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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 27, June 1998

Geneva Update No. 41
By Rebecca Johnson

CD Dominated by Tests and Calls for Nuclear Disarmament and Fissile Material Cut-Off


The Conference on Disarmament (CD) resumed its 1998 session for nine weeks from 11 May to 26 June. The session was dominated by the nuclear tests conducted by India on 11 and 13 May and by Pakistan on 28 and 30 May. Altogether, around 100 statements were made by CD members and observers, including one, sponsored by New Zealand, onto which 47 States signed. As reported in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 26, the nuclear tests were almost universally condemned, and India and Pakistan were exhorted to stop testing and sign and ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT) immediately and unconditionally. Many States underlined the importance of the CTBT and called on signatories which have not yet ratified, including China, Russia and the United States, to do so without further delay.

There were frequent calls for India and Pakistan to adhere to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), although several CD statements, notably from Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia and Iran, also raised concerns about the inadequacy of progress towards nuclear disarmament under the non-proliferation regime. The United States' Ambassador, Robert Grey, said he objected to comments that had identified the lack of substantive progress on nuclear disarmament as triggering or contributing to the nuclear tests in South Asia. Arguing that while India and Pakistan were moving in the "wrong direction... the nuclear weapons States are moving in the right direction", he listed some examples of significant recent action on nuclear arms control and recalled that the Canberra Commission "so often cited... as a road map to a world free of nuclear weapons" had identified a cut-off of the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons (FMCT) as the next step in multilateral arms control. (1) A number of delegations, including the United States, France, Finland, Germany and Japan, emphasised the importance of getting FMCT negotiations underway on the basis of the 1995 Shannon mandate.

The ad hoc committee on security assurances, chaired by Ambassador Antonio de Icaza of Mexico, and the five special coordinators which were agreed on 14 May, have begun work. Some of these coordinators gave interim reports to the final plenary of June, but at this early stage they had little to say. In his closing statement, the outgoing President of the CD, Ambassador Murat Sungar of Turkey, gave a brief outline of the presidential 'Troika' consultations (comprising the past, present and future Presidents) on nuclear disarmament. He noted the importance of the issue and the divisions of opinion over the CD's appropriate role, especially the gulf of perception between certain nuclear-weapon States and non-aligned delegations concerning the relation between nuclear disarmament and a ban on the production of fissile materials or cut-off treaty, which many delegations want the CD to start work on as soon as possible.

The Australian special coordinator for the landmines issue, Ambassador John Campbell, proposed a mandate for establishing negotiations on a ban on the transfer of anti-personnel mines, but acknowledged that it would be necessary to have an 'understanding' on several aspects, including ensuring that such negotiations would be consistent with and would not undermine existing instruments, including the Ottawa Treaty and the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

The most significant new development this month was undoubtedly the Eight Nations' Joint Ministerial Declaration calling for a nuclear weapon free world. Subtitled 'The Need for a New Agenda', the Declaration was launched on 9 June by the foreign ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa and Sweden, and presented by Sweden to the CD soon after. The Coalition castigated the 'complacency' and 'persistent reluctance' of the nuclear-weapon States and identified the need for a new agenda, comprising bilateral, plurilateral (P-5) and multilateral actions, including deeper reductions, and de-alerting and de-activating nuclear weapons. The New Agenda Coalition underlined the need for an unequivocal commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Side-stepping the politically paralysing debate over time-bound frameworks, the declaration appeared flexible regarding the best approach to achieve nuclear disarmament. It supported both the concept of a universal, legally binding instrument, such as some form of nuclear weapon convention, and a framework of mutually reinforcing instruments, such as might be developed by adding to and strengthening the measures comprising the basic non-proliferation and nuclear arms control regimes already in existence.

With less than seven weeks to go, the CD still lacks consensus on starting negotiations on the only issue for which it has a mandate - the FMCT. Pakistan has hardened its position against the FMCT unless stocks are explicitly included, which the P-5, India and Israel are adamant in resisting. Although there are signs that British and French opposition to a nuclear disarmament committee is softening, provided it is along the lines proposed by South Africa or Belgium, the United States and Russia remain opposed. China has already indicated its acceptance. The presidential consultations on nuclear disarmament and the discussions convened by the various special coordinators may clarify the range of different views and alternatives, but are not expected to come up with concrete results before the end of this year.

