Multilateral Arms Control: Time to Opt for EffectivenessStephen G. Rademaker, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control
Statement to the First Committee of the 58th Session of the UN General Assembly
New York City
October 7, 2003
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me begin by congratulating you, on behalf of the United States Delegation, on your election as Chairman of the First Committee. I am confident that your vast experience will be an asset to the work of this Committee, and I assure you of the full support of our Delegation in the discharge of your duties. I also would like to extend my congratulations to the other members of the Bureau.
Mr. Chairman, I would like today to share with the Committee my belief that this Committee can and must reshape itself into an effective multilateral body -- one that is relevant to the security threats of today and of the future, and that can meaningfully enhance international peace and security. In order to do so, we must be prepared to make some hard choices regarding our agenda and the way in which we do business
At a Crossroads We meet, Mr. Chairman, at a crossroads for multilateral arms control. In one direction lies the old, Cold War-era thinking that has paralyzed achievable and practical progress in this field for far too long. In these dangerous times, too many nations still orient themselves by the anachronistic coordinates of the past; the results have been years of disappointing drift and growing irrelevance. In seeking to address today's challenges, too many nations continue to rely on the machinery endorsed a quarter-century ago by the First Special Session of the General Assembly Devoted to Disarmament, SSOD I, with no consideration of how to adapt this machinery to address new and emerging threats.
The old direction also has led to impasses and deadlocks that have become routine in some multilateral arms control fora. It has become nearly impossible to deal with a given arms control or disarmament issue without facing demands that other, unrelated subjects be dealt with on an equal basis and at the same time. Recently, the Conference on Disarmament showed signs that its work program stalemate could be lifted. We consider this an encouraging sign, and are considering its ramifications. Obviously, 7 years of inactivity there have wrought damage to the reputation of the Conference.
Some believe, Mr. Chairman, that the objective of consensus is to ensure that all proposals have equal weight or are deemed equally acceptable. That kind of thinking, over and over again, proved itself during the Cold War and beyond to be a recipe for inaction and failure, as subjects that do not enjoy consensus simply should not, and cannot, be given equal standing, let alone priority, over subjects that do enjoy consensus. Too often, a large number of issues are addressed only superficially, as in this Committee, or not addressed at all. While it is appropriate to address all issues of interest to Member States, we need to pay particular emphasis to those issues that can command consensus now. In that manner, we can build gradually and constructively toward the full achievement of our common goals.
Both of these factors -- Cold War thinking and linkages to non-consensus items -- contributed to the failure of the UN Disarmament Commission last spring, where we were unable to reach consensus on either of the two agenda items under consideration after three years of work. These factors also constitute the root causes for the multi-year stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament.
Now, more than ever, as we face together the many new challenges to international peace and security, the question is whether the UN and the international disarmament machinery can still make a contribution, or will be left behind. We must work to ensure that this Committee takes the road less traveled and becomes, once again, an effective multilateral forum.
The United States, Mr. Chairman, does not believe in multilateralism for its own sake. After all, the UN system itself is a creation of sovereign governments for specific, defined, and delimited purposes. Rather, the United States is committed to an effective multilateralism, properly targeted at today’s security threats, contributing in real ways to enhancing international security, and free of political linkages or outmoded Cold War icons.
Please allow me to list a few examples of America’s continued commitment to effective multilateralism in the field of arms control and nonproliferation.
Mr. Chairman, the international community is seeking to address seriously the problems facing all of us in the fields of multilateral arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation. President Bush spoke to these concerns when he addressed the General Assembly on September 23. While some progress is being made through cooperation among responsible nations, others subvert this effort by refusing to live up to their international obligations. The United States believes that noncompliance with, or inadequate implementation of, existing arms control and nonproliferation treaty regimes is one of the premier threats that this Committee should be addressing today. For this reason, the United States sponsors a biennial resolution on compliance in this Committee, and we were pleased that last year’s resolution (UNGA Resolution 57/86) was adopted by consensus. We hope that it will serve as a guide to all States. I want to repeat what I said this past May at the first CWC Review Conference: "My government believes in compliance, not complacency." This is a collective responsibility, requiring States to fulfill their respective commitments to comply, as well as to work to make sure that all other Parties are in compliance with their obligations. We call on all parties to nonproliferation and arms control treaties not only to honor their commitments, but to hold other Parties to account, as well.
