Reaction to Canadian boycott of UN Conference on Disarmament by Dwain Epps and Erich Weingartner

[This discussion was originally posted as comments under “Canada boycotts UN body over North Korea“. However we felt these opinions by CanKor Brain Trust member Dwain Epps and CanKor Editor-in-Chief Erich Weingartner were substantive enough to deserve a blog post of their own. –CanKor.]

Conference on Disarmament - 2011 Session (UN photo/Pierre Albouy)

Dwain Epps writes:

One can only lament this announcement that comes as yet another sign that the present Canadian Government has no mind of its own and is apparently either unaware of or repudiates Canada’s distinguished past in international relations. Though Canada has never been a declared Non-Aligned nation, in the midst of the Cold War it played a critical role as one of the “Middle Powers” serving as a bridge between the two great nuclear powers. It was widely recognized as a constructive player in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in the 1970s, and again in the early 1980s it provided a bridge during the nuclear weapons standoff when the great powers stubbornly refused to negotiate.

Canada long ago learned how to deal with stubborn partners. It was fully aware of North Korea’s “The Mouse that Roared” game on the international scene with its announced nuclear arms potential when some years ago it again asserted its independence in international affairs as a thoughtful “Middle Power” and set up a new form of relationship with the DPRK. It knew well that this “partner” could be stubborn and at times even intransigent, but Canada has considerable experience in opening up a fruitful dialogue with such governments. In some diplomatic quarters, Canada’s participation in the Conference on Disarmament under the rotating presidencies, including that of the DPRK, is regarded more as an opportunity than as an embarrassment. This Government obviously prefers the approach of its neighbor to the south. What a terrible pity.

Erich Weingartner writes:

Always delighted when a non-Canadian has such high regard for Canada’s historical role! The distressing part in this “boycott” of the Conference on Disarmament is that our Foreign Minister conflates two issues that really need to remain separate: the rotating presidency of the CD and the dysfunctional nature of the CD.

On the presidency, there has never been any secret that the DPRK would eventually get its turn as chair. The order is alphabetical, and each year six countries get their month at the helm (what has come to be known as the P6). This year it was Canada’s turn, followed by Chile, China, Columbia, Cuba and the DPRK.

Canada looks rather silly posturing as the lone boycotter. We have not even been joined by the USA and South Korea, who see this as an insignificant issue. Making a big fuss about the North Korean chairmanship really distracts from the more important issue of the deadlock experienced by the CD over a number of years. A good analysis of a CD on “life support” can be found on Ernie Regehr‘s blog, disarmingconflict.

“The abject failure of the CD,” writes Ernie, “owes to a perverse convention that defines consensus as unanimity, meaning that a single ‘no’ vote can block the work that every other member state wants to pursue.”

Ambassador Marius Grinius

Canada’s Ambassador Marius Grinius, whom Dwain and I met in Geneva in April, had no problem with the DPRK assuming the presidency for their turn. In fact, he had some respect for the professionalism of the DPRK Ambassador. He should know, because each year (since 2006) the P6 have been coordinating their presidencies, leading to smoother transitions between monthly presidential rotations. In his farewell speech to the CD–the day that the DPRK took the chair–Ambassador Grinius congratulated Ambassador So Se Pyong and added the following:

“It is appropriate that my last statement in open plenary take place under your Presidency. Prior to Geneva I had had the privilege of being Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, with concurrent cross-accreditation to the DPRK. In Pyongyang I was fortunate to have various opportunities to exchange views with high-level government officials, senior military representatives, Party cadres and academics.”

For Grinius, the chairmanship issue is clearly quite separate from his outspoken criticism of the CD itself. In his opening statement as President last January, Grinius showed that the positive recent milestones in nuclear disarmament had taken place outside the context of the CD.

“At all these milestones, ‘political will’ seemed abundant,” he said. “In contrast to all these positive security developments elsewhere, the Conference on Disarmament appeared to be an oblivious island of inactivity where ‘political will’ continued to be absent.”

In his farewell comments he became even more outspoken.

“I would argue that the Conference on Disarmament, ‘the sole multilateral negotiating forum for disarmament’–the mantra which many here like to repeat–is on life-support because it no longer is that exclusive negotiating forum. Indeed it is not negotiating anything and has not been for a very long time.”

He suggests that the entire UN disarmament machinery that was built up during the Cold War may be either part of the problem, or the victim of political paralysis. And he adds the following: “Unfortunately it is a challenge, particularly for bureaucrats, ‘to think outside the Cold War Box’…”

I wonder whether he could foresee that his bureaucratic boss, Canada’s new Foreign Minister John Baird, would draw us back precisely into this Cold War Box hours after he delivered that speech.

2 Responses to “Reaction to Canadian boycott of UN Conference on Disarmament by Dwain Epps and Erich Weingartner”

  1. simom Says:

    Kudo’s to Canada’s government for taking a principled stand.

    What’s next? Iran and Saudi Arabia to head discussions on women’s civil rights?

    Perhaps the UN might even invite Hugh Heffner to lead a discussion on chastity?

    The UN is a total joke. Good for Canada for having enough backbone to point out the hypocrisy. Next step – Canada should withdraw from this pathetic organization that accomplishes absolutely nothing.

  2. Politics Now Says:

    Politics Now: Nice post – always looking for insight on the canadian government and politics…

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