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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD BULLETIN, September 4, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


Ambassador Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales of Ecuador chaired the 886th plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on September 4. The United States took the floor to outline its position on the ABM Treaty, missile defence and the CD's work programme. India addressed the full range of issues, political and procedural, facing the Conference.

Plenary Proceedings

Ambassador Robert Grey responded to the August 30 statement by China addressing the ABM Treaty, missile defence and the CD's deadlock over its programme of work. Grey said China had spoken of the ABM Treaty as it was "holy writ and perhaps a holy relic". In contrast, the United States believed that the Treaty had become "a relic" that had no place in today's post-Cold War world. Instead, what was needed was "a new security framework". Grey argued that the world needed to "move beyond MAD [mutually assured destruction] and continue to make substantial reductions in the number of offensive weapons". He further argued that yesterday's doctrines would not rid the world of nuclear weapons, the goal to which the five nuclear-weapons states (NWS) had committed themselves in the NPT.

While recognizing that missile defence would have "significant implications for China" and others, Grey found it difficult to understand why defensive measures should be regarded as threatening. Referring to the UN Charter and its "inherent right of self-defence", Grey argued that no one, including China, could "take that right away". Self-defence was, moreover, closely associated with the principles of peaceful settlement of disputes and non-use of force. Unless a country was contemplating the use of force, it had nothing to fear from a missile defence system. The solution "to all this is not to try to curtail the right others to defend themselves" but to "agree once and for all that the dispute in question will be resolved by peaceful means". Grey reiterated that the system the United States was planning was not directed against China or Russia and would not be able to withstand an attack involving large numbers of missiles. Missile defence was nothing new: Patriot missiles had been used against Scud missiles in the Gulf War and many countries had long possessed the capacity to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range missiles in a battlefield environment. There were broader capabilities now that could ensure the protection of an entire region or theatre.

As for the CD deadlock, Grey believed that the questions of missile defence and the ABM Treaty did not provide "a valid or even a plausible reason" for obstructing negotiations on a fissile materials treaty (FMCT). Grey said that although missile defence was not on the CD's agenda, it had been linked to outer space through "procedural manoeuvres". But proposals to negotiate an outer space treaty could not "possibly bear fruit unless and until there is a convincing demonstration that collective security and mutual restraint in outer space can be best achieved by seeking to negotiate some new legal instrument". Such a demonstration would have to prove that such a treaty "would actually prove effective in practice", with reliable means to verify compliance. Notwithstanding these doubts, the United States was ready to support the establishment of an ad hoc committee to "conduct exploratory discussions" on outer space issues, as well as a similar committee on nuclear disarmament, provided there were "active and ongoing negotiations" on a FMCT, as provided for in the work programme proposal by the Brazilian Ambassador Celso Amorim in August 2000.

India spoke on a range of issues including nuclear disarmament and outer space. Ambassador Rakesh Sood expressed concern that there were "no positive signs on the horizon to dispel our growing collective pessimism" and cited recent developments, such as the failure to agree a BWC Protocol, as a threat to multilateral disarmament negotiations.

Supporting the position collectively put forward by the non-aligned Group of 21 (G-21), India expressed its preference for an ad hoc committee to commence negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention setting out a phased programme to rid the world nuclear weapons within a specified framework of time. India could also accept the Amorim proposal for the establishment of a committee that would "at least" begin work on nuclear disarmament. In addition, Sood said India supported the establishment of an ad hoc committee to negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material. With regard to the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), India supported the G-21 position of establishing an ad hoc committee with a mandate that "at least enable[s] us to begin work on substantive aspects of this agenda item".

Addressing the root causes for the CD's deadlock, Sood believed that the impasse was a result of "inflexible positions of a few delegations that have prevented agreement" on nuclear disarmament and outer space. Thus, the focus of work had turned to the work of the three special coordinators appointed in June to hold consultations on the CD's agenda, membership and working methods.

Outlining India's position on the topics the special coordinators had addressed, Sood described the current consensus rule as "a critical necessity" to protect the interests of all member states. Sood referred to 1996, when "some delegations found the consensus rule inconvenient and bypassed the CD". This was a reference to the decision to take the draft CTBT - which India was alone in opposing - forward through a UN General Assembly resolution. Sood said there would be "little interest in repeating that unedifying exercise". Nor did India see any need to change the current practice of adopting the CD's agenda and work programme at the beginning of each year. The reason for the difficulties of recent years was the lack of political will, not the Conference's procedures. As for the CD's group structure, Sood said that although this was based on "political affinities", the system would continue to exist until better alternatives emerged. However, issue-based groupings could be explored: nothing in the rules of procedure prevented such association.

As for reviewing the agenda, Sood believed that the problem was not in the content of the agenda but in its implementation. For example, the CD had established an ad hoc committee on FMCT although the item was not in its agenda. Sood also addressed the CD's expansion, saying that this needed a "comprehensive approach". India had consistently held that "there needs to a balance between the criteria of membership… and its effectiveness as a negotiating forum". India considered it "heartening" to see the interest of states in joining the CD but felt that the priority should now be on reactivating Conference proceedings. In summary, Sood said that "tinkering with procedural matters will not get us far in resolving the current impasse. The disarmament agenda is in a state of flux generated by certain unilateral decisions, some bilateral adjustments and a few club-based pluralistic arrangements, that threaten the very edifice of multilateral negotiation process the CD stands for".

Sood concluded by arguing that, despite attempts to address some issues outside the CD, the Conference remained the right venue because it offered "more space than any other forum for official multilateral dialogue on issues of concern".

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. 59.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.