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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

Geneva Update
by Jenni Rissanen

CD Split Over Priorities


The Conference on Disarmament (CD) opened its 2000 session on January 18 by adopting an agenda identical to last year's and confirming that the CD, once again, had to begin its new session without immediately deciding on a programme of work.

The outgoing and incoming presidents announced at the first CD plenary that they had not been able to break the deadlock on the issue of the programme of work during the intersessional consultations conducted between September 1999 and January 2000. Thus, the new CD President took on the task of trying to find an acceptable formula for a programme of work in the following four weeks. However, by the end of the fourth week of consultations and after various proposals for a programme of work, the CD was unable to agree even on the appointment of two special co-ordinators to continue to seek agreement on a mechanism and mandate on nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), the two remaining unresolved issues in the eyes of the majority of CD members.A

The Intersessional Consultations

The outgoing and incoming CD presidents, ambassadors Leslie Luck (Australia) and Harald Kreid (Austria), respectively, reported at the first plenary on the results of their efforts to facilitate agreement during the intersessional period as mandated by the 1999 Annual Report. Ambassador Luck stated with disappointment that he was unable to "report success in facilitating the core agreement which would allow us to start work."1 Ambassador Kreid commented that in spite of their efforts to "feel the pulse of a number of delegations" during the consultations, the two Presidents were left with an indeterminate sense of the "overall temperature of the Conference."2

In his remarks as the outgoing President, Luck called for recognition among delegations "that the CD cannot credibly remain idle for another year." He assessed the situation as very much the same as in September 1999. The CD was not much closer to reaching an agreement but neither was it any further away. Despite the lack of progress since September, Luck was convinced that "the start of substantive work is within our grasp and should not be allowed to slip away." According to Luck, there remained a dominant view among the delegations that the package proposed by Algeria's Ambassador Mohamed-Salah Dembri, which apart from a proposed compromise on working groups to discuss nuclear disarmament and PAROS included the establishment of an ad hoc committee to negotiate a ban on the production of fissile material (fissban)3, a committee on security assurances (NSA) and various special co-ordinators, is the "point of departure" for an agreement. Luck urged delegations to focus on the Dembri package circulated in June 1999 and the related texts, and to look further into positions that could allow for agreement and to take small steps available now, such as allowing the CD to address PAROS issues and facilitate nuclear disarmament dialogue.4

The incoming president, Kreid, said he was hesitant to speak of a millennium session due to the high expectations associated with the name. He asked: "Are we going to achieve something worthwhile in the year 2000 after success has eluded us in the 3 preceding years?" Kreid felt "rather concerned" and believed that the conditions to commence work had not been improved over the recent months. Noting the pressures deriving from developments in the international environment, he challenged the CD "to weigh the consequences of the changing international environment and decide whether we resign ourselves to the role of victims of circumstances beyond our control or else demonstrate to the outside world that the CD is able to render its services to the international community even under difficult conditions and that we are willing to provide the international arms control scene with strong positive impetus which will have beneficial repercussions beyond out own work." Kreid reminded the CD of the supreme task it was established to achieve: to negotiate arms control and disarmament treaties. He advised against too much self-censorship based on second-guessing future difficulties: "…we do not know what the fate of our brain child will be… But what we can do is to draft the best possible treaty text with the highest possible chances of being accepted by our government and lawmakers."5

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in a statement at the first session delivered by Mr. Vladimir Petrovsky, Secretary-General of the CD, urged delegations to "search for compromises in a spirit of flexibility and with real sense of urgency" and emphasised the importance of the progress made at the CD to the upcoming NPT Review Conference. He envisaged the new century as "a new opportunity for the Conference to live up to its potential: to draw strength from recent achievements in some areas, and to take an honest look at progress in others." Annan called the lack of progress on the issues of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and PAROS deplorable. He expressed concern over missile proliferation and the development of anti-missile defences and underlined the importance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.6, B.

The Agenda

The CD adopted an agenda for the year 2000 identical to last year's. Germany's Ambassador Gunther Seibert, having gone along with the agenda for 2000 "with considerable misgivings," questioned the purpose of the agenda if the CD did not start with substantive work following its adoption. He called the agenda outdated and lacking of any practical significance. Seibert deplored the fact that the agenda did not explicitly contain the issues of Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) or anti-personnel landmines (APLM) when there was general agreement on the mechanisms to deal with these issues last year. Furthermore, he argued again that there was no basis in the rules of procedure for a demand for a "comprehensive and balanced program of work" and that the establishment of subsidiary bodies should not create hurdles to the work of the CD but facilitate its work. Seibert urged the CD to "tackle arms control and disarmament issues urgently without getting bogged down in procedural tussles."7

CD Agenda, adopted 18 January, 2000:

"Taking into account, inter alia, the relevant provisions of the Final Document of the First Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, and pending the conclusion of its consultations on the review of its agenda, and without prejudice to their outcome, the Conference adopts the following agenda for its 2000 session:

1.Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament.

