Ambassador Kennedy on the Future of the Conference on Disarmament

Statement by Ambassador Laura Kennedy
United States Permanent Representative
To the Conference on Disarmament

United Nations
Geneva, Switzerland
January 31, 2012

Mr. President, Mr. SYG, Colleagues:

We appreciate  the President’s attempt to stimulate thinking on how to move the CD toward accomplishing its founding purpose – to negotiate formal treaties.  We share the frustration and impatience about the deadlock in this body, a message voiced here directly by my Secretary of  State last year.

Let me, however, comment on some of the assertions in working paper 1929 that has just been circulated.

For example, the paper asserts that endless debates over a Program of Work have prevented the Conference from discussing substantively the issues on its agenda which would “lay the basis for negotiations.”

On the contrary, there have, for many years, been focused discussions on all agenda items even in the absence of a Programme of Work.

These discussions have taken place in a variety of venues, in informal and formal meetings and plenaries, in coordination meetings, and even on the margins of the CD.  Delegations have on occasion brought in experts to speak to these issues in more depth.

Among the purposes of these discussions was that of determining which issues on the CD’s agenda could most productively be advanced for negotiation. Time and again, the discussions demonstrated that FMCT was the such issue.

The paper also questions whether priority should be given to negotiating an FMCT in the CD. The fact is that this body exists to negotiate treaties related to, among other things, nuclear disarmament.

We all know tremendous progress that has been achieved between the United States and Russia in reducing their arsenals through a step-by-step process.

As a practical matter, several more such steps will be necessary before such negotiated reductions can become multilateral.

We also know that one of the conditions for moving to truly low numbers of nuclear weapons and eventually to zero is halting the production of new material for such weapons.

This is why FMCT is the next logical step for multilateral efforts. An FMCT would be a significant step, an essential one, a worthy achievement for the international community’s only standing multilateral disarmament body.  In fact, 189 states endorsed that goal in the NPT Final document Action Plan.  Are we to simply reject that goal and discard the Action Plan which has been widely
hailed as a road map for the future?  Our answer is a resounding NO.

The paper also suggests that the CD’s lack of productivity calls for shortening its sessions, or putting it on “standby,” a step whose effects could, in practical terms, prove hard to reverse.  Budget resources, once redeployed, can be hard or impossible to regain.

I think the real point is, since the international community has established its priorities, how can it go about implementing them?

The international community has previously agreed on the importance of FMCT, and on pursuing FMCT in the Conference on Disarmament.  That decision was made with serious purpose: the CD provides the conditions under which the stakeholders are present and should be able to negotiate seriously.

Putting the CD on “standby” or shortening its meetings would remove the most logical venue…  In the absence of the CD, other options to pursue this priority will surely be sought, probably including some less conducive to providing a consensual outcome and meeting our respective security interests.

To “set aside” FMCT would be tantamount to this Conference declaring its failure as a negotiating body.  For its part, the United States is not prepared to accept defeat.

Nor are we willing to accede to an action that would signal to our publics that we do not have the energy or the interest to do the hard work that disarmament agreements entail.  I am proud to represent a President who has rallied the international community to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.  We cannot walk away from that endeavor.

The paper also questions whether the CD’s agenda is the cause of the impasse and suggests the convening of a Special Session on Disarmament to review the disarmament machinery generally. While there may be merit in reviewing our agenda, which frankly is rooted deeply in the Cold War, long past, the fact is that we, the members, are the masters of our agenda.  If we believe such a review is warranted, we can discuss it.

However, this is not the time for us to be signaling lesser interest or less energy to pursue the international community’s disarmament agenda.  Again, addressing fissile material is central to the goal of nuclear disarmament, not some alien element or parasite that has “wormed” its way into our midst.

It is time for us to renew our efforts to find a way to address the concerns that have made it impossible for negotiations to begin.  We believe that the greatest assurance derives from the CD’s consensus rule, which ensures that all states’ national security interests can be protected in negotiations.

Finally, welcome to our new colleague from Russia, Ambassador Borodavkin.  I note the reference in his statement to a new compromise proposal designed to get this body back to work, a compromise which we can certainly support in the spirit of flexibility and political will which is so often called for in this body and a compromise offered within the “logical framework” mentioned by our distinguished Algerian colleague Ambassador Jazairy.