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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD BULLETIN, March 8, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


The 869th Conference on Disarmament (CD) plenary was chaired by the Ambassador Juan Enrique Vega of Chile. A group of NGOs gave their traditional International Women's Day statement and the regional groups recalled the occasion. One such intervention, by Myanmar (Burma), caused dismay and prompted a reply from Ireland's Ambassador Anne Anderson. The CD welcomed new Ambassadors Eui-Yong Chung (Republic of Korea) and Ramah Hussain (Malaysia). Germany drew attention to an upcoming meeting by UNIDIR and the German mission on the verification of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, on March 14. The plenary was followed by an informal (closed) meeting which discussed what complementary activities the CD could undertake pending agreement on a programme of work.

Plenary Proceedings

The participants of the Geneva International Women's Day Disarmament Seminar, held on March 7, delivered their yearly a statement to the CD, read by CD Secretary General Vladimir Petrovsky. The NGOs urged in their joint statement the CD not to allow the deadlock to continue, arguing that the CD needed "to address the political difficulties and differences within the relevant negotiations rather than letting them become the destructive means of blocking further progress". They stressed that there had been remarkable successes in the field of arms limitation and restraint, and a number of them had been achieved in this chamber. They also reminded that over the last five decades, with only a very few exceptions, arms control treaties had been observed and no State had withdrawn from a major arms control treaty, believing this was "a significant record of achievement and commitment to restraint and good sense". The statement called upon the CD "to immediately accept and implement the work programme proposal contained in CD document 1624, particularly paragraphs 1, 2 and 3" (nuclear disarmament, fissban and PAROS). They argued that time had come "to put aside interpretations as to what might be discussed under the heading of preparations, before any subsequent negotiations are allowed to begin". The point was "to get started". In the meantime, countries should "refrain from pursuing further research and testing of any devices that could undermine the talks". The NGOs also underlined the question of small arms and reminded the CD that women were "particularly affected by the wide availability and use of small arms both in times of war and in times of peace".

The Group of 21 (non-aligned states), the Western Group and the Eastern European Group and China thanked the NGOs for the statement and noted the International Women's Day.

In addition, Myanmar's Ambassador U Mya Than took the floor to give support to the idea of having the CD engage in complementary activities. In support of his argument, Than though it was "fitting" to borrow analogy of a "shy young lady" on the occasion of the International Women's Day. However, in using it Than - to use another analogy - stepped into 'a diplomatic mine'. Than compared the CD to a young lady "a bit too shy to say anything or do anything. When she says no it means yes. When she says no it means probably. When she says probably it means yes". Than then went on to say that one should not be "discouraged by some misgivings and reluctance of voice in some quarters" of the CD. Than's choice of analogy caused some dismay especially among the women in the room.

In a graceful reply to Than's intervention, Ireland's Ambassador Anne Anderson said that while there were "times when we should address each other with a light touch and with a sense of humour", she nevertheless felt "compelled to say something about exactly how we exercise that sense of humour". Anderson felt it was important, especially on the International Women's day " to say that when a woman says probably, she is as likely to mean probably as a man. And when a woman says no she is as likely to mean no as a man." Anderson's reply lead to applause around the room.

In the corridors

The plenary was followed by an informal meeting which reportedly entailed a debate on whether the CD should engage in complementary work pending a work programme. Several countries have expressed interest in this and suggestions were made at this meeting to this end. Italy reportedly suggested that while the search for agreement on the more controversial issues goes on, the CD should work on the less contentious issues in its agenda such as negative security assurances (NSA) and anti-personnel mines (APL). Germany stressed the need to re-examine the CD's agenda, which it has called outdated. Mexico supported complementary work as well and recalled the preparatory work that had been done in the case of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). But it is understood that some others, such as Egypt and South Africa, expressed reservations with regard to complementary activities, stressing that the CD was a negotiating forum (see also CD Bulletin February 15, 2001). Some non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) had also pointed their finger at the nuclear weapon states (NWS) saying they were responsible for the current stalemate.

The next plenary will be held on March 15, 2001 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva.

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.