Wrapping up the Ecuadorian presidency

Gabriella Irsten | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met for the last time under the Presidency of Ecuador on Tuesday, 14 February. Representatives of Informal Group of Observer States, Iran,  SwitzerlandMexico, Syria, EgyptChile, United States, Colombia, Philippines, and Ecuador, as well as the Secretary-General of the CD delivered statements.


Secretary General of the CD addresses the Conference
The Secretary General of the CD, Mr. Tokayev, addressed the CD and gave some concrete suggestions on how to move forward, inspired by the statement by the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG), Mr. Ban-Ki Moon four weeks ago. Mr. Tokayev reminded the CD that the deadlock may lead to actions taken elsewhere and expressed concerns over the reduced numbers of disarmament experts in delegations. He stated that these two developments “could be further proof of serious concerns among governments about the relevance of the Conference.” He agreed with the UNSG that “Fine-turning of existing proposals is unlikely to bring us much further at this stage […] Therefore, none of the existing proposals, including CD/1964 or any variant thereof, are going to command consensus.”

Mr. Tokayev suggested a list of concrete measures, such as “[e]xtending the length and modifying the method of selection of the Presidency;” expanding the CD membership; addressing other procedural issues in the CD while waiting “out a convergence of positions on the core issues;” and increasing the political will of members states. He also argued that “there is a need to rethink the broader United Nations disarmament machinery to ensure greater efficiency.” He concluded by calling upon members states to make concrete proposals and for the member states that have not yet taken a public stand on the CD, to do so.

Anniversary of the Tlateloco treaty
Ms. María Antonieta Jáquez Huacujaof Mexico took the floor to highlight the 45th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of Tlatelolco, the first nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ) in the world. Ms. Jáquez Huacuja argued that a NWFZ is not an end in itself, but an interim step towards total nuclear disarmament. Both the Chilean and the US delegations reaffirmed the value of the Tlateloco treaty in the region.

Putting the CD into context
Ambassador Fasel of Switzerland argued that CD member states “need to incorporate national security interest in broader concept of security and stability; we have to complement hard security approaches with perspectives of human security, human rights, development, climate and environmental protection or global health.” Ambassador Badr of Egypt noted that in comparison to other UN fora there is a great lack of bringing up the victims of war and of nuclear weapons in the CD. He stated, “we are here to talk about issues of strategic and security but we must not forget this dimension in our work.”

The core issues and moving forward
Ambassador Fasel expressed Switzerland’s views on the proposal to put the CD on stand-by, made in the Presidents document CD/1929.  “The CD should … spare no effort with regard to its own revitalization before drastic, possible irreversible, steps such as putting the CD on standby or shortening sessions are taken.” He then suggested that the Conference should launch a process aimed to “explore, consider and consolidate options, proposals and elements for a revitalization of the Conference.”

The Swiss Ambassador stated that while his delegation is convinced that a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) is the “next important step forward,” they want to see results on the other CD priorities. The Colombian delegation suggested that a simplified programme of work, with a timetable concentrating on negotiating mandates, could be viable. While the Colombian representative understood the importance of a balanced programme of work, he believed that this should not paralyze the forum. Ambassador Harmoui of Syria believed that all four-core issues should be dealt with simultaneously, and that no issue must be prioritized over others. Ambassador Mohamad Sajjadi of Iran agreed and stated that the CD is not a one single-issue forum, and the lack of consensus on one issue should not block negotiations on others. Ambassador Sajjadi continued by emphasizing that negotiation on the complete elimination of nuclear weapons with a specific timeframe, including a nuclear weapons convention, is urgently needed and that an FMCT must include past productions and existing stocks.

Closing remark from the President
In his closing remarks Ambassador Luis Gallegos of Ecuador gave a summary and conclusion of what has been discussed during his four weeks of presidency. He reiterated that no consensus had been reached in the Conference. His paper, CD/1929, which was aimed at opening up the discussions and incorporating new ideas, had received different responses from member states. Most delegations that have taken the floor have supported appointing a Special Coordinator for the expansion of the CD. He also noted that it has been debated whether an FMCT is the only next logical step or if others core issues are ripe for negations. However, he found that one of the most controversial parts of CD/1929 is the suggestion of putting the CD on stand-by until the political situation had changed enough to allow for negotiations. Ambassador Gallegos noted that while the views on this are widely divided amongst states, he still believes that is was essential to question whether or not it is morally right to continue investing resources in the deadlocked Conference on Disarmament.

A note from the arms trade treaty process
by Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will in New York

While the CD continues to struggle to adopt a programme of work in a venue in which consensus has come to mean that each state has a de facto veto, the fourth preparatory committee for arms trade treaty (ATT) negotiations struggles to reach consensus on the concept of consensus.

Discussions over the past two days in New York have looked at the provisional rules of procedure for the ATT negotiating conference, to be held in July 2012. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 64/48 that established the ATT process indicates that the conference will operate on the “basis of consensus”. Some states feel this should work as it does in the CD, where no decision can be taken without absolute unanimity. However, others, who are all too familiar with the 15 year deadlock in the CD, are pushing for the use of UNGA rules of procedure, which allow for voting on various issues. They also advocate a definition of consensus that emphasizes striving for agreement rather than the ability to use it as a veto.

UN member states have not been able to negotiate a treaty through UN disarmament and arms control machinery since 1996. After spending the last five years working toward an ATT in a deliberate, inclusive, and transparent manner, the majority of delegations involved in the ATT process are looking to continue in a spirit of good faith, but want to avoid the potential pitfall of having one or two states wielding a veto in the final days of negotiations. It might be beneficial for the CD to consider good faith in its pursuit of negotiations as well and generate a formulation for consensus in which respect for national security does not have to come at the expense of progress for human security.

Next meeting
The next plenary meeting will be held at 10:00 on Tuesday, 21 February.