Angela Kane, a native of Germany, has served since March 2012 as high representative for disarmament affairs at the United Nations. She has held a wide range of positions with the UN, including undersecretary-general for management from 2008 to 2012.
Kane spoke with Arms Control Today in her office on June 10. Among the issues covered in the interview were the upcoming review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and questions about the extent to which the nuclear-weapon states have met their disarmament commitments under the treaty; the prospects for holding a conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, a commitment made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference; and the achievements and difficulties of the effort to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
The interview was transcribed by Brianna Starosciak. It has been edited for clarity. A condensed version appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Arms Control Today.
ACT: Thank you very much for doing this. We appreciate it. I wanted to start by asking you, as the top disarmament official at the UN, could you briefly describe the ways in which the UN has a role in disarmament?
Kane: As you know, disarmament is one of the earliest and ultimate goals of the United Nations. After all, we were created from the ashes of the Second World War, so war was very much on the minds of the founders of the United Nations, and disarmament was, in fact, one of the issues that was raised in the very first resolution that the General Assembly adopted. It’s gone through ups and downs, I would say, as with any issue, as you would imagine. There have been quite a large number of disarmament agreements that were reached among the member states. Even during the Cold War, there were many more meaningful agreements that were reached [compared to] now. The latest was the Arms Trade Treaty [ATT], which was agreed to last year. But as for the rest, including for the negotiating body, the Conference on Disarmament, there has been stagnation.
So, what do we do in the absence of any meaningful negotiations on specific disarmament issues? We have a lot of mandates in disarmament, and they go back to previous agreements; they go back to servicing the committees, like the First Committee, which is one of the Main Committees of the General Assembly. There is the Disarmament Commission, a deliberative body, which meets for three weeks in the spring, and then there’s the Conference on Disarmament, with a limited membership. It’s not all member states of the United Nations, it’s only about one-third of it, and they sit in Geneva. That’s a negotiating body. But, as I said, they have not negotiated any agreements in the last 16, 17 years.
Part of what we do is we advocating. We also service, for example, the NPT preparatory committees and the review conferences. There are other agreements that we service with implementation support units, like the Biological Weapons Convention. We are in charge of the secretary-general’s mechanism on chemical weapons investigation, which was very prominent last year, where my department and I myself headed the investigation on Syria. And, for the rest, I go to a lot of meetings, and I give speeches urging member states to move in what I think is the desirable direction, meaning towards nuclear disarmament, also bringing down conventional weapons, and just basically encouraging them to work together to come to agreements that have been beneficial for the membership and the peoples of the world.
ACT: Okay. You mentioned [that] last year [there was] the success of the Arms Trade Treaty, but on the other hand, there’s stagnation in a lot of the other bodies. So overall, do you feel you are making progress in promoting disarmament?
Kane: I cannot but think that, yes, we’re making progress in promoting disarmament. As long as the speeches get listened to—I’m always surprised when I hear people say, “Oh, I read your speech on the website” or “I heard you speak,” or something that actually resonates. And maybe this is not the world community, maybe it’s not all the people that hear it, but that there are groups of people that are very interested, and they are the ones who follow this very closely. And if I or the secretary-general are not the ones who advocate for disarmament, then who else is going to advocate for it?
We use the openings as we find them. I mean, for example, it was a big boon when U.S. President [Barack] Obama made the speech in Prague [in April 2009] advocating for nuclear disarmament. And ultimately, we know that we, United Nations officials, even senior officials like the secretary-general and myself, [even] if we can’t actually effect disarmament agreements, we can speak out with a moral authority and urge the member states to actually come together and achieve such agreements on their own.
And the ATT, you must remember, is not really a disarmament treaty. It’s a trade regulation treaty, and while I’m very happy that that the disarmament office helped negotiate it, it should not be seen as eliminating or reducing any weapons. It just regulates the trade. I shouldn’t say “just” regulates the trade [because] it is an important achievement, but it isn’t a disarmament treaty, as one would understand it.
Let me mention something else. In addition to the moral voices, we also have a large constituency out there in civil society, and that’s very important. We do have a lot of [nongovernmental] organizations, NGOs, who work with us, and I also very much welcome the media.
ACT: Well, thank you. I want to go into some specific issues. Nuclear weapons and the NPT—you’ve made some strong statements about the slow pace of progress on nuclear disarmament, but officials from some of the nuclear-weapon states have noted how much their arsenals have declined from the peak levels during the Cold War. One U.S. official recently characterized criticism of the lack of progress on disarmament as “arm waving.” How would you respond to that?
Kane: Well, it is true that there has been a tremendous reduction, and I think that I would be the first one to acknowledge it. It was generally estimated that, during the Cold War, there were about 70,000 warheads that existed among the P5, and now you are down to anywhere between—I’m very careful, we’re estimating—between 17,000 and 20,000. We don’t know the exact number, but it is very clear that the majority of the nuclear warheads are divided between the United States and the Russian Federation. So if there is to be any meaningful disarmament or reductions taking place, it has to be between those two countries. That’s why I mentioned President Obama’s speech, which made an overture to that. Unfortunately, when it comes to the subsequent developments, I think right now the situation is at a total standstill and we haven’t really seen any nuclear disarmament.
What we have seen is reductions, as I mentioned, from the Cold War to now in terms of the numbers. On the other hand, when the NPT was concluded, one of the objectives, one of the three objectives, was nuclear disarmament, and that has not happened. A lot of the nuclear arms were taken out of commission, but there is a whole modernization program [in the nuclear-weapon states] that’s going on. So when it comes to the fundamental purposes of the NPT, as a nuclear power, you should be disarming, and that has not happened. And that’s basically where I say it’s not arm waving, but it’s actually a commitment that member states have made. [For] the non-nuclear powers, that’s their bargain, that they get nuclear disarmament [from] the P5, and the P5 have agreed to disarm. So, it’s true there have been reductions, but it’s not true that they’ve actually engaged in disarmament negotiations. There are currently none on the table.
ACT: What would you like to see as an indication of movement toward disarmament rather than arms control or reductions?
