Address by Minister Cannon to the Conference on Disarmament

No. 2011/8 - Geneva, Switzerland - February 28, 2011

Check Against Delivery

This year, Canada faces the same challenge that every recent incoming conference president has confronted since the negotiation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT]: our traditional multilateral disarmament machinery has effectively stalled.

Canada has served as the first president of the 2011 session of the Conference on Disarmament [CD].

As a country that has participated actively in all the multilateral disarmament bodies since 1946, Canada is among many states represented in this room that have been party to the landmark successes that the CD and its predecessor bodies have achieved, from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty through to the CTBT.

Today, more than at any time in our recent history, the threat of nuclear proliferation to international peace and security is alarming.

Having negotiated a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons, since 1998 the CD has found itself unable to start negotiations on the next logical disarmament and non-proliferation measure: a treaty to ban the production of fissile material [fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT)] for such weapons.

In New York last September, I spoke at the [UN] Secretary-General’s High-Level Meeting on Revitalizing the Work of the CD and Taking Forward Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations.

I was joined there by many of my colleagues in calling for a follow-up process to that meeting.

To that end, we agreed, just a few weeks later, on [UN General Assembly] Resolution 65/93 that places this issue squarely on the agenda of the General Assembly.

This follow-up must continue.

The longer the stalemate in the CD persists, the more trust among its members is lost and the spirit of compromise—so necessary if states are to begin negotiations—becomes harder to build.

If consensus continues to be blocked on the CD’s Program of Work, countries will increasingly look to find disarmament results in other forums, such as in the General Assembly, where consensus is not required to do business.

On the other hand, there is a natural reluctance by some states to put national security issues to the possibility of a majority vote in the UN.

The CD and its consensus rule were not developed by accident, and we are mindful that this negotiating body has served us all well in the past.

As some have said, if the CD did not exist, we would have to invent it. Our collective challenge, then, is to reinvent our approach to work in the CD.

Canada believes that we should focus on the CD’s four core issues [nuclear disarmament; treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; prevention of an arms race in outer space; and negative security assurances] in a new way: from the understanding that starting negotiations on one issue will not mean the neglect of the other three.

Last September, I called on all of us to “think outside the box.”

It is in this spirit—with a focus on the CD’s four core issues—that Canada approached its presidency.

By working in plenary sessions, open to civil society and the public, Canada sought to create a transparent space for discussion, which we hoped would reveal common ground and the elements of eventual compromise in a program of work.

Under the Canadian presidency, this chamber saw more than 100 substantive interventions, which demonstrated the desire of states to start work.

We are the first to recognize that it may take time and patience, sustained over several months by successive presidents, if we are again to agree on a collective tool—a program of work—such as the one that proved possible in 2009.

This time, we would like to see that program of work implemented, or any other proposal that would allow the CD to start negotiating an FMCT under the agreed terms of the Shannon Mandate.

As I also said last September, Canada will do everything in our power to get the CD back to work in 2011.

Toward this common endeavour, I would ask for the support of all of you represented here today.

Thank you.