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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 14, April 1997

Can the CD's Impasse be Broken?
A Romanian Perspective
By Pavel Grecu and Cristian Istrate

Introduction: a particularly frustrating period

After the first part of its 1997 session, despite intensive consultations, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) finds itself in a deadlock as far as the programme of work and institutional arrangements are concerned. Just eight months ago, a "long-sought, hard-fought" objective in the process of arms control and disarmament, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), was brought to life due to painstaking negotiations undertaken at the Conference. Although the Treaty could not be formally adopted in the CD, it represents, along with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), a major achievement of multilateral disarmament diplomacy in the post-Cold War era. The CTBT is expected to impose, for the first time, constraints on the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and bring the nuclear arms race to a definitive end. It will make a key contribution to the programme of action on non-proliferation and disarmament agreed at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference, as a crucial step in the process towards complete nuclear disarmament.

Now that the CTBT is completed, a legitimate question arises: what will be next on the CD's agenda? At the dawn of a new century the CD is called to embark upon a process of self-examination and adaptation to a changed political environment. Well before the conclusion of the CTBT negotiations last year, member States began to consider the Conference's future, its new priorities, how it could best serve the legitimate aspirations of humanity. Appropriate responses and concrete actions are expected from this forum without delay. Indeed, in setting its objectives and working methods, the Conference must reflect current international priorities. The struggle to devise generally acceptable answers to all these demanding tasks has generated a particularly difficult and frustrating period in the life of the Conference.

This frustration was all the greater considering the influence of forthcoming events outside the Conference. The Helsinki Summit between the US and Russia, the beginning of the preparatory process for the NPT Review Conference, NATO expansion and its strategic consequences for the northern hemisphere; all were often invoked by delegations in an attempt to explain the prevailing prudent attitude, and even the utter lack of political will, within the Conference.

Towards defining the next priorities

As President of the CD between 17 February and 16 March, Romania found itself in a position to coordinate the efforts towards defining the next goals. Assessing the outcome of the consultations held within the Conference, it seemed that three issues emerged as priorities of action, demanding appropriate answers from member States: nuclear disarmament; the fissile material cut-off; and anti-personnel landmines.

The complete elimination of nuclear weapons is the declared aim of the whole international community, the supreme objective on the way to building a safer world for the generations to come. Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear disarmament (ND) has registered unprecedented strides due to individual, bilateral and collective efforts. Unthinkable just ten years ago, the achievements so far are impressive; they have indicated a viable, realistic, concrete path to follow. Other approaches could also be imagined, and indeed have taken shape in well-known initiatives, such as the phased 'Programme of Action' proposed last August by a group of non-aligned CD States. The CTBT has convincingly demonstrated that the multilateral negotiating framework can make important contributions to the overall process. The problem now facing the Conference is how it could best promote nuclear disarmament, so as to complement and build on the existing achievements. The Romanian Presidency therefore sought the views of member States on how to deal with nuclear disarmament within the Conference.

Many countries believe that a multilateral, effectively verifiable treaty to prohibit the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices (Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty - FMCT) constitutes a prerequisite step towards a nuclear-weapon-free world. The year 1995 marked an encouraging development in this field, because for the first time the CD agreed to establish a 'cut-off' Ad Hoc Committee with a negotiating mandate. As President, Romania intended, and acted in an attempt to ensure, that the consensus on this important initiative be invigorated and brought to fruition soon.

While the importance of addressing issues pertaining to weapons of mass destruction cannot be overemphasized, the CD should not overlook the acute problem of conventional armaments, in particular anti-personnel landmines (APLMs), which constitute one of the most dramatic and horrific realities of our times. The adoption last May of the amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) is considered by many as an incomplete measure, lacking an important degree of efficiency and inadequate in coping with the global APLM scourge. In reaction, an international campaign - the 'Ottawa process' - has been set up aiming at a total ban on APLMs. Its stated goal is most ambitious: concluding a treaty to that end by December 1997. Other initiatives in the same direction, undertaken by governments or non-governmental organizations, in the political as well as the practical fields, continue to intensify and expand around the world. Acting as CD President, Romania encouraged the idea that a proactive role on APLMs should be asserted at the international community's sole multilateral negotiating forum on disarmament. This is, after all, a question of credibility and relevance for the Conference. At the same time, any approach to the subject should be truly comprehensive, taking into account all relevant aspects, including national security and defence concerns, such as have been already voiced by many delegations.

How did we proceed?

For the first time in the history of the Conference, the Romanian President held bilateral consultations with all of the 60 members of the CD, in order to give everybody an opportunity to address outstanding issues facing the Conference directly with the President, in an orderly and non-discriminatory fashion. During these consultations three main topics were discussed, as considered above: ND, the FMCT, and APLMs. We encouraged the consideration of each issue on its merits, in order to deter counterproductive linkages. It was the belief of the President that, once a generally acceptable response is given to those questions, then the remaining issues before the Conference will logically fall into place.