Recent Statements

The CD was addressed by the Foreign Ministers of Iran and Kazakhstan. Iran's Foreign Minister, Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, reported to the CD on his consultations in New Delhi and Islamabad, following the nuclear weapon tests. His statement was made just hours before the foreign ministers of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - the P-5) met in Geneva and issued a statement on the South Asian nuclear tests. While emphasising that conducting nuclear tests was "misconduct" and that "the ensuing responsibilities cannot be evaded nor eroded under any pretext", Kharrazi argued that "lack of serious attention and [the] absence of concrete action on nuclear disarmament" had been a contributory factor. He argued for renewed dialogue between India and Pakistan on several issues, including: peace and security; Jammu and Kashmir; confidence-building measures; and nuclear issues, including the CTBT and NPT. He did not let the opportunity pass to underline the necessity of ensuring the universality of the NPT and a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, citing "the refusal by Israel to accede to the NPT and accept IAEA safeguards [which had] gravely endangered the security of the entire region." (2) This point was underlined by a subsequent statement by Iran, which referred to the "urgent need to prevent the spill-over effect" of the nuclear tests. (3)

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassymzhomart Tokayev, reminded the CD that "nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation issues are intertwined" and said that Kazakhstan supported bilateral and multilateral discussions. (4) Referring to the "qualitatively new situation" following the South Asian tests, Brazil's Ambassador, Celso Lafer, raised concern that the nuclear crisis "put in question the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, creating a situation that poses a real challenge" to the world's "generally accepted non-proliferation paradigm". Lafer noted that while different regional experiences were not automatically transferable, the successful history of confidence-building and denuclearisation undertaken by the erstwhile nuclear adversaries in Latin America, Brazil and Argentina, could offer a "practical precedent that can hopefully inspire a reversal of the current tense situation [in South Asia]". (5)

Nuclear Disarmament

Following their nuclear tests in May, India and Pakistan were swift to proclaim their commitment to nuclear disarmament. India revived its earlier proposal for a nuclear weapon convention, linking it with demands from the non-aligned countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) calling for immediate commencement of negotiations on a global treaty banning and eliminating nuclear weapons. India offered Pakistan a bilateral no-first-use agreement, which Pakistan rejected, citing its need for nuclear 'deterrence' based (like that of NATO and Russia) on potential first use. Pakistan offered India a bilateral non-aggression pact, which India rejected, because of the utilisation of its armed forces along borders, including the Line of Control.

Raising renewed concerns that the 'inadequate' pace and scope of nuclear disarmament had contributed to the context of the nuclear tests and to a weakening of the non-proliferation regime, several delegations supported the view that nuclear disarmament was a task pertaining both to individual responsibility (of the nuclear-weapon States) and collective responsibility (of all States). Indonesia argued that "changing the current policy of: 'do as we say and not as we do' is vitally important if proliferation is to be halted." (6)

South Africa reiterated its proposal for a nuclear disarmament committee with a mandate to exchange information and deliberate on the practical steps for systematic and progressive efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. Brazil, speaking on behalf of the G-21 group of non-aligned States, recalled the various proposals and suggestions put forward in recent years. Speaking later on Brazil's own behalf, Lafer argued that "The current international situation in which the fragility of the non-proliferation paradigm has been exposed allows for different responses [on] many fronts." He proposed the immediate establishment of an ad hoc committee on agenda item 1, "where nuclear disarmament and related issues - such as a convention banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons purposes - can be properly addressed and negotiated." (7)

As they had done at the Second NPT PrepCom, France and the United States listed steps on nuclear arms reduction and control which they had undertaken or advocated. Saying that she agreed with those who considered that disarmament was the concern of all, France's CD Ambassador, Joëlle Bourgois, argued that a global approach to disarmament required that particular regional situations be taken into account, and that progress be undertaken in steps. She underlined the importance of the CTBT and FMCT and pointed out that in addition to removing most of its tactical nuclear systems, France had placed its nuclear air and submarine forces on a reduced level of alert. (8)

In similar vein, Grey argued that the incremental approach to reductions worked because of the complexity of asymmetries in the structure and composition of different nuclear forces, verification (characterised as "technically complicated and politically sensitive"), and because "the pace and scope of nuclear arms reductions depend largely on the security and environment and the level of international tensions". (9) Brazil, however, pointed out that while supporting the START process, it must be recognised that "the process is subject to political constraints and susceptibilities, particularly in the context of the expansion of a nuclear capable NATO." (10)

Canada raised concerns that "new or reweighted articulations as to nuclear deterrence are being proffered". To mitigate and reverse the negative impact of the South Asian tests, stalled START process and problems over strengthening the NPT, Ambassador Mark Moher argued for a collective response, including: opposition to any attempts to revalidate nuclear weapons in the context of a new 'nuclear realpolitik'; reaffirmation of the NPT; reinvigoration of the START process by the US and Russia, as well as commitments by the three smaller NWS to join in with the next phase. Canada proposed establishing a 'mechanism' for substantive discussion on nuclear disarmament "with a view to identifying if and when one or more such issues might be negotiated multilaterally" and a separate mechanism for the immediate commencement of FMCT negotiations. (11)

