Today you are convening plenary meeting no. 1000 in the history of the Conference on Disarmament.
There are few reasons for celebrations. Or should we continue to be bewildered by the conventional wisdom that the CD has a glorious past and that problems in recent years do not affect the excellence of this ”best club in town”?
As pointed out by the ambassador of the Netherlands a few days ago the problem is not that it is being repeated over and over again in this chamber that the CD is the best club in town, but that it is being stated with no irony.
It is true that the CD produced two arms control treaties in the period 1990-96. The first one, the Chemical Weapons Convention, is undoubtfully a success. The other one, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, has not entered into force. It is, nevertheless, not without utility.
But it is also true that in CDs 27 years history nothing else has been produced. We can boast of one and a half successes. Is that impressive?
And it is equally true that almost all existing arms control instruments have been negotiated before the CD in its current shape was established or outside the CD, in parallel tracks. In the 1990s quite a few of CDs meetings were devoted to discussions on a treaty banning anti personnel mines. The efforts failed solidly, and the Land Mines Treaty was negotiated among interested States, far away from the CD.
When the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was negotiated in the 1960s, time was ripe. The two superpowers considered it to be in their self-interest – as it obviously was for the rest of the world – to regulate the nuclear issues and options of the time. Likewise for chemical weapons. They were out of fashion for important governments around 1990 and that paved the way for negotiations. The CD was a convenient forum for this enterprise. But hadn’t the CD existed a similar multilateral forum would have been invented. And time was ripe also to negotiate a test ban treaty, not least due to strong international reactions against nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
In the field of arms control the historical lesson is pretty straight forward: when time is ripe negotiations commence whether the approach is bilateral or multilateral. We can all contribute, in substantive dialogue and discussions, to facilitate the riping process. But issues must not be confused. At our meeting no. 1000 it should be recalled that this conference is a means, not an objective. In this respect it does not need to be fixed, except that we probably do not have to meet every week to listen to each other’s statements about whatever happens to be on our mind. What must be fixed is the policies in some Capitals.
But, occasionally, means may obscure objectives. Let me take an example. It has been stated in this hall over and over again that time is ripe to negotiate a fissile material cut off treaty.
I am not convinced that this is the case.
But the problem is that as long as the issue is being dealt with in the CD we cannot know whether time is ripe, because in this chamber all issues are being kept hostage of each other. It is prohibited to address one concern unless all thinkable concerns are being addressed simultaniously.
If time is ripe to negotiate a fissile material treaty I suggest that the nuclear weapon States get together with the biggest consumers of fissile material for peaceful purposes – far away from the CD – and consider negotiations.
Then we will see if time is ripe.
Finally Mr. President,
The CD was established in a political context drastically different from the international security situation in 2006. It seems to me that this is not always reflected in our debates which occasionally suggest that the cold war is not over and that 11. September never took place. No wonder that the real world outside this hall is surprised and confused when reports leak from our undertakings.
Let the CD rest as it is in physical terms: a meeting room, microphones, available interpreters, an available secretariat and available delegates ready to negotiate arms control instruments when time is ripe. No suspension, but more emphasis on availability than time-consuming artificial procedural malstreaming.