Jump-starting Stalled Disarmament Machinery Requires Ramping up Political Will, Broadening Membership, First Committee Speakers Say during Thematic Debate

GA/DIS/3562
26 October 2016
Seventy-first Session, 21st Meeting (PM)

Jump-starting Stalled Disarmament Machinery Requires Ramping up Political Will, Broadening Membership, First Committee Speakers Say during Thematic Debate

Speakers explored ways to overcome a prolonged stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament and a lack of agreement in the United Nations Disarmament Commission today as the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) held its thematic debate on disarmament machinery.

Many expressed their countries’ grave concern that the credibility of the United Nations’ core entities for discussing and negotiating nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation was on the line, given the years that they had been unable to make substantive progress.  The Conference on Disarmament has been locked in stalemate for two decades, which some delegations blamed on resistance on the part of some States to implement their disarmament obligations.  The Disarmament Commission, meanwhile, ended its most recent session in April with no conclusive agreement for the sixteenth year running.

Some speakers shared ideas on ways to break those deadlocks, with many agreeing that the structure could be improved.  “While many States are seized with the need to move forward on non-proliferation and disarmament issues, the system designed to do so continues to fail us,” added Canada’s delegate, observing that the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission were both mired in procedural discussions.  For its part, Canada had introduced in past sessions draft resolutions on how to advance discussions on key issues that were currently languishing as the Conference on Disarmament failed to agree on a work programme.

“It is time to look carefully at the mechanics of the multilateral disarmament machinery as a whole, given its unique position and mandate,” said Guatemala’s representative, on behalf of the Informal Group of Observer States to the Conference on Disarmament.  He suggested that expanding the membership in the 65-member Conference on Disarmament might be one solution to the impasse.  To do so required the swift appointment of a special coordinator and a formal discussion on the issue should be convened in the context of revitalizing the disarmament machinery, he said.

Other recommendations emerged during the debate, including one from the representative of the United Kingdom.  He suggested giving thought to revitalizing the disarmament machinery, perhaps by merging the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission into a single body, with technical input from the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.

Other speakers said flexibility was needed to advance progress.  The representative of the Russian Federation said the current global situation - characterized by strategic instability - should not be a pretext for foregoing the search for compromise in the area of arms control.  Only through patient work could the international community find genuine, functioning agreements, he said.

India’s representative said that the Conference on Disarmament still had the mandate, membership and the rules of procedure to discharge its responsibility as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum.  He cautioned against pursuing initiatives outside the established machinery that promised uncertain outcomes, but risked weakening the disarmament machinery.

Many speakers blamed a lack of political will for an unacceptable state of paralysis, although the representative of Pakistan said the root cause could be found in prevailing strategic and political realities.  Egypt’s representative said the solution lay in taking an integrated approach to all issues, including negotiations on nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances and a treaty to ban fissile material.  His counterpart from Mexico faulted the work of the First Committee itself, saying few of its resolutions had contained innovative proposals on ways to address the shortcomings of the disarmament machinery.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Indonesia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Bahamas (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Venezuela (on behalf of the Union of South American Nations), Tunisia (on behalf of the Arab Group), France, Iraq, Paraguay, Thailand, Bangladesh, South Africa, Kuwait, Poland, Switzerland, Algeria and China, as well as the European Union.

The representatives of the Russian Federation, Ukraine and United States spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again on at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 27 October, to take action on a number of draft resolutions and decisions.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met today to continue its general debate on all agenda items before it.  For background, see Press Release GA/DIS/3545 of 3 October.

Thematic Debate on Disarmament Machinery

ANGGI SAZIKA JENIE (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said enhancing the effectiveness of the United Nations disarmament machinery was a shared objective.  Despite having produced landmark treaties and guidelines based on existing rules of procedure and methods of work, the machinery’s main difficulty was a lack of political will by some States to achieve progress, particularly on nuclear disarmament.  She called for the urgent commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament for the conclusion of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons.  Regarding the Disarmament Commission, she expressed regret that it had been unable to reach an agreement on any recommendations since 2000 due to the inflexible position of nuclear-weapon States.  She called on Member States to display the flexibility needed to agree on substantive outcomes in its present cycle.

