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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 47, June 2000

NPT Outcome Fails to Kickstart CD
By Jenni Rissanen


The outcome of the Sixth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its impact on the Conference on Disarmament (CD) was in many delegations' minds before the meeting took place this spring (April 24 - May 19). Some had hopes that its outcome, if successful, could help the CD to overcome its deadlock. Conversely, there was fear, with pessimistic forecasts abounding, that a failure in New York would further deepen the impasse in Geneva. Generally, there was a 'wait and see' feeling in March when the CD began an eight-week break before the second part of its 2000 session. This was scheduled to begin on May 22, immediately after the NPT meeting. However, despite the positive and widely acclaimed conclusion of the NPT meeting, the CD has remained as stalled as before.

The NPT Review Conference and the CD

Against general expectations, the NPT Conference managed to adopt an important final document,1 including a strenuously negotiated action plan on "practical steps for systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI" of the Treaty which the New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden) requested to be tabled as an official CD document upon returning from New York. Two out of the thirteen practical steps concern the CD directly: the Conference underlined "the necessity" of negotiations on a ban to end the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons (fissban) "taking into consideration both nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation objectives", urging the CD to agree on a programme of work which included "the immediate commencement of negotiations on such a treaty with a view to their conclusion within five years." Secondly, the Conference agreed that it was necessary that the CD establish "an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament" and urged the CD to agree on a programme of work that included such a body's establishment.2

The Review Conference took note that the CD had established an ad hoc committee in August 1998 to negotiate a fissban, and regretted that the negotiations had not been pursued as recommended by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference.3 What was noteworthy in the final document this year was that the fissban negotiations were put in the overall context of a CD programme of work, reflecting China's demands for equal treatment of the fissban issue and that of the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). Thus, whether the negotiations could commence immediately and be completed within the five-years depends on the CD's ability to agree on a programme of work. Furthermore, the language on a moratorium on fissile material production that was included in the earlier drafts of the action plan was dropped at China's insistence.4

Reactions to the NPT Review Conference

Responses to developments in New York were sparse in Geneva. In the plenary following the NPT Conference, only Russia referred to the outcome, making a statement that was described by some as a kind of a "nothing-has-changed-when-it-comes-to-NMD-and-ABM" statement. Russia had, together with the four other NWS, agreed in their common statement to the NPT Conference on a careful formulation of "preserving and strengthening the ABM Treaty" that allowed for different interpretations. In the CD, Russia reaffirmed its own interpretation of the two terms.

Wanting to be "entirely clear" on the matter, Ambassador Vasily Sidorov underlined that "nuclear disarmament cannot be considered other than in close connection with the preservation of the ABM Treaty." Sidorov said that "should any of [the ABM Treaty's] component parts be weakened, the entire system [of arms control agreements] would be thrown off balance." He thought it was unfortunate that there was "a trend" towards its erosion and an evident and growing refusal to honour its main provisions. As an alternative to its collapse he proposed deeper nuclear arsenal reductions, reiterating Russia's readiness go down to 1,500 warheads, collective steps to counter missile proliferation, and cooperation concerning non-strategic missile defence systems on the basis of the 1997 New York agreements. He reminded the CD that "only a part of the road" had been covered towards START II's implementation and that it was "up to the US side to act" and ratify the New York agreements related to START II and the ABM Treaty. Furthermore, Sidorov proposed joint analysis "of the real extent of 'new' missile threats" and strengthened international confidence building measures.

