Disarmament Commission Achieves ‘Relative Success’, but Hope for ‘More and Better’ Thwarted by Mistrust, Says Chairman

20 April 2012

Disarmament Commission Achieves ‘Relative Success’, but Hope for ‘More and Better’ Thwarted by Mistrust, Says Chairman

20 April 2012
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Disarmament Commission

2012 Substantive Session

327th Meeting (AM)

Disarmament Commission Achieves ‘Relative Success’, but Hope


for ‘More and Better’ Thwarted by Mistrust, Says Chairman


When It Comes to Arms Control, Says High Representative

For Disarmament Affairs, Race to Finish Line ‘Marathon Not Sprint’

While the Disarmament Commission had achieved the minimum necessary to consider its 2012 session a “relative success”, Chairman Enrique Román-Morey challenged delegates to also ask why — despite huge personal efforts and displays of flexibility — they had failed to achieve the consensus needed to allow them to prepare the ground for discussion of key disarmament matters elsewhere, in negotiating forums.

Concluding the 2012 session — which had kicked off the Commission’s 2012-2014 triennial cycle — delegates adopted as orally revised the Commission’s draft report to the General Assembly, as well as the reports of its two working groups on, respectively, “Recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons” and “Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons”.

In closing remarks, Mr. Román-Morey thanked the Commission for the constructive spirit in which it had worked, acknowledging that all delegations would have liked to have seen “more and better” efforts on disarmament issues.  He had analysed several of the factors that would leave delegates to return home with a sense they had almost accomplished their duty.  Rather than a lack of political will, as many had argued, he had seen mistrust between parties.  “This is an issue we will need to work on henceforth.”  The debate over document symbols — an innocuous issue — illustrated that point.

In his 40 years as a diplomat, he had understood consensus to mean “to consent” or “to accept”.  The question was by whom and how many.  In the Commission, it could mean the sum of 192 plus 1 or a numerical majority over a more active minority.  It did not mean the imposition of the will of a few over the large majority.  In the future, he urged the Commission not to mimic forums that had fewer members.  “We’re close to reaching universal decisions,” he said, the final goal of which was to support a good cause for the benefit of the international community.

To help that process along, the General Assembly’s First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) could consider modifying the Commission’s procedural arrangements, as a three-week stretch was “a bit long”.  Perhaps, the time could be divided between the spring and autumn to ensure more productivity.  In closing, he said the first resolution adopted by the Assembly in 1946 was entitled:  “Establishment of a Commission to deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy”.  He urged the Commission to consider whether it would fulfil that mandate.

In her closing remarks, Angela Kane, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said eliminating weapons of mass destruction and regulating arms had been goals of the United Nations since 1946.  The race to the finish line was better described as a marathon, rather than a sprint.  Most gains came as discreet events, after deliberations that led to consensus.  It was hard to say what the future would hold.  The willingness of delegations to deliberate in good faith during the three-year cycle would be crucial in shaping the Commissions’ work.

“The future of this Commission and disarmament itself will depend on the readiness of States to harmonize policies and priorities, and to achieve good ends,” she said, adding that existing disagreements must not obscure some issues, especially concerning the main goals of disarmament and arms control.  She expressed hope that good will would make “smooth sailing” a realistic prospect at the Commission’ next session.

Introducing the report of Working Group I — which tackled recommendations for achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation — Chairperson Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairy (Saudi Arabia) said that the lack of time had led to the lack of consensus, not a lack of effort.  He had distributed general instructions in the form of a non-paper, which reiterated items taken up in 2008, 2010 and 2011.  While consensus on the substantive item had not been reached, the paper itself had been agreed by consensus.  The draft report was entirely procedural, as in past years.

Introducing the report of Working Group II, which focused on confidence-building measures, Chairperson Veronique Pepin-Hallé (Canada) said that seven meetings had been held.  She had introduced a non-paper and two revised versions based on last year’s text.  This year had heard rich and constructive discussion by all delegations, and she hoped the Commission would make more progress on confidence-building measures, as there was agreement in several areas.

