Statement of the Netherlands delivered by H.E. Ms. Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation at Conference on Disarmament

Mr President,

Your Excellencies,

A year has gone by since my last address to the Conference, albeit in a different capacity then. But it is a great pleasure to be here back speaking again to you today. And we also have to acknowledge in this year that has passed the black cloud that hangs over this meeting. Global tensions on the rise, our international rules-based order increasingly being challenged, and new threats emerging.

Proliferation continues to dominate the global agenda, and while disarmament and nonproliferation are needed now more than ever, we have seen serious threats to the multilateral agreements we have established together.  

Agreements that were hard fought – such as the INF Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, which, if violated, can only be detrimental to international peace and security. In a similar vein, we witnessed the removal of a crucial signature to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

These difficult times require therefore an extraordinary effort. An effort by all of us: to uphold our international norms. Norms that contribute to lasting results in disarmament and therefore in international security.

In doing so, we must show that we, the international community, are willing to keep pursuing cooperation instead of division, success instead of failure, ambition instead of apathy. 

It is possible. Let us not forget that it was our ambition to create a more secure, more prosperous world that pushed us to establish those norms in the first place. So the cloud has a silver lining.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Conference on Disarmament. The Conference and its predecessors have done incredibly important work in negotiating the Non Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. All three are pivotal in our disarmament architecture, each essential for the world’s security and prosperity.

The Ottawa Convention is another example. It shows the transformational power that international norms can have. For more than two decades, the State Parties to this convention have vowed never to use anti-personnel mines again and have committed themselves to the eradication these mines and explosive remnants of war. Together, in 2017 alone, we were able to clear over 128 million square metres of contaminated land. For instance, 28 million square metres of land was cleared in Afghanistan and at least another 16 million in Iraq. What’s more, thousands and thousands of civilians have received mine-risk education and victim assistance.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions provides yet another example. It has been invaluable in outlawing the use, production and transfer of these indiscriminate weapons. Communities living in contaminated areas have become safer. The case of Afghanistan shows us that it’s working: contaminated areas will be cleared well ahead of the deadline under the Convention. It also shows that disarmament helps prevent civilian casualties. And allows families to return to their homes, men and women to farm their land, children to go to school safely, and local markets to reopen.

Disarmament is an essential condition for sustainable inclusive development and human security. It can never be seen as a stand-alone effort.  I am proud that my country has been able to make a substantial contribution. We are an active and committed State Party, and with our multiannual Mine Action and Cluster Munitions Programme we spend 15 million euros a year in 14 different countries. This is on top of our annual contributions to the United Nations Mine Action Service.

Together we have achieved much in these areas, simply because we dared to be ambitious.

Mr President, Your Excellencies, 

Our work, however, is far from over. On the contrary. We need a comprehensive, multilateral and ambitious approach to the questions before us. With that in mind, the Netherlands welcomes the UN Secretary-General’s agenda for disarmament and supports its implementation. The Netherlands also stands ready to contribute, by championing action 31: to foster accountability and adherence to emerging norms in cyberspace; action 18: to strengthen interagency coordination on improvised explosive devices and to action 21: building understanding on the impact of arms on conflict management.

As a country with a reputation in the field of nonproliferation and disarmament, and a firm belief in multilaterally agreed solutions, the Netherlands’ ultimate ambition is for the Conference on Disarmament to retake its rightful place as the sole forum for disarmament negotiations.

We do not have the luxury of waiting until the geopolitical context looks brighter. Instead we should be bold enough to seize opportunities when they arise.

I believe we must, and I believe we can.

Last year, we saw important progress in our subsidiary bodies. For the first time in more than 20 years, we have adopted four substantive reports by consensus. The Netherlands attaches special importance to the report on the ban on the production of fissile materials and other nuclear explosive devices. We regard the conclusion of such a treaty as an essential step towards our shared disarmament goals.

It demonstrates to us that real progress is possible – even if moving step by step and even under the most arduous of circumstances. This requires willingness, flexibility and shared ambition from all countries present here. To seize the opportunity or to create the opportunity.

In this context, let me touch on another opportunity that lies ahead: the upcoming NPT PrepCom, followed by the 2020 Review Conference.

Allow me to remind you that, in 1995, against all the odds, the international community succeeded in indefinitely extending the Non Proliferation Treaty. Collaborating along established lines of confrontation was one of the keys to the success of that extension.

It is our wish to unlock that kind of cooperation again. Building on our experience as Chair of the 2017 PrepCom, the Netherlands continues to work constructively with Poland and Malaysia, the Co-Chairs of this review cycle. We’re aiming for a successful outcome of the 2020 Review Conference, for example by improving the working methods of the review cycle.

If we can do so, then one year from now we might find, as we gather here again, that the black cloud has somehow lifted and somewhat lifted. But each and every one of us has to find the courage and the political will to push for real, substantial and substantive progress.

And for this progress to be achieved, excellencies, the only answer lies in multilateralism.

I hope we can keep pushing forward together.

Thank you, Mr President.