Kane: It would be very good if there would be some kind of a road map ahead, and that does not currently exist. There’s no road map A. There’s no verification. We don’t know how many there are, and there’s no roadmap to say, “Well, we foresee between now and—give me an endpoint.” That’s really not up to me to say, but it’s between the states who possess these weapons to say, “This is how we see this happening.” You could do it in stages. I mean, after all, when you look at the conferences that have taken place on the humanitarian consequences of [the use of] nuclear weapons, both the one in Oslo and the one in Nayarit, Mexico, and the next one that is going to take place in Austria in December, you know that it doesn’t take 17,000 weapons to destroy the world. All you need is probably one or two of a sufficient size, and you’d already be there.
So, what I would like to say is that there should be a road map, a projection of what the five nuclear powers are going to do in order to reduce their arsenals and eventually, according to their obligations in the NPT, eliminate them.
ACT: At the recent NPT preparatory committee meeting, the parties did not agree on a set of recommendations for the review conference and were not able to come up with a candidate to be president of the review conference. Is that a troubling indication about the prospects for the review conference?
Kane: I don’t really think so. Everyone is always concerned that a review conference, which is held only once every five years, should be a success. There have been ups and downs. And we must also not look to this pattern that seems to have developed—that there’s one good one, meaning a successful conference, and then a bad one. And so, people have warned, “Let’s not really look at this [upcoming review conference] in terms of building expectations in a negative way.”
It is not surprising that there wasn’t a consensus document that came out of this NPT [preparatory meeting] because this is a very highly charged atmosphere, and, as in the last preparatory cycle, everyone holds the cards very tight to their chest. The real negotiations are really going to be before the NPT review conference, and that’s really what the outcome will be. So, I think the chairman’s paper [from the most recent preparatory meeting] was very balanced in many ways. The chairman, Ambassador Enrique Román-Morey [of Peru], tried to meet with as many groups as he possibly could. I was in some of these meetings that he had, and he tried to incorporate a lot of the views. But in the end, he says, “This is my paper; I’m not negotiating the text. This is my paper as to what I put forward to the review conference, and I think there is something in there, maybe not for all states but for many states,” and that’s actually a good point. He was a very skillful chair of this third [preparatory meeting].
When it comes to the president of the review conference, we shouldn’t be overly exercised by the fact that there has not yet been someone nominated. When it comes to nominations, it’s always a very difficult process. It comes down to the country, it comes down to the personality, it comes down to the constellation of what others see. But next year for the review conference, it is the turn of the African group, and I am fully aware that there are consultations going on that are very intensive. I have no doubt that they will come to fruition very, very soon. They must come to fruition very soon simply because there’s a lot of preparatory work that needs to be done for the president-designate to travel to capitals to consult with groups of member states, to consult with regional organizations, to get a sense of where the community is right now [and] what can be expected at the review conference. It does take tremendous political skill to actually conduct and chair such a conference. It’s something that not everyone is willing to undertake either.
ACT: Well, that’s why I asked the question. Some people are seeing the lack of a candidate as an indication that no one wants to be thrown into a situation where it’s going to be almost impossible to come up with a good outcome, so no one wants to touch it.
Kane: Well, I don’t know what to say to that because I know there are good candidates and I’m sure that there will be a good candidate coming out of this process. But again, it is not up to one member state to either propose itself, or himself, or herself. It is a consultative process that takes place, and Africa is a continent with a fairly large number of member states, so they need to come up with a consensus candidate. It’s not an election where you have the majority of the votes and you get the post.
Another worry for the African states in particular is always that it is cost intensive. It will be expensive to travel, and it needs to be someone who’s also willing to do it in addition to whatever job he or she has already. When it comes to the cost aspect, there are countries that are saying, “This is very important; we’re willing to give voluntary contributions” for the travel or for the preparatory part of this because it will be intensive. It’s not something you can do one day a week or a month before the conference. This will not need dedicated attention until the latter part of this year, with some preliminary consultations, and then will accelerate next year.
ACT: What do states need to do between now and the review conference to try to get a positive result? You mentioned a few things earlier that the weapon states needed to do, but not necessarily in the next 10 months or whatever the time frame is. So, what are things that can be done in the next 10 months by both the weapon states and non-weapon states to try to promote a good outcome at the review conference?
Kane: The nuclear-weapon states signed on to the 64-point action plan, which was adopted by consensus [at the 2010 NPT Review Conference]. The P5 were expected to report on that 64-point action plan. They have a common reporting format that they’ve adopted, but the non-nuclear-weapon states clearly have much higher expectations for progress in this field beyond this particular component of the action plan. It was very ambitious, and maybe it was overly ambitious on the part of everyone and also for the P5 to agree to that plan. But on the other hand, the more clarity there is as to what can be expected, the better it will be for the outcome. No one wants to be surprised at such a review conference, and that’s really the major part of it.
Now, another concern is that at the 2010 [review] conference, there was a commitment made by the three co-sponsors [of the Resolution on the Middle East from the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference]—that is, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States—about a conference [on a Middle Eastern zone] free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, for this conference to take place in 2012. We all know it didn’t take place in 2012. We do not have a date for 2014. The secretary-general was asked to appoint a facilitator, which he did—Ambassador [Jaakko] Laajava [of Finland]—and there has been very intensive work.
I have participated myself in these consultations, which are not easy. They’re not easy because you basically have the League of Arab States members and you have Israel, which is not party to the NPT, and there are clearly very different expectations for such a conference to be held, to take place, to be allowed to go forward. There’s going to be another meeting that will be held at the end of June, and then we will see how much progress we can make in order for this conference to take place in 2014. That is our wish, my wish, the secretary-general’s wish, because if we don’t have this conference before the end of the year, I think it will be very unlikely to take place before the NPT review conference. That would not be a good outcome, considering the commitment that was made by the three co-sponsoring states—Russia, the UK, and the U.S.—to hold this conference.
ACT: As you said, it’s been very difficult, and everyone has said that it’s important to the success of the NPT. So, what are the prospects for doing what you said? You said it would make things difficult if you didn’t do it by the end of the year, but how do you see that happening since it seems things are moving very slowly, if at all?