For its part, she said, the Non-Aligned Movement stood ready to engage constructively on the advancement of the issues on the United Nations disarmament agenda and the ways and means of strengthening the disarmament machinery.  During the Committee’s current session, the Non-Aligned Movement was once again tabling a draft resolution titled “United Nations regional centres for peace and disarmament” and a draft decision titled “Open-ended Working Group on the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament”.  She called for Member States to approve the draft resolution without a vote.

CHARMAINE WILLIAMS (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), expressed regret at the inability of the Conference on Disarmament to attain consensus on its work programme and the Disarmament Commission’s failure to submit any substantive recommendations to the General Assembly during the past 16 years.  Calling for the revitalization and strengthening of disarmament mechanisms, she emphasized a need for enhanced dialogue and cooperation between the First Committee, Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission.

Disarmament was the crucial link between peace and sustainable development, she said, noting that regional and global approaches to disarmament complemented each other and therefore had to be pursued simultaneously.  She commended the contribution of nuclear-weapon-free zones to the advancement of disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.  She went on to underscore the devastating and lasting impact of the proliferation and misuse of conventional weapons in the Caribbean region and expressed CARICOM’s fullest support to the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.  She added that more gender-balanced participation in the disarmament machinery would facilitate new perspectives and thinking.

SAU MING CHAN (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), said any attempt to reform the United Nations disarmament machinery must be carried out in a comprehensive manner, in line with the first special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.  Noting the inability of the Conference on Disarmament over the past 18 years to reach agreement on a programme of work, she urged its members to show greater political will that would lead to progress on nuclear disarmament and other items on the Conference’s agenda.

She welcomed the recommendation of the Open-ended Working Group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for a conference to be convened in 2017 that would negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.  Such an instrument would be the only guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.  UNASUR also supported a fissile material cut-off treaty that would include an international verification mechanism, she said.  Concerned about a possible arms race in outer space, she expressed support for a legally binding instrument in that regard.  In conclusion, she underscored a need for greater interaction with civil society vis-à-vis disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.

KAMAPRADIPTA ISNOMO (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said global disarmament and non-proliferation issues could be best addressed through multilateralism.  It was regrettable that disarmament within the United Nations framework had been moving at a frustratingly slow pace.  But, it was evident that the main problem lied in the lack of political will by some States to achieve progress, particularly on nuclear disarmament.  She expressed concern at the deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament in agreeing on a programme of work and encouraged Member States to demonstrate the political will necessary for the Conference to fulfil its negotiating mandate.  As far as the disarmament machinery was concerned, the international community remained at the crossroads.  There was a choice, he said.  Either the world moved the machinery forward collectively for the greater good of mankind or remained deadlocked in the absence of political will, which may put mankind in harm’s way.  “The choice is ours to make,” he concluded.

JORGE SKINNER-KLÉE (Guatemala), speaking on behalf of the Informal Group of Observer States to the Conference on Disarmament, said that the membership of the Conference on Disarmament must be open to all States wishing to join.  He remained deeply concerned about the long-standing deadlock in the Conference and the inability to commence its substantive work.  “It is time to look carefully at the mechanics of the multilateral disarmament machinery as a whole, given its unique position and mandate,” he said. 

Since all nations were responsible for maintaining international peace and security, he said, they had the right to participate in international disarmament negotiations.  To enlarge the membership with a view to ensuring inclusive negotiations, a special coordinator should be appointed as early as possible and a formal discussion on the issue should be convened in the context of revitalizing the disarmament machinery.  Recalling a relevant General Assembly resolution, he said that a larger membership might help overcome the long-lasting impasse in the disarmament machinery.

RIADH BEN SLIMAN (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said the universality of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was a high priority.  The terms of reference of the United Nations disarmament machinery could only be modified by a special session of the General Assembly, he said, supporting the Non-Aligned Movement’s position in favour of such a session.  The current stalemate in the work of the Conference on Disarmament was not due to shortcomings in its machinery, but a lack of political will on the part of some influential States.

He said the issues on the Conference on Disarmament’s agenda, including nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cut-off treaty and the prevention of an arms race in outer space, were interconnected.  One item could not be addressed at the expense of others.  A fissile material cut-off treaty should address stockpiles being held by States in possession of nuclear weapons.  Turning to the Disarmament Commission, he said the Arab Group was dismayed at the lack of progress and urged nuclear-weapon States to show political will and flexibility at its upcoming session.

