26 January 2011

Secretary-General Warns Conference on Disarmament that Decade-Long Deadlock Puts Its Credibility at Risk

26 January 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Warns Conference on Disarmament that Decade-Long


Deadlock Puts Its Credibility at Risk


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva today, 26 January:

It is a great pleasure to address the Conference on Disarmament.  Thank you for welcoming me for the third time since I took office.  I am here to express my confidence in the great potential of this body to play a catalytic role in advancing the disarmament agenda.  But I am also here to make a fresh appeal to you to live up to that potential — and to meet the expectations of the international community.

In the past several years, we have built important momentum — hard-won momentum on which we can and must build.  The next few years will be critical.  We can push forward on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, or risk sliding back.  This is why disarmament and non-proliferation are among my top priorities for the year ahead.

As I told the General Assembly two weeks ago, if we are to build on the current momentum, we need even more concrete action than we have achieved to date.  It is my sincere hope that such action will again emanate from the Conference on Disarmament.  The world’s multilateral disarmament machinery should deliver more and more quickly.  I call on you to become a first harbinger of hope for 2011 in the field of disarmament.

The Conference on Disarmament is the undisputed home of international arms‑control efforts.  From its inception, the Conference has had a unique function.  As the world’s single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum, it has produced landmark treaties that have promoted international security while demonstrating that multilateral collaboration can serve the global and national interest alike.

However, the Conference’s record of achievement has been overshadowed by inertia that has now lasted for more than a decade.  The very credibility of this body is at risk.  Continued inaction will only endanger its future as a multilateral negotiating forum.

There was a brief glimmer of hope almost two years ago, when the sense of crisis led the Conference to adopt a programme of work by consensus under the Algerian presidency.  Coming so soon after I last addressed you, this apparent break in the deadlock was very encouraging.  It seemed like a real breakthrough and there was great expectation that the Conference, at long last, would fulfil its mandate and begin negotiations.

Unfortunately, the programme of work for your 2009 session was not implemented, and the Conference ended its 2010 session without starting substantive work.  This has been deeply disappointing.  Indeed, there appears to be a disconnect between the Conference on Disarmament and the recent positive developments in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.

On the one hand, States have made welcome progress on a variety of matters that have a direct impact on the global security environment.  They have taken steps to strengthen nuclear security, with more expected.  The States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) had a successful review conference in 2010 — the first in 10 years.  Important bilateral efforts are coming to fruition, as we have seen with the new START [Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms].

But on the other hand, the Conference on Disarmament has played little or no role in these advances.  Where States and civil society initiatives are on the move, this body has remained stagnant.  Because of the impasse, I decided to convene, this past September, a high-level meeting on revitalizing the work of the Conference and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations.  The NPT Review Conference also invited me to convene such a meeting.

You are all aware that at that meeting, many foreign ministers and other high-level political leaders expressed their deep concern about the inability of the Conference on Disarmament to overcome its differences, and joined me in urging it to start substantive work in 2011.  The participants in the meeting were also unanimous in stressing that limited membership of the Conference on Disarmament is a privilege.  So is the consensus rule.  Members of the Conference must accept that this privilege comes with responsibility.

The message was clear.  This should not be another year of business as usual.  Just one or two countries must not be able to block the process indefinitely.  Moreover, we must not risk pushing States to resort to alternative arrangements outside the Conference on Disarmament.  The future of the Conference on Disarmament is in your hands.  It is for you, the members, to decide whether it will live up to the expectations of the international community or face the consequences.

At the September meeting I also noted that the programme of work adopted by consensus in 2009 remains the most common denominator.  Therefore, I suggest, once again, that early in your 2011 session, the Conference adopt this programme of work or any other similar subsequent proposal that the Conference can agree by consensus.

In this regard, I welcome the joint statement last week in Washington, D.C., by the Presidents of China and the United States reaffirming their support for the early commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.

The continued deadlock has ominous implications for international security.  The longer it persists, the graver the nuclear threat — from existing arsenals, from the proliferation of such weapons and from their possible acquisition by terrorists.  The Conference on Disarmament must find a way to continue its invaluable work.  It must focus on promoting global goals that are fully universal in scope.  It must do its part to advance the rule of law in the field of disarmament.  It must not let one lost decade for the Conference turn into a second.

For my part, I have asked my Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters to undertake a thorough review of the issues raised at the high-level meeting, including the possible establishment of a high-level panel of eminent persons with a special focus on the functioning of the Conference on Disarmament.  I will keep you updated on this matter.

The world is waiting for one bold step by the Conference.  But it requires collective action from you, the members of the Conference on Disarmament.  Multilateral efforts continue to show their immense value in addressing a wide variety of global challenges and threats.  The Conference on Disarmament and the world’s multilateral disarmament machinery should keep pace.  I call on you to put aside your differences.  Let us serve the global interest.  Let us build a safer world.

With respect to the fissile material treaty, it is clear that within the Conference on Disarmament, there is almost universal support for negotiations on such a treaty.  While many members continue to hope that formal negotiations will take place in the Conference on Disarmament, a number of members have recently suggested that alternative arrangements should be explored.

As a first step, I am wondering whether you could commence an informal process before you agree on formal negotiations on the fissile material treaty within the Conference on Disarmament.  It could simply be a basic process to educate each other and build trust which will inform and facilitate the formal process once the Conference on Disarmament adopts its work programme.

Before concluding, I would like to express my profound gratitude to Sergei Ordzhonikidze, my Personal Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, who will soon be leaving the Organization.  I hold the highest respect for the professionalism and dedication he brought to the critical period in which he has served.

Please accept my best wishes for the success of your work.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.