Kane: First of all, everyone talks about this conference like it’s the be-all and end-all, and if we have a conference, then we have a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, when clearly it’s not going to happen that way. And if you look at how long it takes to negotiate even a nuclear-weapon-free zone, much less a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone, then you know it’s not going to happen within weeks or within months. Usually, it takes years to do that.
We all realize that whenever we have that conference, it’s going to be the start of a process. But in a region that is beset by a host of historical issues that have been very, very difficult to address, you have to address some of these issues, all of these issues, in that forum somehow. You cannot just talk in isolation about a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone because if you do that, all you need to do is talk to Israel and Egypt. Israel has not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC] and it’s not a party to the NPT. Egypt is not a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention. So, that’s really what you are dealing with because Syria already has acceded to this, to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Libya no longer has a nuclear or chemical weapons program. So basically, that’s really what you are talking about.
I think there are other issues that really need to be addressed. How do you address them? The choice was made at the NPT, which Israel is not a member of, so that makes it immediately a difficult issue to address. What I’m hoping is that in this difficult region, there is a mechanism where the states of the region can at least talk to each other to start that process with the eventual aim of looking at a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone. But it cannot be dealt with in total isolation. That’s what Israel maintains. I think there have to be other discussions that also take place at the same time. So, that’s basically where we are because the two sides are not on the same page.
ACT: When you say “other discussions taking place at the same time,” other discussions by whom? On what?
Kane: By Arab states and Israel.
Kane: For example, one of the issues is that if you have a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone, can you really divorce that from any of the regional security issues? Regional security issues—should that be discussed as well? Israel says, “Yes, it should be discussed,” whereas the Arab states would like to see the mandate only confined to the actual mandate that was given in the context of the NPT, which is weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone. I just don’t think that that is going to be acceptable to Israel.
ACT: You just mentioned what the states in the region need to be doing, but are there things the conveners can do to help move things along?
Kane: Well, I think the first thing that the states of the region must do, and they have done already—both sides have shown flexibility. Has there been enough flexibility shown and enough willingness to engage on both sides to have a date for the conference? No, but that’s basically where the conveners come in and the facilitator, Ambassador Laajava of Finland. There’s been tremendous effort on all sides to engage bilaterally with the states. We started with these meetings, these informal consultations as we called them, and now they are like preparatory consultations for the conference.
We started with them last year in the summer, and that was preceded by many meetings that we had as the conveners [on questions such as] “How do we actually organize this? How do we go about this?” and by a lot of the visits that were done bilaterally. I know that the conveners traveled to the League of Arab States, for example, in the spring of last year. So, there were a lot of preparatory meetings just to see what the positions are and how we can narrow the gaps before we actually have multilateral consultations.
ACT: You said that [the states of the region have] shown some flexibility. What’s an example of how they’ve shown flexibility? Because I think from the outside, it seems that they’ve been fairly inflexible.
Kane: You know, it’s always [a question of] “From which vantage point are you going to look at it?” I think that, for Israel, [which] was not party to this agreement, it is surely not easy to sit there as one state surrounded by 17 others, or 18 others depending on how many come, from the League of Arab States. They have engaged in the process, which is very positive, so there is a certain amount of flexibility.
On the part of the League of Arab States members, they have thought about it, they have put forward papers, as has Israel. They have come forward with written proposals, which I think is very positive because it also gives you something concrete to look at. You know, it’s different if you just orally mention it. And the Arab states have agreed that decisions will be taken by consensus. Well, to my mind there’s no other way. But that was a bit of a hurdle for them to jump over, and they did, and they did fairly early on. So, that is also some flexibility that they have shown.
ACT: Okay. I wanted to go back to an issue that you had mentioned earlier, the humanitarian impacts initiative. This effort to address the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons has drawn quite a lot of support from non-nuclear-weapon states. As you mentioned, there have been two conferences on this topic, and a third one scheduled for Vienna in December. So far, the NPT nuclear-weapon states have boycotted the conferences with some of them calling the meetings a “distraction” from the “step-by-step” process on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. So, do you think the humanitarian impacts initiative represents a useful approach to disarmament and the NPT?
Kane: I don’t know that I would characterize it as useful because it depends on what you want to achieve. It has been useful in achieving one thing, and that is to draw attention to the issue of nuclear weapons. This focus on the humanitarian effects has really been born out of frustration that no progress has been made on nuclear disarmament. From that point of view, I do think it’s a very good initiative. I cannot talk about the Oslo conference, which I did not attend, but I did attend the Nayarit conference, and one cannot help being moved by the subjects it addressed. We heard from the hibakusha. We saw the models of what would happen if a nuclear bomb exploded. We heard speakers from the humanitarian community, including International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, saying there is no way anyone can deal with the medical consequences of such a catastrophe. We heard about the effects on agriculture and climate, the whole scenario that was developed. This was not simply a doomsday scenario. It’s not doomsday to the extent that it’s overdrawn. It’s based on scientific models.
Then there was a presentation on the accidents that have happened with nuclear weapons that fortunately did not result in any nuclear explosions. You cannot but be affected by such presentations and start thinking about them and their many implications.
It must also be said that, in Oslo, I think they had about 115, 116 countries that attended. Nayarit had 141. So, you have a majority of countries of the 193 [countries that are UN members]. You’ve got a large number of countries that attended this conference, and I don’t know how many are expected in Austria. But you also had a statement on the humanitarian consequences that was signed on to by 125 member states on the sidelines of the First Committee, which was spearheaded by New Zealand. Those are not numbers that are negligible. It points to a frustration on the part of the non-nuclear states that nothing is happening in terms of nuclear disarmament.
That is a very palpable expression, and it has invigorated civil society in many aspects. There are a lot of NGOs that think that this is really a very powerful argument to make, and they have made powerful arguments addressing these humanitarian issues. Which, in a way, is good because it reverberates better with the public because it’s a little bit more graphic, I can say. If you just talk about nuclear disarmament, what does the average person know about this? My generation, we grew up under nuclear threat. But today’s generation, the millennials, just doesn’t relate to that anymore.
This points to the importance of disarmament education, which includes informing the public about the many effects of nuclear testing—something that Kazakhstan has done very, very effectively.
