Tánaiste's Statement at Conference on Disarmament, Geneva27 February 2013
Statement by the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, Mr. Eamon Gilmore T.D., to the Conference on Disarmament
Geneva, 27 February 2013
It is a pleasure to address the Conference on Disarmament today.
Over several decades, this Conference has played a central role in promoting the rule of law in disarmament. Among its notable achievements we can count the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention; the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. These instruments represent significant contributions to international disarmament and non-proliferation. They demonstrate what this Conference is capable of achieving when there is a collective will among its membership to work together for the common good.
Despite these achievements, it has regrettably been clear for some time that the Conference on Disarmament is no longer functioning. Since its last major achievement – the conclusion of negotiations on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996 – the CD has become a byword for stalemate and failure. We must reverse this trend, and soon.
A growing impatience is evident that this conference, which was designed to be the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating body, has been unable to perform its role for over fifteen years, despite the many pressing arms control challenges facing us today.
Last November, the UN General Assembly expressed very clearly its dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. By overwhelming majority votes, it established two new mechanisms here in Geneva to facilitate discussions on topics which the CD has been unable to take forward.
The 67th General Assembly also decided that a High Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament should be convened in New York later this year. This meeting will offer the entire UN membership the chance to reflect on what has been achieved and what has not.
Ireland supported all three Resolutions. I believe they will contribute to global disarmament efforts at a time when these are falling behind and clearly in need of support. We look forward to engaging fully on all three initiatives.
I believe the General Assembly’s message is clear: if this Conference continues to ignore its responsibility to address the disarmament agenda before it, ways will be found to address this agenda by other means, if necessary. It is my hope, as one of the six CD Presidencies this year, that when we gather in New York later this year, we will be able to show that work has been able to begin here in the Conference.
We know that progress is possible on difficult issues when we summon the will to do so. The Anti-Personnel Landmine Convention and the Cluster Munitions Convention are examples of how complex issues can be tackled with good will and support from civil society. Next month, I hope we can add a robust and comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty to the list of arms control success stories. The negotiation of these instruments in other fora demonstrates that this Conference does not have a monopoly on negotiations in this area.
Ireland views the initiatives by the 67th General Assembly as an opportunity to inject new life into this Conference. The Conference on Disarmament must be placed back at the heart of global disarmament negotiations.
Some have expressed reservations, including in this chamber, about the creation of the Open Ended Working Group. I hope these reservations can be set aside and I urge all to engage constructively with these new initiatives.
Let us approach them as opportunities and not threats. Let us look closely at how we do business. Let us look at the composition of this Conference – which reflects only a third of the UN membership – as well as at its engagement with civil society. Above all, let us renew our efforts to get this Conference back to work.
It is now fifty-five years since the first of the Irish resolutions at the General Assembly; and forty-five years since the conclusion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty these resolutions gave rise to.
Under the NPT bargain, the nuclear weapons states agreed to disarm and the non-nuclear weapons states agreed to forego the acquisition of these weapons.
While those who framed the Treaty did not establish a timeline by which complete disarmament must be achieved, I think we must assume that they expected, at the very least, significant progress towards this key objective of the Treaty within its intended twenty-five year lifespan. This did not happen. The NPT was extended indefinitely shortly before it was to expire in 1995. And yet, eighteen years on from its extension, there are an estimated 19,000 nuclear weapons in the world. This is simply un-acceptable.
The NPT has undoubtedly been successful in preventing horizontal nuclear weapons proliferation, but it has not stopped vertical weapons proliferation.
The UN Secretary General noted in his Monterey address last month: “deferring nuclear disarmament indefinitely pending the satisfaction of an endlessly growing list of preconditions can lead only to a world full of nuclear weapons.”
If progress is not achieved on disarmament, unsustainable pressure will be brought to bear on the NPT’s non-proliferation imperatives and the Treaty’s bargain will unravel. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was undoubtedly right when he warned “Delay comes at a high price.”
The NPT offers us a blueprint for a world free of nuclear weapons. It is vital that the entire NPT membership continues to work on delivering the Treaty’s non-proliferation agenda. It is equally important that the nuclear weapons states acknowledge that only they can deliver on its disarmament agenda. We look to them to show us they are serious about doing so.