ANNE KEMPPAINEN (European Union) expressed her full commitment to effective multilateralism and the rules-based international system, with the United Nations at its core.  Urgent attention must be paid to enhancing the role, authority, effectiveness and efficiency of the First Committee, which should concentrate on the most pertinent issues.  The Conference on Disarmament had the crucial role to negotiate multilateral disarmament treaties, yet again it had not agreed on a work programme.  Efforts to do so required sustained political will and creative thinking from all members.  The European Union reiterated its longstanding commitment to the enlargement of the Conference on Disarmament and the importance of continuing consultations on expanding its membership, she said, strongly supporting the appointment of a special coordinator in that respect.

She said the European Union’s priority was for the Conference on Disarmament to immediately commence negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.  She called on all Conference members to begin such discussions and their work on other agenda issues.  She called on all States possessing nuclear weapons that had not yet done so to declare and uphold an immediate moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.  The Union continued to stress the importance of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) as a stand-alone, autonomous institution of the disarmament machinery.

ALICE GUITTON (France) said the progress that had been made since the creation of the United Nations had only been possible by bringing countries and peoples closer together, not by dividing them.  That was why France continued to promote an inclusive and demanding approach in accordance with the principles of effective multilateralism.  Only work conducted on the basis of dialogue in search of consensus could help to make a difference in the real world, she said.  Her Government was committed to and wished to consolidate the institutional architecture of the disarmament machinery.  However, it was unrealistic to envisage that work progressing toward general and complete disarmament should it fail to fully consider security issues and the background strategic context.  With confidence and mutual respect, the actions of Member States could only be effective if they remained gradual and pragmatic.  Gaps in approaches and delaying tactics were the result of past and present frustrations.  Restoring the credibility of the disarmament machinery was the responsibility of all, she said.

SIMON COLLARD-WEXLER (Canada) said:  “While many States are seized with the need to move forward on non-proliferation and disarmament issues, the system designed to do so continues to fail us.”  It was unfortunate that the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission were mired in procedural discussions, and no discussions of real consequence had been able to take place.  An example had been the creation of parallel initiatives that had bypassed them with the aim of achieving some progress on disarmament from outside, including the Arms Trade Treaty, Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.  “These initiatives reflect the understandable frustration of many States with the impasse we face,” he said, stressing that some countries might derive benefits from the status quo.  Canada had tried to prevent the disarmament machinery’s downward spiral into that helpless situation and had put forward a resolution in 2012 that had created a group of governmental experts to examine possible aspects, he said, expressing regret over the inability to build on that.  In 2016, Canada, alongside Germany and the Netherlands, was proposing a draft resolution that would establish a high-level preparatory group to engage with United Nations membership and develop recommendations for future treaty discussions.

WILLIAM ISHAYA ODISHO (Iraq) said the Conference on Disarmament was the sole multilateral negotiating forum in its field.  Despite previous successes, there had been a deadlock in its work programme since 1999.  Political will and flexibility were needed to revive its work, especially given the current international and regional security context and the threat of crises on the rise.  Efforts must be redoubled to develop a programme of work that responded to the needs of Member States.  Nuclear disarmament must remain at the forefront of the Conference’s mandate.  Underlining the importance of the Disarmament Commission, he expressed regret that it had been able to progress in its work and called on members to show flexibility.

VLADIMIR YERMAKOV (Russian Federation) said that while the current global situation was characterized by strategic instability, that should not be a pretext for foregoing the search for compromise in the area of arms control.  Only through patient work could the international community find genuine, functioning agreements, with recent world events underscoring that there was simply no other way.  The Russian Federation had proposed a new, consensus-based initiative on chemical and biological terrorism and was pleased with ever increasing support it had been receiving.  The development of a new convention would not impinge on the interest of any State given that the final product would help to increase their security.

ENRIQUE CARRILLO GÓMEZ (Paraguay) said his Government was very concerned regarding the paralysis in the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission.  Paraguay favoured reform of the current disarmament machinery and invited Member States to consider expanding the membership in the Conference on Disarmament, broadening the participation of women and give greater value to civil society.  Disarmament machinery reform should be carried out with a view to the eradication of poverty, he said, also urging delegations to make every effort to direct more resources to help States in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals rather than adding to their arsenals.

