Statement by Foreign Minister Koenders to the Conference on Disarmament

Statement by Foreign Minister Bert Koenders to the Conference on Disarmament (Geneva, 29 February 2016)

Mr President, Your Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

Thank you, Mr President, for the opportunity to address the Conference on Disarmament today.

‘We are living in a demented world. And we know it.’ The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga wrote these words in 1935, in his far-sighted book In the Shadow of Tomorrow. The recent Munich Security Conference amply confirmed Huizinga’s assertion.

One thing is clear: progress on disarmament and on confidence-building 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 behaviour of others. We should continue to work towards increased transparency on nuclear weapons, in order to create a climate of trust between states.
When I addressed this Conference a year ago, the Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons was still fresh in our minds. Much has happened since. I will not attempt to recap everything here, but I please allow me to highlight a few central points, starting with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The NPT is and will remain the cornerstone of the international regime for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. It is the only treaty that lays the foundations for a world in which nuclear weapons have been permanently and irreversibly abolished.

We will not achieve this goal without a continuing commitment to implementing the NPT’s key obligations. To make meaningful progress towards an international environment conducive to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, we must do more for disarmament, non-proliferation, peaceful nuclear cooperation and confidence-building.

I was deeply disappointed at the outcome – or rather, the lack thereof – of the NPT Review Conference. We have let ourselves be divided where we should be united in the pursuit of a common goal. That is why the Netherlands has recognised its responsibility for furthering this process by seeking the chairmanship of the 2017 NPT PrepCom. I have full confidence in Ambassador Van der Kwast’s ability to play this important role.

Regional and international cooperation is crucial if we wish to make progress on transparency, on the procedures for the review cycle, and on safeguards and verification. We will work actively towards resuming a constructive dialogue as the first step in a successful review cycle.

Significant reductions have been achieved since the height of the Cold War. But I believe that more should and can be done to further reduce nuclear weapons, and to create an international climate of arms control, stability and confidence conducive to the abolition of nuclear weapons. The Dutch parliament holds frequent debates on this subject. There are strong feelings about it in Dutch society. The NGO PAX recently collected the 45,000 signatures needed to put the issue of a unilateral ban on the agenda of parliament. I share their frustration and welcome this debate.

The Open-Ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations provides us with an opportunity to discuss initiatives that can help us reach this goal. For this reason, the Netherlands participates actively and constructively in the Working Group and calls upon all other states to do the same.

We may disagree on which measures should be taken at what point in time. But this should not prevent us from holding an open debate, discussing a wide range of options, and sincerely attempting to find common ground in identifying a way forward for nuclear disarmament.

Last week, the Working Group discussed legal and other measures that could contribute to moving forward with multilateral nuclear disarmament talks.

I would like to commend Ambassador Thongphakdi for taking on the chairmanship of the Working Group. I trust that in sessions to come, the full range of disarmament measures will be debated.

Nuclear disarmament is not an abstract exercise; the humanitarian initiative reminded us of that. It’s not just about reducing numbers or about the law. In the end, it should ensure that people do not ever again have to suffer the consequences of nuclear weapons. So we have two priorities.

One: get to Global Zero.
Two: get there in a safe and secure manner.

We should identify measures that can help us realise both these aims. Such measures may be legally binding or not. They may focus directly on reductions, on norm-setting, on transparency or on confidence-building. But above all, they must be concrete, practical and feasible steps.

The catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons oblige us to take effective measures. These discussions must take account of humanitarian considerations, as well as security and stability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have just described the building blocks that are important for achieving further progress towards a nuclear-weapon-free world. Allow me to focus now, in a bit more detail, on one in particular: the verification of nuclear disarmament.

The drafters of the NPT recognised that verification was a necessary part of non-proliferation. This resulted in the creation of a system of safeguards that continues to evolve, to continue providing effective and efficient assurances of the peaceful nature of nuclear activities worldwide.

By that same token, progress on nuclear disarmament will require similar assurances of the dismantling of existing arsenals. A world without nuclear weapons requires iron-clad guarantees covering both military and peaceful nuclear cycles.

