Speech Article from  Global Affairs Canada

Address by Minister Dion to High-Level Segment of Conference on Disarmament

March 2, 2016 - Geneva, Switzerland

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with the Government of Canada’s communications policy.

After a five-year absence, it is time a Canadian foreign affairs minister addressed the Conference on Disarmament. I am pleased to do so today on behalf of the Government of Canada and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

I will not mince words: the sad fact is, this forum has been paralyzed for nearly 20 years. Yet 20 years ago, the Conference on Disarmament had a successful track record. For the past two decades, however, it has been coming up empty. The Conference on Disarmament has not made a single concrete contribution to international peace and security.

It is not that the international community is incapable of working together. We are doing just that—but outside this forum. Consider the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention [Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction], the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Arms Trade Treaty.

One major recent success in terms of disarmament is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 [China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States plus Germany]. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will be an essential contribution to global efforts toward nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, provided it is fully and verifiably implemented.

As well, the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, in which Canada is actively participating, is addressing important technical aspects of verification that currently pose a significant obstacle to the development of long-lasting disarmament measures.

Similarly, efforts to address conventional weapons are vitally important. Specifically, Germany’s initiative on small arms and light weapons in the Sahel and the current role of the Arms Trade Treaty in minimizing the destabilizing and often tragic impact of small arms and light weapons in a number of countries are extremely positive developments.

In fact, I am announcing today that Canada will accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. Our government is working diligently to meet its domestic legal obligations to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible.

Let me reiterate that all of these agreements were negotiated outside the Conference on Disarmament.

The fact that this body, which is tasked with disarmament negotiations, has not played a role in any of the significant advances in disarmament stands as a damning indictment of our inability to overcome our narrow national interests.

I fear that if the Conference does not make a serious effort to resume its substantive work, ad hoc non-proliferation and disarmament efforts in other forums will become the norm. I consequently urge reflection, not only in this room, but especially in capitals, on the consequences of the Conference on Disarmament being made irrelevant.

Our Conference must shake off its inertia. This is critical when we consider the extent to which the world is really no safer today than it was when the Conference was formed in 1979.

Crises in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to name but a few, continue to undermine regional and international security. Irresponsible and reckless actions by North Korea, in defiance of its own obligations and UN resolutions, cast a dark shadow over the security of North Asia. Meanwhile, parts of Africa are plagued by instability, worsened by a glut of small arms and light weapons.

Therefore, it is high time for this Conference to get back to work. And I am here to tell you that Canada stands ready to work collaboratively with all of you to get this machinery working again.

I am sure that many of you here share the desire to restore the Conference as the world’s forum for disarmament negotiations.

To achieve this, we must redouble our efforts to find innovative ways of moving forward that respect the real differences between our positions.

But for the Conference on Disarmament to contribute to peace in a tangible way, we need to set realistic objectives, taking contemporary strategic realities into account. Preaching total disarmament is not one of these realistic objectives.

It is clear that the current environment is hardly conducive to encouraging states that possess nuclear weapons to participate in negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban. An immediate outright ban on nuclear weapons might be an appealing gesture, but without these states its practical impact would be highly questionable.

Without the participation of the countries possessing nuclear weapons, a ban would not bring us any closer to our shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Indeed, premature action risks undermining international stability by creating a false sense of security, without any reliable underpinnings.

Progress toward our collective goal of complete and verifiable disarmament can be achieved only if it is incremental, concrete, realistic and verifiable.

This is not to say there is nothing we—including non-nuclear weapons states—should be doing. To the contrary.

In particular, the time is ripe to pursue further political and legal steps within the context of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT. Such measures include:

  • increased transparency;
  • moratoriums on nuclear tests and the production of fissile material;
  • security assurances;
  • the establishment of nuclear weapons free zones; and
  • continued work toward the universalization of the NPT.

One objective we must achieve is the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty, or FMCT.

The Group of Governmental Experts, which Canada was honoured to chair, has already produced a robust, in-depth assessment of future FMCT aspects. Their work showed that a treaty is not beyond our reach. Negotiations would undoubtedly be difficult, but the outcome would be a significant achievement.

The pursuit of such a treaty would not only help put in place a prohibition against the production of dangerous fissile material, but it would also be instrumental in helping to advance important verification mechanisms necessary for broader disarmament efforts. This is a realistic, achievable step, and one that Canada believes must move forward without further delay.

Another example of a concrete objective that we could achieve is the Open-ended Working Group instituted by the United Nations General Assembly last year. Canada is participating actively in the working group, not because we believe that the discussions will be easy, but because talking to one another is better than not talking to one another. Canada genuinely hopes that this group will be able to produce a balanced and constructive report on measures for disarmament.

When I look at the Conference on Disarmament, I see a community of diplomats motivated to make contributions to non-proliferation and disarmament.

This is why, despite the long-standing impasse in this body, I am convinced that we have not given up hope of achieving a more secure world.

Steady, incremental progress on disarmament can be made with patience, flexibility, perseverance and courageous leadership. I encourage all of you to rededicate yourselves to finding a way forward.

To this end, you will be able to count on Canada.

Thank you.


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