In this context, Sidorov reaffirmed that starting to elaborate an international PAROS regime in the CD remained one of Russia's top priorities. Russia also favoured the immediate launch of FMCT negotiations. Sidorov said Russia believed that the successful conclusion of the Review Conference, with the five-year action plan, would give positive impetus to the efforts to overcome the CD deadlock.5

Japan's new Ambassador, Seiichiro Noboru, broke an apparent three-week silence on the topic by explaining how his country assessed the outcome of the NPT Conference. Noboru called the fact that States Parties were able to reach consensus on the final document as "truly remarkable" and the process through which it came about as an example of how a strong political will could move things forward despite major differences in views and positions. He believed that the work programme proposals should be based on earlier proposals that enjoyed wide support, and be fine-tuned to reflect the outcome of the NPT Conference. Noboru called on the two tasks laid by the Conference to the CD to be translated into reality and elaborated on Japan's "basic principles for the FMCT negotiations." Moreover, he highlighted that "a significant step forward" had been made in New York by NPT parties agreeing on the necessity of establishing a subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament. He hoped for "flexibility and a spirit of cooperation", especially from the NWS, when negotiating the mandate for such body.6

Finland's Ambassador Markku Reimaa also took the floor saying that the outcome of the Review Conference had a "wider impact for pursuing further disarmament and non-proliferation goals." Reimaa acknowledged that the outcome had clearly shown that not all problems and differences had been settled, underlining that the process needed "faithful follow-up and implementation of the decisions taken" in New York. On nuclear disarmament, he encouraged delegations to take "fresh guidance" from New York, suggesting that opening dialogue on these matters could contribute to efforts in other arenas.7

Work Programme

CD President Sergei Martynov of Belarus embarked on a new round of consultations on a programme of work during the first week of the second part of this year's session. In the first plenary, Martynov told the CD that delegations had asked for more time to reflect on the new developments and review their positions. A week later, Martynov reported that his consultations had indicated that delegations had come back to the CD with a "sense that there was now a new window of opportunity", characterizing this as "an important change in the prevailing mood". He also reported that "an important meeting of minds has yet to occur to enable this 'climate change' to be translated into new Conference realities…and language." This was necessary in particular on nuclear disarmament and PAROS, the two topics that have dominated the discussions and prolonged the deadlock on a programme of work throughout this year. Martynov said that, especially with regard to PAROS, there had been "no changes in the core realities" outside the CD, thus referring to US plans for a national missile defence system and the opposition to the plans by China and Russia, among other. Undeniably, there are many in the CD that feel that until the United States takes its decision on how to proceed with the planned system, the CD will remain deadlocked.8

Martynov said he was aware that there was little time to spare before the end of this year's session, and informally proposed a "contingency option" of holding focussed plenary meetings on the various issues in front of the CD. The arrangement would be temporary and consultations would be held in the meantime aimed at getting agreement on the programme of work. Pakistan felt this was a "useful way of enabling the [CD] to commence substantive work" in light of the fact that there was no prospect of agreement on a programme of work while discussions thereon failed to envisage a negotiating mandate on nuclear disarmament and PAROS. Stressing that the CD was a negotiating body, and arguing that objecting to such focussed meetings would be contrary to the rules of procedure, Ambassador Munir Akram recommended that the President present his proposal for a decision.9

It is unlikely, however, that such action would have been constructive, as there were delegations that felt that any contingency options were still untimely. It is understood that the Western Group did not support the proposal, feeling that all energies in the CD should be put to finding agreement on the work programme. While the Group of 21 (G-21), the Eastern Group and China were ready in principle to support the proposal, they too underlined the need to establish a programme of work. With only a few days left of Belarus' Presidency, Martynov handed this task to his successor, Belgium's Ambassador Jean Lint.

Lint quickly rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Saying that the time had come for "urgent action and for transparency", Lint told the CD he was conducting consultations with the regional groups and working on a text for a programme of work on the three priority issues, but did not elaborate on the precise wording. The fact that the proposal addressed only the three topics caused for a moment some discomfort in the Pakistani delegation. Akram complained that the proposal did not seem to contain language on establishing an ad hoc committee on negative security assurances, to which there was no overt opposition in the CD, and sought for an explanation on this. Akram said if negative security assurances were to be excluded, Pakistan would have to "reconsider its position on the other elements of the work programme." After the President reassured him that he would not stand in the way of the will of the delegations, and Günther Seibert, Ambassador of Germany, emphasized that the proposal was only on the outstanding issues on which there was no consensus, Akram said he could "go along with the process".10

Lint told the CD that he had distributed the text to a small number of delegations and was waiting for their response before submitting the text to the co-ordinators of the regional groups for further distribution. Delegations who received the text are though to include key states such as China, Russia and the United States and possibly a few other delegations as well.