With one notable exception, countries have stopped nuclear testing, and we have the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, even though it’s not universal. The effects of tests that ended decades ago are still there. Yet, when people think today about a radioactive calamity, they are more likely to remember the nuclear accidents at Fukushima or Chernobyl than the effects of actual nuclear explosions that occurred a long, long time ago.
So, to focus on this with a different lens is actually quite helpful because it makes a very powerful moral argument against these weapons. With respect to the nuclear powers, while both India and Pakistan were at the Nayarit conference, the P5 were not. It’s regrettable that it was called a distraction. I think they’ve moved away from it, though.
ACT: They moved away from that terminology?
Kane: From that terminology. That was the terminology that was unfortunately used after the Oslo conference. I have not heard that lately. [There still] is not much enthusiasm for [this approach among the nuclear-weapon states]. But on the other hand, it also makes you think, “How long is this effort going to last?” Is Austria the last [conference]? Can you make that argument? Can you extrapolate from that argument [on the humanitarian effects] and push it further? It is my hope that the P5 will actually look at this and say, “Should we come up with a different response rather than standing back from it?”
ACT: Should the five nuclear-weapon states attend the Vienna conference, do you think?
Kane: I don’t know. That’s up to them to decide. But as I said, you cannot leave such a conference untouched; they do have an impact. I came back, and I was very much struck by the presentations I had heard at Nayarit. They make the effects of nuclear weapons a lot more vivid.
ACT: You talked about having something coming out of the third conference and where you go from there. As you know since you were at the Nayarit conference, the majority of states there expressed support for an eventual ban on nuclear weapons, but many states do not believe the time is right for the pursuit of a convention banning the possession of nuclear weapons. What do you think about that?
Kane: Well, you know the secretary-general came out with a five-point proposal, in 2008, which included the negotiation of such a convention. It has not been supported by the nuclear-weapon states. I think that what happens is that sometimes these thoughts also need time to mature. Whether we are going to come to this at a later stage, I really don’t know.
On the other hand, the demand for progress in disarmament comes back again and again and again. It’s not buried in a drawer somewhere; it is on the table, except no one is really picking it up and implementing it.
In contrast, I was surprised at the speed at which an initiative was picked up in another field, namely lethal autonomous weapons systems. I remember about two years ago, I had a discussion about this, and we were talking about it as one of the topics also for the secretary-general’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. I felt that it was ripe for having a closer look. I also wrote an op-ed on it last year. But [I thought then that] it wasn’t quite ready for prime time yet, and I was wrong. It’s actually been picked up in the Human Rights Council, which has heard arguments that the disarmament community should pick up this issue. That’s in the latest report from the council as well. But it’s also been picked up by the French chair of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons [CCW].
ACT: Ambassador [Jean-Hugues] Simon-Michel.
Kane: And I think that is significant because if you had asked me a year and a half ago, I would have said, “No, it’s not ripe yet.” But clearly, there’s an evolution there. So, sometimes it’s good to keep issues alive, to leave them on the table. But on the other hand, they need to be actively picked up by member states. We can only put them there, talk about them, talk them up, which we’re doing, but we’re not the ones who can actually make it happen.
ACT: Okay, final thing on the humanitarian initiative. Do you think that the initiative can help push the NPT nuclear-weapon states to meet their 2010 commitments to “diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons” and “[d]iscuss policies that could prevent the use of nuclear weapons”?
Kane: I don’t think so, no. I mean I’m sorry, I know that sounds very pessimistic. But I think that unless the P5 are willing to engage with this movement, to look at that, prospects for disarmament are dim. I would like to see them, if not engage, at least participate on the periphery of this. To maintain a stance that is totally to the sidelines of this initiative is not reflective of what’s happening in this world. And as I mentioned, some states possessing such weapons did participate in the Nayarit conference, among the 141 participating states.
[That number of 141 is] hardly a negligible minority. That is actually the majority of member states, and you cannot just ignore it. You have to somehow address it. How the member states address it, the nuclear P5, is really up to them. But on the other hand, that is going to motivate them; these obligations that they entered into by consensus themselves—that is irrespective of anything else that happens around them. Those obligations are there. I know there will be a scorecard presented at the next NPT review conference, and I just hope that it’s not too negative.
ACT: A scorecard on how they’ve met their commitments under the action plan?
Kane: Correct. There are already studies [on that topic]. Ramesh Thakur [of the Australian National University] did this last year, and they might do another one. Reaching Critical Will has also published these scorecards, which are being examined by both the public and member states.
ACT: Okay, I wanted to move to another topic. Initially, as you said, you had a lot of direct personal involvement in the Syrian chemical weapons issue. What is your overall assessment of how the effort to remove the chemical weapons from Syria has been going until now?
Kane: Let me put it this way. We all knew that the timeline that was adopted in September last year was extremely ambitious. We never called it tight; we called it extremely ambitious. But we thought it was doable. Now, again this was a negotiation between, essentially, the United States and the Russian Federation. I mean, we were not involved; we were kept informed, but we were not involved in the actual negotiations. We thought it was a terrific achievement from both of these countries to actually get Syria to agree to it and to comply with it, and it went all very quickly. They acceded [to the CWC]. They have the declaration [required under the CWC]. We had the joint mission, which was established, the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]-UN mission. We have a joint coordinator, Sigrid Kaag. Thirtieth of June, it’s all [supposed to be] done. Well, here we are, 10th of June, another three weeks to go, or 20 days to go, and it’s not all done.
What has happened in the last couple of months has been tremendous. It’s been tremendous because we actually have over 90 percent, 92 percent, of the chemical agents removed from Syria already. So, there’s a small percentage remaining. This small percentage I know is ready to go, it’s just a matter of how quickly it can be transported out, and then the destruction process will proceed.
Has it all been smooth sailing? There have, of course, been a couple of issues that we had not anticipated. Syria said, first of all, “We cannot do it under the normal regulations,” meaning that under the rules of the CWC, you accede, and you’re responsible for destroying it yourselves. You know that was accepted by the international community. The Syrians only destroyed the least harmful material, the isopropanol, in country, and the rest was transported out except for that small percentage remaining.
They also destroyed a lot of the filling equipment and whatever. They did a lot themselves. What has not been resolved right now is that the destruction will take place once it is all taken out on board this Cape Ray, this hydrolysis ship. And there will be some industrial waste that needs to be transported out and taken proper care of.
