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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD BULLETIN, August 28, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


Ambassador Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales of Ecuador chaired the 884th plenary meeting of Conference on Disarmament (CD) on August 28. He invited the Special Coordinator on the CD's Effective and Improved Functioning, Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, to brief the CD on the results of his consultations. There were no other speakers at this meeting.

Plenary Proceedings

Ambassador Kariyawasam summarised the outcome of his far-ranging but inconclusive consultations. Kariyawasam believed that the June 14 decision to appoint a special coordinator on CD reform was "a manifestation" that the Conference agreed "in principle that there is a need and desire" to adopt measures to further improve the CD's functioning. Despite this, however, it seemed that "concrete decisions on any issue still remains illusive".

Kariyawasam had held two rounds of consultations. He had been pleased by the attendance, but noted that although many views had been expressed, " a number of delegations did not offer their views at all on any issue or on some issues". He wondered whether this "reluctance [was] either by choice or perhaps by default"?

The Ambassador then gave a detailed account of the specific issues he had discussed. He said there had been general agreement on a number of matters. First, the CD had not "made optimal use of mechanisms provided for it in the rules of procedure". Some felt that the rules were either misinterpreted or ignored, whereas others regarded the rules as outdated. Second, delegations had felt there was a need to make wider and more frequent use of informal and open-ended consultations, although some also suggested that the CD had not taken the fullest advantage of its plenary sessions. Third, delegations supported the appointment of Friends of President, although these needed to be seen as distinct from the Special Coordinators.

The involvement of the civil society had also been discussed. There had been "many different views and perceptions as to how NGO participation could operationalized". Although no one had objected to NGO involvement, Kariyawasam said this could not be interpreted as "ready acceptance of unqualified participation of the NGOs". As for the role of the Secretariat, no "misgivings" had been expressed. Finally, no one had spoken against the expansion of the Conference's membership (which had been considered in context of the CD's effective functioning). However, delegations had expressed "divergent views as to how such an expansion should take place."

Kariyawasam then identified a cluster of more difficult and contentious issues. This included the consensus rule; the annual adoption of the CD's agenda and programme of work; the group system; the establishment of new category of committees; the continuation of the work of existing subsidiary bodies; the automatic establishment of ad hoc committees on all agenda items; the tenure of the presidency; the annual report; the idea of a small group to study the CD's improved and effective functioning; and the establishment of a CD bureau.

Kariyawasam characterized the consensus rule as "by far the most focussed as well as contentious issue" raised. Some regarded the rule as "the bane" of the CD, believing it should at least be applied qualitatively and selectively, whereas other felt there was "no need for any change" because of the nature of the CD's work and the need to safeguard national interests.

Kariyawasam had found "no apparent agreement" to change the practice of adopting the CD's agenda and work programme at the beginning of each year. As for the present group system, which has been criticized as outdated and providing cover for 'troublemakers', Kariyawasam noted that some member states had felt strongly the current system should be "more flexible and informal", allowing for the establishment like-minded groups. But others, however, the current system was "working well".

With regard to the question of subsidiary bodies and committees in the CD, some countries were open to creating a new category of committees for substantive discussions on agenda items, while others feared "a proliferation of mechanisms devoid of any possibility for substantive progress". As for subsidiary bodies already established, many believed they should continue to operate from year to year until they either completed their task or it became obvious that the negotiations could not be brought to a successful conclusion. Some delegations, Kariyawasam added, characterised such a view as "illogical", since the agenda and work programme had to be adopted each year. Delegations had also discussed the option of automatically establishing ad hoc committees on each agenda item, but found this "difficult" given that the CD might not be ready to engage in substantive work on some of the items.

The tenure of the CD presidency, which currently rotates every four weeks, had been a subject to a "lively discussion", Kariyawasam revealed. Some delegations strongly favour changing the system; others thought the rotating system was " fair and a necessary tool to keep delegations engaged" in the CD' s work.

The ambassador turned to proposals to establish a CD bureau and a study group on the CD's effective and improved functioning. The idea of the study group was welcomed by some, but several others felt the issue was better handled by a special coordinator in order to ensure transparency and wide participation. As for a bureau - consisting of the president, the Secretary-General of the CD and representatives of member states of the groups - doubts had been expressed over the need and efficacy of such an innovation. Some worried that the establishment of the bureau could be equivalent to institutionalising the present presidential consultations.

Kariyawasam had also discussed the CD's annual report - which delegates are due to start writing soon. A number of countries supported the idea of including a summary of the year's main issues, themes and initiatives, expressed in plenary statements. Others resisted this, however, on the grounds that, since the CD already kept verbatim records from its plenary meetings, it would amount to "a duplication procedure".

Kariyawasam concluded by saying that "the reflection of the current geo-political climate on the CD as well as time constraints did not permit us to agree on any specific procedure" for the CD's improved and effective functioning. Nevertheless, there was "an overwhelming desire" to continue with this work next year. Thus, he supported the appointment of three new special coordinators early next year.

The next plenary will be held on Thursday, August 30, 2001 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, and will be chaired by Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales of Ecuador.

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. 58.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.