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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD BULLETIN, August 30, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


Ambassador Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales of Ecuador chaired the 885th plenary meeting of Conference on Disarmament (CD) on August 30. He invited the Special Coordinator on the Review of the Agenda of the Conference, Ambassador Günther Seibert of Germany, and the Special Coordinator on the Expansion of the Membership of the Conference, Ambassador Petko Draganov of Bulgaria, to brief the CD on the results of their consultations. In addition, China took the floor to make a general statement.

Plenary Proceedings

The Special Coordinator on the CD's agenda, Ambassador Günther Seibert of Germany, reported that his consultations had not yet lead to agreement. Nevertheless, Seibert characterized Conference's decision to tackle this issue as " an important step".

Seibert told the CD he had approached the agenda "from two angles: its function and content." He felt the agenda had "undergone a considerable loss of practical relevance", and that the relationship between the CD's proceedings and the agenda was weak. The agenda had not changed since 1992 when transparency in armaments was added, although attempts at further revisions had been made after the CD concluded the CTBT negotiations in 1996. Seibert had found "two schools of thought": one school was focused on getting agreement on the programme of work, regarding agenda reform as a lesser priority. The other school continued to attach importance to the agenda, wanting to improve it.

In more detail, Seibert's consultations had addressed the relevance of the existing agenda items, the addition of items, and the proposal to change the agenda's structure to a more general, adaptable format. Overall, Seibert had found that delegations were happy retaining four items (items 1,3, 4 and 7): nuclear disarmament, outer space, security assurances and transparency in armaments. As for the prevention of nuclear war (item 2), weapons of mass destruction (item 5), and comprehensive programme of disarmament (item 6), "a considerable number of delegations" had expressed doubts about their relevance. Some countries have also suggested the elimination of certain items. Seibert pointed out that each item on the current agenda still enjoyed some degree of support.

Possible new items mentioned in the consultations included conventional disarmament and regional disarmament. A large number of delegations had supported adding conventional disarmament to the list. Anti-personnel mines (APLs) and small arms had been discussed in this context. Interest had also been expressed in discussing missiles in the CD. It was further proposed that the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) be established as a separate item. There was also a more general proposal to automatically include as agenda items relevant disarmament issues raised in consensus resolutions from the UN General Assembly. None of the proposals, Seibert noted, with the exception of regional disarmament, had met with "outright" refusal. Seibert concluded by arguing that the agenda merited further intensified attention and recommended that the CD appoint a special coordinator to continue these efforts early next year.

The Special Coordinator on the CD's expansion, Ambassador Petko Draganov of Bulgaria, said that after receiving feedback from almost half the Conference's delegations, he had discovered three camps on the expansion issue: most wanted a considerable expansion, some a limited expansion, and a few no expansion at all. Despite these differences, there was "overwhelming support for a considerable expansion". Two-thirds of the delegations he had spoken with stood ready either to admit the current 22 applicant countries, or to favour "qualified universality". This strong majority felt that maintaining limited membership would be a mistake in the current impasse and would "perpetuate the [CD's] legitimacy crisis", whereas opening the Conference would "democratise" the institution and "pave the way for future disarmament negotiations inside the CD rather than...outside the CD framework".

At the same time, several delegations had opposed increasingly a significant growth in member states, pointing out that the 1999 expansion had not helped the CD to overcome its current stalemate. This argument had been used also by those few countries who were "still not fully persuaded in the utility" of expanding the CD again. However, as Draganov noted, many delegations had stressed that there was no correlation between membership and performance. The remaining delegations preferred expanding the CD by 5-15 countries, using objective criteria such as date of application and balanced regional representation. Draganov said that other criteria had also been suggested: interest and capacity to participate in the CD's work, contribution to disarmament and the applicant's treaty implementation record. However, the option of limited expansion was "complicated" because of the difficulty in agreeing the selection criteria. Draganov feared that the question of criteria would "lead into an indefinite delay" because it would be impossible to accommodate all the divergent views.

Draganov concluded that regardless of a "strong determination...to reach a durable and even a definitive solution" on the issues, there was "no consensus on any of the four options" at the moment. Saying that the CD's expansion was "a dynamic process" requiring further work, Draganov asked delegations to consider his report as an "interim report". He recommended that the CD reappoint a coordinator on the issue early next year.

In addition to these two briefings, China spoke at the meeting. In the wake of various US moves during the last weeks, including President Bush's unequivocal statement of intent to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, China made a strong intervention in favour of multilateralism. Referring to various setbacks in the international arms control and disarmament efforts, such as the "undeserved challenges" presented to the CTBT and the BWC Protocol, and apparent plans to introduce weapons into space, China felt it necessary to present its "guiding principles and basic positions" on international peace and security.

Ambassador Hu Xiaodi told the CD that the main purpose of China's foreign policy was to "safeguard world peace and promote common development". China desired world affairs to be handled "by the governments and peoples of all countries through consultations based on equality, and solved through multilateral collective efforts". Hu said "unilateralism [would] come to no avail". Surely referring to the US plans for ballistic missile defences, Hu said that although countries had the right to look after their security interests, "none should do it at the expense" of others. There was a need to "set up a new security concept of multilateral cooperation and collective security...with a view to promoting multi-polarisation". In fact, Hu mentioned a series of new concepts: a new security concept with mutual trust, disarmament and cooperative security as "key content"; a new type of international relationship of partnership but no alliances; and a new model of regional cooperation for both big and small countries. Hu told the CD that China had established, together with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on June 16 the "Shanghai cooperative Organisation" - an organisation that promoted across-the-board cooperation without alliances, confrontation or targeting of any other countries or organisations.

Hu listed the measures that China considered were of "utmost importance" for arms control and disarmament: the preservation of strategic stability; upholding existing treaty regimes; not introducing weapons into outer space; and the promotion of complete prohibition and thorough destruction of WMD while preventing their proliferation and the spread of their means of delivery. Hu specifically raised the case of the ABM Treaty, calling on countries to "urge" the United States and Russia to "honour the integrity and effectiveness of that treaty, and to advocate under the premise of upholding and abiding by the ABM Treaty to further reduce offensive strategic weapons". Hu believed that what was most needed in the current circumstances was "perseverance, solidarity and unrelenting efforts". This was "the only way" to bring arms control and disarmament "back to their correct course". As for the CD, it needed to take "resolute measures" to conclude an international treaty aimed at preventing the weaponisation of outer space. China supported the Russian work programme proposal of May 30: to start "dealing with" nuclear disarmament and to commence both FMCT and PAROS negotiations.

The next plenary will be held on Tuesday September 11, 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.