Delegates also shared their thoughts on how the 2012 session had proceeded.  Indonesia’s delegate, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated the Movement’s long-standing position on the validity of multilateral diplomacy in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.  He underlined the Commission’s centrality as the sole, specialized and deliberative body that submitted recommendations to the General Assembly.  His delegation stood ready to engage constructively to ensure the success of next sessions.  He urged more political will and flexibility on the part of all countries.

Japan’s delegate said the first year of the new cycle had achieved a great deal.  While some might say it could have achieved more, it had laid solid groundwork for the next two years.  Some also might say it would have been better to adopt formal papers, but through its discussions, the Commission had aired many views, especially on the Disarmament Decade.  Japan had helped to stimulate discussion by sponsoring an Office of Disarmament Affairs event.  He voiced his country’s strong commitment to be as active as possible in the next two years.

Associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, Cuba’s delegate said her country would participate in the new cycle so the Commission could make recommendations on disarmament.  Insufficient time had been allowed for considering the Fourth Decade.  On working methods, debate had focused on past issues and no consensus had been reached on how to reflect the priority of disarmament.  She did not agree with those who questioned the Commission’s relevance due to a supposed inefficiency of working methods.  In reality, some nuclear-weapon States refused to show the necessary political will.  She supported confidence-building measures as long as they reflected United Nations Charter principles.

Nigeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the debates in Working Group I had been passionate and engaging.  He reiterated the desire to achieve more progress on that item during the current cycle.  He noted the efforts of the Chair of Working Group II to achieve a positive outcome.  He looked forward to a fruitful, brighter session in 2013.  Finally, he stressed the importance of multilateral diplomacy on disarmament and non-proliferation, while affirming the African Group’s unwavering commitment in that regard.

Argentina’s delegate said the Commission had been unable to achieve agreement based on informal papers.  He regretted that the Commission could not adopt a position on recommendations on substantive issues and hoped it could achieve progress over the next two years.  Argentina believed there was no inherent flaw in the working methods that prevented progress.  Based on previous experience, it was possible to agree on disarmament.  The Commission had a central role as a deliberative body, and the best way to revitalize it was by examining substantive issues, exchanging views and adopting recommendations.  Political will and flexibility was needed, both of which had been absent during the session.  He exhorted all delegations to work towards achieving concrete results.

Sweden’s delegate said that despite top-quality guidance, the substantive session had not led to any recommendations.  Delegates had documents, but could not refer to them with document references.  Almost all delegations had shown significant political will and flexibility that would have taken the Commission towards agreeing on some papers.  “I believe we were close,” he said.  One aspect of the session — working methods — had yielded one of the most interesting discussions in four years.  “We did not agree, but the discussion was relevant and alert,” he said.  He regretted that the Commission sometimes behaved as a treaty-negotiating body.  That was a failure in interpreting its mandate.

The representative of Austria said it was just as important to present one’s own position as it was to listen to those of others.  Given the overall state of affairs of the multilateral disarmament machinery, the session had been positive and constructive.  He reiterated that, according Article 11 of the Charter, the Assembly had the responsibility to take forward steps to address disarmament, and thus, it should do so through multilateral negotiations.

Mexico’s representative said that delegates, despite their fundamental differences, had shown a collective will to reactivate the disarmament machinery.  As the Commission had started a new cycle this year, there was widespread — but not universal — desire to advance certain themes, as well as the working methods.  Such debate should continue, based on the documents distributed, with a view to adopting specific recommendations that were acceptable to everyone.  Consensus should be a common objective, he said, noting that some significant points of convergence had not been fully explored due to the current impasse.

“Overall, we’ve had very productive and candid discussions, said the representative of the Russian Federation.  “We are all in favour of disarmament.”  The ways to achieve it were viewed differently, as not all States were convinced that global security could be equal and indivisible for all.  The focus should be on specific, realistic matters, even if they did not seem so ambitious.  The goal was to have consensus recommendations that would bolster the national security of every State.  That would create conditions for setting more ambitious goals.  The new Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START) was being implemented and more efforts must be made to enable other steps to be taken.

Rounding out the day, India’s delegate recalled that the first two sessions of the Commission had been chaired by his country and that the body of work accomplished under its leadership was still available.  “We would benefit from it,” he said.  The Commission provided a unique platform to bridge differences on important disarmament issues and States must realize its full potential.

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