Ambassador Mounir Zahran of Egypt called for reflection on the "lessons to be learnt" from the failure of the second NPT PrepCom. He argued that the credibility of the nuclear non-proliferation regime had been "seriously put into question", blaming the nuclear-weapon States for providing a negative example. In a clear reference to the United States, Zahran blamed 'some States' for their "obstinate determination to block any mention of Israel...[which continued] to block any meaningful international discussion on how to achieve the NPT". (12)

Although the rhetoric and sense of urgency expressed by some delegations have sharpened following the failure of the NPT PrepCom and the South Asian nuclear crisis, it does not look likely that the CD will be able to agree in 1998 on action related to nuclear disarmament. It will be interesting to see over the next few months whether the New Agenda Coalition is able to develop effective leadership and strategies to unite a broader alliance of non-nuclear-weapon States. Although initiated by Ireland in late 1997, coming after the tests and the stalemated Second PrepCom of the NPT, the Declaration was timely and apt. It combined criticism of the nuclear-weapon States and calls for a clear and unambiguous commitment to eliminating nuclear weapons with a deliberately moderate and pragmatic approach to ways and means of accomplishing progress on nuclear disarmament, including support for the START process and FMCT.

The challenge presented by the New Agenda Coalition consists of much more than the text of the declaration, important though that is. By bringing together a group of States which crosses traditional political and geographic boundaries, the Coalition has also challenged the Cold War alliances that impede decision-making in the Conference on Disarmament and elsewhere in the UN system. The next stage will no doubt be to test the level of support in the United Nations First Committee and General Assembly. Then it will become necessary to translate the multi-stranded approach into proposals and pressure for concrete action. A first-step deliberative committee on nuclear disarmament in the CD could have a very constructive role to play, if the opponents from both sides would allow it to be convened.


The debate over commencing FMCT negotiations in the CD exposes the sharp conflict over the efficacy of incremental steps versus wider measures. While the majority consider that FMCT negotiations would be a nuclear disarmament step worth taking, many acknowledge that it needs to address stocks to be credible and verifiable in the long term. A few delegations have made it clear that they regard the proposed cut-off treaty as a limited non-proliferation measure, which would have to be put into an explicit disarmament context in order to be valid and effective.

Many of the statements which criticised the nuclear tests also called on India and Pakistan to join negotiations for a cut-off treaty or fissile materials ban without delay. Ambassador Markku Reimaa of Finland spoke for many when he called the FMCT "the indispensable next step forward in the process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation". (13) Pakistan, concerned about India's larger stocks of plutonium, has hardened its position against this measure unless stocks are included. France supported Austria's proposal for negotiations on the basis of the Shannon mandate, concluding that the CD could take this decision quite quickly. Bourgois pointed out that France had not only halted its production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), but had taken the further important step of dismantling the production facilities at Marcoule and Pierrelatte. The United States emphasised that the FMCT would be non-discriminatory and would not bestow any new status on any State (something which Pakistan and others reportedly feared India would push for).

Ambassador Akira Hayashi of Japan reported on the Seminar on the 'Technical Issues for a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty', which the Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry had hosted in Geneva on 11 and 12 May. Among the useful contributions, Hayashi highlighted Australia's proposal to the NPT PrepCom for a phased approach, starting with a cut-off of production, but committing to further negotiations encompassing stocks once the cut-off was concluded.

Brazil advocated FMCT negotiations as a primary task of the nuclear disarmament committee, a suggestion which could be considered alongside proposals from other non-aligned delegations, including South Africa and Egypt. Egypt, however, wanted the nuclear disarmament committee to negotiate simultaneously on a timetable for nuclear disarmament, whereas South Africa has proposed a deliberative function on the wider issues of nuclear disarmament as a first step.

Although it is not thought that Egypt would block consensus, if arrived at, its arguments against the basic FMCT are close to those of Pakistan. Zahran reiterated Egypt's view that a fissile materials ban (fissban) "can only be effective if it is applied to both future as well as already-produced fissile materials". According to Egypt's analysis, "limiting the ban to future production would be a limited non-proliferation measure with no real disarmament value. For such a fissile materials ban to be effective, stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile materials which exist in any country must be declared and become subject to inventory and inspection under international supervision and control, even if the ban were to be limited to future production. Such a step would serve as the basis for any verification regime, in order to ensure compliance with the negotiated treaty." (14) Pakistan endorses this view and has continued to underline the dangers of any measure that would merely reinforce the status quo.

