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25 January 2012

Conference on Disarmament opens in Geneva with an urgent appeal to stop it from sinking

On 24 January, the first session of the UN Conference on Disarmament in 2012 opened in Geneva with an urgent call from the UN Secretary-General to Member States to “support the immediate commencement of negotiations in the Conference on agreed disarmament issues” and to avoid the Conference from sinking any further.

In his speech delivered by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), the UN Secretary-General explained that the UN Conference on Disarmament is no longer living up to its expectations as it has not been fulfilling its negotiating role since 1996, when the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty emerged. He criticised the ongoing disagreement among Member States over the Conference’s priorities and said that the wrong implementation of the consensus rule was at the heart of the impasse. “The future of the Conference is in the hands of its Member States. But I cannot stand by and watch it decline into irrelevancy, as States consider other negotiating arenas,” he continued, noting that "if the Conference remains deadlocked, [the General Assembly] is ready to consider other options to move the disarmament agenda forward.”

The deadlock and difficulties surrounding the Conference were also reiterated by the Ambassador of Ecuador. As Ecuador is currently presiding over the Conference of Disarmament, it had started informal consultations among the Conference’s Member States, and produced a non-paper to better understand the ongoing impasse. The results confirmed the lack of consensus among States on the agenda of the Conference; as well as regarding the relevance of its existence. He addressed the controversies around the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) – a treaty under negotiation that would halt the production of fissile material which is used in nuclear weapons – and underlined that the Conference should also be able to function without further agreement on the FMCT. To put this into perspective, he stressed that the global concerns for international security and global disarmament are far more important.

Rose Gottemoeller, speaking on behalf of the United States – a country in favour of the FMCT – underlined that “Every government represented in this room has national security concerns and obligations associated with an FMCT, including my own. But as responsible governments, we also have a collective obligation to and responsibility for international peace and security, to which an FMCT would significantly contribute.”

The representative of Canada said that the first step to bring the Conference on Disarmament back to life would be to start agreeing on a Programme of Work, which would allow the negotiation of an FMCT, as well as discussions on other core issues. He highlighted that this does not necessarily mean that all issues should be treated in “the exact same manner at the exact same time,” as this would be a “recipe for deadlock.”

For other statements made on the first day of the Conference, click here. The first session will continue until end of March 2012.

Photo credits: © UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

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