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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 10, November 1996

First Preparatory Commission Meeting of the CTBTO
By Rebecca Johnson


The first Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) had to be suspended on 22 November, after failing to come to agreement on the budget, structure or personnel for the CTBT's implementing organisation. The PrepCom, chaired by Ambassador J. S. Selebi of South Africa, had been expected to agree to establish a provisional technical secretariat (PTS) in Vienna, including the appointment of Ambassador Wolfgang Hoffmann as its Executive Secretary. Disagreements over the allocation of senior positions among staff representatives from the regions and dominant countries became linked with decisions on organisational structure and budget, resulting in impasse on all but the most procedural of decisions.

The treaty, which was opened for signature on 24 September 1996, now has over 130 signatories, including the P-5 declared nuclear-weapon States. India, Pakistan and North Korea (DPRK), which are included among the 44 countries whose ratification is a condition of the treaty's entry into force, have not signed. Over 100 States participated in the PrepCom, which was expected to take decisions on a four month programme of work, with an initial budget of up to $4 million dollars, to start up the CTBTO and international monitoring system (IMS) as specified in the comprehensive test ban treaty. Two working groups were planned, on budgetary and administrative matters and on verification, with organisational meetings as deemed necessary. After failing to take any substantive decisions, the PrepCom adjourned, intending to hold a resumed session in Geneva, 3-11 March, 1997.

The PrepCom Meeting, 20-22 November

The text establishing the PrepCom, which had been negotiated since January, was approved by consensus and acclaim on 19 November. From mid-September, Canada had coordinated the preparatory documents and work for the first session, managing to accomplish much of the work by consensus. South Africa was nominated by the African group of signatories and elected by consensus to be the first Chair of the PrepCom, holding a 6 month term. A provisional budget of US$ 3,944,500 was specified for work between November 20 and 31 March. During the course of discussions, this was brought down to around US$3.5 million. Hoffmann, who had chaired one of the working groups during the test ban negotiations in Geneva and was highly regarded by fellow negotiators, was unchallenged as the candidate for Executive Secretary. However, difficulties arose over the structure of the PTS, particularly the allocation of second and third tier posts.

Russia and France wanted the national allocations to be confirmed, as part of the proposed structure, even if candidates were not yet identified. Linking this with other decisions, Russia refused to allow any provisional agreement on the budget and Hoffmann unless explicit agreement was reached on allocation of the senior posts. Brazil and others objected to this package and argued for the outline structure, revised budget and Hoffmann only to be agreed, provisionally, subject to confirmation at the next PrepCom meeting in four months. Various formulae were attempted, aiming to reassure Russia while providing the flexibility demanded by some of the others, who complained that the PrepCom was being asked to rubber stamp deals taken among the dominant States in private. A final compromise brokered by Selebi, which won grudging agreement from Russia, Brazil and other key players, was in the end vetoed by Iran, with no time left for further consultations.

Below the Executive Secretary (Germany) five divisions are proposed*: administration (USA), legal/relations (Japan), OSI (on site inspections - Russia), Verification IDC (international data centre - Egypt), and Verification IMS (Mexico). Each division has a further 3-5 senior positions, for which various countries have already bid. Compromises were attempted to allow Hoffmann to be appointed, with or without the senior PTS personnel, but with a budget to hire enough administrative and clerical staff to begin to get the CTBTO up and running. However, still smarting from the experience of setting up the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), some delegations refused to allow this to go through, even on an interim basis. Iran, lacking instructions to approve the final compromise, argued that there should be six divisions rather than five, with each region allocated the senior post. This was not acceptable to the US and others.

During the PrepCom there was some attempt to coordinate decision-making within the designated regional groups. Inevitably the group covering South Asia and the Middle East had difficulties, primarily over refusal by certain States to accept

Israel. In the end Bangladesh was asked to coordinate that region's meetings. Bangladesh had its own problems with the organisation, particularly over financial arrangements. In a follow up to its statements in Geneva objecting to its inclusion on the list of 44 States whose accession was required before the CTBT could take effect, Bangladesh argued that the least developed States should be exempt from paying for the CTBTO. According to the treaty, payment is in accordance with the UN scale of assessments, adjusted for treaty membership.


This was a disappointing start for the CTBT's implementing organisation. The reasons for the failure were mixed. Determination to avoid the mistakes of the OPCW were discernible in the positions of some countries, including Russia. The way in which the final draft of the CTBT had been finalised left others, such as Brazil, particularly sensitive to being excluded from deals forged between certain key States, while expected to accept the results as a fait accompli. Brazil was also concerned about costs, objecting to the 'over elaborate' system which all States Parties were paying for just to ensure that the few nuclear weapon States were not testing.

Rivalries among certain States regarding plum jobs, combined with the assumption by dominant countries that they were entitled to key appointments, also contributed to the negative dynamic in the PrepCom. Several delegates wondered 'what was the hurry'? This appears to be related to the perception of many that with India's expressed determination not to sign, the treaty would be unlikely to enter into force in the near future. Although some delegations were clearly worried that this first failure of the PrepCom would send - in the words of a senior US official - 'terrible signals' to India and undermine the credibility of the treaty, others appeared to consider the delay to be an opportunity to save some of the costs. Perhaps the expectation of resolving the administrative decisions and power plays in just three days was overly ambitious, especially as key countries, including the US, had been slow in determining their own requirements and margins for compromise. Clearly the transition of the IDC and establishment of the new administration in Vienna will be set back by a few months, but it would be too early to predict any lasting effect on the CTBT implementing regime.

A second PrepCom session had been envisaged for March, in Vienna. Instead of this, the meeting decided to resume in March, in Geneva, alldwing time for Selebi, Hoffmann and others to consult and try to get agreement on the structure and appointments for the future. This time they will aim to agree a budget for at least nine months.

* Countries in brackets denote the positions bidded for and does not indicate anything which has been agreed.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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