Statement delivered by Susi Snyder, Secretary General to the Conference on Disarmament

28 May 2009

Statement delivered by
Susi Snyder, Secretary General
to an informal session of the Conference on Disarmament
28 May 2009


Thank you, Mr. President, distinguished delegates, fellow civil society representatives.

It is with great pleasure that I take the floor today, and my thanks go to Algerian Ambassador Jazaïry and the P6 for this initiative.  I am confident that the presentations you will hear today will provide some different perspectives than those usually heard in this chamber.  We hoped to bring additional voices including those from the South, but as negotiations towards agreement on CD/1863 have rightly taken priority, we didn’t quite have the time. We always welcome the opportunity to participate in the work of the CD and look forward to doing so again.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom is one of the only NGOs to consistently monitor the work of the Conference of Disarmament. Through our Reaching Critical Will project, we post all statements and papers from the CD on and write reports on every meeting we are allowed to attend.  We also coordinate civil society presentations to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and UNGA First Committee meetings and the calendar of side events around those.

I am here today to deliver a statement on behalf of Ms. Ray Acheson, project director of Reaching Critical Will. Ms. Acheson has been the primary author of the CD Reports for the past two years and many of you know her coverage of the NPT, First Committee, and the Disarmament Commission. While she’s very sorry she can’t be here in person, she is here in spirit, as she is each week sitting in the gallery listening to all of you.

Each year, civil society groups working on nuclear arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation work together to prepare a series of statements to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committees and Review Conferences. Many different representatives of many different organizations, both north and south, east and west, work together and attempt to negotiate statements that contain factual information and recommendations.

The process is not limited to those who hold the elimination of nuclear weapons as their goal, though it is limited to those who belong to organizations accredited to the NPT. Small and large organizations participate on equal footing—a representative of a two-person NGO is treated equally to those who represent an international membership organization.

The process is guided and managed by a facilitator, who hosts the discussions, tries to help participants find common ground, keeps all of the submissions in order, works to resolve disputes, and is sometimes accused of bias or misjudgement by those who disagree with the outcomes. For the past few years, the facilitator of this process has been Ms. Acheson.

If this job sounds familiar to any of you who have chaired a conference—the NPT, the CD, the UNDC, or the First Committee—it is not a coincidence. We face many of the same challenges in arriving at consensus agreements. The result is often texts which are completely satisfactory to none but acceptable to all, as CD/1863 will hopefully prove to be. The important thing is that we work through the challenges. We are not always successful in this endeavour, but we have so far managed to present as scheduled, year after year, by coming up with creative solutions that allow us to complete our task.

Of course, these presentations are not legally-binding and this statement is not an attempt to lecture you about how to do your job which, though similar in some respects, is still much different. Rather, I aim to share some experiences in the hope that they might be useful for your thinking as you prepare to start negotiations on a new treaty. And I also hope that through this and the other presentations today, you will grow to see NGO representatives as colleagues rather than simply critics.

Reaching Critical Will and WILPF have routinely encouraged the CD to come up with creative solutions to overcome its deadlock. We have also made specific suggestions in this regard. Last year, for example, Ambassador Grinius complained that the polite, official exchanges the CD has do not help people ascertain the nature of various governments’ concerns. He suggested the Conference hold a series of unofficial, off-the-record discussions.

At the time, our CD Report stated that the core principles of successful “win-win” negotiation strategies could be much more effectively employed in an unofficial setting. Even though the unofficial discussions would not be negotiations, they could allow for delegates to develop and use negotiating techniques in order to better understand each other, to learn to be more flexible with each other, and to think creatively and cooperatively.

There is a famous guide to negotiations, called Getting to Yes, that explains the importance of not bargaining over positions, as positions are not negotiable, but rather focusing on interests, which define the problem. The authors argue that shared and compatible interests often lie behind opposed positions, and that successful negotiation requires creative open-mindedness in order to explore or propose new options that might satisfy all parties’ needs, based on these shared interests. While nothing in an unofficial discussion would be binding or even necessarily approved by capitals, it could provide an excellent space for brainstorming and fresh thinking, which could be transferred back to the Council Chamber and eventually to the negotiating table.

