Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Sigrid Kaag at the Conference on Disarmament

Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands Sigrid Kaag at the Conference on Disarmament on 26 February 2018.

Madam President, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I appreciate this opportunity to address the Conference on Disarmament today.

Let me begin on a sober note: 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 isn’t 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 stick to them.

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 here. If we’re 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 process. As an active and long-standing member, the Netherlands believes that it is vital that the CD resumes this role. Especially now. Failure is truly not an option.

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

When I headed the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria, 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 Syria’s declared chemical weapons – over 13,000 tonnes.

This 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 established under the terms of the Convention - drawn up here, in Geneva.

Ofcourse - the sad case of Syria shows us that this is not enough. But that’s not the fault of the Convention. Verification instruments only work, if all countries shoulder their political responsibility. Norms only have value if they are enforced. If violations carry consequences.

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 case of countries taking responsibility. This is a case of verification instruments doing their vital work.

Results like these aren’t achieved overnight. They require perseverance. 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. Again, 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 cornerstone of the nuclear regime.

We see this as a small, but important 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. That’s why I’d like to thank Poland, which is chairing this year’s Preparatory Committee, for the excellent collaboration. We also look forward to working constructively with the 2019 and 2020 chairs.

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. Let’s work together to ensure that genuine steps forward will indeed soon be taken, for instance in relation to an FMCT.

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

But he CD can only be as successful as the sum of the countries that want it to succeed. This Conference is no more or less than the collective will and efforts of its members.

If it doesn’t work, we only have ourselves to blame. And do something about it.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If we jointly take that responsibility, the Conference on Disarmament can once again become what it was always intended to be: the most important multilateral organ in the field of disarmament. I trust that it will make good on that promise in the years ahead. I trust that you will seize this opportunity. I trust that the subsidiary bodies will indeed make progress.

Trust is good. But you’ll also know the Russian proverb: Doveryai, no proveryai - ‘trust, but verify’. It was made famous by Ronald Reagan back during the INF treaty negotiations. We now need to return to that spirit. To enter into talks aimed at our collective security. To do so without naivety, but with respect for each other’s traditions and backgrounds.

We all have a great responsibility to bear.

I wish you all every success.

Thank you.