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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Remarks > 2003

U.S. Statement to the Final Plenary Meeting of the UN Disarmament Commission

J. Sherwood McGinnis, Head of Delegation
New York City
April 17, 2003

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My delegation appreciates your many efforts and those of the two extremely able Working Group (WG) chairmen; on very short notice, they took on two difficult, but important issues and led us almost to the point of consensus. Yet, we were not able to overcome the final hurdle.

In trying to determine why this goal eluded us, I would offer that the Disarmament Commission needs to do a better job of focusing its work when it begins its next session. In retrospect, the nuclear disarmament topic was too broad.

The U.S. expected that the Disarmament Commission would pick out a few specific ways and means toward nuclear disarmament that might be ripe for attention and could command consensus and analyze those. Instead, we adopted a catchall approach that introduced so many elements--many controversial--that consensus agreement was not possible. We also hoped that the Commission would devote its attention to the more immediate and urgent threats to international peace and security. As we look to the next meeting of the Commission, this will mean looking forward and addressing the problems we expect to face in the next 5-10 years.

As an example, one item that was brought up during this session may merit more in-depth examination by the UN Disarmament Commission--preventing states and terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. This could include examining ways of enhancing traditional measures such as diplomacy, arms control, multilateral agreements, threat reduction assistance, and export control measures that seek to dissuade or impede proliferant states and terrorist networks, as well as to slow and make more costly their access to sensitive technologies, material, and expertise. Again, this is only one example, but something that should be kept in mind for future work by the UN Disarmament Commission.

In spite of the inconclusive outcome, we see some reason for encouragement in the efforts of WG I. The bar we set was perhaps too high. We:

  • Took on a topic that was perhaps too broad, covering many areas of fundamental differences of view.
  • Started with a paper rooted in very different circumstances, those prior to September 11.
  • Lost an opportunity to refocus our work last year.
Nevertheless, we made important progress in recent days, at least in terms of our approach. Had we started with a more focused topic and concentrated on areas where there were real prospects for a convergence of views, we might have been successful.

The failure of Working Group II is much more difficult to comprehend. Though my delegation put forward at the beginning of this exercise a number of ideas we thought would improve the draft, we could have accepted that draft as it was on the first day. Our impression is that many, if not most, of the other delegations felt the same way. According to our reckoning, not a single one of the contentious points on which this paper foundered was introduced prior to last week.

We cannot help but wonder why, if these issues were of such fundamental importance that they prevented consensus on this paper, they were not raised until the final week of a 3-year process. CBMs are extremely useful in reducing regional tensions and helping to prevent conflict. By definition, they benefit everyone. But instead of sending a strong message acknowledging that fact, we have produced nothing.

At least one delegation suggested that consensus implies that favored topics of every delegation will in some way be accommodated. We believe this is a formula for failure, as every delegation will be encouraged to put forward a laundry list of proposals, many of which have little chance of gaining support. If such an approach is ever able to produce consensus, it will be on documents that are not really worth reading.

If forums such as the United Nations Disarmament Commission are to be productive, delegations need to do some serious reflection on how to approach the work. We believe the only way this system can work is by maintaining a focus on the subject at hand, and by building from the “ground-up” on areas of convergence. My authorities have championed the concept of “effective multilateralism,” and we should think hard about how we can ensure that the UN Disarmament Commission will be an effective instrument of disarmament policy.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, the outcome in no way reflects on the efforts of the Chairman of the Disarmament Commission or of the chairmen of the two Working Groups. We believe all approached their work with dedication, wisdom, and flexibility and did everything humanly possible to gain the success that, alas, has eluded us. We thank you all.


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