Specific to the CD but also relevant to other disarmament fora, the regional or political groups can sometimes cause more problems than they solve. The UNIDIR/Canadian paper on the CD, which Ambassador Grinius introduced to the Conference in March, noted that many states feel regional groups in the CD weaken or even circumscribe presidential authority. The paper observed that presidents “filter any potentially contentious issue through the regional groups.” Further, dynamics within and among the groups can also “compound” the difficulties of reaching consensus. The paper suggested that informal or cross-regional groups should develop cooperative approaches and broker compromises among the key players. This is a good solution to problems both of personality and locked positions. Cross-regional groups, such as the Seven Nation Initiative, the New Agenda Coalition, or a group comprised of the 8 de-facto nuclear weapons states and the 8 largest civilian users of nuclear fuel (Belgium, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Spain, the Republic of Korea and Ukraine) for example can be a necessary spark for raising awareness of issues and bringing in different stakeholders in a uniquely productive way.

On a Fissile Materials Treaty:
The International Panel on Fissile Materials recognizes that both military and civilian stocks of fissile materials have to be addressed. The nuclear-weapon states still have enough fissile materials in their weapon stockpiles for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. On the civilian side, enough plutonium has been separated to make a similarly large number of weapons. Highly enriched uranium is used in civilian reactor fuel in more than one hundred locations. The total amount used for this purpose is sufficient to make about one thousand Hiroshima-type bombs, a design well within the potential capabilities of terrorist groups.  One way to consider stocks is to have the treaty include undertakings not to use for weapons pre-existing non-weapon stocks of fissile materials, including civilian stocks, stocks declared excess to military purposes, and stocks of highly enriched uranium declared for use as fuel for naval propulsion and other military reactors.  The issue of stocks will come up, and must be discussed.

On Verification
The issue of verification will need to be examined in great detail.  Should the IAEA be the responsible body?  How would the IAEA mandate change?  Will verification be required for all declared facilities?  Will there be a requirement for all facilities whether civilian or military to be declared?  How will robust verification vs. cost effectiveness be balanced?  Are routine inspections enough or will there be provision for challenge inspections?  There are a lot of examples of working systems in place and lessons can be drawn from these to build towards the treaty.  Perhaps an agency, based in Vienna, sharing resources that already exist in the International Monitoring System of the CTBTO and the IAEA, using lessons learned from the more flexible approaches of UNSCOM and UNMOVIC is worth considering.

In the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention, as submitted to the UNGA and NPT by Malaysia and Costa Rica, verification will include declarations and reports from States, routine inspections, challenge inspections, on-site sensors, satellite photography, radionuclide sampling and other remote sensors, information sharing with other organizations, and citizen reporting. Persons reporting suspected violations of the convention will be provided protection through the Convention including the right of asylum.   This then takes into consideration the idea of societal verification, an issue that is being examined by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University now.

On Negative Security Assurances
As of this moment, the current standard in Negative Security Assurances are given through UN Security Council Resolution 984 (1995) and Nuclear Weapons Free Zone agreements.  Many of the non nuclear weapons states have made it clear that this is not enough.  Resolution 984 itself states that this resolution “constitutes a step in this direction”.

The G21 stated on 19 February of this year that “While the Group believes that the NWFZs are positive steps towards strengthening global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, it does not subscribe to the arguments stating that declarations that have been made by the nuclear-weapon States are sufficient, or that security assurances should only be granted in the context of nuclear-weapon-free zones. In addition, given their geographical limitations, security assurances guaranteed to states-members of nuclear weapon free zones cannot substitute for universal legally binding security assurances”.

In a 2003 Working Paper (NPT/CONF.2005/PC.II/WP.11) submitted to the NPT, the New Agenda Coalition said that “The negotiation of legally binding security assurances within the NPT umbrella, as opposed to some other forum, would provide a significant benefit to the Treaty parties and would be seen as an incentive to those who remain outside the NPT. Security assurances rightfully belong to those who have given up the nuclear weapon option as opposed to those who are still keeping their options open. They would strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and confirm the role of the NPT and its indefinite extension.”  This working paper also included as an annex a Draft [Protocol] [Agreement] On The Prohibition Of The Use Or Threat Of Use Of Nuclear Weapons Against Non-Nuclear-Weapon States Parties To The Treaty On The Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons.