Lint's decision to distribute the text to only a few delegations first was viewed as selective by some and calls were made for greater transparency. Mexico's Ambassador Antonio de Icaza, for example, reminded the President that "the programme of work is a single whole" that needed time for reflection, and Pakistan, the co-ordinator of G-21, sought further clarification from the President as to "which delegations…deserve the privilege of having received the text without the members of the Group of 21 having had the same privilege". Akram demanded that "transparency must be accompanied by equity and equality of treatment" for all CD members.11 The President pleaded for patience from the delegations, saying that "in the context of where we work more in terms of years… I ask you to give me one or two minutes so that I can give you a text that has some chance of being accepted".12 Lint distributed the proposal at the end of his first week to the regional groups. Germany later described it as a "a very delicate balance, an honest and skilfull attempt to take into account diverging interests."13

Indeed, the proposal appeared to be a product of careful consideration. It was based on the often referred to Dembri-proposal from June 1999, named after its drafter, Algeria's Ambassador Mohamed-Salah Dembri, with the original language slightly modified to reflect ideas from other proposals and the final document of the NPT Conference. The proposal consisted of three elements, fissban, nuclear disarmament and PAROS. The President had kept the language on fissban identical to Dembri's, thus not reopening the already agreed text, and proposed ad hoc committees or ad hoc working groups on nuclear disarmament and PAROS. Lint's proposal read:

"The Conference on Disarmament decides to establish, under agenda item 1, an Ad Hoc Committee to negotiate, on the basis of the report of the Special Coordinator (CD/1299) and the mandate contained therein, a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

The Conference on Disarmament decides to establish, under agenda item 1, an Ad Hoc Committee/Ad Hoc Working Group to deal with nuclear disarmament, through an exchange of information and views on practical steps for progressive and systematic efforts to attain this objective.

The Conference on Disarmament decides to establish, under agenda item 4, an Ad Hoc Committee/Ad Hoc Working Group to examine and identify specific topics or proposals that might be a basis for subsequent in-depth consideration, which could include confidence-building or transparency measures, general principles, treaty commitments and the elaboration of a regime capable of preventing an arms race in outer space."14

In explaining his proposal, Lint said that the fissban was "not open to argument" and therefore was kept as before, implying an ad hoc committee with a negotiating mandate. He explained that he had proposed ad hoc committees or ad hoc working groups on both nuclear disarmament and PAROS in order to treat the two topics in a balanced manner, thus reflecting China's frequently made call this year for a "balanced" programme of work. On the question of whether committees or working groups should be established, Lint was aware of different delegations' preferences but emphasised that it was the mandate given to these bodies that really mattered.15

Lint further explained his proposal on nuclear disarmament, which draws partly from the NATO-5 proposal (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Norway) from February 1999.16 However, instead of talking about "studying" how to exchange information and views on "endeavours towards nuclear disarmament", Lint's proposal speaks of "dealing with" disarmament through such an exchange. Lint explained that he had attempted to respond to the criticisms about the vagueness of the term "to deal with" by coupling it with the term "practical steps for progressive and systematic efforts", which is the language from the final document of the NPT Review Conference. Furthermore, Lint said his proposal on PAROS was an attempt to find common ground between the view that time was not ripe for negotiations on PAROS and the opposite view that negotiations on the topic were an urgent necessity. As a compromise, Lint suggested the CD start identifying topics and proposals that could subsequently be considered more in depth, without now having to determine the final end product.

