Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament: the hardest challenges but also the greatest opportunities lie ahead
Tatiana Valovaya, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference, and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, this afternoon told the Conference on Disarmament that this year would be marked by important events for the global nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control regimes, including the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons which was scheduled to take place; and preparations for the Review Conferences of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Biological Weapons Convention. In this sense, the hardest challenges but also the greatest opportunities lay ahead.
Ms. Valovaya hoped that the members of the Conference on Disarmament would be inspired by the critical significance of these events and would find the sense of urgency necessary to contribute to their success and reverse the dangerous trends witnessed over the past few years. There was no doubt that what had been missing in this Conference was neither substantive knowledge of its members nor worthy subject matters, but rather the political will to build on them.
Ambassador Marc Pecsteen of Belgium, President of the Conference on Disarmament, expressed hope that meetings in person would be able to resume as soon as possible. Echoing Ms. Valovaya’s call for the Conference to exit its current impasse, he thanked her for her support for the Conference’s work. COVID-19 had shown the need for renewed and robust multilateralism, and the issue of disarmament was no exception in that regard. Trust was needed for the Conference, as the sole multilateral disarmament body, to rise to the challenges the world faced, and set the tone for important upcoming events such as the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Review Conference.
The Conference then heard statements by Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Portugal on behalf of the European Union, United States, Peru, and the Netherlands.
Speaking in right of reply were China and the Russian Federation.
The next public plenary of the Conference on Disarmament will be held on Thursday 19 January at 10 a.m., when the Conference will continue to hear statements from States inscribed to speak today.
TATIANA VALOVAYA, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference, and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva , said she was disappointed the Conference had started as it had this morning. As a general principle, exclusion undermined multilateralism. While decision-making rested, equally, with each Conference member, working in unity could only facilitate deliberations. The intense collaboration between the six Presidents of 2021 had already allowed for an early circulation of a draft package proposal prior to the formal start of the session. The system of norms in nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control was crumbling before the international community’s eyes. The Conference must urgently reverse this negative trend. The subsidiary bodies that would be established through the adoption of this package could provide the much-needed space for renewed dialogue in the Conference on specific topics of its agenda, whose items included some of the most pressing issues in global disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.
Ms. Valovaya added that the United Nations General Assembly, upon recommendation of its First Committee, had just passed more than 60 resolutions, of which 19 made specific reference to the Conference on Disarmament. The United Nations Secretary-General had transmitted to the Conference the list of these resolutions, as per usual practice. With respect to the core items on the agenda of the Conference, this included a new request for its members to inform the Conference of their national space security policies, strategies or doctrines, on a voluntary basis. Although the Conference on Disarmament and the General Assembly were different fora, the disarmament and international security issues dealt with in both bodies were similar and overlapped and the 65 delegations that participated to both fora represented the same national security interests in both venues.
This year would be marked by important events for the global nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control regimes. There would be the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in just a few days and the postponed Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was scheduled to take place this summer. The preparations for the Review Conferences of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Biological Weapons Convention would also take place this year. In this sense, the hardest challenges but also the greatest opportunities lay ahead.
Ambassador MARC PECSTEEN of Belgium, President of the Conference, expressed hope that meetings in person would be able to resume as soon as possible. Echoing the call of the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament for the Conference to exit its current impasse, he thanked her for her support for the Conference’s work. COVID-19 had shown the need for renewed and robust multilateralism, and the issue of disarmament was no exception in that regard. Trust was needed for the Conference, as the sole multilateral disarmament body, to rise to the challenges the world faced, and set the tone for important upcoming events such as the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Review Conference. The P6 had decided to continue with the innovative model introduced last year: they would pool their resources and consolidate the consistency between the six presidencies. They had faith that the Conference would progress and achieve its objectives of a safer world. Ongoing consultations were taking place with the outgoing Presidency of 2020, Belarus, and the incoming Presidency of 2022, China. There was no need to reinvent the wheel; the Conference should build on the foundations laid by the P6 last year, including the package circulated by the Presidency of Algeria. To reach consensus, each and every single one of those present must show flexibility.
