This year’s Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva opened its session on January 25th with Ambassador Marius Grinius in the President’s Chair. He, like others before him, has his work cut out for him since the CD has yet again not been able to agree upon a programme of work. Following the UN Secretary-General’s speech on January 26th and a general debate, thematic discussions on core issues began. The first of these on February 1st covered nuclear disarmament as a topic. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of delegations participating in the discussion highlighted nuclear disarmament as their top priority in the CD. New START was welcomed but many states called for further reductions, particularly in non-strategic nuclear weapons. Ambassador Lauber of Switzerland noted that achievements in disarmament seem “rather modest compared to the overall scope of the problem” and argued that “efforts are random instead of systematic and coordinated.” He further argued, “disarmament steps are often results of budget cuts or consequence of technological changeover rather than the conception of a long-term plan to one day give up all these weapons.”
Several countries spoke favorably of a legally-binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons or a NWC, such as Pakistan, Argentina, Algeria, Chile, Iran, South Africa, Indonesia, Egypt, Austria, and Switzerland. While the degree of commitment to such a process continues to vary, several delegations highlighted the UN Secretary-General’s five-point proposal for nuclear disarmament, which includes such a legally-binding agreement.
The Swiss delegation argued that nuclear weapons are fundamentally immoral because they cause massive and indiscriminate destruction in terms of human lives, material resources, and for the environment, and that they are illegal with regard to international humanitarian law. Their indiscriminate effect “violates without exception all fundamental principles and rules of international humanitarian law.” Austria also highlighted the NPT outcome document’s reference to international humanitarian law.
Ambassador Marschik of Austria, who was the chair of the Subsidiary Body I on nuclear disarmament at the NPT Review Conference in 2010, noted that the NPT action plan called for negotiations and discussions of core issues at the CD. However, he asked if the CD really could deliver and shared concerns that this body is becoming obsolete. He argued that in a changing international environment, the institutions must adapt or perish.