Following its nuclear tests, India has announced that it would be willing to participate in FMCT negotiations in the CD and drop its earlier position linking the cut-off with 'concurrent' negotiations on nuclear disarmament. New Delhi's linkage of the FMCT with timebound nuclear disarmament was imposed after India was sidelined in the last stages of the CTBT negotiations, so it came as no surprise that in the wake of its tests, New Delhi offered to relax the linkage and support CD negotiations. Due to the considerable disparity in fissile material stocks and production capacities, the issue has long been a political football in South Asia, so it also came as no surprise that Pakistan's opposition to the FMCT became even more adamant.

Several of the proposals aimed at getting negotiations started could bear fruit - if the political will can be summoned. The blockage is not in the CD, but among the States with regional concerns, especially in South Asia and the Middle East. Any solution, therefore, will need to address those concerns politically in order to lift the procedural blocks in the CD.


Few States are really clamouring for the CD to address landmines. The issue is largely perceived as a way to buy off domestic criticism for staying out of the Ottawa Treaty. It might be supported if it looks impossible to get other substantive work moving in the CD. On the basis that those who supported the Ottawa process and are unenthusiastic about the CD taking up an interim ban on transfers would not actually block consensus, the special coordinator, John Campbell, has suggested that "there is a prospect that the Conference may be willing to establish an ad hoc committee with the following mandate:

The Conference on Disarmament agrees to establish an Ad Hoc Committee under agenda item 6, to negotiate a ban on the transfer of anti-personnel landmines.

The Ad Hoc Committee will present periodic reports on its progress to the Conference."

Noting that successful negotiations "will require the CD to take the Ottawa Treaty as its standard when it comes to such issues as definition and verification", Campbell concluded that some form of Statement of Understanding may also be needed, along the following lines:

"In taking this decision, Members of the Conference on Disarmament agree that for such negotiations to be successful, delegations will want addressed a range of issues including one or more of the following:

- the need for consistency with the terms of existing international instruments concerning anti-personnel landmines;

- individual countries' national security concerns, the importance of demining and the availability of alternative technologies;

- the nature of the international trade in anti-personnel landmines;

- the possible impact a ban on the transfer of anti-personnel landmines might have on the indigenous production of such mines."

Other Issues

A number of statements also referred to the issues of transparency in armaments, outer space and security assurances, in general repeating well-known national positions. (15) Additionally, Egypt proposed that the CD Secretariat compile the published material on research and development of new categories of weapons, such as radiological weapons, and that the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) be charged with carrying out a detailed study on this subject.

Appointments for 1998:

  • Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on negative security assurances (NSA) - Antonio de Icaza of Mexico;
  • Special Coordinator on landmines - John Campbell of Australia;
  • Special Coordinator on preventing an arms race in outer space (PAROS) - H.M.G.S. Palihakkara;
  • Special Coordinator on transparency in armaments - Pavel Grecu of Romania;
  • Special Coordinator on improved and effective functioning of the CD - Javier Illanes of Chile;
  • Special Coordinator on review of the CD agenda - Peter Naray of Hungary;
  • Special Coordinator on expansion of the CD - Erwin Hofer of Switzerland.

Dates for 1998 Session

19 January to 27 March

11 May to 26 June

27 July to 9 September.

Notes and References

1. Robert T Grey, US Representative to the CD, 25 June, 1998, CD/PV.799.

2. Dr Kamal Kharrazi, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to the CD, 4 June, 1998, CD/PV.796.

3. Dr Javad Zarif, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to the CD, 18 June, 1998, CD/PV.798.

4. Kassymzhomart Tokayev, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, to the CD, 19 May, 1998, CD/PV.793.

5. Celso Lafer, Ambassador of Brazil, to the CD, 25 June, 1998, CD/PV.799.

6. Agus Tarmidzi, Ambassador of Indonesia, to the CD, 18 June, 1998, CD/PV.798.

7. Lafer, op. cit.

8. Joëlle Bourgois, Ambassador of France to the CD, 19 May, 1998, CD/PV.793.

9. Grey, op. cit.

10. Lafer, op. cit.

11. Mark Moher, Ambassador of Canada to the CD, 25 June, 1998, CD/PV.799.

12. Mounir Zahran, Ambassador of Egypt, to the CD, 28 May 1998, CD/PV.794.

13. Markku Reimaa, Ambassador of Finland, to the CD, 19 May, 1998, CD/PV.793.

14. Zahran, op. cit.

15. Since discussion of these issues is still at an early stage, Disarmament Diplomacy will review the various arguments more comprehensively at the end of the Session.

Rebecca Johnson is Executive Director of The Acronym Institute.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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