United Nations Secretary-General’s Message Urges the Conference to End the Stalemate to Avoid Jeopardizing its Credibility
22 January 2013
The Conference on Disarmament this morning held the first plenary of its 2013 session, hearing a message from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, remarks by the Secretary-General of the Conference Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and statements by the President of the Conference, and by more than a dozen States all of which focused on the importance of breaking through the stalemate in the Conference in 2013 and adopting and implementing a programme of work.
In the Secretary-General’s message, which was read out by Mr. Tokayev, Mr. Ban said it was essential to end this continued stalemate to avoid jeopardizing the credibility of the Conference and the machinery of disarmament. Strengthening the rule of law in global disarmament needed a single multilateral negotiating forum. Secretary-General Ban said he remained committed to the Conference on Disarmament, but it must fulfil its role. He urged the Conference to revive substantive negotiations without delay.
Mr. Ban said that last year, the 67th Session of the General Assembly agreed to establish an open-ended working group to examine ways of “Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations”. It also established a group of governmental experts that would begin work in 2014 to make recommendations that could contribute to an eventual fissile material cut-off treaty. Although these processes would take place outside the Conference on Disarmament, they constituted a new impetus that he hoped would facilitate their agreement on a viable programme of work. He further emphasized that the Conference needed flexibility and a spirit of compromise.
Mr. Tokayev, in his remarks as Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, said it was his firm belief that the Conference on Disarmament remained indispensable as the world’s single standing multilateral disarmament negotiating body. The continued impasse within the Conference was eroding its credibility and preventing the international community from making much-needed progress in the area of disarmament. He urged States parties to lay aside their differences and to establish and implement a programme of work which would lead to substantive negotiations.
The President of the Conference, Ambassador Andras Dekany of Hungary, said 2013 may be the make-or-break year for the Conference on Disarmament. The Conference had proved its usefulness and effectiveness in the past, but for the last 16 years it had been in a stalemate. The revitalization of the Conference and the beginning of substantive work was more urgent than ever. The reasons for the stalemate were not procedural, but clearly political. Therefore the situation could only be resolved through the common efforts of the membership of the Conference. The very first step towards a working Conference was the adoption, by consensus, of a programme of work. He had already held consultations with regional groups as well as with individual Member States.
Also taking the floor were Ireland on behalf of the European Union, Poland, Ireland, Russian Federation, Morocco, Chile, United States, Iraq, Cuba, Japan, Turkey, Australia, Republic of Korea, Egypt and Bangladesh.
Most of the speakers decried the stalemate in the Conference and referred to the two resolutions that the First Committee of the General Assembly had adopted on Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) and nuclear disarmament as an auspicious opportunity for the work of the Conference. .
At the beginning of the meeting, the Conference adopted its agenda and approved requests by the following States to participate as observers in the 2013 session: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Holy See, Jordan, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Moldova, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
The next plenary of the Conference will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 29 January.
Statement by the President of the Conference
Ambassador ANDRAS DEKANY of Hungary, President of the Conference on Disarmament, said 2013 may be the make-or-break year for the Conference on Disarmament. The Conference had proved its usefulness and effectiveness in the past, but for the last 16 years it had been in a stalemate. No wonder this state of affairs had led to a great deal of frustration and even anger by many States and actors in the international community. Most of those in the room were in New York for last year’s First Committee session where this frustration led to action, supported by the majority of United Nations Member States, taking discussions and deliberations on issues on the Conference’s agenda effectively outside the Conference. This proved that the revitalization of the Conference and the beginning of substantive work was more urgent than ever. They were convinced that reasons for the stalemate were not procedural, but clearly political. Therefore the situation could only be resolved through the common efforts of the membership of the Conference. The very first step towards a working Conference was the adoption, by consensus, of a programme of work. He had already held consultations with regional groups as well as with individual Member States. He would continue to reach out in order to find the best formulation of the elements of a programme of work.
Message of the United Nations Secretary-General
KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, reading out the message of BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said the Secretary-General noted that as in previous years, the last Session of the Conference had failed to produce a programme of work. It was essential to end this continued stalemate to avoid jeopardizing the credibility of the Conference and the machinery of disarmament. Strengthening the rule of law in global disarmament needed a single multilateral negotiating forum. Secretary-General Ban said he remained committed to the Conference on Disarmament, but it must fulfil its role.
