Conference on Disarmament
– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament
Excellencies, Mr. Secretary-General, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to address the high-level segment of the Conference on Disarmament.
And, I want to thank you all for welcoming me here.
In particular, I thank our Conference’s President, Ambassador Bald, as well as her predecessor, Ambassador Aryasinha. And I want to acknowledge Under-Secretary-General Nakamitsu for her tireless work on disarmament.
Today, I will make three main points, which I hope can frame our discussions.
First, I want to talk about why we are here.
As you all know, the Conference on Disarmament was established in 1979.
And, as you all know, the last decision it reached was in 1996.
I wish I could say that is because the need for its work has faded. But this is not the case.
Because, in many ways, the demand has never been higher.
And, so, I want to emphasize this: We need this Conference.
People – all over the world – need this Conference.
Because, they are being maimed and killed by explosives – not on battlefields, but in cities, towns and marketplaces.
Because, they are suffering from protracted conflicts, fuelled by illicit arms flows.
Because, they are wondering if one misstep could trigger the explosion of an anti-personnel landmine.
And because, even in the 21st Century, they are facing a nuclear threat, which seems to be growing even closer.
So, the needs are there. They are urgent. But, the reality is: this Conference is not meeting them. And that is my second point.
As we know, the Conference on Disarmament has been deadlocked since the agreement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, more than two decades ago. Between then and now, even consensus on a programme of work has only been reached twice.
We have to address this reality.
Because, it creates a risk. Not only for the people I have mentioned, who are counting on this Conference to act. But also, because the credibility and role of this body is in peril.
This Conference is the world’s foremost multilateralism forum on disarmament. It should be producing global frameworks and policies. It should be driving discussions and decisions, around the world. It should have the loudest voice of all.
But, if this stalemate continues, it will be side-lined. Action has already been taken up in other forums. This was seen, for example, through the negotiations related to the Landmine Convention or, more recently, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
There is still time to reverse this trend. We have not given up. During the deliberations of the First Committee of the General Assembly, this year, we heard strong calls to revitalise the Conference. And, there are still new ideas emerging, on how this could happen. For example, I welcome the recent decision to establish five subsidiary bodies to the Conference. This new format will, I hope, allow for a new kind of discussion on agenda items – with a view to finding consensus.
I hope we will also hear even more ideas and suggestions from all of you, over the course of the next few weeks.
As my third and final point, I want to highlight the bigger picture.
We are here to talk – directly and concretely – about disarmament and arms control.
But we cannot forget about how the work, done here, fits into our wider mission.
Because, disarmament has very real links to other areas the United Nations’ work.
For example, Sustainable Development. In 2016, global military spending amounted to 1.69 trillion US dollars. This means that we are spending more on arming ourselves, than on developing our societies. Which hinders our progress in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Illicit trade in small arms and ammunition can also work to undercut development efforts.
Furthermore, disarmament is an essential part of peace. It cannot be reduced to the process, and actions, of removing arms or dismantling stockpiles. Rather, disarmament must also be seen and used as a confidence-building measure. It can bring parties to the table. It can serve to ease tensions and prevent escalations. It can therefore act as a major part of our conflict prevention toolbox
And, finally, given where we are meeting today, we cannot ignore the relationship between disarmament and human rights. This is not always reflected in our discussions – but it is reflected, unfortunately, on the ground. Arms trades and proliferation can also hinder efforts to empower women, and promote their human rights.
All of this is to say that the work of this Conference cuts across the United Nations’ three pillars. And, therefore, it has an impact on almost every aspect of the United Nations’ work, around the world.
Disarmament is an essential part of peace. It cannot be reduced to the process, and actions, of removing arms or dismantling stockpiles. Rather, disarmament must also be seen and used as a confidence-building measure. It can bring parties to the table. It can serve to ease tensions and prevent escalations.
I want to thank you, again, for inviting me, as the President of the General Assembly, to address you.
The General Assembly’s first ever resolution was on the topic of disarmament. So, I do not need to explain how important the work of this Conference is to what we do, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
This means that we are following what goes on, here, very closely. So far, it has not been very promising. And, like I said, we need to face this reality. Because, we will get nowhere by pretending that there is nothing wrong.
But this is the most important body in the world for cooperation on disarmament and arms control. It has the legitimacy of the international community behind it.
As we have seen at the General Assembly, legitimacy does not always lead to speed, or efficiency. At the same time, however, legitimacy is the cornerstone of our multilateral system. It is worth standing up for. It is worth defending. It is worth our discussions, our debates, and our efforts.
And that is why we should not give up on the Conference on Disarmament.
We can overcome the current challenges. We can revive this forum. We can find creative ways to build political will and trust.
And we can take concrete steps for disarmamentand arms control, which will benefit people around the world.
Good luck in your discussions ahead – and thank you again.