Speech: Conference on Disarmament, 21 June 2017

Last speech of Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast at the CD

“Looking at the ceiling: doing nothing is not an option”.


A colleague once said to me:” looking at the ceiling of this chamber is fatiguing: all those busy people”. (he was referring to the murals by José Maria Sert, depicting the progress of humankind through health, technology, freedom and peace).

I presume today is my last day in the Conference on Disarmament and in this beautiful chamber, and therefore I would like to make some remarks.

One thing is clear: progress on confidence-building and disarmament are crucial to promoting international peace and security. In these troubled times, we should double our efforts to lower tensions.  If we lose sight of the importance of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines, we run the risk of exacerbating international tensions by mirroring the behavior of others. Security is of the essence. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of and of missile technology is worrying. Multilateralism is important to seek ways to deal with the complicating international situation. We have to seek for ways to strengthen international agreements. We have quite a number of them, like the NPT, the CTBT, CWC and BTWC. They need further strengthening and increased participation. The CD is and should be a forum to elaborate about those treaties and about the key issues.

Some say “now is not the time, it is too difficult”, geopolitical tensions and situations are too complicated. In our profession “now is not the time” is not an excuse. It is our job to find solutions, diplomats should be result oriented, that is what we are paid for. If we disagree on a number of issues than we can discuss where we can agree on. If we agree to disagree than we can discuss other issues. In our field there are many issues to be explored, including new upcoming issues like cyber, outer space, regional developments and so on.  

When I was appointed by the Minister to become Permanent Representative to the CD, there were several colleagues in our MFA who made jokes about it. They knew that I was the one who in 2009 called for an investigation in the usefulness of having a representative in this body. At that time I was head of the Department for Non-proliferation, Disarmament,, Arms control and Export control. We were doubting whether it was useful to keep an ambassador here. We therefore asked for an assessment of the role and added value of a perm Rep to the CD. The conclusion was that there were still good reasons to have an ambassador here. We changed the title, it became: Permanent Representative to the CD and Ambassador at Large for Disarmament. The justification of the latter part was that more and more disarmament activities were going on outside the CD. It was important to have somebody at ambassadorial level present in those activities. After 4 years, I have to conclude that our decision was a right one. There are more and more disarmament activities outside the CD. 

Unfortunately this trend has been stronger over the last two years. That’s why we do not have another option as to keep looking for a way to get the CD to live up to its mandate, that is to negotiate disarmament treaties. We like to recall that the CD is the single negotiating body for disarmament. Negotiations start with talks, talks that are result oriented and working towards negotiations. It is my strong believe that in the absence of negotiations a lot of work can be done by setting up structured and well organized discussions. This is exactly what we aimed to do during our Presidency of the CD in 2015. We may have disturbed some colleagues with such a busy schedule but it did work and we had substantial discussions on the key issues, but also on gender and disarmament.  By inviting experts our aim was to trigger discussions to find common ground and to lay foundations for future negotiations. We should stay away as much as possible from the political and focus on the technical part. That is not to say the political part is not important. The scope and possibilities for our work are determined by the political situation. We have to work with that situation to make progress.  I believe progress is possible that way. There is a wealth of knowledge in this body, there is a lot we can share. If we can’t agree on some issues there is reason to talk and to compare notes.


The issue of a treaty banning the production of fissile material is long overdue. The GGE has produced a good report on which we can build on. Together with Canada and Germany we introduced the resolution in the GA that was adopted with 172 votes in favor. The High level group will bring its results back to the CD in two years. We are in favor of further discussions in the CD. If however the CD is over two years, for whatever reason, not capable to deal with it, the question comes up how to move on. It might very well be that the discussion will be worked out in other fora. The CD than loses another opportunity and makes itself further irrelevant.  

Power comes with responsibility, great power comes with great responsibility

It is our common responsibility to make this body work, not of the President of the CD alone. Political will is required to get to the start and conclusion of negotiations.