What has been incredible is how much it has cost the international community. It is a huge amount of money, because we’re not only talking about the actual destruction, the mission, the OPCW going there, the Cape Ray. We’re [also] talking about the escort ships. We’re talking about the trans-loading [the transfer of the chemicals to the MV Cape Ray from the ship that transports them out of Syria]. Also, Syria needed special transport equipment, like armored vehicles; lift trucks; armored jackets for the drums, special drums [in which the chemical agents are transported], because the transport from certain of the sites to the port of Latakia is not exactly 100 yards down the road. You needed to go partially, also, through territory where there were fears of possible incidents. No such security incidents have happened so far, and that is very much a credit to the mission. And the inspectors have gone and verified everything.
But there are now still some questions remaining that are with the OPCW that we [at the UN] don’t really deal with. This is in the [OPCW] Executive Council, which sits in The Hague, where they have some decisions to make: Is the declaration complete? Are we satisfied once the last percentage is taken out? Are we satisfied it’s all done? And then there’s the question of the destruction of the underground facilities, the storage facilities and so forth, which essentially could be multipurposed. But, on the other hand, under the CWC they are to be destroyed. So, that’s something the OPCW needs to deal with.
In the end, we have one more state [as a party to the CWC], bringing the CWC closer to universal membership, which is a fantastic achievement. It’s taken one [element] out of the whole issue of the volatility of the fighting that’s going on.
ACT: The civil war in Syria, you mean?
Kane: The civil war in Syria and also about the near-constant rumors we had heard about chemical weapons use in Syria last year.
ACT: Okay, you mentioned the cost. That’s interesting because, as I understand it, someone has to pay for the time of these ships that have been waiting and waiting and waiting even though nothing has been produced. So, do you know what the cost of this operation has been to this point for all the equipment as well as the time of the ships for waiting?
Kane: I know approximately what it costs, but I’m a little bit reluctant to say that because it basically varies, also from ship to ship. Because Norway or Denmark or the Russian Federation has a ship, the Germans have a ship, and Britain has—I think it hasn’t sailed yet, but it’s going to. So basically, you’d have to go to them, but it is a lot of money.
It’s not done on a reimbursable basis. It’s not like these countries offered these escort ships and the trans-loading, et cetera, on a reimbursable basis. They offered it in terms of their contribution to this effort. So, it’s basically, it’s a national contribution. It is just like the U.S. [contribution]. It’s been a tremendously expensive operation.
When it comes to Libya, Libya also had chemical weapons. But no one stepped up to the plate because Libya is a wealthy country, [and therefore] they need to do things themselves. That’s the most recent example we have.
ACT: Okay. You’ve laid out the achievements and the difficulties here. Are there lessons to be drawn from this experience [with Syria] for future cases like this, possibly from your perspective at the UN and the operation of the secretary-general’s mechanism and that aspect or maybe broader lessons for the international community and chemical weapons regime?
Kane: The secretary-general’s mechanism dates from the late 1980s, and it was used only twice, inconclusively, in 1992 in Mozambique and Azerbaijan. Fortunately—and this was no particular foresight on either [OPCW] Director-General [Ahmet] Üzümcü’s or my side—but [in 2012],, I signed a memorandum of understanding with him precisely for such a case. And that goes back to a 2001 relationship agreement that the OPCW has with the United Nations, which is broader. So basically, we have the mechanism in place to move forward on this. Have there been lessons learned? Definitely. We actually had a lessons-learned exercise of the players just two weeks ago, which was very, very useful because we sort of said, “What are the gaps that we found? Where can we improve in case something like this happens again, and what do we need to do to prepare for it?”
Anytime you prepare, it costs money—for example, should you have a roster of experts? The first thing is that you need a team leader, and then you need to find the members of the mission. Yes, I can go to the OPCW based on our memorandum of understanding and say, “You have to give me the right people,” but we knew there had to be a certain skillset. Then we went to the WHO [World Health Organization], again, a certain skillset. Now, these are not people who are going to be sitting around waiting at home, twiddling their thumbs until they get a call from us. We had to pry them loose from current operations, and then you have to insert them into a war zone essentially, and that also needs a certain type of people because not everyone is willing to do that. So, there were very important lessons that we came up with that we felt we could do better in terms of preparing.
I’ll give you another example. From our security perspective, we are responsible for the security of this team. And you know they were shot at the first day the convoy went in, and we insisted that they had to have specialized security training before they went in. That alone is not a two-hour training. So if you want to be there on the ground immediately, you have to think of all of these things before you actually start an operation like that. And we had no prior experience, I mean other than 20-plus years [ago], which was a very different situation. So, that was also very useful when we had this OPCW-UN joint mission, because we had a very good knowledge on the ground, we had a very good knowledge of what we were exposing people to.
The other advantage that we had is that we actually had a country team, a UN country team in [Syria] because you have the humanitarian agencies there, plus we had the political office, the office of the joint special representative [of the UN and the Arab League], so that actually helped backstop us on the ground. You might not have that the next time around; we don’t know. So, there were a number of issues that we found that need to be addressed in case it happens again.
ACT: When you say this lessons-learned exercise involved the players, does that mean the states or the international organizations?
Kane: The team that was present in Syria. I mean it was basically inspectors and also some people who had worked with us on it, but it was an internal exercise.
ACT: And is that going to be public at some point? Is that going to be a report?
Kane: [It] will. There will be other segments following; we need to look at various parts of this lessons learned. I will tell you the labs are one other part, the sample analysis, the legal aspects. So, there are, like, little blocks, little building blocks. Frankly, one of the difficulties is that we don’t have any money for that; [we have to] fundraise for [the lessons-learned exercise]. We were able to do this first round with donations from two governments and [are] trying to see if we can get some more funds just to complete it. It is a very important exercise to go through, and it’s a shame that the General Assembly, because of our mechanism of having budgets, does not lend itself to something like this.
[But] yes, [the report] will be, eventually, it must be public.