2.Prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters.

3.Prevention of an arms race in outer space.

4.Effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

5.New types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons; radiological weapons.

6.Comprehensive programme of disarmament.

7.Transparency in armaments.

8.Consideration and adoption of the annual report and any other report, as appropriate, to the General Assembly of the United Nations."

The Proposal for a Programme of Work

Kreid submitted his first informal proposal for a compromise on the programme of work during the second week which reportedly consisted of three elements: ad hoc working groups (AHWG) on nuclear disarmament, PAROS and a fissban. The proposal for an AHWG on nuclear disarmament was said to resemble closely the Algerian Ambassador Mohamed-Salah Dembri's proposal from June 1999. It also included some paraphrased elements from the earlier NATO-5 (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Norway) proposal for a working group to "study ways and means of establishing an exchange of information and views…on endeavours towards nuclear disarmament".8 The proposal for PAROS is also said to have closely modelled the Dembri proposal but instead of 'preventing the weaponisation of outer space' it spoke of ensuring its continued peaceful use. Of the three working groups, the fissban was the only one with a clear negotiating mandate. The mandate was identical to the one first adopted in 1995 and briefly operationalised in 1998.

Kreid announced at the January 27 plenary that the proposal had received "no unanimous positive response" so far but that he would continue his efforts to reach '100 percent adherence' for the proposal.9 The following days proved the task to be impossible. In particular, China seemed unwilling to accept Kreid's proposal. In addition, many Western delegations had reservations on the 'downgrading' of the already-agreed ad hoc committee on a fissban to a working group fearing that this could have a negative impact on the fissban negotiations. There were also doubts about whether the Group of 21 Non-Aligned States and Others (which now has more than 30 members) would accept an ad hoc working group on nuclear disarmament, in particular without a negotiating mandate.

China's new Ambassador Hu Xiaodi's statement to the CD on January 27 shed more light on Beijing's position. Hu stated that the Joint Statement by President Jiang Zemin and President Boris Yeltsin agreed at the December 9-10, 1999 informal summit would guide the Chinese delegation's work at the CD. Hu spoke of a series of negative developments that "cannot but make us realize the grave situation and arduous tasks." In a strong condemnation of US missile defence plans, Hu castigated that "a certain country, for the benefit of its own and in defiance of the requirements and appeals of the UNGA resolutions passed last year, practices expediency and double standards towards arms control and disarmament agreements, even by trying to weaken or abolish [a] relevant treaty to keep its hands free [for] the research, development and proliferation of [an] advanced missile defense system, which undermines strategic balance and stability."

Hu called these developments "extremely worrisome" and asked: "do we prefer the common security for all states or the absolute security enjoyed by a single state at the expense of others?" The international arms control and disarmament process "has reached crucial crossroads," Hu said. He told the CD that China's "top priority" is to prevent an arms in outer space, including the prohibition of outer space weapons and anti-ballistic missile systems and reaffirmed that China maintained that the CD should re-establish an ad hoc committee on PAROS. China put on the table in March last year a proposal for an AHC to "negotiate and conclude an international legal instrument banning the test, deployment and use of any weapons, weapon systems and their components in outer space, with a view to preventing the weaponization of space."10

The G-21 was said to have seen both positive and less positive elements in Kreid's proposal and seemed willing to consider the proposal. The group gave its views on the suggested programme of work in a statement by Malaysia's Ambassador Hamidon Ali on January 27. Ali stated that "the CD commences its work against a backdrop of serious and multifarious challenges facing the international community" and "its programme of work should be responsive to these challenges and the interests and priorities of all its members…" Ali reiterated the G-21's view that nuclear disarmament is the highest priority for the CD. He also reaffirmed the Group's February 1999 proposal for an ad hoc committee to "start negotiations on a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons with a specified framework of time, including a nuclear weapon convention."11 The G-21 statement also gave support to China, stressing that PAROS "has assumed greater urgency because of legitimate concerns that existing legal instruments are inadequate to deter imminent attempts for further militarization of outer space." The need to pursue a legally binding instrument on security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) was also emphasised.12 Despite the firm tone of the statement, it seemed to indicate a certain flexibility to find realistic solutions. The Group maintained its position on the fissban from 1998 when it announced its flexibility with regard to the proposal to establish an ad hoc committee on this issue.13

The Western Group (WG) did not make a statement at the first plenary but it is understood that the group was ready to continue discussions on two elements of the proposal, nuclear disarmament and PAROS. The third, a fissban, however, caused difficulties because delegations feared that reopening the issue might mean renegotiating it, thus endangering the consensus already achieved on a fissban mandate. There was concern that the inclusion of the fissban in the proposal would make it a bargaining chip to get concessions in other areas of the programme of work. Furthermore, the 'downgrading' of the mechanism from an ad hoc committee to ad hoc working group was received negatively.

