Canada makes the wrong move at Conference on Disarmament

Foreign Affairs Minister Baird: "Who let all these countries into the UN anyway?"

Cesar Jaramillo, program officer at Project Ploughshares, argues against the recent decision to boycott the UN Conference on Disarmament (Cesar Jaramillo, “Canada’s disarmament conference boycott is ill-advised,” Kitchener-Waterloo Record, 14 July 2011):

Canada’s newly elected Conservative majority government seems to be wasting no time in taking a tough stance on foreign policy, but Canada’s decision to boycott the Conference on Disarmament during the presidency of North Korea sets a troubling precedent for the already dysfunctional disarmament forum.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said that Canada would not “engage” the conference during North Korea’s chairmanship, arguing that “with respect to disarmament, North Korea has been a rogue regime.”

That North Korea has earned its “rogue state” moniker is largely undisputed. Perhaps most notably, the reclusive regime unilaterally withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003 following allegations of an illegal weapons program.

Yet Canada’s refusal to engage the disarmament conference with North Korea at the helm does little to address legitimate security concerns. It does, however, undermine the work of the premier multilateral disarmament forum in the world. It also chips away at Canada’s strong tradition of multilateral engagement on matters of international security.

If states start to pick and choose which rules of procedure they follow at the conference, the prospects for progress at this body — which is already troubled with the inability to reach consensus around a program of work — would be further undermined. Moreover, the door could be opened to further boycotts by other countries whenever the presidency is held by a perceived adversary.

See also Peter Mazereeuw, “Former disarmament diplomats divided over UN conference boycott,”, 13 July 2011.

Photo by Henry Mühlpfordt

Tags: Canadian foreign policy, Cesar Jaramillo, North Korea, Nuclear disarmament, Nuclear weapons, Project Ploughshares, UN Conference on Disarmament, United Nations