States parties to NWFZ agreements will meet in advance of the 2010 NPT Review Conference.  It is at this meeting that discussions on expanding current NWFZ agreements to include “all adjacent areas” as well as to achieve universality, without reservations or conditions, to all NWFZ agreements should be discussed.  A plan of action, including measurable steps, could emerge and be brought back to the CD to substantively further discussions that will hopefully be held in Working Group 4 under the current draft decision on a programme of work.  As Iran rightly pointed out in their Working Paper on NSAs to the last NPT PrepCom “As long as such weapons are in the stockpiles of nuclear-weapon States, no one on Earth has any security.”

Another challenge to negotiation is personality. Ambassador Landman explained very well in his farewell speech on Tuesday that the success of any negotiating process largely depends on the skill of the negotiator to balance their interests with the interests of others. Hilde Skorpen also noted the importance of confidence and trust in one’s interlocutors. I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. In the world of negotiations, as in the world of verification, personality often plays an instrumental role in reaching—or impeding—agreement. It is difficult to successfully negotiate with those whose intentions you are wary of, or who does not respect your interests or those of other participants. It is also difficult to negotiate with those who express one interest but act in support of another, perhaps concealed, interest.

Unfortunately, there is not much anyone can do about the personality of their fellow negotiators. But each can make choices about their own behaviour, and in doing so, can perhaps influence the behaviour of others. Honesty fosters honesty. Respect commands respect. Compromise inspires compromise. It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than simply putting up your fists, diplomatically speaking, of course.

There has been a lot of discussion in the CD about revising its methods of work. Many of the ideas put forward are very creative. Several delegations—Canada, New Zealand, and others—have suggested ways to break out of the CD’s rut by changing the rules of procedure, shaking up its working methods, involving civil society, and more. For so long, substance has been hiding behind procedure. Substantive work remains undone as long as procedural issues remain. Procedure has become the ultimate stalling tool.

At last year’s First Committee, Christiane Johnson of UNIDIR suggested a few ways to turn the cycle of fear mongering and armament into dialogue, negotiation, cooperation, confidence, and a degree of predictability—first and foremost by getting out of the “process dynamic” and focusing more on results. She argued that those working on disarmament should not just note that they took certain actions but should be able to point to the real impact of those actions, by setting objectives and indicators of success. This, she insisted, would allow governments to make better use of the machinery and to honour their commitments to their citizens for both defence and human security.

This is an excellent suggestion for both overcoming the obsession with procedure and for setting measurable standards to which states can be held accountable.

There has been a serious accountability gap when it comes to measuring progress on nuclear weapons disarmament and new benchmarks and indicators are needed to truly assess progress.  An example of such an indicator could be the number of states signatories, without reservations, to nuclear weapons free zone agreements that contain legally-binding negative security assurances.

My favourite UNIDIR presentation was given by Patricia Lewis at the 2007 First Committee. She described disarmament machinery as being a complex system, in which all of the components of the system interact with each other, often resulting in non-intuitive, non-deterministic behaviour. She explained that in complex systems, history matters—interactions between components in a complex system are not singular events. Exchanges between diplomats in the CD are not simply a product of their experiences in the Council Chamber and do not simply effect future exchanges in this setting.

After developing this framework, Dr. Lewis explained that small changes in environment, such as the introduction of new or unexpected methods of work or external events, can effect the entire system. We need, in short, a complex adaptive system—a system that learns or evolves by utilizing acquired information. Complex adaptive disarmament machinery would require the machinery to not simply respond to the multiplicity of interactions and events, but to grow from it and become more effective. This could happen quite easily, without upsetting states valid concerns about inclusion, balance, and discrimination.

And so, respect, trust, good faith, a spirit of compromise, flexibility, and creative solutions are necessary if the CD is going to break its deadlock and start—as well as successfully conclude—treaty negotiations. This is not an easy formula.

Hopefully, the ideas I just mentioned, and many others like them, can help. The important thing is to define and employ the vital elements for success. For example, setting goals that require specific steps that can have measurable impacts and that can be implemented through cooperation, creativity, and flexibility. It is also important to balances substance—disarmament and arms control—with procedure—revising and strengthening the working methods of the forum that hosts the substance. It will require new, cross-regional alliances.

These are a few of the ideas that Reaching Critical Will has come up with. Ray and I would both be delighted to talk to any of you, in depth, about this presentation or anything else related to the CD, NPT, First Committee, etc. You can email her at or speak with her the next time you see her in New York or Geneva. Thank you very much for your kind attention.