The world today remained over-armed, noted the Secretary-General, peace was under-funded and they could not afford to lose yet another year. The items on the agenda, which focused mainly on weapons of mass destruction, transcended the narrow national interests of any one State and had significant implications for international peace and security. He urged the Conference to revive substantive negotiations without delay. It was time for the Conference to resume its primary task of negotiating multilateral disarmament treaties. Secretary-General Ban urged the Conference to build on some of the positive developments of recent years, in particular the successful 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the strong global support for its consensus Action Plan. He also strongly encouraged the Conference to engage more closely with civil society, where there was strong support for nuclear disarmament.
Mr. Ban said that last year, the 67th Session of the General Assembly agreed to establish an open-ended working group to examine ways of “Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations”. It also established a group of governmental experts that would begin work in 2014 to make recommendations that could contribute to an eventual fissile material cut-off treaty. Although these processes would take place outside the Conference on Disarmament, they constituted a new impetus that he hoped would facilitate their agreement on a viable programme of work. The Conference needed flexibility and a spirit of compromise.
The Conference on Disarmament had the potential to again be central to disarmament negotiations, said the Secretary-General, saying they had to ensure that it lived up to its responsibility. He wished the Conference successful deliberations.
Statement by the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament
KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, said in his capacity as Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, he reiterated his strong support and commitment to the Conference. It was his firm belief that the Conference on Disarmament remained indispensable as the world’s single standing multilateral disarmament negotiating body. He was firmly committed to working with the entire membership to enable the Conference to fulfil its role and to live up to its potential as a cornerstone of the maintenance of international peace and security. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized in his eloquent speech in the Monterey Institute of International Studies last week, the Conference’s record of achievement was overshadowed by inertia that had now lasted for more than a decade. That must change. Another year of stalemate in the Conference of Disarmament was simply unacceptable, said Mr. Ban. The continued impasse within the Conference was eroding its credibility and preventing the international community from making much-needed progress in the area of disarmament. They needed to move ahead with flexibility and a keen sense of responsibility that had been entrusted to them. They should pursue avenues that could bring new momentum for meaningful movement within the Conference without undermining or contradicting it. He urged States parties to lay aside their differences and to establish and implement a programme of work, including substantive negotiations.
Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union said the European Union was deeply troubled by the continued dysfunction of a crucial part of the disarmament machinery, the on-going stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament. Another year of stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament was simply unacceptable. For the European Union, the immediate commencement and early conclusion of the negotiation in the Conference on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) on the basis of the document CD/1299 and the mandate contained therein, and reiterated in CD/1864, remained a clear priority. Launching and concluding these negotiations were urgent and important as an essential step to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. National security concerns, while legitimate, could and should be addressed as part of the negotiation process rather than as a prerequisite. The European Union also remained ready to engage in substantive discussion on the other items included in CD/1864. The thematic discussions held last year provided an opportunity for exchanging views on the main issues of the Conference’s agenda, however these exchanges could not and did not constitute a substitute to their main focus which was the adopting and implementing a programme of work leading to negotiations. The European Union reaffirmed its strong commitment to the Conference on Disarmament as the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community. The adoption of a programme of work would require sustained political efforts from all. They could not afford another year of fruitless consultations, procedural manoeuvres and the persistent abuse of the consensus rule.
Poland said Poland shared the priority for negotiations of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) in the Conference on Disarmament as the next logical step in non-proliferation and disarmament, and the Shannon mandate could still be a good departure point for the process. Taking into account the recent outcome of the First Committee, the Conference should treat this session as the last one to start FMCT negotiations themselves. Poland also shared with the Conference information on other non-proliferation and disarmament activities which were conducted by the country.
Ireland said in November the General Assembly had overwhelmingly adopted two resolutions which resolved to commence discussions on topics which the Conference had declined to take forward. They must view these resolutions not only as a sign of the importance with which the international community viewed their agenda, but also as an indication that time would not stand still forever for the Conference on Disarmament. The Conference was faced with a simple choice. They could find the political will to address the very full disarmament agenda before it. Or they could sit by while the international community moved on without them. Ireland hoped they would choose the former and that in September they would be able to report progress for the first time in many years.
