North to lead Disarmament Conference againNorth Korea's assumption of the presidency of the United Nations-linked Conference on Disarmament later this year is going to cause diplomatic waves — just like the last time in 2011.
The announcement by the Geneva-based body on Jan. 18. is certain to arouse controversy given the North’s repeated violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibiting it from conducting nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.
The Conference on Disarmament is a multilateral forum that meets annually over three sessions to negotiate arms control and disarmament agreements.
Although it is not a United Nations organization, the conference and the United Nations are linked in various ways, with the Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva also serving as the conference’s secretary-general.
The conference meets in the Palais des Nations, the same building as the United Nations in Geneva, and passes yearly reports of its activities to the United Nations General Assembly.
The conference was instrumental in passing several important arms control agreements, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1968, the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1996.
In recent years, however, work on important arms control treaties, such as the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, have shifted to the United Nations as a result of the conference’s relatively small membership and its perceived dysfunction after earlier successes.
The North’s turn to preside over the disarmament conference comes in accordance with the alphabetical order of its 65 member states.
Pyongyang is due to assume the conference’s rotational presidency from May 30 until June 24, following Cuba’s presidency from March 21 to May 22 and before the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which takes over on June 27.
The North’s last turn on the body’s presidency from June 28 to Aug. 19, 2011 sparked a boycott of the conference’s activities by Canada. The country’s foreign minister at the time, John Baird, said the appointment would undermine the credibility of the conference.
“North Korea is simply not a credible chair at this United Nations body. The regime is a major proliferator of nuclear weapons and its non-compliance with its disarmament obligations goes against the fundamental principle of this committee,” Baird said in his announcement of Canada’s boycott.
"North Korea's chairmanship undermines the integrity of both the disarmament framework and of the United Nations, and Canada simply will not support that."
In 2011, Hillel Neuer, the Canadian-born director of UN Watch, a human rights NGO and UN watchdog group based in Geneva, characterized the appointment of a North Korean to chair the multilateral disarmament forum as akin to “asking the fox to guard the chickens.”
The North’s 2011 turn to preside over the forum also raised concerns that the body was risking further loss of relevance.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]