SIDDHARTHA NATH (India) said the Conference on Disarmament continued to have the mandate, membership and the rules of procedure to discharge its responsibility as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum.  Since the decisions of the Conference on Disarmament affected national security, it was logical that it conducted work and adopted decisions by consensus.  Member States should exercise caution in pursuing initiatives outside the established machinery that promised uncertain outcomes, but risked weakening the disarmament machinery.  India remained committed to efforts aimed at the Conference on Disarmament reaching consensus on its programme of work, but was disappointed that the commencement of negotiations continued to be blocked by one country.

MATTHEW ROLAND (United Kingdom) said it was becoming increasingly challenging for States to cover all aspects of the disarmament machinery.  Perhaps thought should be given to revitalizing the system to make it more effective.  The Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission could be merged into a single body that could both discuss and mandate negotiations.  Such a merger would provide a chance to re-examine the disarmament agenda and ensure it was fit for today’s challenges.  The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) could provide technical input to the merged body.  Those were just ideas, but there was a need to discuss reform in the individual bodies of the disarmament machinery followed, if necessary, by a fourth General Assembly special session on disarmament.  A spirit of collaboration needed to be rediscovered to ensure that the disarmament machinery maintained its relevance as the fundamental instrument to conduct international arms control, in order to realize the collective goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said paralysis in the disarmament machinery was unacceptable.  The Conference on Disarmament’s failure to come up with a programme of work was a collective failure.  Its problems included the monthly rotation of presidents and the lack of civil society participation.  Turning to the Disarmament Commission, he said its agenda needed to focus on one substantive issue each year.  Few resolutions in the First Committee involved any innovative proposals to address those failures.  He noted the precarious financial situation of UNIDIR and hoped the new Secretary-General would give greater impetus to its work.

PAJAREE VARATHORN (Thailand), endorsing ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement, said his Government supported effective multilateralism to address disarmament issues.  The existing machinery still faced many challenges and obstacles that prevented it from fulfilling its mandate.  The prolonged stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament and the lack of agreement in the Disarmament Commission demonstrated that much more progress could have been made over the past 20 years, including on disproportionately dangerous weapons such as nuclear arsenals.  Thailand therefore supported the work of the Open-ended Working Group on convening the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament and attached importance to building consensus.

TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh) said in view of the previous significant outcomes from negotiations under the aegis of the Conference on Disarmament, his delegation could barely conceal its disappointment with the dearth of political will and leadership to get the body to break free from its current deadlock.  The occasional glimmers of hope in its programme of work were soon extinguished as Member States circled back to entrenched positions in lieu of creative and forward-thinking solutions.  As such, he called for redoubled efforts towards garnering the necessary political will required, especially among nuclear-weapon States and those with strategic interest in nuclear weapons.

USMAN JADOON (Pakistan) said the current impasse of the disarmament machinery was a consequence of the competing priorities and approaches of different Member States.  Some States were opposing the commencement of negotiations on new treaties simply because they clashed with their prime objective of perpetuating their strategic advantage.  Some States were rejecting certain instruments that would negatively and disproportionately affect the security of those States.  Other States wanted progress at any cost, regardless whether it would lead to equal and undiminished security for all, he said, noting that the interplay of those factors had resulted in the current deadlock.  He expressed disappointment in that state of affairs, but said he did not blame the disarmament machinery.  Rather, the root cause was the prevailing strategic and political realities in the world, he said.

MARTIN NGUNDZE (South Africa) said progress on conventional and chemical weapons had not been matched in the area of nuclear disarmament.  South Africa was particularly concerned by the impasse in the disarmament machinery.  Both the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission must be allowed to discharge their respective mandates in order to remain relevant.  Noting the Open-ended Working Group’s recommendation for the General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017 to begin negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, he said that although such an instrument might not achieve immediate results, it would address a glaring gap in the international legal architecture on the legality of nuclear weapons.  South Africa was ready to consider any proposal that would help to break the current impasse, he said, adding that negotiations were essential in order to strengthen the international rule of law, with all countries playing by the same rules.

IBRAHIM FAISAL AL-DAI (Kuwait), endorsing the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group, said the multilateral disarmament machinery remained the best means to move forward.  All States had to conform to their responsibilities by showing greater political will.  Kuwait was gravely concerned by the impasse at the Conference on Disarmament.  A lack of political will on the part of the main powers was a major obstacle to consensus.  Kuwait supported the position of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group on the need to revise the different disarmament mechanisms as soon as possible in the framework of a fourth special session on disarmament.  Each party must work in a positive and constructive fashion to reach that objective.