A special responsibility lays in that regard on the shoulders of those states possessing nuclear weapons. They should lead the way in this forum that they claim to be the ‘single negotiating body’ for disarmament and the only body they want to negotiate. To them and to other members, I say, show it! Especially now they should find a way to prove that progress is possible, however little. With the current negotiations in New York on a Treaty banning nuclear weapons, a large group of states gives a clear signal that the current stalemate in disarmament is unacceptable for them. In view of their arsenals the US and Russia have a prime responsibility to find new ways for cooperation.  

Political will is also required from some states having double agenda’s. You cannot claim to be in favor of progress on disarmament by advancing efforts in one body at the expense of efforts in another. Its only by trying to advance opportunities whenever they arise, real progress on disarmament will be possible. If states do not see any possible role for this body it is better to leave this body than trying to further paralyze it through their actions.

Way ahead working group

This year ambassador Lynn of Myanmar is doing a terrific job by searching for a way forward for the CD via discussions in the Way Ahead Working Group. I appreciate his ‘out of the box’ thinking in finding a way forward for the CD. Its high time and you will continue to have our full support for your excellent work.


We should also continue to work on improving our methods of work and the enlargement of the CD. I thank the Slovak Presidency for putting this important subject on our agenda. In view of the state of the CD, it is remarkable that there are still states that want to become a member. A large group of serious states that have been long time observers of this body deserve to be taken serious. On this last point we had a good discussion last week. Bilateral issues should not hold the enlargement of the CD hostage.


When I arrived here four years ago I asked to see the Director of UNODA. I was told that the director was not in and they did not know where the director was. It was suggested that I would come back a week later. A lot has changed since then. I am proud to be one of the seven ambassadors who wrote to the High Representative for Disarmament, Ms Izumi Nakamitsu, and to SG Moeller about management. We commended Mary Soliman and Marco Kalbusch for the work they did in order to improve the secretariat and the management of the Geneva UNODA branch. We also asked the High Representative  for due attention for further improvement of the management. Good management here is essential.

NPT Prepcom

I am convinced that the NPT is key. The NPT has served us well for over 47 years. It is the basis for a political-legal world order that has proven its value.  

After not being able to reach a consensus outcome at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, taking on the chairmanship of the first NPT Prepcom was a challenge. We decided that our main aim must be to put the NPT center stage again, by concentrating on a common way forward and by emphasizing inclusivity and transparency. The NPT belongs to all its members and that is why we organized regional conferences and consultations in Amman, Dakar, Jakarta and Santiago together with Senegal, Indonesia and Chile. By consulting with over 100 States Parties at the regional conferences and during consultations with regional groups, the ‘ownership’ of the NPT was underlined. This enabled a good start of this review cycle, I thank you for your help.

As a direct result of the consultations procedural matters could be dealt with smoothly. The good atmosphere during the meeting allowed for discussions on possible elements for a common way forward. Via the ‘reflections of the chair’ we aimed to create a basis on which the next chairmanship can build further towards a successful outcome of the 2020 Review Conference. We aimed for a substantial Chairman’s’ report. A report that reflects the richness of the debate in Vienna. A report that is factual and as objective as possible. But above all a report that gives a sound basis for the debate and actions in the 2017-2020 NPT cycle. Yesterday I sent this report to the President and the SG of the CD to be distributed here.  

I thank you for all your help, for being colleagues. It was an honor to work with most of you. I appreciated your professionalism, your commitment and hard work. I thank the secretariat for their hard work. I also want to thank the translators, who despite the nonsense we sometimes produced, always gave a very professional translation.

Mr. President,

I thank you for the excellent Slovak Presidency and your hard work. It is an honor for me to end my duties here under your Presidency and I look forward to my next posting in Bratislava.  

In one of my speeches I recently said that we as diplomats are privileged people, because we deal with issues that matter. Working on security and disarmament issues remains the core of foreign policy and one of the prime tasks of the UN and of the CD. It is also a responsibility and a duty to which we have to live up to. We have to respond to our governments, our parliaments and our peoples. Therefore doing nothing is not an option, our responsibility  is too important and serious for that.