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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD BULLETIN, March 27, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


Ambassador Hu Xiaodi of China chaired the 872nd plenary of the Conference on Disarmament (CD). Egypt elaborated its position on nuclear disarmament, a ban on fissile materials production, and the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), and made suggestions for greater transparency in the CD. Britain announced that it ratified Protocols I and II of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba).

Plenary Proceedings

Ambassador Fayza Aboulnaga of Egypt countered the argument that the stalemate in the CD is only a reflection of current international politics by arguing that "it was precisely in this same state of international relations that the 2000 NPT Review Conference managed to achieve a historic success". She reminded the CD of a task it had been given in the Final Document of that conference: to set up a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament. Since this request could only be interpreted in the light of the nuclear weapon states' (NWS) unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, it was time to establish an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament to further advance progress towards this objective. Although Egypt was disappointed that the commitment made at the NPT Conference was yet to be translated into action, Aboulnaga felt it was "a sign of some progress that there is consensus in the CD - for the first time - that nuclear disarmament should be dealt with in an ad hoc committee with a substantive mandate." In Egypt's view, the ad hoc committee should deal with different aspects of a prospective legal regime for a nuclear-weapon-free world, including verification. Aboulnaga also recalled President Mubarak's call for an international conference on nuclear dangers, and the resolutions "Transparency in Armaments", "The Risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East" and "The Establishment of a [NWFZ] in the Middle East" in the United Nations General Assembly.

Egypt supported the re-establishment of an ad hoc committee to negotiate a convention to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Aboulnaga underlined that the objective of such a ban was not limited to only non-proliferation but included also "substantial nuclear disarmament objectives as well". The scope of the convention should include all potentially usable fissile materials, including military stocks. A unified regime of verification should apply to all states. The entire fuel cycle should be placed under verification and all undeclared installations and stocks should be spotted under the regime. A convention could not "imply any degree of international de jure or de facto recognition or acceptance for the possession of nuclear weapons by any state not party to the NPT", nor the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons by the five NWS.

Aboulnaga said there was a need to "speedily move" towards the re-establishment of an ad hoc committee on PAROS and build on the work already done in the CD on this topic in order to "prevent a costly and destructive arms race before it starts". Egypt therefore supported negotiations as soon as possible "to prevent the use of outer space for all military purposes".

Complaining about lack of transparency in the CD, Aboulnaga drew the Conference's attention to "substantive organisational aspects". She believed the expansion on the CD's membership, the review of its agenda, and its improved and effective functioning were issues which should not be neglected. She also defended the role of civil society, saying that that CD was "one of the last fora in the world, in which a limited number of delegations still resist any role for [the] civil society. NGOs have the potential to help in reviving the work of the Conference in more ways than one." She proposed that NGO's be allowed a voice in the plenary meetings, believing this was "a key element in improving the functioning of the CD and rendering it more effective".

Britain's Deputy Permanent Representative to the CD, Ian Donaldson, announced that Britain had ratified Protocols I and II of the Treaty of Pelindaba. Donaldson said the decision to ratify demonstrated Britain's support for the NWFZ in Africa and underlined its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and wish to see a world free of all weapons of mass destruction.

Ambassador Hu reported back on his consultations as CD President, noting that the basic points of divergence continued to persist with regard to the work programme. These are: whether to negotiate, pursue negotiations, or just discuss the various issues; and whether to deal with the issues "even-handedly, or to differentiate between them?" No new proposals had emerged. There were "notable divergences of opinion" also on the question of complementary or supporting actions. Some felt that "there were a number of courses of action that [could] be explored". However, others had wondered how these might affect the nature of the Conference, and whether they might have a detrimental impact on some of substantive issues in front of the CD. Hu suspected that these misgiving were the reason why the idea of supporting action had not yet been pursued.

This concludes the first part of the CD's 2001 session. The CD breaks for six weeks until the second part which runs from May 14 to June 29. The first two weeks of that session will be chaired by Ambassador Hu of China.

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. 54.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.