Another round of revitalization discussions

Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
21 August 2012

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 21 August for the first plenary under the German presidency. Statements were delivered by the CD President Ambassador Hoffmann of Germany, as well as the delegations of Japan, Egypt, Group of 21 (G21), the Secreatary-General of the CD Mr. TokayevSwitzerland, Argentina, Ukraine, Spain, Myanmar, Russia, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Ireland, Indonesia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, Chile, and Algeria.

Brief highlights

  • Switzerland and Ukraine called for the CD to launch a “modernization effort” during its 2013 session.
  • Russia proposed the establishment of a “group of friends of the CD” to overcome the deadlock.
  • Argentina and Spain suggested that in 2013 the CD reduce its meetings to once per month and appoint a special coordinator to discuss progress with delegations.
  • The CD’s draft annual report to the General Assembly will be distributed to CD delegations on Thursday, 23 August and discussed on Tuesday, 28 August.

Revitalization of the CD

The topic of Tuesday’s meeting dealt with revitalization of the CD, during which all speakers regretted the continued deadlock. But as in previous meetings on this topic, delegations disagreed on the root causes of the deadlock and on how to overcome it. Ambassador Badr of Egypt, for example, argued that “the problem is not with the Conference, it is the weakening commitment to multilateral diplomacy and nuclear disarmament.” The lack of political will as opposed to the rules of procedure of the CD was also used as an explanation for the deadlock by the delegations of Cuba, Myanmar, G21, Russia, India, and Algeria.

On the other hand, Ambassador Fasel of Switzerland argued that instead of blaming external factors, delegations should “try to change things” or to undertake reform. Several speakers wanted to explore different proposals for revitalization of the Conference. For example, Sweden, Spain, Netherlands, and Ireland discussed previous proposals such as expanding the length of each presidency; a simplified programme of work, expansion of membership and greater interaction with civil society. Indonesia called for the establishment of a Fourth Special Session on Disarmament, and the G21 supported continuing consultations on the expansion of the membership of the Conference and strengthening interaction with civil society. Both Switzerland and Ukraine believed the CD should launch a concrete modernization effort in its 2013 session.

Meanwhile, the Russian delegation warned members of the Conference that it was time to either move toward compromise and start working, or to witness the full collapse and paralysis of the entire United Nations disarmament machinery. In order to avoid the latter, Russia proposed the creation of a group of friends of the CD.

Argentina suggested that a special coordinator should be appointed next year with a mandate to discuss progress in the CD with delegations, so the CD could reduce its meetings to a monthly occasion to see if progress had been made. The Ambassador of Argentina believed “this would avoid burnout of merely meeting and could preserve funds for when negotiations started.” Spain echoed this approach and highlighted the value of saving strained resources.

Rule of consensus

Ambassador Corr of Ireland noted that the consensus rule, as interpreted and applied in the CD, “has to be re-examined when it comes to issues of procedure in our work.” While agreeing that the consensus rule must not be used for creating paralysis, Ambassador Oyarce of Chile argued that the rule is an institutional safeguard and that it would be unrealistic to attempt to change it. Also the representatives of Algeria and India believed that limiting the scope of the consensus rule was the wrong path.

As the incoming CD President, Ambassador Hoffmann took the opportunity to share some of his thoughts on the consensus rule. He noted that if consensus is used as a “free ticket to veto whatever one does not like … then multilateralism cannot achieve any substantive results at all” and argued that the CD could become an example of when multilateralism starts to exist for its own sake.

The Pakistani delegation responded to the German ambassador’s statement by arguing that irrespective of such “innovative ideas” on the rule of consensus, the Ambassador of Pakistan was sure that all delegations in the CD knew what the rule meant.

Draft annual report

The CD President announced that he had shared a draft of the annual report by the CD to the General Assembly with the previous presidents of the 2012 session. He further stated that all delegations will receive a copy on Thursday, 23 August.

Ambassador Hoffmann also announced that a first reading of the draft report will take place in the plenary meeting on Tuesday, 28 August, where comments and proposed amendments could be made. He noted that if the annual reports of the CD are to be of any use, the General Assembly must have a legitimate right to learn from them whether the CD is actually fulfilling the task and mandate given to it. “No one would accept it if a listed company were to confine its report to technical formalities, while making no or only the most hazy statements about whether it had been doing any business at all in the last couple of years—not to speak about making a profit!” he argued.

Next meeting

The next plenary meeting will be held on Tuesday, 28 August at 10:00 in the Council Chamber.