Statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva

March 1, 2016

Mr. President,

Dear Colleagues,

Russia invariably pays significant attention to its participation in the work of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), considering it as a unique platform for dialogue and negotiations on a broad range of topical issues related to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. This consensus-based format gives each Member State the confidence that its voice will be heard and its national security interests will be properly taken into account.

The CD has a good track record of producing a number of fundamental international treaties instrumental for upholding global security. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are among its last major achievements. Both agreements date back to the last decade of the 20th century. Since then, the attempts to resume the negotiation process have regrettably failed due to serious differences in approaches to the CD's Programme of work.

We fully share the disappointment and concern of our partners over such a protracted standstill, as well as the conviction that this issue should be settled as promptly as possible. At the same time, we believe that the deadlock could be broken through thorough and creative search for a balance of interests rather than through relocating negotiations to other venues or even less so through rejecting the principle of consensus.

For two decades, various options have been explored to overcome the deadlock but none of them has worked so far. The lack of a positive result can be attributed, in our opinion, to both objective divergences of States' priorities as well as difficulties in reaching a compromise within the rather strict limits of the traditional CD agenda. It appears that we have tried all imaginable combinations of its constituent elements but to no avail: agreement is yet to be reached. Thereupon, we all understand, hopefully, the need for a fresh approach.

We propose to consider launching negotiations on a new item that could play a unifying role but that has not been taken into account so far in discussing proposals on a CD draft Programme of work. The issue that stands at the juncture of disarmament, non-proliferation, and counterterrorism efforts could become such an item. This is particularly urgent given the current circumstances.

The threat of WMD falling into the hands of non-state actors is generally recognised. A lot has been done to counter this threat. The adoption of the UNSC resolution 1540 back in 2004 was an important step in this direction. The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism was concluded on the Russian initiative a year later. However, we still face serious problems related, in particular, to the use of chemicals for terrorist purposes.

Nowadays this threat is getting extremely urgent in the light of the multiplying cases of use of not only industrial toxic chemicals, but also of standard chemical warfare agents by the ISIL and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. There is a growing jeopardy of similar crimes in the territory of Libya and Yemen as well.

Such activities of non-state actors in the Middle East and North Africa are becoming increasingly widespread, systemic and transboundary, and pose the risk of spilling over far beyond the region. There are reports on terrorist groups getting access to scientific and technical documentation on the production of chemical weapons, there are reports on their seizing chemical plants with relevant equipment and engaging foreign specialists to help synthesize chemical warfare agents. Accidents in the Syrian town of Marea in August-September 2015 where, as the OPCW mission has established, the ISIL militants used artillery shells filled with sophisticated chemical warfare agent – sulphur mustard – testify to the extreme urgency of the situation. It does not leave any doubt that chemical terrorism is emerging not as an abstract threat, but a grave reality of our time which could and should be addressed through intensified meaningful work in international fora.

We believe it is important to take into account that the CWC does not fully address the challenge of countering chemical terrorism. Also, we do not see sufficient grounds for statements on the sufficiency of norms of the customary international law. They neither solve the problem of use of chemical weapons by non-state actors nor even qualify such actions as an international crime. We can hardly expect to bridge these gaps by developing amendments to the CWC, as it lays down an overly complex, time-consuming and cumbersome procedure for the amendments adoption.

It seems that a more realistic, reliable and promising way of tackling this problem is to elaborate a stand-alone convention for the suppression of acts of chemical terrorism. It is clear that there is a whole range of international fora where it could be done. Yet, we propose to embark on this task here, in the Conference on Disarmament, which has already made an invaluable contribution to the reduction of the chemical weapons threat through successful elaboration of the CWC. In doing this we would hit two birds with one stone – countering chemical terrorism, on the one hand, and breaking the deadlock of the Geneva disarmament forum, on the other.

Undoubtedly, in case practical work on such a convention begins, it will be necessary to establish close interaction with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It is also important to ensure that all the States Parties to the CWC which are not CD Member States have the opportunity to contribute to the development of the new agreement. This can be achieved, in particular, by providing all interested States with an observer status at the CD as stipulated in the CD Rules of Procedure.

We believe that negotiations on the new convention, if the idea is approved, should be accompanied by substantive work on other traditional items of the agenda, including its four core issues. These are nuclear disarmament, prevention of an arms race in outer space, negative security assurances and the FMCT. Subsidiary bodies with discussion mandates could be set up for each of these issues. Relevant Russian proposals are being drafted and will be submitted to the Norwegian Presidency.

We would like to emphasize one fundamental point. It is well-known that the Russian priority is the promotion of the Russian-Chinese initiative to prevent the placement of weapons in outer space. In fact, we have already decided to insist on negotiations on this subject. However, in order to promote consensus on our proposed new broad outline of further work of the CD, we would be prepared to limit our ambition for the time being to the discussion mandate on PAROS within CD framework. We expect that our partners will show similar flexibility with regard to their priorities in order to overcome the deadlock in the CD.

We call on all CD Member States to consider carefully our proposal. We believe that its realization is only possible through joint efforts of all CD Member States based on a constructive dialogue. We are ready for the dialogue and invite everybody to join us. We hope that such a discussion will help to break the vicious circle and to proceed to an in-depth work, including negotiations. It is exactly the goal this forum has been created for.

Thank you for your attention.