Statement Conference on Disarmament on 26 February 2018

Statement delivered by H.E. Minister Sigrid Kaag, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands


Palais des Nations, Council Chamber

Madam President, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to address the Conference on Disarmament today.

However, on this upbeat note, let’s start actually with a more sober point: almost 40 years after the establishment of the Conference on Disarmament, the spectre of proliferation still haunts us.

This remark hardly needs any explanation. We only need to look at nuclear proliferation in North Korea. At the lawlessness in cyberspace. At the breaching of norms and the difficulty of holding perpetrators to account.

We live in an age of rising geopolitical instability, growing tensions and increasingly aggressive rhetoric. An age when chemical weapons – despite their global ban – are being used. An age when even the gravest international taboo - the use of nuclear weapons - is under threat.

Rarely has there been a greater need to strengthen the most crucial pillar of our global security: mutual trust. Trust is not a natural phenomenon. Certainly not in international politics, and certainly not when it comes to issues of security. Trust is created by people. By countries that conclude agreements – and ensure compliance.

Predictability and verification play a vital role. And I believe that multilateral cooperation is the only way forward.

Each country – and thus each CD member state – has a great individual responsibility. If we are prepared to shoulder that responsibility, a safer and more secure world will be within our reach. The Conference on Disarmament has traditionally played an important role in this regard. As an active and long-standing member, the Netherlands believes that it is vital that the Conference on Disarmament resumes this role. Especially now, and failure is truly not an option.

I say this as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands – a country with a strong non-proliferation and disarmament set of credentials. But I also speak from personal experience.

I led the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in the Syrian Arab Republic. I saw that even in the most dire circumstances, a lot can be achieved. Even as the conflict raged, it proved possible to remove and destroy all of the Syrian Arab Republic’s declared chemical weapons – over 13,000 tonnes.

That was only possible thanks to the existence of the Chemical Weapons Convention and its verification protocol. And to its implementing body: the OPCW, based in The Hague. A technical organisation under the terms of the Convention - drawn up here, in Geneva.

I also have to add, that the unity of purpose of the Security Council at that time proved that political support is ultimately required as its part of accountability.

Of course - the sad case of Syria today shows that this was not enough. But that is not the fault of the Convention, it is not the fault of the instrument. Verification instruments only work, if all countries shoulder their political responsibility and ensure accountability. Norms only have value if they are enforced. And if violations occur, consequences will be given. Only when this is the case, verification can help build trust.

In this context, let me mention another example: the establishment of the nuclear deal with Iran and its verification by the IAEA. This is a clear case of countries taking responsibility. This is a case of successful verification and instruments doing their work.

Results like these are not achieved overnight. They require perseverance, stamina and steady diplomatic effort. The Netherlands is one of the countries that continues to press for multilateral agreements on disarmament and non-proliferation. In the case of both weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons. Even in difficult situations, when a successful outcome seems a long way off.

As I stated before, failure is truly not an option.

Take the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). The Netherlands sees this Treaty as a priority – an essential step towards our disarmament goals. In our view, negotiations should start without delay.

Or the Arms Trade Treaty, a significant achievement in efforts to combat illegal arms trading.

And as Chair of the 2017 NPT Preparatory Committee, the Netherlands encouraged member states to renew their focus on the guiding principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: a secure world, with the NPT as a cornerstone of this nuclear regime.

We see this as a small, but important and significant step. A fresh start, with the potential to achieve real results at the Review Conference in 2020. This will require not only responsibility and perseverance, but also continuity. This is why we would like to express our thanks to Poland, the chair of this year’s Preparatory Committee, for the excellent collaboration and coordination. We also look forward to working constructively with the 2019 and 2020 chairs.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen,

Let’s not lose sight of the positive developments – like the recent decision by the CD to set up subsidiary bodies. It means we can finally get back to work, back to the granular details that matter so much. Let’s work together to ensure that genuine steps forward will indeed soon be taken, for instance in relation to the FMCT I just mentioned.

It is possible. It has been done before. Here, in Geneva, at the conference and its predecessors, where crucial disarmament treaties have been concluded. Like the NPT, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

But the Conference on Disarmament can only be as successful as the sum of the countries that want it to succeed. This Conference, therefore, is no more and no less than the collective will and efforts of its member states.

The onus is upon us.  If it does not work, we only have ourselves to blame. And we have a choice.  

In conclusion,

If we jointly forge ahead, the Conference on Disarmament can once again become what it was intended to be: the most important, critical, multilateral organ in the field of disarmament. I trust that it will make good on that promise in the years ahead. I trust we, as member states, will make good on that promise. I hope we will seize this opportunity.  

Trust is good. But you will know the Russian proverb: ‘trust, but verify’. It was made famous, apparently, by Ronald Reagan back during the INF treaty negotiations. We need to return to the spirit of trust but verify. This is a goal towards our collective security. Talks can enable us to achieve that. We will do so with a realistic spirit, without naivety, and with respect for each other’s positions, while ultimately aiming to achieve that shared goal.

It is upon us. I wish you all every success.

Thank you.