With the new suggested language on PAROS, China, to whom attention was turning, responded with a statement that left little room for guesswork. Ambassador Hu Xiaodi, who had over the year made several statements on the United States' plan to deploy a national missile defence system and its impact on the ABM Treaty and strategic balance, reiterated China's views and explained how they related to the importance China attaches on PAROS in the CD. Hu, speaking of "a program aimed at the domination of outer space", said that "even a layman can see that the…program will inevitably introduce relevant weapons or weapons systems in outer space, which will turn outer space into a new weapon base and a battlefield." As to the amendments that the US wants on the ABM Treaty, they "are nothing but a tip of the iceberg…Once the door for amendment is opened, larger scales of deployment in different phases will be inevitable."17

Hu said China was not interested in playing political games and that its determination to pursue PAROS was motivated not only by NMD. It wanted PAROS to also cover "more extensive areas…peace and tranquillity in outer space". Hu said that there was a need to start working out "the rules of the game" now, so that in the future the international community would not need to negotiate treaties on "disarmament" or "prevention of weapons proliferation" in outer space.18

Two countries, Finland and Japan, took the floor to support the President's proposal. Japan's Noboru said Lint's proposal on nuclear disarmament was well drafted because " the work of this subsidiary body could be best served…if one starts with an exchange of information and views and explores further prospects for practical steps." With regard to PAROS, he said that although Japan did not recognize that there was an arms race in outer space, or that there was an imminent danger of that, it "could not deny that there may be a need to reflect on possible future measures to prevent an arms race in outer space" given that the existing instruments were established many years ago. But since time was "not ripe" for negotiations now, it was appropriate to "start with deliberations with a view to generating one or more possible future measures for our in-depth consideration" as suggested in Lint's proposal.19 For Finland, Reimaa said that the various interests were well-represented in Lint's proposal and that it offered "a realistic and pragmatic" solution to the problem of starting substantive work. Stressing that not all wishes could be met to the fullest extent and that compromises were required, he asked, "what is still needed"?20

To China, what was still needed was a "truly comprehensive and balanced program of work." Hu said China was ready to support proposals that included negotiating mechanisms for all the three agenda items, PAROS, nuclear disarmament and FMCT, thus reflecting its position earlier this year. Given that Lint's proposal did not spell out a clear-cut treaty negotiation mandate for PAROS, it appeared to have fallen short of what China wanted. With the United States opposing such negotiations and both sides digging their heels deeper in the earth, the question over PAROS has become the bone of contention in the "package" of elements for a programme of work.

As to the other regional groups, it was noted that their positions were somewhat more general, if not cautious, on the proposed programme of work, encouraging the President to continue his consultations to narrow the differences in positions. However, there were some sceptics in the CD that doubted whether the formulation on nuclear disarmament would "fly" among certain NWS if the package came to the test. This reflected a feeling among some quarters of the CD that some NWS were "putting on the brakes" after the NPT Review Conference. Objecting to the language in an open plenary, however, would be sensitive given the fact that the text on "practical steps for progressive and systematic efforts" flows directly from the final document of the NPT Review Conference. It would be more likely that any disagreement on the text would focus on an apparently trivial procedural issue, such as whether the subsidiary body should be an ad hoc committee or an ad hoc working group.

Such a debate, however, if it were to take place, would have to wait until August when the final part of this year's session begins. The fate of Lint's proposal, which he tabled as an official proposal, is now in the hands of Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil, who took over from Lint as CD President in the final week of this part of the session.

Germany's Seibert, expressing his regret at the situation, said that the time had come to discuss "openly the present state of affairs" in the CD and re-examine all possible options to resume work. Seibert said that what was even worse than having these two issues still outstanding was the fact that the FMCT, on which there has been agreement before, had been linked to the two other issues and, as a result, the CD was unable to function. He recalled that even when the CD was negotiating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), it had the time to deal with the others issues on the agenda. Seibert reiterated a proposal Germany made in March on behalf of 22 countries to start work on the agreed items while seeking agreement on nuclear disarmament and PAROS. He asked delegations to consider his proposal in order to "break out" from the stalemate and to create more favourable conditions for next year.21