ACT: Okay, and the lessons were specifically for doing this kind of operation in a country involved in a civil war, or did you step back and look at some broader—
Kane: You just step back and look at the whole mechanism. The other issue is, “Does the mechanism need to be updated?” I’ll give you one example. One of the things that we discussed is that—I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the mechanism; it’s very detailed. One of the detailed parts of it is a list of sample questions that you ask the government that brings such accusations to your attention. Well, the science has evolved tremendously since the 1980s, so these questions, semi-scientific or scientific, are they still relevant, or do they need to be adapted? You therefore can’t really use that template anymore. That’s one of the issues that we talked about. Also, for example, the lab analysis is a lot more sophisticated now than it was ever anticipated in the 1980s. So, there are lessons that we really need to look at.
ACT: These are the questions that are in the annex to the mechanism?
ACT: I think you mentioned this issue about the omissions and discrepancies in Syria’s declaration that are, that are being—
Kane: That’s for the OPCW.
ACT: Okay. It’s the OPCW, but the—
Kane: I’m not saying that there were omissions. All I’m saying is that the OPCW has raised the issue of discrepancies, and that’s all I’m going to say.
ACT: But isn’t the verification being conducted under the auspices of Security Council Resolution 2118? So, doesn’t that involve the UN as well?
Kane: Well, it involves the joint mission, yes. But, you know, it is clear that the inspectors of the OPCW are the ones who are doing it. In the relationship agreement that the OPCW has with the UN, any report that comes, let’s say, from the joint mission to the Security Council, basically, it goes through Sigrid Kaag. But let’s say there is no more joint mission and there’s still a report from the OPCW on some remaining issues or whatever that still has to go through the secretary-general. So, it would be the secretary-general’s representative [who would] report to the Security Council. The Security Council clearly is expecting a certain reporting mechanism until [all the Syrian chemical weapons materials are] certified [to be] gone and eliminated. I think that the Security Council will expect to have continuing reporting on this issue.
ACT: It makes at least some difference, as I understand it, because under the Chemical Weapons Convention, the OPCW would be essentially verifying declarations that the country has made and going to declared sites. But under the Security Council resolution, the team has unfettered access, as the resolution puts it, so they are able to go to undeclared sites as well, as I understand it. Is that correct?
Kane: Well, you know, there is a difficulty. There was a difficulty with the secretary-general’s mechanism, for example. I had to negotiate access, because you cannot have unfettered access. Syria is not under sanctions, it’s not Iraq, and they were very keen to always make that point that you have to actually negotiate where you want to go. That was one of the difficult negotiations in the first round, and it was again negotiated when I went to see them when the Ghouta allegations were all over YouTube and the press. So, I had to go and negotiate access. You cannot just go wherever you want.
I don’t know exactly, when it comes to the OPCW—if Syria has declared certain sites, the OPCW has the right to verify whatever there is in the sites that are declared by Syria. Then comes the question of what you do about the undeclared sites. In the Chemical Weapons Convention, there is [the provision for] a challenge inspection, as they call it, and that challenge inspection would be done on the authority of the Executive Council. They’re not there, I mean, that is not something they are contemplating right now. Right now, there’s a discussion between the OPCW and Syria about discrepancies, they call it. That’s where it is right now. How are they going to handle this? Maybe by the time you go to press, it’ll be known. But right now it is not known, and frankly, I’m going to stay out of that.
It’s not unfettered access. That was always the big issue in terms of Syria. [It is] not unfettered access. [Syria’s position was that it is a] sovereign country [and] will retain [its] sovereignty [with regard to access].
ACT: Okay. Looking ahead to once the destruction actually begins on the Cape Ray, what is the legal regime under which the destruction on the Cape Ray would take place? For example, who would be held responsible if there were an accident that harmed workers or the environment?
Kane: That’s a very good question that you are asking. I mean, I think the minute that the materials leave Syria, Syria is no longer legally responsible for them.
ACT: It’s very interesting wording, as you probably know in the Executive Council decision.
Kane: But to be honest with you, I can’t really answer that question. All I can tell you is that while the investigation was going on last year as well as now, we have made very, very clear that we involved [the UN Environment Programme] and we also involved the WHO in the very early stages because we don’t want any environmental mishaps. So, we have tried to take care as much as we possibly can to make sure that any eventuality could be taken care of. I don’t really know how it’s going to happen or who’s responsible. You must ask the OPCW; I don’t really know.
ACT: Okay. Then I wanted to move to lethal autonomous weapons, which is something that you mentioned you are active on. What do you think would be a useful next step for the international community on lethal autonomous weapons systems, after last month’s meeting in Geneva?
Kane: Under the CCW, you mean?
Kane: I commend France for taking it up. It was very much their own initiative and incentive to do that. It is interesting because I met with Christof Heyns, who is the special rapporteur on this issue. I met with him last year, and he said, “Oh, you know we’re putting it in the report,” and I’ve just received the report. I haven’t read the whole thing, but he does make the point that it really is not for the Human Rights Council, it’s more for the disarmament community to look at. And I think it would be good if it could be taken up in some forum. We’ve discussed the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, but there is also a humanitarian dimension to the use of lethal autonomous weapons, especially when it comes to establishing accountability for the effects of using such weapons. This is very much a legal issue that needs to be studied closely.
So, I think that it would be very good if there could be, if not a resolution, perhaps a group of member states, maybe spearheaded by France, for example, to say, “We’ll bring a resolution to the First Committee” and “We should have a group of governmental experts,” which, you know, the General Assembly does constitute every so often, to take a first stab at the issue.
Of course, this is not representative because it doesn’t represent 193 member states. But you get a representative group together, and you get some views on this, and maybe this group of governmental experts could be supported by some scientific experts who would feed it with some information. That, to me, would actually be a useful start at looking at this issue more earnestly in the international community because once this [experts group] report is out, the whole General Assembly, member states look at it and sort of say, “Hmm, how do we go forward with that?” That, to me, would actually be something that’s very useful.
Now, I haven’t talked to the French ambassador since they had this meeting. I’ll probably see him in early July when I’m going to be [in Geneva]. Because the other question that I don’t know [the answer to is], does he want to pursue it in the context of the CCW because the CCW is this conglomeration of all kinds of pieces. So, does he want to add to it? To me, it makes a lot more sense to bring it to the General Assembly first because the CCW is not universal in membership, and so it would be much better to bring it into the universal membership before you are going to associate it with one part or another. But that’s a personal opinion.
