Statement Conference on Disarmament, 22 August 2017

Delivered by Ambassador Robbert Jan Gabriëlse

Statement of the Netherlands in the Conference on Disarmament, Ambassador Robbert Jan Gabriëlse

Mr President,

Thank you for giving me the floor and allowing me to make a few remarks as newly appointed Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Conference on Disarmament.

Let me start by thanking you, Ambassador, for convening this plenary session of the CD and please be assured of the support of my delegation. I would also like to congratulate and welcome my Slovakian colleague, ambassador Podhorský, who recently assumed his responsibilities as well as permanent representative. This forum is of great importance to all its members and taking into account the fast changing security landscape it is of the utmost importance we have the opportunity to meet in a plenary session and exchange our views on the different topics we deem important. Where possible we should aim at making concrete steps forwards.

Mr President,

We no longer live in the times of the Cold War, neither are we witnessing what has been labelled as ‘the end of history’. We are experiencing a fast changing security environment. Unfortunately, we are not surprised anymore with another terrorist attack, anywhere in the world, any day. Non-state actors are active in many countries and in different regions. Technological developments are making it possible to develop new types of weapons.   

Experiments with Artificial Intelligence are no longer fiction and the object of futuristic Hollywood movies, but reality. As you probably know, Facebook was recently forced to shut down a chat box experiment with robots after these robots invented their own language, which the researcher did not understand. It could be an interesting experiment to have ‘dialog agents’ equipped with AI to take over our work for a week and see what they will come up with. That is, if we could understand the result.

Luckily, we still rely on human interaction and there are very smart and experienced colleagues in this room who have the best intentions of reaching consensus on important issues related to disarmament. We all have our different mandates and interests, but one thing I learned while being in Geneva, is that we all share the same ultimate goals. We only differ in the ways on how to reach them. But since we are all experienced diplomats and have the desire to communicate with each other, we should be able to reach consensus and make some practical steps forwards. Zero sum outcomes are in no one’s interest.

In the 21st century international actors are not confined to national states only. We are living in a multilateral and globalizing world in which non-state actors play an increasing role on the international political arena. And the public at large can look directly over our shoulder what we are doing here. Not in the least because we keep them informed through social media. And I would not be surprised if one of you at this moment is sending a tweet, probably indicating how boring the intervention of the Netherlands ambassador is.

So, Mr President, we have the eyes on us. Our governments, the NGOs, members of the public expect something of us. Bearing in mind we find ourselves in unchartered territory and it is unclear in which direction we are heading, we, as representatives of our countries, have an important role to play in shaping the future in which concrete steps towards disarmament will be made. 

Having the privilege of representing the Netherlands, I would like to underline my government’s strong believe in multilateralism and working with a broad coalition of different actors, albeit states, civil society or the private sector, to move our agenda forward. Disarmament, in this context, is a cornerstone of our security policy.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty is central to the international regime of disarmament and non-proliferation. A regime with near-universal application. That continues to need our full support and efforts for further strengthening. The NPT shows that nuclear arms control is not a zero-sum game. You all worked hard in the first Preparatory Committee as part of the new review conference cycle under the chairmanship of my predecessor. You made a good start on which we can build further. I congratulate our successor, Poland for taking up the duties as president of the next PrepCom and like to offer the full support of my delegation.

The fact that 120 countries reached an agreement on July 7th this year on a nuclear ban treaty is something we cannot ignore. As I stated last week in the Way Ahead Working Group, it is now of key importance to bridge the differences between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states and to restore a shared sense of purpose to the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime.

One of the subjects I noticed since being here on which I sense we can make concrete steps forward, is the FM(C)T. Good progress has been made, previously by the Group of Governmental Experts, and most recently by the High Level Expert Preparatory Group once again under the outstanding chairmanship of Canada. I believe that it is ready to be brought to the negotiating table. We already had some discussions on the report of the Way Ahead Working Group and we will continue these discussions today, but I hope that there is willingness among delegations to go the extra mile in a constructive spirit. We can make an important step toward nuclear disarmament here. Ending the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons will cap nuclear arsenals and help put an end to nuclear arms races. Negotiations on this topic will not be easy, but we should not shy away from them.

On the issue of cluster munitions and landmines we have witnessed substantial progress. It is an area where state and non-state actors alike play a crucial role and I like to pay tribute to all actors who work tirelessly to make great strides in protecting civilians. My government has and will keep supporting mine action worldwide. As you know the state parties to the Ottawa Convention set the goal of a mine-free world in 2025. And under the Convention on Cluster Mines the parties agreed to do away with cluster munitions worldwide by 2030. That is ambitious but doable, although we witness in regions of conflicts an increase in the use of these types of munitions. One of those places is dear to me, namely Iraq, since I served there 10 years ago. With a common effort we should be able to make progress in Iraq and other areas as soon as conflict has ended.

We have seen the devastating effects of the illegal arms trade, from the Sahel to the heart of Europe. Weapons are deadly no matter where they come from or where they are used. The insecurity caused by the illegal arms trade does not stop at our borders. And neither should our efforts to combat it. This is why effective implementation and universalisation of the Arms Trade Treaty is crucial. Also further steps need to be taken in the field of Small Arms and Light Weapons, as it is thought that they account for about half a million (!) deaths per year and hence cause more casualties than any other weapon. This is also one of the areas in which we can link up with the SDGs, as the reduction of illicit arms flows is an important topic for sustainable development.

In this forum we also addressed new types of weapons and threats. Lethal Autonomous Weapons System are being discussed in the context of the CCW. My delegation looks forward to the work of the GGE to start and is most willing to keep contributing to this topic. The Netherlands firmly rejects the development and deployment of fully autonomous weapon systems, as those systems have no meaningful human control at all. For the deployment of autonomous weapon systems meaningful human control in the wider loop of the targeting process, is necessary.

With respect to cyber security we have witnessed an increased use by state and non-state actors of ICT capabilities for coercive political and criminal purposes. The topic has been dealt with in a Group of Government Experts and we are in anticipation of their procedural report which is currently still under discussion.

With respect to Negative Security Assurances in the framework of non-proliferations and disarmament we see merit in exploring this further but we have to look carefully in the preconditions of taking this further.

Lastly, with respect to the proposal of looking into the issue of chemical and biological terrorism we might need some more reflection. At this time we believe the existing legal instruments, like CWC and BTWC, form a sufficient framework in countering the threat of chemical and biological weapons. But we will listen carefully to the arguments of having a new legally binding instrument on this issue.

Mr President,

In my first weeks here I already met many colleagues on a more personal basis and in the coming weeks I hope to meet more. As a newcomer I am impressed by the knowledge and experience of all of you, and your delegations, and I sensed a wish by all of you to work together on disarmament issues. It will not be easy, considering the sometimes very divergent national views. But as ambassador Lynn said last week, do not only bring to the negotiation table what you like to achieve but also what you have to offer the other parties. There is a lot at stake. Too much in fact. I very much look forward to working with each and all of you all of you in a constructive and flexible spirit. 

Thank you.