In Pursuit of Multilateralism

December 2020
By Amb. Mark Zellenrath

Multilateralism, and non-proliferation and disarmament in particular, must not fall victim to Covid-19. It remains our responsibility to take stock of where we are, to reflect upon what we have accomplished, and to set new goals in order to address the current challenges to our multilateral and security environment. Last year, we already witnessed the demise of the INF treaty. This year, the JCPOA with Iran is under immense pressure. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is under strain as chemical weapons are being used by state and nonstate actors, as recent as in the case of Navalny. Also in light of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) seems more important than ever. Furthermore, the shared space surrounding our planet is congested and contested, and can no longer be seen isolated from technological and military developments.

The Netherlands will therefore continue to promote multilateralism as the key principle in our international rules-based system to address today’s challenges and promote international security. Our efforts in a number of areas will therefore be constructive, forward-looking, and building on the fundamentals of the rules-based system. In that regard, the Netherlands supports the UN secretary generals’s agenda.

The Netherlands continues to be strongly committed to the strengthening and implementation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation and disarmament regime. We will actively contribute to a successful outcome of the NPT review conference via our vice presidency of the conference and our chairmanship of Main Committee III. Furthermore, the Netherlands continues to be involved with creative collaboration initiatives such as Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament, the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification and the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative, and topics that give substance to our NPT-commitments. Think of the immediate start of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, the signing and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the further development and implementation of concepts such as nuclear risk reduction and Verification. We encourage the permanent members of the UN Security Council to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue on these issues.

The Netherlands follows closely the strategic dialogue in Vienna, and lately also in Helsinki, between the United States and Russia on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. We share the U.S. vision that a more ambitious agreement is needed for future strategic stability. Extending New START is a first important step. We call upon all relevant parties, in particular Russia and China, to engage.

Together, we all agree that we must uphold the global norm against the use of chemical weapons. The Netherlands condemns the recent attack on Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent. We share the conclusion of Germany and France that there is no other plausible explanation for Navalny’s poisoning than Russian involvement and responsibility in this matter, and therefore we support the call for sanctions. We condemn Syria for using chemical weapons and urge them to fully comply with the CWC. I would like to seize the opportunity to commend the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) for its first report in which three chemical weapons attacks were attributed to Syria. I look forward to the ITT’s second report. The Netherlands has full confidence in the professionalism, impartiality and objectivity of the OCPW director general and the agency’s technical secretariat.

Lastly, we should work on improving and modernizing our disarmament machinery. It is a sad truth that the very conference that produced vital multilateral disarmament treaties, such as the CWC and the CTBT, is not able to start negotiations on, for example, a fissile material cutoff treaty. We have to be creative in order to move forward. The Netherlands has therefore introduced a working paper last year with suggestions on the organization of our work in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), namely to go “back to basics.” We hope that his will be taken at heart at the start of the CD session next year.

Adapted from a statement by Amb. Mark Zellenrath, the Dutch deputy permanent representative to the UN, to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly on Oct. 9.