ACT: I think that [the Geneva meeting was held with the goal of] pointing toward some possible follow-up action for this year’s meeting of the CCW parties, which I think is in November. So, should the action of the CCW in November be to go ahead with what you said and recommend the formation of a group of governmental experts?
Kane: To my mind, the First Committee comes before the November meeting. What is happening with the First Committee is that the member states, some of them, have already started to basically say, “We would like to have a General Assembly resolution that’s on this topic,” and they look for co-sponsors. This would lead to a negotiation about the language and how many people sign on. But if there is a recommendation coming out of the First Committee to have such a group go forward, that does not impede [the ability of] the CCW parties [to] look at it. It’s just that, to my mind, the General Assembly is a bit more representative, rather than a smaller group that comes together in the CCW. So, that would be my preferred option, but one does not exclude the other.
ACT: You’re talking about something happening this coming fall?
Kane: It could, but it needs to have a member state or a small group of member states spearheading it. It needs to have a motor behind it. But maybe there’s [one] already revving up. I don’t know.
ACT: What do you see the regime for lethal autonomous weapons being two years from now, five years from now, or 10 years from now? Pick the time frame. How do you see it?
Kane: First of all, there needs to be a much better education of people, whether it’s diplomats [or the] general public, as to what [the issue] is. I mean, everyone has heard about drones, but do they really know the difference between drones and lethal autonomous weapons? And how do they really work? How does this affect who can actually have them? I think there’s a lot of ignorance about it, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way; it’s just a fact. So, I think it needs to be brought out a bit into the open. It needs to be talked about a little bit.
As I said, I wrote an op-ed on this issue last year. Yes, I got some comments on it, but it didn’t really resonate because people didn’t really know much about it. So, it’s time to prime the pump. But on the other hand, I also want to be a little careful because unless you sense that there is forward movement by the member states—that’s why I’m saying I’m happy that the CCW context was picked up—you can’t prime that pump.
ACT: Okay. In your remarks a couple weeks ago on lethal autonomous weapons, you referred to the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Now, those are treaties that ban certain types of weapons. Do you see the regime [for lethal autonomous weapons] going in a direction that would ban these kinds of weapons completely or more in a way that it would impose certain restrictions on how they can be used?
Kane: I’m a disarmament official. I like to ban everything! (Laughter.) But on the other hand, I know that if you don’t ban them outright, you have to actually look at the legal and moral implications of such weapons. That’s the first step you need to take before you can make a determination. Are you going to ban them outright, or are you going to put restrictions on them? Because if there’s no human hand involved, where’s the responsibility for this going? Is it the robot? There are really difficult issues that come up that have not been properly examined at all.
And I know that maybe one should look at this not when they are fully developed, but when they are in the development stage and not yet deployed because once you cross that bridge, there’s really no going back.
ACT: There was discussion at [the Geneva] meeting of this concept of meaningful human control.
Kane: Well, meaningful human control, what does that mean? It’s an interpretation. Who determines what is meaningful or not? That’s exactly the moral dilemma that I’m talking about. Drones at least are steered by people, even though there are also some questions about that. With lethal autonomous weapons, you know, there isn’t [steering by human beings].
What does meaningful human control mean?
ACT: Just one or two other topics. It’s just over a year since the Arms Trade Treaty was opened for signature here at the UN, and the number of ratifications is approaching the number, 50, that’s required for entry into force.
Kane: We have 40 [as of June 10], yes.
ACT: Okay. So in your view, what is the biggest challenge for implementation of the treaty and for ensuring that the goals of the treaty are achieved in the years ahead?
Kane: You know the biggest challenge is that we all expect that the ATT is going to come into force; I think we will probably reach 50 within maybe the next three months. We’re a little optimistic maybe, but it’s doable. We have indications of some member states that are lining up their parliaments and ratification processes to be complete by that time and then 90 days after that, it will enter into force. Fifty member states is just [about] 25 percent of [UN] membership. It is not huge. We need to encourage more member states to join. The number of signatures is 118, so that’s pretty good, and all states that sign are really morally bound to implement it.
That includes the United States. We don’t really expect the U.S. to ratify any time soon. There are a number of treaties that they’ve signed but not ratified. We think it was powerful that Secretary of State [John] Kerry signed it. We were very happy that he used the opportunity when he was here at [UN] headquarters last September to do that.
On the other hand, in order to make this treaty fully effective, you really need to have the major arms exporters as well as the major arms importers in the treaty. You can have a lot of numbers, but the numbers have to be adding up to something that’s meaningful. That has not yet been the case, and I don’t know when that will be the case. So, there’s a lot of advocacy that we need to do. There’s a lot of understanding that we need to propagate of what this treaty means. There are a lot of myths about the treaty. I remember when it was being negotiated, we had these editorials in the American press [saying], “Oh, the UN wants to take away our arms.” You know, I tried to write articles on that one too. No one wanted to publish that because I said this is really total nonsense. It’s got nothing to do with national ownership of guns. We’re having the same issue in Canada. I was up in Canada, and Canadians said, “You want to take away our arms.” I said absolutely not. It’s the same argument.
So, there needs to be a lot of advocacy. There also needs to be some help given to states, particularly the smaller states, about what it means when this treaty comes into force because there is going to be a regulatory process that kicks in. Everything is regulated in terms of trade. Books are regulated, bananas are regulated, everything is regulated, except guns.
There needs to be a process where member states have to understand better what it means [to join the treaty], and that also means their parliaments, which after all have to give the permission to ratify. There’s not going to be a huge secretariat that watches over all of this and advises member states on it. It’s a little bit of an effort where we have been given some money by member states to help member states do that. There’s also been some model legislation that has been developed for states.
Ultimately we have to tout a bit more the advantages of the treaty. What does it mean that you don’t have diversion to arms smugglers? We’ve all known about some of these people having been arrested here, there, and everywhere with all of these shady arms deals. And the transparency that it will bring into this process of trading arms, transferring arms, will be extremely beneficial. But it is only really effective [once] we’ve got the major exporters and importers on board, and that, to me, is the biggest worry right now. Yes, it’s a tremendous achievement; it’s taken a long time to negotiate this treaty. But we need to really try to do more convincing [of countries] of the benefits, and maybe this will only happen after it’s come into force and people see how it actually operates. That is my expectation at this point.
