High Representative Regrets ‘Missed’ Opportunity, as Delegates Question Political Will, Viability of Working Methods
The Disarmament Commission concluded its 2014 session without an agreed outcome at the end of the third and final year of considering its agenda items on nuclear disarmament and conventional weapons.
After three weeks of discussions, consensus eluded Working Group I, which considered recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as Working Group II, which focused on practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons.
Despite Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s hope, expressed at the session’s opening on 7 April, that 2014 would be the year of “diplomatic bridge-builders”, consensus collapsed, making it impossible for the Commission as a whole to adopt concrete recommendations, as it was mandated to do. Without substantive results, it adopted the reports of its two working groups (document A/CN.10/2014/CRP.3 and A/CN.10/2014/CRP.4) and, as orally revised, its draft report to the General Assembly (document A/CN.10/2014/CRP.2).
Expressing regret, Angela Kane, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that given the growing recognition of the magnitude of disarmament and non-proliferation stakes, she had hoped for a positive outcome. “The Commission missed a good opportunity to build on the positive developments witnessed during the past year and to send a clear signal that the period of stagnation that had troubled the disarmament debate was over”. It could also have spurred progress in other disarmament forums. Absent agreement, the body’s credibility was tested.
Looking ahead to next week’s preparatory meeting of the States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), she recognized the presence of much shared interest and ideals in the chamber today. “Let us build bridges where we can and fight fires when we must,” she said, urging continuation in the search for ways to advance the disarmament agenda.
In closing, Commission Chair Vladimir Drobnjak ( Croatia) thanked delegations for their constructive spirit in trying to end the Commission’s 15-year-long deadlock. “We went far indeed, but we did not go far enough,” he said, questioning whether the Commission could continue under the present rules of engagement.
Still, the current session, he said, had seen an awareness of the imperative to bring back the relevance to the United Nations disarmament machinery and “make it work again”. The session was not time spent in vain, he said, voicing hope the work would serve as a basis for future deliberations.
Sharing that sentiment, Rapporteur Peter Winkler ( Germany), who introduced the Commission’s draft report, said “the deliberations and negotiations helped us in narrowing positions, but yet again, consensus was not within reach”, despite the “tireless” efforts of the working groups.
His view was mirrored by the heads of the two working groups. Introducing the report of the first, its Chair, Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairy ( Saudi Arabia), said that after eight meetings and extensive discussions, the group had been unable to reach consensus. Introducing the report of Working Group II, Chair Knut Langeland (Norway) said 10 meetings had been held to consider confidence-building measures in the conventional weapons sphere and while the group had fulfilled its deliberative mandate, “we were close” but unable to reach agreement. He too felt the deliberations would be a good basis for future discussions.
Weighing in on the situation, some delegates warned of the vertical spread of nuclear weapons, including Ecuador’s Minister of National Defence, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who said that despite the opposition of some nuclear-weapon States to concrete non-proliferation measures, complete nuclear disarmament was not a “pipe dream” but a common goal.
Many speakers called for a renewed commitment to progress in the disarmament machinery. Reflecting a common message, the representative of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, called on all delegations to demonstrate the political will needed to further discussions in the future.
Others pointed to specific stumbling blocks, such as disagreement over holding a conference on establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. On that note, Nigeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, called for the Secretary-General to his efforts to convene the conference in 2014.
Similarly, the representative of Oman, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said several inflexible delegations had blocked consensus. The root of the problem was a lack of political will, he said, calling on those States to reconsider their positions. “The work ahead is difficult,” he said, “but the objective is noble”.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union Delegation, the representative of Greece said that after a 15-year deadlock, it was high time for the Commission to take a look at its working methods, including the tradition of a three-year cycle. It could also consider shifting focus to more targeted topics.
Also speaking were representatives of Algeria, Pakistan, Austria, Iran, Egypt, Czech Republic, Russian Federation, Iran, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iraq, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India, China, Cuba, Israel and Egypt.