Thematic Discussion on Disarmament Machinery – UNFC October 2023
Statement by the United States as Delivered by Ambassador Bruce Turner
Thank you Chair,
The United States has always believed the disarmament tools at our common disposal are adequate and appropriate. Still, we believe they can be made more efficient and effective. This is why we have circulated several modest ideas for improving the working methods of the Conference on Disarmament, without altering the Rules of Procedure.
We recognize it is difficult in the current tense and competitive geopolitical environment to make rapid or substantial progress. That said, the current state of affairs traces its roots not to the existing disarmament machinery, which in fact has shown itself as flexible in coming up with creative formats for grappling with emerging technologies, as it was effective in the past to the negotiation of major treaties dealing with chemical and biological weapons. The fault lies elsewhere.
Our world of today is characterized by tumult, competition, and potential conflict among shifting powers, in which the status quo ante no longer completely obtains. The measure of power is also being transformed, from a purely military concept to a more integrated one that combines economic, technological, and scientific prowess. We must contend not only with issues of nuclear and conventional weapons, but also revolutionary technological developments that could change the face of warfare.
This new world mixes elements of the old and familiar with the new and unfamiliar, where the potential advantages and disadvantages, or benefits and hazards, are still hard to appreciate. We know things are changing, in some cases dramatically, but it is difficult to predict exactly how. To our mind, this argues for preserving the structures we have, while working to adapt them to new circumstances and realities.
At the same time, some of our current problems go far beyond any inadequacies in our disarmament machinery or even the reluctance of one or more states to engage in symbiotic negotiations. One country in particular acts as a wrecking ball threatening to bring down the entire disarmament house in the name of its immediate geopolitical goals. This country is in effect attempting to hold hostage the entire UN system, and with it the multilateral arms control and disarmament order.
I am referring to the systematic attempt by Russia this past year to destroy through procedural obstruction what it cannot gain through diplomatic engagement. Where it cannot win on the merits of its arguments, often because they lack merit, it attempts to exploit the rules of procedure as a way to obstruct progress while shirking responsibility for the results. This is a game of using and abusing the rules of procedure to challenge every proposal, as well as the prerogatives of the chairpersons, in order to veto anything with which Russia does not explicitly agree.
During the recent NPT preparatory conference Russia colluded with one or two others to prevent the issuance of the procedural report of the meeting. In the Conference on Disarmament – most egregiously in 2022 – Russia has consistently insisted that meetings on subjects with which it disagrees be held in informal format to keep them out of the official records. In the recent OEWG on space, Russia blocked a substantive report of the meeting and the procedural report of the meeting. In effect, Russia attempted to erase the very existence of a process that had lasted nearly two years.
We found out why when Russia circulated its most recent PAROS resolution only one or two days after the UK had circulated a resolution on continuing the OEWG process supported by so many other states. Russia aims to usurp and supplant the OEWG process and railroad future discussions toward its preferred outcome of a Treaty on the Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space. The problem is that this is a treaty built on a false premise and complete fiction – as Russia has already demonstrated on several occasions – that such weapons do not already exist.
The United States believes nations must show a minimum willingness to act in good faith, including by ceasing the practice of offering hostile amendments to others’ UNFC resolutions, if we are to make good use of the disarmament machinery available to us. Censoring those who disagree with us is not the appropriate way to reach common understandings on the way forward. It is also not appropriate to exclude half the world’s population from these important discussions, and we should push actively for women’s full participation in the disarmament machinery. Extortion should have no place in our multilateral institutions, lest we destroy the very tools we will want to reach to in the future.
The United States will continue to engage realistically and responsibly, defending our interests and listening to others with the aim of finding common ground that will enable us all to move forward together to meet our growing challenges and enhance our common security.