ACT: Do you see any of the major importers or exporters that hadn’t previously signed on the horizon as strong candidates [to sign the treaty]?
Kane: The U.S. obviously is a big exporter. Some of the European countries are big exporters, and those have signed up. We don’t have China, we don’t have India, we don’t have Russia, and we don’t have a lot of the importers. The arms trade over the last decade has continued to grow, because of the instability in the world. Look up the figures. It’s pretty horrendous. There’s a little bit of sitting on the fence right now, sort of seeing how it develops. But I’m hoping, and I think that when it comes to Europe and the U.S., there’s a very strong moral imperative in terms of “We really need to do this. We really need to bring clarity and transparency into this.”
We also see the humanitarian-human rights dimension of this treaty, which is novel for a trade treaty. That is all very positive. But there needs to be convincing of some of the other countries that should be part of this treaty.
ACT: We’ve covered a lot of different areas, so what are some of the issues we haven’t covered that concern you?
Kane: What have we not touched on? I mean I’m not quite sure that that’s something for your publication. It’s basically that the Office for Disarmament Affairs is the smallest in the United Nations. We’ve got a huge mandate, but it’s the smallest in the United Nations. But one of the issues that we haven’t touched that is really very important and is becoming more important as time goes on, is this: We have three regional centers on disarmament, and contrary to what we do here—i.e., advocacy and talking—they actually do practical disarmament work. That is something that is extremely important that is totally underappreciated and not known.
Just yesterday, I just received a note that, in the Central African Republic, with the support of our regional center, the government actually organized a National Disarmament Day, where they asked people to hand in their weapons. I have the statistics on that. Now, maybe they were not huge [numbers], and maybe those weapons were kind of old and maybe not so usable, but the demonstration effect of that is fantastic. Actually, there were some pictures taken. That is really very good.
We haven’t talked about [UN Security Council Resolution] 1540, but we’ve done a lot of seminars that the centers have organized to actually help with the reporting procedures because the Republic of Korea, which has the chairmanship of [the 1540 Committee] in the Security Council, would like to have more universality and universality of the reporting. So, that’s what they do.
The ATT, we’ve had a lot of meetings on the ATT. There was a lot of advocacy on that part, but we actually do a lot of practical work on the ground, training on standards. We’ve got some of the brochures. In the Caribbean, in Latin America, it’s huge. It’s huge. All funded by voluntary contributions, but there’s a lot of practical work that goes on that is totally unreported. I am very proud that we are doing that because it’s very much hands-on work and it’s very much supported by member states; otherwise, they wouldn’t fund it.
ACT: Okay. The last questions: Are there disarmament issues you see on the horizon emerging in the next couple of years? As you said, the [issue of] lethal autonomous weapons has come up very recently. Are there other things that we can be looking out for, things like that that might emerge?
Kane: Well, there are two issues that are not exactly new on the horizon, but I think that they have gained prominence lately. One issue is outer space, the whole weaponization of outer space. That has been a subject that’s been around, and then it kind of goes dormant again, and now it’s coming up again. And then there is the so-called cybersecurity, which we call information security.
I have attended a number of meetings [on information security], which seem to have multiplied or maybe they’ve discovered me lately. But in any case, I have been invited to this because the last [group of governmental experts] on information security, which had 15 members, came out with a report that when you read it, looks pretty dry, but actually [represents] some achievements that were very clearly noted, meaning that the laws that apply in physical space also apply to cyberspace. That’s a huge step forward. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s revolutionary that it was accepted as such because that was the first step. There’s a lot of norm setting that goes on in these forums. And this year, we have a group of governmental experts with 20 experts, and we’ll have to see if that can be built on.
It’s very difficult because, at the same time, you now actually have lawsuits that are brought by the United States against China. So, there’s also a focalization of this whole issue that goes into areas that go very far away from norm setting. We’d like to not go in that direction. We’d like just to say, “What are the rules?” Could we help establish some rules that could govern relationships in outer space?
Then, you know, with the [Edward] Snowden thing, it’s actually going to be a very interesting [group of governmental experts]. But it is something that I think is proper to be addressed in the United Nations because even if it isn’t representative to have 20 states, they do represent various views and various regions, and they usually consult also with their regional groupings to bring their views to bear. Even if you don’t agree all the time, it does put it on the map of where we are in terms of an international understanding on this issue.
ACT: Okay. Well, thank you very much. That’s been a very comprehensive and detailed look at a lot of different issues, so I thank you very much for doing it.
1. Defense Writers Group, transcript of remarks by Rose Gottemoeller, May 9, 2014, http://www.airforcemag.com/DWG/Documents/2014/May/050914Gottemoeller.pdf.
2. The five countries that are recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
3. NPT review conferences take place every five years and are preceded by preparatory committee meetings that take place three years, two years, and one year before the review conference.
4. Hibakusha are the surviving victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
5. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced on June 23 that the last of the chemical weapons materials had been removed from Syria. June 30 was the date by which the materials were to be destroyed.
6. The MV Cape Ray is a U.S. vessel carrying two mobile units that are to neutralize Syrian chemicals using hydrolysis.
7. See OPCW Executive Council, “Decision: Detailed Requirements for the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons and Syrian Chemical Weapons Production Facilities,” November 15, 2013, EC-M-34/DEC.1, paras. 4-5, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_push&docID=16875 (the council “[a]ffirms that the Syrian Arab Republic maintains ownership of its chemical weapons until they are destroyed, wherever the destruction might take place” and “[r]ecognises that, upon removal of declared chemical weapons from its territory, the Syrian Arab Republic no longer has possession, nor jurisdiction, nor control over these chemical weapons”).
8. UN General Assembly, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns,” A/HRC/26/36, April 1, 2014.
9. See, for example, Ellen Nakashima and William Wan, “U.S. Announces First Charges Against Foreign Country in Connection With Cyberspying,” The Washington Post, May 19, 2014.