Bulgaria said the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty remained the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. The only feasible way to achieve universal, verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmament was through a progressive approach based on practical steps. Tangible progress towards a world without nuclear weapons could only be accomplished by taking into consideration the complex security environment and the strategic context. Bulgaria called upon all States that had not yet done so, to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty without any further delay.
Cameroon said the package presented to the Conference on Disarmament in 2021 was a complete programme that would allow the Conference to make significant strides towards international peace and security. Cameroon urged the various delegations to work in the search for consensual solutions so that the debate on disarmament could lead to concrete answers during this 2021 session. The debate and dialogue around this package made it possible to hear the voices of all regions of the world, and at the same time, listen to the deep call for peace which resided in all peoples.
Canada said the package proposal outlined an appropriate framework for pursuing meaningful work in the Conference over this year. This proposal acknowledged that at present there was no item on the Conference agenda on which all member States were prepared to launch negotiations. Given this reality, the package offered Conference members a fairly intense series of meetings on all the agenda items with the goals of both clarifying national positions along with possible means of advancing to negotiations in one or more areas. Canada saw potential for initiating treaty negotiations on the issue of fissile materials and remained open to negotiations on other core agenda items, if consensus could be found.
Chile reiterated its political will to achieve the objectives for which the Conference on Disarmament was created, thus reinforcing, through gestures and concrete actions, the multilateral system, in particular the international security architecture. The P6/P6 + 2 mechanism was a valuable tool in the work of the Conference. The entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was a source of hope. Concrete actions were needed towards the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
Brazil welcomed the constructive spirit and the flexible approach of the Belgian Presidency, which enjoyed Brazil’s full support. The pandemic had hampered the work of the Conference, but could also clear the fog and encourage members to engage in good faith efforts to break the deadlock. The draft documents that had been circulated were a good starting point. In 2021, there would be causes for celebration, such as the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, as well as challenges. As regards the package, Brazil had nothing to add to the Presidency’s comments.
Portugal , speaking on behalf of the European Union, thanked the Presidency for the early draft of a programme of work, which the European Union supported. A rules-based international system was key to international security. The objective of achieving a balanced and comprehensive programme of work should not block substantive work; the Conference could not afford protracted procedural debates at the beginning of each session. Strong political will, increased trust and flexibility were needed. The Conference should immediately commence negotiation on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty based on document CD/129. The European Union was calling on all States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. A coordinator should be appointed to lead substantive consultations to enlarge the membership of the Conference on Disarmament.
United States said the Conference had played an important role in preserving international security, and could do so in the future, even though the behaviour of Turkey and Iran called that into doubt. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was a highly counterproductive arrangement. The sad reality was that the global arms control architecture was deeply corroded by countries such as Iran, China and the Russian Federal. In this new era of arms control, only multilateral solutions had the potential to be enduring. A provocative nuclear doctrine had been adopted by the Russian Federation. Russia should reassure those present that it continued to abide by the international laws of armed conflict, notably the principle of proportionality, with regards to the use of nuclear weapons. China, in addition to running concentration camps for Uighurs, was now engaged in a nuclear build-up. Its “no-first-use” policy was propaganda, not policy. Now was the time to multilateralize nuclear arms control.
Peru said the proposed package was a good bet for reviving that moment in 2020 when the Conference came very close to adopting a programme of work. Peru would accompany the discussions with a constructive spirit; it was confident all delegations present here would show flexibility to achieve the Conference’s mission. The revitalization of the work of the Conference would constitute a clear message to the international community of the commitment of States to advance in the negotiation of international instruments in the field of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.
Netherlands said that circulating the package had given all those present the opportunity to start the session with a clear sense of purpose. The 2020 session had been remarkable in many aspects, despite the absence of substantive progress due to the pandemic. It was encouraging that this year the P6 intended to operate as a team. Until meetings could be resumed in person, it was up to member States to decide how to allocate the Conference’s scarce resources. Work on substance was possible in an online format. The Conference should focus on its substantive agenda, including the 2019 Back to Basics document. The appointment of a facilitator to hold informal consultations was an important first step to improve methods of work.