MIROSLAW BROILO (Poland) said his Government was very concerned about the future of the disarmament and non-proliferation processes.  Despite all achievements made over the past half century, the record was uneven and many issues remained unresolved.  There was a need to break the stalemate that had been so visible during this year’s session of the Conference on Disarmament.  The disarmament machinery must remain a system that was logical, consistent and well rooted in the international legal regime. Since the current system had been established, the geo-political situation had evolved significantly.  It was important to take this into consideration during discussions on how to improve the disarmament machinery.  A fruitful expert debating forum on disarmament and non-proliferation was needed to produce action on disarmament, he said.

LAURENT MASMEJEAN (Switzerland) said the international community must be able to rely on active and effective disarmament bodies if they were to be able to take up the multiple challenges facing it.  With that in mind, it was particularly worrying that the Conference on Disarmament remained deadlocked and there was no sign that the situation could be corrected in the near future.  Much the same could be said of the Disarmament Commission.  It was therefore becoming increasingly necessary to have a genuine, in-depth discussion about the disarmament machinery and the working methods, composition and mandates of both the Conference on Disarmament and Disarmament Commission.

ABDELKARIM AIT ABDESLAM (Algeria) voiced concern about the lack of consensus on the adoption of a comprehensive and balanced programme of work, emphasizing that the deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament had been detrimental to non-nuclear-weapon States.  “This stalemate cannot be attributed to the failure of the Conference on Disarmament,” he said, stressing that Member States must demonstrate the necessary political will to achieve collective solutions.  The Conference had the capacity to break the deadlock, he said.  Convening a fourth special session on the issue would reaffirm the international community’s willingness to build a consensus on the matter.

TAREK MAHFOUZ (Egypt) said that while the Conference on Disarmament remained the sole multilateral negotiating body, the absence of political will was the main obstacle to adopting a balanced and comprehensive programme of work.  The solution lay in addressing all the issues by taking an integrated approach, including negotiations on nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances and a treaty to ban fissile material.  He welcomed any collective action aimed at revitalizing the Conference’s work as long as such efforts did not affect its rules of procedure and priorities.  He emphasized a need for similar efforts to revitalize the Disarmament Commission.  Expressing support to the work carried out by UNIDIR, he said that its research and training had the potential to contribute to the nuclear disarmament process.

LU XIN (China) said international peace and security had constantly faced new challenges.  It was of great significance to revitalize the multilateral disarmament process.  Political will had never been divorced by other factors, she said, noting that the present situation had been created by double standards and by some States putting their security above others.  The international community needed to seek solutions within the framework of existing mechanisms by consensus.  Trying to “reinvent the wheel” was destabilizing, myopic and would do nothing good for the disarmament process.  Creative thinking by all parties and a willingness to meet the others half way was required to break the deadlock and inject positive energy into the disarmament machinery.  There were always more solutions than problems.  With determination, solutions could always be found, she concluded.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responding to a statement that had been made by his counterpart from Ukraine yesterday, said that the leaders of Germany and France had called upon the Government of that country to comply with the Minsk Agreements.  There was a difference between annexation and aggression, he said, pointing out that Iraq was a country that had been “torn into shreds” and Libya had also been targeted.  “Who is on the United States’ list now?” he asked, stressing that it would not be Syria, as the Russian Federation would never allow that to happen.  On the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, he decried baseless accusations.  The United States had violated that treaty, he said, recalling how fragile the world was.

The representative of Ukraine expressed deep sadness about the threats that had been made by the Russian Federation towards other countries, including the United States.  Pointing out the existence of much evidence of Russian military equipment moving across the Ukrainian border, she said the international community must halt these illegal transfers.  The Russian Federation was the only supplier of deadly weapons in Ukraine.  As such, she called on the Russian Federation to stop its aggression in her country.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that nothing of the kind was happening and that the situation was in fact quite different.  The Russian Federation and the United States understood each other very well and he had always been direct with counterparts from the United States.  Indeed, the Russian Federation and the United States had always found a mutual understanding.  There had never been any aggression by the Russian Federation towards Ukraine.

The representative of the United States said the Russia Federation had continued to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  He urged the Russian Federation to use its influence with the separatists to end the violence.  The words aggression and annexation had been chosen by the United States and his Government stood by those words.  Moreover, the United States had always adhered to its obligations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

For information media. Not an official record.