“Revitalising the Work of the Conference on Disarmament and Taking Forward Multilateral Negotiations”
High Level Meeting on “Revitalising the Work of the Conference on Disarmament and Taking Forward Multilateral Negotiations”
24 September 2010
Address by the Foreign Minister of Ireland, Micheál Martin, TD.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to commend your foresight in convening this high-level meeting. Your Five Point Plan has framed this debate and been a great source of inspiration. It is more than timely for us to consider how we can revitalise the work of the Conference on Disarmament and strengthen multilateral disarmament machinery. These are issues of enormous importance not only today, but for future generations.
This High Level Meeting takes place at a time of renewed momentum in global disarmament and non-proliferation. The past two years have seen substantial progress on a number of fronts, including the New START Agreement, the US Nuclear Posture Review, the NPT Review Conference, entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the commencement of work on an Arms Trade Treaty. These advances demonstrate what political will and determination can achieve.
Ireland's approach to disarmament is rooted in a firm conviction that multilateral cooperation is in the interest of all, and most particularly serves the interests of smaller states who rely on a strong rules-based system. I am personally very proud of my country’s involvement with the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the role we played at the NPT Review Conference last May.
The Conference on Disarmament has made an important contribution in the area of arms control and disarmament. It is deeply disappointing therefore that the Conference has not managed to engage in the substantive work of negotiation for well over a decade. Ireland has not seen any meaningful work since we became a member in 1999. The adoption of a Programme of Work last year offered hope for movement. It has been demoralising and frustrating therefore to see that opportunity squandered. When there was no movement in the wider disarmament context the impasse in the CD perhaps reflected a larger reality. That rationale – if it ever existed – certainly no longer applies.
The irony is that the CD has more than enough work to do. This has been recognised by the UN General Assembly with the adoption of consensus resolutions relating to the CD, and by States Parties to the NPT at the Review Conference earlier this year, which agreed on three actions to be undertaken immediately by the CD, within the context of an agreed, comprehensive and balanced programme of work.
An issue of huge importance for the CD is the negotiation of a treaty on fissile material. My country wholeheartedly supports the earliest possible negotiation, conclusion and entry into force of such a treaty. Like many others, including our partners in the New Agenda Coalition, we believe that for such a treaty to be meaningful, it should include a verification mechanism and cover existing stocks. The negotiation of a treaty on fissile material is not the only issue which the CD has before it. It could also be engaged in useful work on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, on negative security assurances and on nuclear disarmament.
A couple of specific aspects of the way in which the CD has worked, or failed to work, deserve mention. Requiring consensus for even the most basic procedural decisions is paralysing and needs to be examined. Another factor inhibiting progress is the interpretation of the requirement to adopt annually a programme of work as necessitating the inclusion of complex negotiating mandates and other detail, rather than being merely a calendar of activities, as in most other multilateral bodies.
We are open to considering how best to proceed – whether the CD is asked to set its own house in order, whether it is asked to so by a certain date, or whether the matter is taken up in another forum. What is clear is that the status quo cannot continue. The wishes of the vast majority of the Member States of the UN, both inside and outside the CD, who want to see progress in the negotiation of new global agreements in the area of disarmament, can no longer be ignored.
The CD is not the only forum dealing with disarmament within the multilateral system. The First Committee of the UN General Assembly on Disarmament and International Security is another major plank in our multilateral system. As UN member States the onus is on us to ensure that the Committee remains focussed on current challenges and does not lose touch with today’s most pressing problems. Our aim should be to reinvigorate it as a vital political forum for debate of key issues.
We also need to ask some pertinent questions about the UN Disarmament Commission, whose potential as a universal deliberative body has not been fully exploited. There is a need for a fundamental review of the Commission’s procedures and operating principles.
In all of these bodies, there is a need for greater involvement of civil society, which can bring an important additional perspective to our work and make it more responsive to the views of our populations.
While improved working methods are a necessary condition for progress, they are not sufficient. The key ingredient remains our shared political will and resolve to succeed.
Mr Secretary General
Ireland very much appreciates your initiative in convening this high-level meeting.
24 September 2010