In addressing the question of nuclear disarmament, several delegations expressed the view that something should be done in terms of dealing with this issue within the CD. Many of these delegations consider that the negotiations on nuclear disarmament should be a top priority of the CD - and referred to various proposals made to this end. Concrete options were presented to facilitate effective discussion of the issue: holding informal consultations or informal plenaries; consultations by the President, or appointment of a Friend of the Chair, or even a Special Coordinator, to explore possible ways of approaching nuclear disarmament themes and proposals within the CD; setting up an Ad Hoc Committee with two tracks (or Working Groups) - the first as a preparatory body on ND, and the second with a negotiating mandate on the FMCT.

There were a small number of countries which rejected any formal mechanism to discuss nuclear disarmament within the Conference. Consequently, a consensus proved elusive.

No delegation explicitly opposed addressing the issue of the FMCT during the 1997 session, in the form of an Ad Hoc Committee or other institutional arrangements, working on the basis of the Shannon report of 1995 and the mandate contained therein. Only one delegation reserved its position, saying it needed to study further the Shannon mandate.

While accepting the Shannon report as a basis for negotiations, a number of delegations were of the opinion that the FMCT should be dealt with both as a non-proliferation issue and a nuclear disarmament one, by including existing stockpiles. Several delegations believe that the Shannon report is comprehensive enough and could accommodate everyone's concerns, and, on that premise, argued that it would be difficult to revisit the mandate contained therein. Indeed, addressing the scope of the future Treaty, the report clearly states:

"Some delegations expressed the view that this mandate would permit consideration in the Committee only of the future production of fissile material. Other delegations were of the view that the mandate would permit consideration not only of future but also of past production. Still others were of the view that consideration should not only relate to production of fissile material (past or future) but also to other issues, such as the management of such material. It has been agreed by delegations that the mandate for the establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee does not preclude any delegation from raising for consideration in the Ad Hoc Committee any of the above noted issues."

Various compromise formulae regarding the question of stockpiles were suggested, including: that the scope of the FMCT should refer only to production, provided that countries possessing stocks unilaterally declare them; or that the existing stocks should be dealt with after the completion of the FMCT, in the broader context of ND discussions. A number of delegations stressed the intimate link between ND and the FMCT, indicating that the optimal solution would be a package deal.

Although further efforts are needed in order to reach a consensus, this might develop around the idea of setting up an Ad Hoc Committee on the basis of the Shannon report and the mandate contained therein.

During the bilateral consultations, only one delegation was opposed to any discussion of APLMs in the CD. Most other delegations, from all regional groups, were prepared to accept the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee on APLMs, subject to agreement on the mandate. But some delegations made it clear that APLMs should be seen in a broader context, together with ND and FMCT, and stressed that ND should have priority.

Among delegations ready to support work in the CD, two main streams of opinion appeared. One emphasized the humanitarian nature of the issue and advocated that the future mandate of the Ad Hoc Committee should clearly spell out the goal of a total ban of APLMs, in some cases with a time-frame for achieving that goal. The negotiations should affect in no way the on-going Ottawa process, but rather complement it. The other stressed the need for realism and avoiding over-ambitious goals, suggesting a step-by-step approach, taking into account all concerns, such as national security interests, demining, and assistance for APLM victims.

Three different formulae were put forward: setting up an Ad Hoc Committee on Conventional Disarmament, which would establish two Working Groups - APLMs and regional disarmament; appointment of a Special Coordinator to prepare the ground for further work within the CD and on the mandate of an Ad Hoc Committee; appointment of a Friend of the Chair with the same task. The prevailing feeling was therefore that the Conference on Disarmament should have a role in dealing with APLMs. Of the possible items for its work programme the Conference is probably closest to consensus on this issue; but, clearly, further consultations will be necessary.

The Romanian proposals: designed in accordance with 'the art of the possible'

On Thursday 27 February, a progress report on bilateral consultations was presented to the membership of the CD in an informal setting. Taking stock of his findings, as well as of the preliminary remarks to the report made by delegations on 6 March, the President held another round of open-ended informal consultations trying to see what could be done in order to overcome the existing differences of views, as they found expression in previous talks. At this point in time conditions were ripe enough for the President to air some concrete suggestions on the programme of work and institutional arrangements for the current session. The suggestions were as follows:

  • asking successive CD Presidents to consult the membership specifically on nuclear disarmament and report back to the Conference at the end of their term of office;
  • starting the work on the FMCT on the basis of the Shannon report and the mandate contained therein;
  • establishing an Ad Hoc Committee on APLMs which would start working as soon as a mandate is agreed. In this respect, a Special Coordinator could be appointed to work out an appropriate mandate.
Criticised by some, praised by many, the proposals put forward by the Romanian Presidency do not, of course, constitute a magic solution. They merely represent an attempt to break out of the long-standing stalemate which so badly affects the CD's credibility at a time when the Conference is being looked at with interest and hope. Romania strongly believes that, guided by optimism, courage and good will, the Conference will once again display its great potential to deal with the challenges ahead. This potential should be used, now maybe more than ever, most pragmatically to meet the expectations of the international community for greater stability and security worldwide.

Pavel Grecu is Minister-Counsellor and Acting Permanent Representative of Romania at Geneva. He is the Head of the Romanian delegation to the Conference on Disarmament and performed the function of President of the CD between 17 February and 16 March 1997. Cristian Istrate is Counsellor and Deputy Head of the Romanian delegation. The opinions presented in this article are the authors' and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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