A few weeks from now, we will gather here in Geneva for the second Preparatory Committee of the 2015 NPT Review Cycle. I hope we will be able to continue the work that was achieved at last year’s meeting in Vienna. There is much for us to do to ensure we have a successful Review Conference in two year’s time. The time to start working towards that goal is now.
Ireland remains strongly supportive of efforts to achieve a zone free of nuclear weapons, as well as of other weapons of mass destruction, in the Middle East. I regret it was not possible to convene a conference in Helsinki last year, as intended, to work towards achieving this important goal. It is my hope that the Helsinki Conference will be able to begin its work as soon as possible this year, and I call on all concerned to create the conditions necessary for this to happen. This was never going to be easy, but that does not mean we should not try. I am always reluctant to draw parallels between complicated negotiating processes, but if one lesson can be taken from the recent history of my own country, it is that with courage, political will and a commitment to succeed, accommodations can, and will, be found on even the most difficult of issues.
I welcome the ongoing work by the conference facilitator, Ambassador Laajava of Finland, and I urge all states of the region to engage in good faith. I also encourage the UK, US and Russian Federation, together with the UN Secretary General, to continue their support and engagement with a view to convening this Conference as soon as possible this year.
I welcome Norway’s initiative to host a conference in Oslo next week on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. This meeting offers a chance to remind ourselves of the calamitous, unmanageable and immoral implications of any use, whether accidental or deliberate, of nuclear weapons. In my mind, it is clear that we would be powerless to respond in any meaningful way to the uniquely destructive power which a nuclear detonation would unleash. We would simply be overwhelmed. The longer term effects – to health, the environment, agriculture, commerce – to human life as we know it - are unimaginable.
I believe the message that will come out of the Oslo meeting will be simple: Attempts to respond would be futile; we must instead prevent.
That is why we must redouble our efforts here, in this Conference, to achieve the disarmament that is the only way of ensuring this can never happen.
It has been the consistent position of successive Irish Governments that nuclear weapons can never and will never guarantee the security of any nation. Possession of these weapons entails unacceptable risks and there is no place for them in any defensive arsenal or security posture. Their very existence threatens international security.
The decision of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to test a nuclear explosive device earlier this month rightly drew condemnation from the international community. This decision is a challenge to us all. The Government of the DPRK must realise that, in defying UN Security Council Resolutions; by ignoring commitments it made under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and in refusing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency it only isolates itself further from the international community.
I call upon the DPRK to cease, immediately and without pre-conditions, nuclear testing and ballistic missile activities and to re-engage with the Six Party Talks on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. The DPRK must – as we all must – comply fully with Treaty and other international obligations.
In the area of conventional weapons, significant progress has been made in recent decades. Ireland is proud to have played its part in the Ottawa Process that led to the Anti Personnel Landmine Convention and the Oslo Process that led to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. In each case, the contribution by civil society has been indispensable and inspirational.
Ireland is a strong supporter of a robust Arms Trade Treaty, with universal application and the widest possible scope, to regulate the global trade in conventional arms. We need a Treaty that will set the highest possible international standards while taking full account of human rights obligations and international humanitarian law. It is my strong hope that next month’s negotiations culminate in the adoption of this critically important new Treaty.
We are faced by many disarmament and non-proliferation challenges today.
We need a treaty on fissile materials for nuclear and other explosive devices, which could serve both non-proliferation and disarmament goals. We need the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to enter into force. We need more progress in implementing disarmament obligations under the NPT. We are confronted by a number of regional proliferation challenges. Further work is required to achieve universal adherence to the main Treaty arrangements – the NPT, the CWC and the BTWC.
If the list is daunting, let us remember that success is possible.
In the fifteen short years since it entered into force, the Chemical Weapons Convention – which was negotiated in this room – has come close to eliminating an entire weapons category from global arsenals. In a few weeks time, States Party to that Convention will meet in The Hague for the Third Review Conference. They will find a functioning and, for the most part, successful Treaty which has contributed to international security. It is already considering the transition from a largely disarmament-focussed organisation to one which can focus on ensuring that these weapons never re-enter global arsenals.
This is a success story of the Conference on Disarmament. It is time for us to show again that progress can be achieved in this room.
The Conference on Disarmament must get back to doing what it was set up to do. It must resume its role at the centre of global disarmament negotiations. The problems which beset the Conference are not linked to any one issue. We are all the Conference on Disarmament and it is for us all to work together and get this Conference back to work. Let us start that work today.