Russian Federation said the current year would see a number of significant events in the field of multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation like the second Preparatory Committee of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. The most serious challenge in 2013 could be the continued impasse at the United Nations disarmament fora and first of all at the Conference on Disarmament. The causes of the stalemate in the activities of the existing disarmament mechanisms under the aegis of the United Nations lay in objective political reality and differences in priorities of States rather than in imperfection of such mechanisms. To rectify the situation they needed to work patiently and laboriously to overcome contradictions instead of destructing the existing “Triad” and setting up alternative negotiation formats. Issues of vital national security importance could not be resolved through mere vote. The only possible way to re-establish the authority of the Conference was to have a dialogue aimed at lifting security concerns of some Member States, and on this basis, reaching agreement on a programme of work that would envisage- as an interim measure- in depth discussion of the four core issues of the agenda. Prevention of an arms race in outer space remained Russia’s priority at the Conference. The draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, introduced in February 2008, if concluded, would contribute on averting the emergence of weapons in outer space as well as to ensure predictability of strategic situation and international security. The Russian delegation had continuously reiterated its support for the launch of FMCT negotiations in the framework of a balanced programme of work and on the basis of the Shannon mandate. Its position on this issue remained unchanged. Its consideration should take place exclusively within the Conference on Disarmament with the participation of all States possessing nuclear military arsenals. The Russian Federation expressed regret that the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction was not convened in 2012.
Morocco said the Conference no longer corresponded to the expectations that the international community had placed in it, and increasing insecurity should spur them on to make progress. Morocco regretted that the Conference was in lengthy hibernation. They needed to overcome their differences and take an integrated and global approach. There was no magical solution but a real need for political will and flexibility. A new political will needed to emerge so that they could see a new programme of work. On 2 February 2012, Morocco had suggested that the programme of work should be streamlined to include the creating of working groups on fissile materials, on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, on negative security assurances and on nuclear disarmament. As part of the revitalization of the Conference, it should be opened up more to civil society. Morocco restated its deep desire to see the Conference on Disarmament, from the start of the session, engage in work of substance, corresponding to the international community’s expectations.
Chile said it was the fundamental responsibility of Member States of the Conference to agree on a programme of work and not just look like they were taking action. They had arrived at the end of the line and they must come up with a negotiating compromise. Chile supported initiatives on fissile material and revitalization of the Conference. It believed that the Conference remained the sole negotiating multilateral disarmament body. This year they again faced an urgent need to adopt and implement a programme of work that would enable it to commence substantive work. Chile hoped that other fora would not take over the responsibilities of the Conference, although that could not be excluded.
United States said they could not discount the fundamental challenges that the Conference was facing, nor treat 2013 as just another year. The 2012 United Nations General Assembly First Committee had reflected the cumulative frustration among many in the international community with years of deadlock in the Conference and the steady attrition of its credibility. The General Assembly adopted two resolutions on Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) and nuclear disarmament. While not enthusiastic about growing involvement by the United Nations General Assembly, the United States assessed that the resolution establishing a group of governmental experts on an FMCT included sufficient safeguards that would not undermine prospects for the Conference to engage on this vital objective. This was not the case for the open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament, which was not consensus based, circumvented the Conference, and re-directed its resources. The United States continued to value the Conference as the preferred forum for negotiation of an FMCT, the next practical step for multilateral nuclear disarmament.
The Conference was uniquely situated to negotiate an FMCT as it operated by consensus, which would ensure equitable protection of national security interests in a negotiation and included the key States affected by such an agreement. The United States did not discount the importance of other “core” issues on the agenda of the Conference and was willing to engage in substantive discussions on each of these issues as part of a consensus programme of work. In the meantime, the United States had taken practical steps to advance each of these issues. The United States regretted that the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction had to be postponed.
Iraq said no one was unaware that the Conference on Disarmament was suffering from a deadlock and an inability to carry out its responsibilities. To break out of this deadlock, Member States should display the necessary flexibility, political will and compromise. Iraq encouraged the President of the Conference to explore all options and mobilize the political will required to reach a balanced programme of work and to make progress on key issues, giving priority to disarmament issues.
