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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD BULLETIN, June 28, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


Ambassador Carlos Amat Forés of Cuba took over the presidency of Conference on Disarmament (CD) this week and chaired the CD's 879th meeting. Ambassador Anne Anderson (Ireland) gave a farewell speech and Algeria shared its views on a range of nuclear disarmament issues.

Plenary Proceedings

In his opening remarks as president, Forés called the CD a body of "absolute validity and relevance" that had negotiated important landmark agreements in the past. If it did not exist, it would need to be created. In order to get it back to work, Forés said he intended to continue where the former CD president, Ambassador Camilo Reyes Rodiguez of Colombia, had left off, working to support the activity of the three special coordinators - appointed on June 14 to review the CD's agenda , membership and working methods - as well as striving for agreement on the issues contained in the Amorim proposal.1

Anne Anderson, Ireland's outgoing Ambassador, bid farewell to the CD in an eloquent speech. Anderson, Ireland's first CD Ambassador since it joined the Conference as a full member in 1999, spoke on the Conference's role as the "sole multilateral negotiating forum in the disarmament area". Anderson examined this "most hallowed phrase" more closely: while it was true that the CD was the "sole" standing forum, everyone was aware "of the increasingly unfavourable comparisons with successful examples of ad hoc negotiations" elsewhere. Anderson said it was critical to retain the CD as "negotiating forum" so that it did not become "a talking shop". She acknowledged, however, that in the real world these distinctions were "not always watertight": discussion could lead to pre-negotiation that in turn could lead to negotiation proper.

It was the term "multilateralism" that Anderson focussed on most. She shared her impression that the "opportunity cost of a stalled CD" did not weight heavily in key capitals. In contrast Anderson believed that is the CD's proceedings were "not making things better, they risk making them worse". National statements easily became "vehicles by which differences are sharpened and deepened rather than attempting to find common ground". Furthermore, Anderson warned against putting the CD "into cold storage for long periods" and taking it "out again for business as usual". This could "prove flawed". Instead, she called on the Conference to exercise "responsible multilateralism".

The essence of such responsibility, as Anderson outlined it, was a balance between a recognition that the key players needed to formulate their policies bilaterally and, at the same time, a need for them to be responsive to the views of the international community. She argued that this balance was presently lacking and, as a result, the CD risked becoming "an irrelevant sideshow". Anderson rejected the notion that multilateralism was "the self indulgence of small nations". It was, rather, "critical" to fostering a meaningful international dialogue: it gave a voice to smaller nations and created a sense of ownership of the negotiated instruments, as well as helping to ensure the irreversibility of the measures approved.

Anderson questioned current CD structures, saying that they had not adapted to the new security environment. Ireland believed that the "more fluid, less polar, circumstances" of post-Cold War international relations created opportunities for new coalitions, such as the New Agenda Coalition, of which Ireland is a member. As an example of the kind of achievements that such coalitions could attain, Anderson mentioned the NPT Review Conference last year where the New Agenda Coalition helped shape the Final Document, particularly the thirteen practical nuclear disarmament steps it set out. There could be other such coalitions.

As for substantive issues, Ireland considered nuclear disarmament to lie "at the heart of the CD". It wanted a subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament and immediate negotiations on a treaty dealing with fissile material. There was also "merit" in embarking on a process that would eventually lead to the non-weaponisation of space. If this topic was not addressed, Anderson believed, the military and political momentum behind space-weaponisation would get "to the point where it too would have to become the subject of a non-proliferation effort".

Anderson also spoke on the most recent development in the CD: the appointment of the special coordinators. She had initially been sceptical about such a step, but with time had reluctantly come to see that the "key players did not appear to feel themselves under any pressure to reach an accommodation on issues of substance". Thus the choice had become between "continuing a total and stultifying inactivity or engaging in the kind of work that now has been mandated". Anderson hoped the development would be a "prelude" rather than substitute for substantive work.

The Ambassador laid down Ireland's views on some of the issues that lay ahead of the three coordinators. Ireland supported the CD's expansion as it would have "major implications" to the Conference's effective functioning, including calling into question the current group system. This system allowed one or two members to "hide behind a coordinator who must simply record lack of agreement". Anderson believed that if the CD were to launch a work programme, the "mismatch" between the current system and the real world "would become even more evident". Furthermore, Anderson suggested that the CD presidents serve a longer term so as to enhance the possibilities of them achieving their goals. As for the agenda, Anderson felt it needed to "relate to current realities, have the possibility of a longer duration than one year, and be capable of regular review and amendment", allowing it to escape the fate of becoming "an annual bone of contention". Finally, Anderson spoke in favour of a formalised mechanism for input from the non-governmental disarmament community. Regardless of the type of disarmament measure being discussed, civil society had "established the right not just to be heard but to actively participate" in the deliberations - a right "effectively denied at present".

Algeria spoke on the appointment of the three special coordinators and regretted the lack of progress towards nuclear disarmament. Nassima Bahgli, Counsellor at the Algerian mission, said her country felt that the appointment of the coordinators would not only assure improved functioning of the CD but also enable it to respond better to international security questions. Algeria particularly addressed the question of the CD's membership, arguing that the CD should "be opened to any state who wishes to become a full member". In addition, like Anderson, she argued that the Conference would gain from a structured NGO input. The CD should be open to NGOs at a time when civil society was becoming increasingly involved in world affairs. The CD should not "run against the tide" and give an impression it was hostile to transparency.

Baghli also recalled the unequivocal commitment the nuclear-weapon states undertook at the 2000 NPT Review Conference towards the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and called on them to honour their commitments. However, the "enthusiasm and promises" that had characterized the Review Conference had not been followed up with any action or progress. Algeria "deplored" the fact that the CD had not established an ad hoc committee with a clear nuclear disarmament negotiating mandate. It recalled the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons and believed that nuclear disarmament negotiations, the extension of nuclear-weapon-free zones and bringing the CTBT into force, as well as the universalisation of the NPT, would help in attaining the objective of full and final nuclear disarmament. Algeria was concerned about the current threat to the START process and the ABM treaty posed primarily by US missile defence plans.

Baghli spoke also on the question of nuclear deterrence and doctrines. Algeria found that the situation had "hardened" in April 1999 when "one military alliance" (NATO) had affirmed nuclear weapons as a component of its military. This was not in conformity with the NPT objectives. Algeria saw negotiations on fissile material as a way to strengthen the dynamics contained within the last Review Conference. However, to make the negotiations capable of delivering a real disarmament milestone, stocks, as well as production, of fissile material needed to be addressed. Algeria wanted an ad hoc committee to study the "ins and outs of these issues" as soon as possible so that a treaty could be completed "promptly". Finally, Baghli spoke in favour of a treaty on the non-militarisation of outer space. "A spirit of dialogue and open-mindedness" were needed so that the CD could start working on a programme work.

This concludes the second part of the CD's 2001 session. The CD will convene its third and final part on August 28, 2001 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva. Ambassador Carlos Amat Forés of Cuba continues as CD president.


1. The Amorim proposal (CD/1624, August 24, 2000) recommends the establishment of four ad hoc committees: one each to "deal with" nuclear disarmament and PAROS, one to negotiate a ban on the production of fissile materials, based on a specific mandate agreed in 1995, and one, with a broader mandate, to negotiate on negative security assurances (NSA). For further details and analysis, see Jenni Rissanen, 'Geneva Update', Disarmament Diplomacy No. 50, September 2000.

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 Disarmament Diplomacy No. 57.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.