instrument on fissile material?
Portugal, in view of the Swiss intervention and the proposals put forward, believed it worthwhile to appeal to the Member States to consider these proposals in future discussions on this topic, as they were believed to be relevant to the future of the Conference.
Cuba, responding to the questions posed by Germany, said that the Group of 21 took its statements very seriously. While the Group’s priority had always been nuclear disarmament, it had also taken a flexible position concerning the programme of work, and hoped that other regional groups would display such flexibility. Cuba regretted that the Conference had been unable to carry out substantive work. This was not due to its rules of procedure, but to the lack of political will of some States. The Conference should adopt a comprehensive and balanced programme of work for the negotiation of legally binding instruments. Regrettably, while nuclear weapons States claimed to be committed to disarmament, they continued to hold on to their stockpiles.
Iran said that the Conference needed regular evaluation and assistance and the best way to address challenges to its effectiveness would to convene a Fourth Special Session devoted to Disarmament. It was an unfortunate fact that the Conference’s contribution to nuclear disarmament had not met the expectations of the international community. It was not a problem of form but of substance, no progress could be made by changing its rules of procedure or their interpretation, which were necessary in multilateral negotiations on disarmament. The lack of political will for the elimination of nuclear weapons remained the main obstacle preventing progress towards collective security. The Conference was not mandated to maintain the status quo but to change it through the negotiation of legally binding instruments.
Egypt thanked Ambassador Adamson of the United Kingdom for her support for the convening of a conference on the establishment of a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East. Egypt was a very strong supporter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty process, including its 2010 Action Plan and 2000 thirteen practical steps. On this basis, any work on fissile material should address this work from the point of view of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
Zimbabwe said that statement of the Group of 21 intended to stress the priority given to nuclear disarmament. The position of the Group of 21 had not changed.
Germany said that sometimes statements were more interesting for what they did not say and the missing reference to the project for an instrument banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons was interesting. Germany reiterated the interest in the programme of work contained in document CD/1993/Rev1. If all States could agree on a basic approach to deal with nuclear disarmament and to establish a working group working on fissile material, Germany would be delighted. The Conference had agreed on this fundamental approach, perhaps not everyone had been happy about it, but such basic agreement would have allowed the Conference to commence negotiations.
Algeria said that in order to reform and revitalise a body it was important to take stock of the situation and to identify obstacles; on this basis, solutions to its political and institutional dimensions could be outlined. Algeria continued to believe that the main challenges preventing the Conference from moving forward were political and the reform of its rules of procedure would not be sufficient in order to achieve progress. Concerning the participation of civil society in the Conference, Algeria recalled their participation and the commitment displayed by NGOs in the meetings of the Open-ended working group and said that it was difficult to understand why they couldn’t play a role in the Conference. Algeria also noted that Observer States were not prevented from playing a role in the Conference.
Ambassador MOHSEN NAZIRI ASL of Iran, President of the Conference, speaking in concluding remarks, said that during the meeting delegations had had the opportunity to discuss issues related to the revitalisation of the Conference. Some delegations had emphasised procedural issues, others had focused on substantive questions, including the need for political will. A number of speakers had called for the convening of a Fourth Special Session devoted to Disarmament. Some had addressed the question of membership expansion; and others had referred to the participation of civil society in the work of the Conference. The President would continue to carry out consultations with regional groups and delegations would be informed accordingly. During the next plenary, the Conference would receive a high level delegation from India. On 21 June 2013, the Conference would hold one last plenary meeting under Iran’s Presidency and delegations would receive a briefing on the latest developments concerning the work of the Conference.
For use of the information media; not an official record