Designing such a system is a legal, political and technical task of epic proportions. If we wish to create the conditions for meaningful progress on nuclear disarmament, the time to begin is now. That is why the Netherlands is an active participant in the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification – the IPNDV – and has accepted the position of co-chair.

The IPNDV encourages cooperation between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states in identifying objectives, procedures and technologies for the verification of nuclear disarmament. It analyses and addresses challenges regarding verification related to national security, non-proliferation and technical issues. It identifies gaps in our knowledge and capacities, and assesses future needs.

And it builds bridges between experts from different countries. This makes it an instrumental tool in creating the right conditions for progress on nuclear disarmament.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Another building block for a nuclear-weapon-free world is a treaty banning the production of fissile material for explosive devices, an FMCT. Because the immediate start of negotiations on an FMCT is a key priority for the Netherlands, we have been actively contributing to the Group of Governmental Experts chaired by Canada. The substantive consensus report that the GGE produced last year laid some important groundwork. This report, the expert meeting held during the Dutch CD Presidency and many other initiatives are all helping to get the much-needed negotiations underway.

Mr President,

Allow me to make a few remarks about other important topics: to start with, conventional weapons.

Since its entry into force in August 2010, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, or CCM, has been a successful instrument. I am appalled by the use of cluster munitions by the Syrian regime, however, and deeply concerned about reports of the use of cluster munitions in the Yemen conflict. I call on all countries to refrain from using cluster munitions. They cause grave harm to civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and the norms set by the Convention. Over the past six years, we have made many strides in areas such as clearance and universalisation. Speaking as President of the Sixth Meeting of States Parties, I can state that we strive for full universalisation. And we will continue to work on securing more areas of land that are still contaminated by cluster munitions and landmines.

In 2014, the States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention agreed to clear all the anti-personnel land mines they could before 2025. The Netherlands, as one of the world’s largest donors to humanitarian demining, remains fully committed to achieving this goal. Accordingly, we attach great importance to the efforts of the Convention’s Implementation Support Unit. To bolster its effectiveness, I would like to announce that the Netherlands is pledging €50,000 towards the Unit’s annual budget. We call upon all States Parties to join us in pledging additional support for the implementation of the Convention.

I know that I’m a week ahead of the pledging conference organised by Chile as the Convention’s Presidency. But I would like to take a quick break from my intervention to hand my pledge to the Ambassador of Chile, Marta Mauras.

And to amplify our message that we want the world to take serious action on demining, I am proud to announce that the Netherlands has earmarked €45 million to continue its current ‘Humanitarian Mine Action and Cluster Munition Programme’ for demining operations in former conflict zones for another four years.

Another important meeting is taking place in Geneva today: the extraordinary Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty. The Netherlands fully supports the timely establishment of a functional and cost-effective ATT permanent secretariat. I thank the Swiss authorities for their efforts to achieve this. The Netherlands is proud to have been active in drafting the Treaty. In our view, the success of the ATT will rest on its implementation by States Parties through their national export control systems. Again, universalisation of the Treaty is of the utmost importance, as a large number of the major arms exporting and importing States are not yet party to it. I would also like to stress the importance of transparency; only transparency will lead to more mutual trust and the restriction of the illicit arms trade.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last but not least: the CD is not only concerned with the weapons of the past, but also with those of the future. I want to highlight the need for debate on armed unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. We are concerned about the growing worldwide use of UAVs, whether armed or unarmed, by states and by non-state actors. I would like to call for an open debate within the CD and the First Committee on the use of armed drones, and on transparency regarding their use.

Likewise, we need to continue our discussions on the development of autonomous weapon systems. In this regard, I would like to stress the importance of meaningful human control.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Kingdom of the Netherlands wants to be your partner in this endeavour. We are your partner for peace, justice and development. This is why we are a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for the 2017-2018 term.

All the important issues – and many others I have not mentioned today – give you a heavy workload and a weighty responsibility. We must dedicate ourselves to the nuts and bolts of disarmament work if we are to reach our common political objective of Global Zero. I am encouraged by the initiative of the UK to present a proposal for a broad program of work for the CD and I hope others will support this initiative. I count on your best efforts in carrying out the important task that rests on your shoulders.

Thank you.