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Ambassador Laura Kennedy on Transparency in Armaments
March 17, 2011

Transparency in Armaments

Statement by U.S. Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy

Conference on Disarmament

Geneva, Switzerland

March 17, 2011

Thank you Mr. President.

Mr. President, my Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, opened her address to the Conference on Disarmament with a tribute to your leadership and your efforts to make the Conference on Disarmament an effective tool for addressing the critical challenges we face today.

I would like to reiterate that laudatory assessment of your Presidency. We all know what a challenge this job has become and you met that challenge admirably. We appreciate the efforts you made to develop a Program of Work, the deft way you managed your plenary duties and the vigorous debate you stimulated. Your efforts to arrange our own ‘high level segment’ attracted a record number of global actors, including my own boss. Many thanks for all you and your team have done to galvanize this body into action.

We look forward with equal enthusiasm to the Chinese Presidency under the very distinguished hand of our colleague, Wang Qun.

This morning I would like to take up Agenda Item 7 and address two aspects of Transparency in Armaments that are of real importance to the United States – the UN Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures, and the UN Register of Conventional Arms.

A series of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, beginning with 1980 resolution 35/142B, have called on all Member States to voluntarily report their annual military expenditures to the UN Secretary General using the UN Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures. The original goal of establishing such reporting was to facilitate actual reductions in military expenditures, with the voluntary sharing of information a first step in that direction. However, agreement on comparability and verification of data was never attempted or achieved, and the instrument remained purely a transparency tool, helping to build confidence through greater openness.

The Instrument has had 124 States report their military expenditures at least once since it commenced reporting operations in 1981. However, of the 120 some States that make military expenditure information publically accessible, the annual response rate for most of the past decade averaged 74. In an effort to broaden participation in and improve the quality of data submitted to the Standardized Instrument, resolution 62/13 was passed in 2007 calling for a Group of Government Experts (GGE) to review the Instrument.

The Group of Government Experts met for the first time in November of last year. The group held its second round of meetings in February, and will hold its third and final round in May. It should be noted that this is the first time in its thirty year history that a GGE has met to review the operations of the Instrument. The United States views the voluntary, transparent reporting of military expenditures as an important confidence building measure that can serve as a starting point for discussion and enhance understanding, stability, and security among States worldwide. The Instrument also promotes civilian control of the military by opening military expenditures to civilian scrutiny. The United States supports the current GGE review and efforts to develop measures that will broaden participation in and improve comparability and reliability of submissions to the UN Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures, and encourages others to do so as well.

Let me now take a few moments to address the view of the United States on the UN Register of Conventional Arms. The United States has been a strong supporter of the UN Register and the Transparency in Armaments initiative since UNGA Resolution 46/36 L established a multi-step process to operationalize a voluntary register of conventional arms transfers. The Register was intended to help prevent the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of arms in order to promote stability and strengthen international peace and security, taking into account the legitimate security needs of states and the principle of undiminished security at the lowest possible level of armaments.

By any measure, the Register has been a resounding success, establishing a global norm of transparency and accountability in military matters and reinforcing civilian control of the military. During its sixteen years of operation, more than 170 states have participated in the Register at least once. By reporting on both imports and exports, the Register has captured the vast majority of the international conventional arms trade in the Register’s seven categories. Even though some States may not participate in a given year or may have never participated, the Register captures transfers involving many of them.

Groups of Governmental Experts (GGEs) convened by the Secretary-General have conducted periodic reviews of the Register’s operation. For my country’s part, we hope that States will continue to support and participate in the Register. We were deeply disappointed by the failure of the 2009 GGE to agree to expand the Register to include small arms and light weapons when a single Expert chose to block a proposal to add SA/LW as an eighth category. In our view this was a significant missed opportunity to improve the effectiveness of the UN Register. However, in an effort to set the stage for the 2012 GGE on this subject, the 2009 GGE did agree to a recommendation to the UN Secretary-General to seek the views of Members States on the question of whether the failure of the Register to include SA/LW directly affected some national decisions not to participate in the Register. We urge all Members to provide their views on this subject. We hope and expect that the 2012 GGE will use this as the starting point for resuming the discussion on SA/LW.

Speaking of 2012, I would like to note that 2012 will be a very crowded year in the conventional arms area. We are scheduled to have the triennial GGE on the Register, the Review Conference of the UN Program of Action on Combating Illicit Trafficking in Small Arms and Light Weapons, and the four-week UN Conference that will begin the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations. Given this crowded stage, we need to look for ways to ensure that participants in each of these important discussions are able to devote the time and attention to each that they all deserve.

Let me close by saying that I have received a barrage of requests from former CD colleagues and friends of Japan asking me to convey their special prayers to our dear colleague, Ambassador Suda, and his delegation. The ferocity of this disaster has stunned us all. While governments and friends around the world are sending aid to Japan, we all know the greatest resource that Japan has is its people who will rise above even this terrible catastrophe.

Thank you Mr. President.