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Pause, play, or rewind: what is the way forward?

Gabriella Irsten | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 7 February for further deliberation on the President’s draft document CD/1929 and the future of the CD. Representatives of MoroccoCubaMexicoNetherlands, France, SwedenDemocratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and Tunisia delivered statements.

Highlights

  • The Conference welcomed the new French Ambassador, Mr. Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel.

  • Member states continued to discuss the President’s paper, CD/1929, with debate focusing on whether the CD should be put on hold and/or whether it should let go of the FMCT as the next item for negotiation.

Views on the suggestion of the President in CD/1929
The delegations that took the floor during the plenary continued to discuss the suggestions contained in CD/1929 and to give their views of what road the Conference should take during this critical year of 2012. The delegations of Mexico and the Netherlands joined the growing number of CD member states that are willing to consider the Ecuadorian President’s suggestion to put the CD on standby or only convene for a short period if no consensus can be reached. Ambassador Ulises Canchola of Mexico explained that the current situation in the CD is only hurting the disarmament machinery and is currently only duplicating the work of the UN Disarmament Commission.Ambassador Paul van den IJssel of the Netherlands argued that “putting the CD on standstill […] is worth considering, especially in times of austerity and shortage of governmental funds.” However Ambassador van den IJssel pointed out that before resorting to this option, “we need to try our outmost to get the CD back to work.” While the Swedish Ambassador Jan Knutsson acknowledged that putting the CD on “stand-by-mode” might be inevitable, he cautioned that once the CD is on pause, it “will likely lead to a progressive erosion of missions’ resources for disarmament and a weakening of the strength of the Geneva environment.” He also emphasized that “at this early stage in the session, we should not give up trying to bring about real progress,” arguing that the 2012 session ”should be used to the fullest, with energy and flexibility.” 

FMCT or not FMCT?
The President’s paper mentions that perhaps the CD would function better at the moment by reducing “the fixation” on the four core issues and in particular the proposed fissile materials cut-off treaty (FMCT). However, the majority of states that took the floor during today’s meeting expressed the view that negotiation of an FMCT is the “next logical step” towards nuclear disarmament. The Swedish delegation emphasized that an FMCT “is an indispensible part of the agenda and can not be overlooked.” The Mexican delegation agreed and but highlighted that a valuable treaty would include existing stocks. The Mexican ambassador also pointed to the obligation that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states parties have under action 15 of the 2010 NPT action plan, which calls for negotiations of an FMCT in the CD. The representative of the Netherlands opposed the Presidents view that the CD needs to survive without the FMCT. Ambassador van den IJssel argued that “[s]etting the FMCT aside will not bring consensus on the start of negotiations on the other core issues on the agenda of the CD” and amongst the majority of CD members an FMCT is first priority. 

However, Mr. Yusnier Romero Puentes of Cuba did not believe that an FMCT is the most important item on the CD’s agenda and stated that for the majority of states, including the Non-Alignment Movement, nuclear disarmament is the priority. He also agreed with the President that the CD must be able to survive without the FMCT and elaborated further that the CD has become hostage to the issue, preventing progress on all of the other important issues. While supporting negotiations on all four core issues, the Moroccan delegation emphasized that the individual working groups should be in charge of defining their own mandates and programme of work. This view was also shared by the Mexican delegation, which agreed that the four core issues should not be linked together. 

Discussions on the CD’s future
Both the Netherlands and the Swedish delegation expressed concern over the CD’s credibility and continued existence. Both emphasized that the programme of work is just a tool and not the CD’s main goal. Morocco's delegation shared this concern and noted that if the CD does not start substantive work, other actors will decide its future. The new French ambassador to the CD, Mr. Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel, stated that he believes that the CD is still able to fulfill its mandate and he will do his outmost to work towards revitalize the CD during his presidency later this year.

Next plenary meeting
The next plenary meeting will be held on Tuesday, 14 February at 10 am, where the Secretary-General of the CD, Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, will make a statement.