Cuba said it attached importance to the need to make tangible progress in the Conference in areas of disarmament and arms control. The highest importance should be given to achieving nuclear disarmament. Cuba supported multilateralism as it was the only effective way to deal with nuclear disarmament, and restated its confidence that the Conference could negotiate any topic that had the consensus of all. Cuba regretted that the Conference had been unable to carry out substantive work. Some said this was due to the Conference’s methods of work, but Cuba did not agree. It was convinced that the current paralysis was due first and foremost to the lack of political will to achieve real progress on nuclear disarmament. Initiatives by some to remove issues from the Conference constituted a dangerous step backwards and would weaken the Conference. The solution was not to sideline the Conference, but to preserve and strengthen it. The Conference should adopt as soon as possible a balanced programme of work. They had to start urgently negotiations on the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
Japan said last year, at the strong demand of the international community, Member States of the Conference had endeavoured to resume substantive work. Regrettably, the Conference was unable to adopt a programme of work. In response, a number of proposals aimed at overcoming this situation were tabled at last year’s United Nations General Assembly. As a result, a decision was taken to establish a group of governmental experts on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. This did not mean that they should slow down their efforts to restart the work of the Conference. While recognizing the importance of conducting substantive work on all four core issues, Japan continued to believe that the FMCT was the next logical step towards a nuclear weapons free world, and the best option was to negotiate such a treaty within the Conference, if possible.
Turkey said the Conference on Disarmament had a special responsibility in the contemporary disarmament agenda. They hoped the Conference would resume substantive work as early as possible in 2013. The problems faced by the Conference were not created by its procedures or internal dynamics. They needed, more than ever, mutual understanding and creative thinking against the background of important developments at the global level. Their next step must be to agree on a programme of work. This would not only pave the way towards the commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, but also materialize parallel advances on other agenda items, including substantive work on the core issues of nuclear disarmament, prevention of an arms race in outer space and negative security assurances.
Australia said the Conference was starting its 2013 session with the outcomes of the 67th United Nations General Assembly First Committee fresh in all of their minds. Two key resolutions relevant to the work of the Conference were adopted, and their significance lay not just in the fact that the General Assembly legislated for the establishment in Geneva of bodies to work on issues which the Conference had consistently failed to take forward., but also that they expressed the General Assembly’s continued view that the Conference still had an important role to play, if it chose to take this opportunity. Australia supported the two resolutions and intended to engage in the work of the working group and the group of government experts. It also intended to engage in the Conference with the hope that it could make the right choice between opportunity and irrelevance.
Republic of Korea said it was worrisome that the disarmament machinery had failed to implement its mandate for a long time. The crisis they now faced in the disarmament community was very hard to overlook. With the world suffering from the persisting global economic turndown, risk factors to international peace and security were tending to increase. Against this backdrop, a breakthrough in the issues of the Conference would send a clear positive signal to the world. The Republic of Korea shared the view that the revitalization of the Conference was imperative to resuming the multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation talks and closely cooperated with member countries in all of the e3fforts to invigorate the work of the Conference. The Republic of Korea hoped that the Conference would take into account the calls being extended from outside and embark on negotiations of the pending issues. Whether the Conference would continue to remain as the single multilateral negotiation forum depended on its ability to deliver tangible outcomes now. They should show more flexibility and do better to put all of the interests and concerns on the negotiation table with the aim of closing the existing haps among them.
Egypt expressed regret at the failure to hold the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction. Egypt looked forward to the adoption by consensus of a balanced and comprehensive programme of work. Egypt considered nuclear disarmament to be the top priority for the global disarmament agenda. Yet, despite this clear priority that was constantly reiterated by the Non-Aligned Movement and the G21, little could be shown in terms of concrete steps towards achieving this objective. Egypt held that the Conference as the single multilateral negotiating body on disarmament was the appropriate venue to deal with this objective and expected any proposed programme of work to include the establishment of a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament. Egypt had always been supportive of the idea of concluding a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other explosive devices, as long as such a treaty would serve the objectives of both nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. However, any proposed programme of work that would include a mandate on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices should clearly indicate that they would be dealing with stocks of already existing production of fissile material as well as future production.
Bangladesh said there was no doubt that the President shouldered responsibility at this critical juncture when the credibility of the Conference was being threatened. A lot of efforts had been made, but the Conference had been unable to make any remarkable breakthrough. They could not afford to let this situation continue. They could not spend another year of business as usual. The time to act was now. In the past, the Conference had proved its capability that it could produce useful treaties, and they should not give up hope. The full potential of the Conference should be utilized. Nuclear disarmament was a top priority for Bangladesh. Negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty outside of the Conference on Disarmament was not a viable option as the Conference was the appropriate forum for a meaningful FMCT. The current deadlock in the Conference was a political deadlock and engagement at the highest levels might help break the ice. Bangladesh would continue to engage in the work of the Conference.
For use of the information media; not an official record