Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
back to the acronym home page
WMD Possessors
About Acronym

Conference on Disarmament (CD)

ACRONYM CD UPDATE, February 15, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


The 866th Conference on Disarmament (CD) plenary was chaired by CD President Christopher Westdal (Canada), for the final time as Chile takes over the Presidency starting on Monday, February 19. Despite Westdal's vigorous efforts, he leaves the Presidency without having found resolution to the ongoing dispute over the programme of work. China, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), New Zealand, Sweden (on behalf of the EU) and the United States took the floor at this meeting.

Plenary Proceedings

Ambassador U Mya Than of Myanmar (Burma) took the floor to present his proposal for a "plan B" for the CD: namely, what work it could do in the absence of a consensus on a programme of work. Believing that there was room to improve the CD's working methods, Than proposed that, pending an agreement on the work programme, the CD convene plenary meeting devoted to substantive items on the agreed CD agenda. Under this proposal, while the CD President would continue consultations on the work programme and delegations would be encouraged to make substantive statements in the plenary meetings, the President would convene, and be responsible for structuring, additional plenary meetings devoted to discussion on topics on the CD's agenda. Delegations would be encouraged to submit papers, working papers and non-papers and put forward concrete proposals. The CD should also incorporate "salient points" of these discussions in its annual report to the UN General Assembly. Than said the main thrust of his proposal was to make the optimum use of the plenary meetings, and stressed that it was not meant to replace current efforts to reach agreement on the work programme, but rather to facilitate and prepare for this outcome. Such a strategy could provide delegations with an opportunity to better understand each other's positions and clarify issues as well as generate momentum.

Following the informal consultations last Thursday (see CD Bulletin, February 8), in which New Zealand proposed to strengthen the nuclear disarmament mandate in the Amorim proposal (CD/1624) for a programme of work, Ambassador Clive Pearson, speaking also on behalf of South Africa, explained the two countries' reasoning. Pearson recalled two agreed NPT undertakings that bore particular significance with respect to the CD: the call for "the establishment of an appropriate subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament where the Conference is urged to agree on a programme of work which includes the immediate establishment of such a body" and "the necessity of negotiations on a fissile material treaty where the Conference is urged to agree on a programme of work which includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on such a treaty with a view to their conclusion within five years". New Zealand and South Africa attached "very great importance" to the full implementation of both commitments.

Although the proposal on nuclear disarmament in CD/1624 was "far from perfect", and indeed significantly weaker than the NPT text that called the CD to "deal with" the issue, New Zealand and South Africa were prepared to work with the Amorim proposal, although they would be "hesitant about and would carefully have to consider" their position "on proposals that divert attention" to what Pearson called a "'make work' solution for the CD" which might act to "reduce the relevance of this negotiating body to that of a debating society". Calls for thematic discussions, "however well intentioned, run the risk of providing convenient cover for those who do not want to engage in real negotiations". Pearson further cautioned that the time might soon arrive when "we have to take a hard look at how this Conference is delivering on its mandate," stressing that at "a time when there are disturbing signs of a preference for unilateral solution or options, it is essential for the continuation of multilateralism that this body reengages in real work". Disarmament was "not an optional extra" but a security-building process. He stressed that the pledges made at the NPT Review Conference were far-reaching and that a disinclination to act seriously upon them would undermine and discredit the non-proliferation regime. In this connexion, it was time for the nuclear-weapon states to settle their differences and jointly start the implementation of their commitments "with purpose and determination."

Raja Reja of Malaysia took the floor to announce that Malaysia had become the first country to completely rid itself of anti-personnel mines (APL) when it completed the destruction of its entire stockpile on January 23, 2001. Malaysia hoped to see the political push for universal acceptance of the Ottawa Treaty continued and accelerated. The APL agenda should also be placed high on the list of regional fora to complement these efforts.

Sweden's Ambassador Henrik Salander spoke on behalf of the European Union (EU) and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the EU, laying down their expectations and hopes for 2001. Although 2000 had been another standstill year in the CD, it had not been a uniformly dismal year for multilateral efforts: the NPT Review Conference had been an important success. The EU would contribute to the full implementation of its Final Document. Like New Zealand and South Africa, the EU stressed particularly the two agreed practical steps with regard to the CD (fissban negotiations and a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament). The current stalemate did nothing to strengthen the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime, preventing as it did the CD from negotiating the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), to which the EU continued to attach the utmost importance. The EU considered that an immediate launch of FMCT negotiations, alongside an engagement with both nuclear disarmament and prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) "within subsidiary bodies whose mandates shall need to be both pragmatic and substantial", constituted the basis for an agreement to begin work in the CD. The Amorim proposal contained "elements for a rapid agreement, if all members of the Conference display a spirit of openness and pragmatism".

Both China and the United States also took the floor, principally to reiterate and elaborate earlier statements and positions. Ambassador Hu Xiaodi reiterated China's commitment to nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons and repeated China's stand on the ABM Treaty and PAROS. China was deeply worried that the United States had single-handedly obstructed PAROS negotiations "by denying the risk of the weaponization of and an arms race in outer space". Hu said his country also supported the early negotiation and conclusion of FMCT "on the premise that global strategic stability is maintained and the nuclear disarmament process further pursued". He rejected double standards in non-proliferation, characterising the accusation (by the United States) that China was holding the CD hostage as a "distortion of facts". Commenting on linkages between different items, Hu said that since every item in the CD's agenda was closely related to security and all aspects of security were inseparable, "each agenda item cannot but inherently [be linked] to other items". China supported the Amorim proposal "as the basis for further consultation[s]."

The United States took the floor to make one point loud and clear: that it did not think outer space issues were ripe for negotiations, whereas FMCT was. Ambassador Robert Grey read a long list of work that had been done in preparation for FMCT negotiations, juxtaposing this with outer space where there was "no arms race" or any prospect of one. The United States was ready for "organized discussion aimed at examining" proposals related to confidence-building or transparency measures, general principles, treaty commitments, or certain other aspects with respect to outer space, as stated in the Amorim proposal. However, the United States could not understand why "those who do not share our views are unwisely and unrealistically insisting on immediate negotiations... a diplomatic tactic which [had] the net effect of blocking discussion of the very issues they say they care about. What are [they] afraid of?" Grey asked. Turning to nuclear disarmament, Grey also wondered what CD member states could expect to achieve from a separate ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament? Regardless of its doubts about this, the United States was ready to agree on such a committee "to discuss issues related to nuclear disarmament". Grey then questioned Russian readiness with regard to nuclear disarmament and the CD. Grey challenged the Russian delegation to clarify the February 1 statement by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in the CD (see Geneva Update in Disarmament Diplomacy No.53) and whether that meant Russia advocated a nuclear disarmament ad hoc committee along the lines of the Amorim proposal? Grey said he believed that the CD was "as close as we can ever expect to be to agreement on an overall programme of work", warning that it would be "exceedingly unwise to let the moment slip away".

Westdal, who was in the CD President's seat for the last week, made a thoughtful statement on the state of affairs in the CD. Citing major-power relations, he said he did not believe agreement on a work programme lay on the immediate horizon. In the absence of such a programme, he proposed that member states consider addressing the role and work of the Conference, and left a range of questions as a "heritage" for his successor/s and all the delegations to consider.

The next plenary will be held on February 22, 2001 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva. It will be chaired by Ambassador Juan Enrique Vega of Chile.

To see the speeches, please visit the website of WILPF at http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/cd/thisweek/thisweekindex.html

Jenni Rissanen is the Acronym Institute's Analyst attending the CD in Geneva. For her latest, in-depth assessment of developments see 'Geneva Update' in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 53.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.