The debate on Kreid's first proposal illustrated the differing priorities given to the various issues at the CD. China wants an ad hoc committee with a negotiating mandate on PAROS. Thus, Kreid's proposal for an ad hoc working group without a clear negotiating mandate did not suffice for China. The G-21, on the other hand, has reiterated its call for a committee with a negotiating mandate on nuclear disarmament. Therefore a working group without such a mandate fell short of expectations, although it would be significantly more acceptable than anything previously achieved. With regard to a fissban, there is agreement dating back to 1995 on the mandate for establishing an ad hoc committee, so delegations in more than one camp seemed unwilling to reopen the issue again.

China insisted on the need for a balance between the three issues, without which Beijing is reportedly refusing to move. There were signs of this already at the First Committee during the last northern autumn. At that time China wanted the resolution backing the fissban negotiations to include a call for the negotiations to be a part of a comprehensive work programme that included a subsidiary body on PAROS. The resolution was subsequently withdrawn after China insisted on a vote. Kreid's proposal was aimed at accommodating China's views by suggesting ad hoc working groups on all three issues. However, a balance between the subsidiary bodies may only be part of what China wants. There are signs that China wants equality with regard to mandates as well. China appeared to be saying that if there are to be negotiations, they should be on all three topics. If this was China's position, and given the other nuclear-weapons States' (NWS) positions on nuclear disarmament negotiations at the CD, the prospects for the long-awaited fissban negotiations at the CD seem remote.

Special Co-ordinators

When it became clear that Kreid's first proposal for three ad hoc working groups would not get all the delegations' approval, Kreid reportedly tabled a second, more complex proposal on a programme of work consisting of three options. Each option included as a first step the appointment of two special co-ordinators by the president on the outstanding issues, nuclear disarmament and PAROS, as mandated by a CD decision from 1990,14 but were coupled with different suggestions for dealing with other substantive issues of the programme of work and CD reform. One of the options proposed the re-establishment of the ad hoc committee on a fissban. There was no emerging consensus on any of the three options proposed and some delegations made attempts to reduce the proposal to the appointment of special co-ordinators only. There was disagreement on the first step, on the president's powers to appoint the special co-ordinators. According to the 1990 decision, if the CD is unable to agree the establishment of a particular subsidiary body or its mandate, the president shall try to identify a special co-ordinator for the purpose of seeking consensus on those issues yet to be agreed. This decision applies only to the first presidency of the year. It should be noted that there are different interpretations of this decision. Some delegations argue that the President can appoint the special co-ordinators independently, whereas others say that the president cannot decide on the appointment alone and needs CD approval.

In order to respond to a number of questions related to the mandate of the special co-ordinators and the duration of their appointment, Kreid circulated to the delegations a draft text on the appointment of special coordinators on PAROS and nuclear disarmament during the fourth week. He sought to have the mandate of the special co-ordinators run through different presidencies, if necessary. Kreid announced at the February 10 plenary that the G-21, although maintaining its formal position on an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament announced on January 27, could accept his proposal, although only as 'a stand alone' course of action, and provided some amendments to the text were included. It is understood that the G-21's proposed amendments concerned limiting the president's powers on the special co-ordinators' appointments and mandates. With the different interpretations of the 1990 decision, the divergence of views on the wording of the presidential declaration and time running out, the President Kreid stated that "as much I deplore it, I have no choice but to leave it…" and did not press any of the three options to a decision.