We also are working with other members of the IAEA Board of Governors to support thorough inspections that address the many serious outstanding questions regarding the scope and nature of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities. The mass of evidence arrayed against Iran in the IAEA Director General’s past two reports leads to the unequivocal conclusion that Iran is in violation of its Safeguards Agreement and is working hard to cover up that pattern of covert noncompliance. In September, the United States supported the IAEA Board of Governors resolution which has given Iran a final opportunity to redress its behavior before its noncompliance is reported to the UN Security Council. The Board found that it is "essential and urgent" for Iran to remedy its failures and fully cooperate with the IAEA by the end of this month. No one should doubt that it is the hard cases, such as North Korea and Iran, that ultimately will determine the degree to which multilateralism will remain relevant to the security challenges of the 21st Century.
Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism
The other paramount threat to global security requiring international attention and action today is that posed by terrorists and non-state actors seeking access to weapons of mass destruction, as well as the states that sponsor such terrorism. Unfortunately, as we all have come to learn, no civilized nation is immune from the barbarity of terrorism. Those who would direct attacks against innocent civilians with conventional weapons should be assumed to be equally willing to commit atrocities with weapons of mass destruction -- a prospect that convinces the United States that this problem must be challenged on every front and defeated in an effective, hopefully multilateral, way. The international community, in our view, has no time to spare and no margin for error in this endeavor.
The Need for a New Direction
As you know, Mr. Chairman, the First Committee considers more than 50 resolutions and decisions each year. Most of those resolutions originated decades ago, and are repeated year after year with little or no substantive change. As a result, much of the Committee’s work has become repetitious and progressively less relevant in view of ongoing changes in the international security environment. This mechanical repetition also overloads the Committee’s agenda and, in our view, hinders its ability to focus on the most pressing problems of today.
Rationalizing the First Committee
Over the years, there have been a number of efforts to improve the work of the First Committee, but all of those efforts have foundered on the same reefs of Cold War thinking and linkages to non-consensus issues that vex multilateral arms control in general. The perilous times that we live in demand that we rise above linkages and parochial concerns by taking an honest look at how to reform the work of the Committee. We must make it possible to judge proposals on their merits, rather than on how they affect extraneous issues. One of the most promising reforms that governments have proposed is to streamline the work of the Committee by rotating its consideration of groups of agenda items on a biennial or triennial basis. Some individual resolutions merit yearly reaffirmation, but many more resolutions add little value when introduced on a yearly basis. We need to examine carefully the resolutions that the Committee takes up each year and ask ourselves whether yearly consideration is warranted in each instance, in order to avoid drowning our message in a sea of unnecessary repetition.
Mr. Chairman, as this Committee considers ways that it can make a more substantive contribution to international disarmament, we need to ensure that any efforts that we pursue in this Committee add value to, rather than subtract from or duplicate, important work pending before other UN fora or outside the UN system.
A reduced annual workload, we believe, would permit the First Committee better to address current security threats, such as those arising from non-compliance with existing treaty regimes. Our Delegation plans to discuss this subject in greater detail during the coming weeks.
The U.S. Approach
Mr. Chairman, the United States will examine closely and with keen interest the debates and outcomes of this year’s session of the First Committee. We invite all of you to engage with our Delegation in discussions on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this Committee.
Our Delegation must state in candor, Mr. Chairman, that our Government would not view favorably yet another year of desultory debate and rote reaffirmation by this Committee of the same tired and divisive resolutions of years past. Such inertia could lead to a change in the U.S. approach toward this Committee, and contribute to changes in the U.S. direction at the Conference on Disarmament or the UN Disarmament Commission. If, on the other hand, we succeed collectively in bringing on line a First Committee that is willing and able to act against today’s threats, the universally welcomed results will be not only more effective multilateralism, but also enhanced peace and security for all UN Member States. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.