Conference on Disarmament
Statement by Australia
23 January 2018
Thank you Mr President
I congratulate you on assuming the Presidency of this Conference.
Australia supports your efforts to find common ground to allow us to fulfil our mandate as the sole negotiating body on multilateral disarmament - and thus contribute to international peace and security.
I thank the UN High Representative for Disarmament, Ms Izumi Nakamitsu, for being here at the opening of this year’s CD, and for her wise counsel and encouragement.
Australia has an abiding interest in working toward the ultimate goal of a world without weapons of mass destruction.
Over the next ten years the world will face new proliferation challenges due to emerging technologies with WMD and conventional applications. Terrorists continue to seek WMD to cause mass casualties. Technological advances make developing bio-weapons easier and cheaper. Chemical weapons are again being used, as seen recently in Syria. North Korea continues to develop its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile program. Proliferation networks, including for missile technology and small arms, threaten the security of the globe, including in Australia’s own region, the Indo-Pacific.
Australia advocates a patient and pragmatic approach in a complex security environment.
Part of that is ensuring that we use all the tools at our disposal. The Conference on Disarmament is part of our toolkit to strengthen global security and make our communities safer.
But it has not been effective for many years - and bona fide efforts to agree a comprehensive and balanced Program of Work have not been successful.
There are many theories about the CD’s years of deadlock, but arguing endlessly about why takes us nowhere.
We need political will to find areas of agreement on where we can make progress, in a way that takes account of the security interests of all States. We need to listen to each other, and deepen our dialogue and understanding.
I offer a few modest suggestions for consideration.
- We need to build on the work of previous CD sessions. In this vein we welcome the President’s initiative for an informal dialogue next week, and collaboration among the P6. Last year’s Way Ahead Working Group was a welcome step at improving continuity.
- We need to avoid being trapped by process, and be wary of doing things the same way, just because it has always been so. The rules of procedure are there for good reason, and the consensus rule protects the interests of all countries, but we need to use it responsibly.
- We should have the courage to reinterpret what would constitute a comprehensive, balanced, program of work. To insist, as some do, that we need to negotiate on all four core issues is fanciful. Would we even have the resources to do more than one negotiation at a time?
- How do we leverage off the work of the CD from other disarmament architecture, like the UN Disarmament Commission - a deliberative body? While we need to take into account important differences between deliberations and negotiations - the process is not linear. The UNDC has made recent strides forward in achieving consensus that we could learn from.
- Negotiations require solid groundwork - technical, and political. Much of this work is taking place in various expert groups - how much better if we could have those detailed discussions in the CD. At the very least, we should establish strong linkages between each GGE and the work of the CD. That relationship must be symbiotic. The Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) expert preparatory group will finish its work mid-year - such work is invaluable groundwork for negotiators.
- We need to value and promote diversity in the CD - diversity in delegates, and diversity in the countries active in this body. This can be an intimidating room, and we need to create an atmosphere where we are prepared to listen to diverse voices.
- The pipeline of people who will work on international security and disarmament is being created now, and if we want good people in this field, they need to see that it is a dynamic and creative forum, where women and men contribute equally, to making our world safer.
Australia will continue to engage positively to find common ground, and build consensus. Progress may be incremental, and frustratingly slow. But through dialogue, listening, and debating beyond our talking points, we build understanding, and trust.