China's Ambassador Hu indicated that China could support the new text proposed by the G-21 calling the text "more reasonable." Its priority, however, would be to achieve a complete and balanced programme of work. In this context, China submitted a working paper entitled "China's Position on and Suggestions for Ways to Address the Issue of Prevention of An Arms Race in Outer Space at the Conference on Disarmament."15 The paper explains China's views on existing legal instruments concerning PAROS, China's basic position on PAROS and how the CD should address the issue of PAROS. It also presents tentative ideas for new international instruments. In a statement explaining the working paper, Ambassador Hu stated that PAROS "has every reason to be one of the highest priorities on [the] CD's agenda." In support of its argument, it referred to the PAROS and ABM resolutions at the 54th UN General Assembly. China repeated its call of March 1999 for an ad hoc committee on PAROS as an "open-ended and all-embracing mechanism" to negotiate and conclude an international legal instrument "as the definite direction and ultimate goal of the work of the committee."16

In support of China, Ambassador Vasily Sidorov of Russia emphasised that PAROS also remained Russia's main priority and that "it is urgent for [the CD] to tackle the problem". He also stated the re-establishment of an ad hoc committee on FMCT was important, and Russia supported Kreid's option allowing for the start of the negotiations. However, Sidorov stated that he "understood the problems of individual countries" in showing flexibility and was ready to support the appointment of the two special co-ordinators.17 France also voiced its opinion saying that if the CD could not agree on Kreid's option allowing for the start of the FMCT negotiations, it could go along with the presidential declaration but as drafted by the President only.

Ambassador Ian Soutar of Britain voiced unhappiness at the state of affairs calling them "deeply disappointing." Soutar stated, referring to FMCT, that the UK was "dismayed when informal consultations revealed that one delegation was no longer prepared to be bound by a commitment solemnly entered into five years ago, making the achievement of consensus" on appointing the two special co-ordinators and allowing the CD to agree on a work programme on other issues, impossible. He regretted that this also prevented the appointment of special co-ordinators on reform of the CD when, given the current situation, "the word 'consensus' may get a new meaning if the conference continues the practices we have seen established over the past two years." Soutar encouraged the CD to look at ideas on the modification of the CD's operating procedures presented by Chile's Ambassador Javier Illanes last year, calling such action "a modest but unmistakable signal that some members of the Conference at least are prepared to live up to the responsibilities laid upon the Conference by the international community."18


The first four weeks at the CD showed that the task of finding the right formula for a programme of work acceptable to all delegations has not become any easier over the last several months. China's criticism over US plans for an ABM system and its decision to pursue PAROS with renewed vigour have added new challenges to the task. Furthermore, with the Western Group's desire to get the fissban negotiations underway and the G-21's push for nuclear disarmament, it appears that the CD is working on a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that do not fit together. How to bring the puzzle together when the players cannot agree on what the pieces or the final picture of the puzzle should look like?

At the same time, pressure is mounting as the sixth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), due to be held from April 24 to May 19, draws closer. All delegations seem aware of the link between the CD and the NPT Review Conference. However, some delegations will want to wait to see the results of the Conference before committing to anything at the CD, whereas some others feel that the CD must act now if it wants the NPT Review Conference to be able to deliver. There is also little doubt that the decision the United States is due to take on NMD deployment in June 2000 will also be of great interest to some delegations at the CD. With these factors in mind, any agreement on the programme of work in the near future would take many by surprise.

CD Dates for 2000

January 17 to March 24; May 22 to July 7; August 7 to September 22.

Notes and References

1. Lesley Luck, Ambassador of Australia to the CD, January 18 , 2000, CD/PV.837.

2. Harald Kreid, Ambassador of Austria to the CD, January 18, 2000, CD/PV.837.

3. In view of the continuing disagreements in the CD about what to call the negotiations, Disarmament Diplomacy has decided to revert to the abbreviation 'fissban', which does not prejudge the issues of scope and stocks. In referring to the positions of particular states, we will also use the terms FMCT or FMT, or even FM(C)T, as indicated in their own statements.

4. Lesley Luck, Ambassador of Australia to the CD, January 18, 2000, CD/PV.837.

5. Harald Kreid, Ambassador of Austria to the CD, January 18, 2000, CD/PV.837.

6. Vladimir Petrovsky, Secretary-General of the CD, on behalf of Kofi Annan, UN Secretary- General, January 18, 2000, CD/PV.837.

7. Gunther Seibert, Ambassador of Germany to the CD, January 18, 2000, CD/PV.837.

8. CD/1565.

9. Harald Kreid, Ambassador of Austria to the CD, January 27, 2000, CD/PV.839.

10. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, January 27, 2000, CD/PV.839.

11. CD/1571.

12. Ali Hamidon, Ambassador of Malaysia to the CD, January 27, 2000, CD/PV.839.

13. CD/1549

14. CD/1036.

15. CD/1606. See Documents and Sources

16. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, February 10, 2000.

17. Vasily Sidorov, Ambassador of Russia to the CD, February 10, 2000.

18. Ian Soutar, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the CD, February 10, 2000.

Editor's Footnotes

A. See Documents and Sources

B. See Documents and Sources

Jenni Rissanen is the Acronym Institute's Analyst attending the CD in Geneva.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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