The CD appears to be slipping back into inertia. So far, there are no signs that the NPT Review Conference, which some had hoped would invigorate the CD, has provided it with the much needed impetus to help it untie its multiple knots. Despite calls to benefit from the momentum created in New York, the CD was unable to "ride the wave" and within a few weeks was back to business as usual. There is currently an obvious speech-fatigue in the CD that could be interpreted either as a sign of pessimism, representing the view that "actions speak louder than words", or a mode of resignation, waiting quietly for circumstances to change. Ambassador Hassan Wirajuda of Indonesia described the situation in his farewell speech as one in which "goodwill is still a distant wish and flexibility an empty concept," where individual countries' contributions make little difference because "any proposals launched will not fly, or else be shot down instantly."22

Due to the links between the different topics, much of the attention is on events outside the CD, particularly the failed missile interceptor test of July 7 by the United States and its impact on President Clinton's decision on how to proceed with NMD, and, in turn, that decision's effect on the CD, as well as the bilateral talks between the US and China and the US and Russia. With these crucial events still unfolding, the expectations for the last part of the 2000 session are low and it appears that all that remains to be done in August is to wrap up the year with the drafting of the annual report. How the CD will perform as the "testing ground" for the commitments made in New York will, it seems, have to wait until next year.

Notes and References

1. See Rebecca Johnson's analysis "The NPT Review Conference: A Delicate, Hard-Won Compromise" in Disarmament Diplomacy 46.

2. CD/1614.

3. The Conference also noted the establishment in March 1998 of the ad hoc committee on negative security assurances. NPT/CONF.2000/28 (Vol. I, Part I and II), May 22, 2000.

4. Japan's Ambassador Seiichiro Noboru, in a speech given on June 15, 2000, to the CD stated that such a moratorium was of "great significance, as an interim measure" saying that those who have produced or are producing fissile material for nuclear weapons should declare such a moratorium and welcoming the announcements by those states who have already done so. Britain, France, Russia and the United States have made such announcements leaving China the only nuclear-weapon-state believed to be producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

5. Vasily Sidorov, Russia's Ambassador to the CD, May 25, 2000, CD/PV.848.

6. Seiichiro Noboru, Ambassador of Japan to the CD, June 15, 2000, CD/PV.851.

7. Markku Reimaa, Ambassador of Finland to the CD, June 22, 2000.

8. Sergei Martynov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of Delegation of Belarus, May 30, 2000, CD/PV.849.

9. Munir Akram, Ambassador of Pakistan to the CD, May 30, 2000, CD/PV.849.

10. Munir Akram, June 8, 2000, CD/PV.850.

11. Munir Akram, June 8, 2000, CD/PV.850.

12. Jean Lint, Ambassador of Belgium to the CD, June 8, 2000, CD/PV.850.

13. Günther Seibert, Ambassador of Germany to the CD, June 29, 2000.

14. CD/1620. The proposal also included an ad hoc committee on negative security assurances, special coordinators on anti-personnel landmines, transparency in armaments as well as on the CD's review of the agenda, expansion of its membership.

15. An ad hoc committee is generally (but not in the rules of procedure) considered as a negotiation format and is considered by the CD delegations to occupy a higher place in the hierarchy of subsidiary bodies than an ad hoc working group.

16. CD/1595. The NATO-5 proposed an ad hoc working group "to study the ways and means of establishing an exchange of information and views within the Conference on endeavours towards nuclear disarmament." It has been criticised for being a 'talks-about-talks' proposal.

17. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, June 22, 2000.

18. Hu Xiaodi, June 22, 2000.

19. Seiichiro Noboru, June 15, 2000, CD/PV.851.

20. Markku Reimaa, June 22, 2000.

21. Günther Seibert, June 29, 2000.

22. Hassan Wirajuda, Ambassador of Indonesia to the CD, June 29, 2000.

Jenni Rissanen is the Acronym Institute's Geneva Analyst.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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