[Disarmament] Conference on Disarmament, First Session
Allow me first of all to congratulate you on the assumption of your post. My delegation lends its full support to you and all six Presidencies of this year and your endeavours.
We believe that time has come for a more genuine discussion on the root causes of the deadlock of the Conference on Disarmament and on potential innovative approaches to tackle this deadlock. We welcome your initiative, Mr. President, to invite this forum for a frank and honest discussion on the future of the CD and we will be glad to contribute to this debate.
Austria considers functioning multilateral disarmament regimes as a vital component of an intact international security framework based on a human security approach. The Conference on Disarmament has played an important role in this regard in the past. However, for more than a decade, the few success stories in multilateral disarmament have happened outside this forum. And the longer the CD has remained in deadlock and failed to fulfil its mandate to address today’s pressing security challenges, the more it has lost credibility and legitimacy as a body of multilateral disarmament negotiations.
Austria has followed these developments with great concern and launched a number of initiatives in recent years. In 2009, Austria was among the P6 during the negotiations of a Programme of Work (CD/1864), and we strongly endeavoured to render the programme as balanced as possible with regard to the different priority issues.
In follow up to the High-Level Meeting on 24 September 2010, convened by the UN Secretary-General, Austria introduced UNGA Res. 65/93 on Revitalizing the Conference on Disarmament and Taking Forward Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations.
Despite serious efforts by Austria and many other delegations, the 2011 Session of the CD came and went without moving us any closer to substantive work.
Last fall, Austria together with Mexico and Norway therefore tabled a draft resolution at the 66th UN General Assembly First Committee, which focused on stimulating a shift away from procedural discussions in the CD towards work on all substantive elements on the CD agenda.
The proposal was based on our conclusion that a greater amount of flexibility among member states would be needed to break out of our substantive deadlock. This would also require all stakeholders to challenge some of the entrenched positions that are – if we analyse our situation honestly – at the core of our problems.
Our proposal was a simple one: In case that the CD continued to fail to agree on a programme of work, open-ended working groups based in Geneva would beproposed on all issues currently blocked for as long as the CD remained in deadlock.
The proposal challenged some strongly held positions regarding “priorities of issues”. For more than ten years, the CD member states have been unable to agree on these priorities. My delegation is convinced that the only way forward is to move more broadly on all issues. Ultimately, the question of what issue is more or less of a priority should be subject of the multilateral negotiation process itself. It should not be used to prevent the start of negotiations.
Some delegations perceived the proposal as challenging the disarmament machinery by proposing to deal with disarmament issues within the General Assembly. However, we need to confront the fact that, after nearly 15 years of failure to deliver on its mandate, the CD is currently a defunct forum. Does is still make sense to insist on an approach that obviously does not work or is it better to try something different? At the end of the day, to suggest dealing with issues within the UN General Assembly can hardly be interpreted as a challenge to the UN disarmament machinery. We may need something like a Uniting for Disarmament approach.
Different states on the different sides of issues are very apt in finding arguments on why to continue the current situation is better than trying a different approach. The lack of progress in the CD may be lamented but the maintenance of the status quo appears to be a rather comfortable position for many. And the CD has become the tool to entrench such an approach.
There is wide-spread agreement on the urgency of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. There is a very large majority of states that wants to make progress on these issues through multilateral cooperation. However, we are at the start of yet another CD Session with an unproductive outlook. There is no reason to believe that consensus on a meaningful programme of work – and, thus, substantive work – will happen in any realistic timeframe.
In Austria’s view the time has come to seriously address the question whether it is wise to continue to follow the approach of the past 15 years, that progress on disarmament and non-proliferation can only be made in this forum, exclusively on the issues that all member states agree on and solely on the basis of the rigid CD interpretation of the consensus rule. We need to weigh the consequences of continuing with this approach in terms of credibility of the disarmament and nonproliferation regime and the effect on multilateralism as a whole and whether we can actually afford this in light of the international security challenges.
We believe that there is a need to try different avenues and also a growing readiness among states to do this. It was not at all “fatigue” – as one might have expected – what we experienced during the deliberations at the 66 General Assembly Session. There was a widely shared perception that the continued paralysis of disarmament negotiations has become unbearable for the international community. The number of resolutions tabled at the General Assembly and the engaged discussions demonstrated this clearly. The 2012 Session therefore carries a particular momentum and responsibility. Austria is committed to working with al other interested states on this and to continue with our efforts on taking multilateral disarmament negotiations forward.
Our mandate in this body is to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and make this world a safer place free of nuclear weapons. Should the CD fail this year once again to fulfil its mandate in this regard, we cannot any longer shy away from drawing serious conclusions. The enlargement of the Conference on Disarmament is an issue of particular importance for Austria. It was also reiterated in the EU Statement delivered last week. We strongly support the continuation of consultations on the expansion of membership of the CD and the call for a special co-ordinator on this subject to be appointed without delay.
Finally, Mr. President, Austria is convinced that the multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation discourse enormously benefits from a closer exchange with academia and civil society actors engaged in this field. Therefore, we continue to appeal to the Conference on Disarmament, particularly at this stage, to open ears and doors and engage in more inclusive discussions with all interested stakeholders.