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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD BULLETIN, September 13, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


The Conference on Disarmament concluded its annual session in sombre mood on September 13 meeting following the terrorist attacks in the United States two days earlier. Some thirty countries addressed the Conference's 888th plenary, all vehemently condemning the attacks and expressing shock and sorrow over the immense loss of life. In addition, the Ambassadors of Brazil, Germany and the United States bid farewell to the CD, the European Union (EU) regretted the unproductive state of affairs in the Conference and Romania announced that it had begun the process of destroying its anti- personnel mines (APLs) in accordance with its commitment to the Ottawa Convention. Following the adoption of the CD's annual report, the current Conference President, Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales of Ecuador, closed the 2001 session.

Plenary Proceedings

Before entering into its regular plenary proceedings, the CD heard numerous statements condemning the terrorist acts of September 11. Some delegations argued that the event served as a wake-up call to the CD to get back to serious work of making a contribution to world peace and security. Vladimir Petrovsky, Secretary-General of the CD and Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General, read out Kofi Annan's reaction to the attacks.

Following Annan's statement, the European Union (EU), The Group of the Rio de Janeiro (The Rio Group), and numerous countries (Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Georgia, Hungary, India, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Turkey), quoting from statements issued by their governments, condemned the attacks and expressed solidarity and sympathy with the United States. Many also emphasized that the attacks were not only against the United States but the whole of humanity, and pledged their support in fighting terrorism and bringing the people responsible for the atrocities to justice.

A number of countries stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation in combating terrorism and argued that the CD had a role to play in this fight. Russia condemned the "barbaric acts" and pointed out - probably in reference to the activities of the rebels in Chechnya - that it had "repeatedly" appealed for international cooperation in combating terrorism. Japan said that the incidents reminded the world of the importance of cooperation, asserting that effective prevention of such outrages could only be achieved through joint efforts. The work of the CD was "not irrelevant" in this context. Japan felt the CD had to overcome its differences and get down to work early next year - this would be the "best way...to pay respect to the victims of the recent incident". It agreed with Australia and New Zealand, who held that that attacks "underscore[d] the opportunities we have missed by not proceeding on the basis of what we all know to best achievable way forward, namely the Amorim package" for a programme of work. Those who stood so steadfastly against this must surely question the wisdom of that posture". The two states further said it would be "unconscionable" for the Conference to return next year and not get down to work "with a sense of urgency". Switzerland was of the same opinion, arguing that the CD should "be inspired by those events" and "draw fresh breath" so that "something positive [could] come out of these tragic" incidents.

In addition to the many statements prompted by Tuesday's unprecedented and shocking terrorist attacks, three CD ambassadors bid their farewell to the CD delegations and secretariat. Robert Grey, the Ambassador of the United States, said he was leaving public life after serving in the diplomatic service for 41 years. Grey did not hide his disappointment about his four years in Geneva, saying that he had found them "exceedingly frustrating" from a professional perspective. During the past three years, the CD had done "nothing that would justify its existence", and it was "highly problematic" whether the CD would carry out some useful work in the future. Grey was confident that arms control would still continue to be negotiated - but perhaps elsewhere. The time had come "for those who have tied this body in knots to decide whether or not they want to be part of that process". Assuring his audience that the United States took its disarmament responsibilities under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) "very seriously", Grey noted that only fifteen countries currently appointed full-time CD ambassadors. This number would be sure to diminish even further if the CD remained deadlocked. Governments, Grey argued, simply would not "send first-rate people to twiddle their thumbs in a moribund institution". The CD must grasp the opportunity to get down to real work by adopting the Amorim proposal. Otherwise, "the business of disarmament will shift to other venues".

Günther Seibert had served as Germany's Ambassador to the CD since 1997. Joining the Conference shortly after it had produced "some of the finest achievements of its history" - the CWC and the CTBT - Seibert had been convinced that it would soon produce another vital disarmament instrument, a fissile materials treaty (FMCT). Like many others in the CD, Seibert said he did not believe the Conference's problems could be solved by merely improving its working methods and upgrading its agenda. However, Seibert - who was appointed as Special Coordinator on the CD's agenda in June this year - did argue that the working methods and outdated agenda had contributed to the present deadlock, pointing in particular to the "all-or-nothing approach of a comprehensive and balance program of work" and the current group system. Despite the current problems, Seibert did not believe that the CD had outlived its days, expressing the view that "its greatest tasks may still lie ahead".

Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil said in his farewell remarks that the CD's third year of deadlock was "more than a bad signal", indicating that the Conference was not only failing in its mission to negotiate disarmament treaties but also failing to respond to the calls made at the 2000 NPT Review Conference to start negotiations on a fissile material treaty and to establish a subsidiary bodies to deal on nuclear disarmament and PAROS. Amorim said Brazil was "concerned at the uncertainty regarding" the implementation of the Final Document reached at that Conference. Looking back on 2001, Amorim said that while he was honoured his proposal for a programme of work - drafted in August 2000 when Brazil held the CD presidency - would remain as a reference point in the deliberations ahead, the mere fact the Conference was still discussing his suggestions was evidence of its "collective failure". Amorim said he remained convinced that "with the right attitude", delegations could act upon the proposed programme of work in a way that would benefit all member states. The failure of other multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation processes made Brazil question whether the whole multilateral system was "evolving - or not evolving". Brazil believed that multilateral cooperation was the "only sure path to a stable and secure international system".

Belgium spoke on behalf of the EU, deeply regretting that the CD was about to conclude yet another year without being able to get work underway. Ambassador Jean Lint said the EU "reaffirms its faith in multilateralism and repeats that the Conference on Disarmament constitutes the sole multilateral forum available...for negotiations on disarmament issues". Its paralysis was weakening the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime. The EU said it would continue to push for negotiations on a FMCT early next year with a view of concluding the treaty within five years, as reaffirmed in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference. It also hoped that the three special coordinators - on the CD's agenda, functioning and membership - be reappointed early next year.

Romania announced that it had begun destroying its APLs on August 31 this year in accordance with its obligations to the Ottawa Convention. The Convention came into force in Romania on May 1. It had destroyed the first set of mines (10, 000) from the total aggregate holding of 1, 076, 629. Romania's stockpile stood at 27,455 items on August 28, 2001.

CD president and Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales of Ecuador made his final remarks before closing the session. Betancourt Ruales believed that efforts should be focussed "at a higher political level if we are to endeavour to bring the [CD] out of its state of paralysis". He noted that all members " clearly aspire to the attainment of peace and security", but added that these goals were "being moved further away...by disturbing phenomena in the strategic panorama and by the escalation of violence and terror, which has reached an unprecedented level". He believed that the recent attacks on the United States would lead the Conference to "reflect on the need for the [CD] to establish, as soon as possible, more effective measures to ensure international peace and security, thus banishing the spectre of nuclear annihilation".

Before closing for the year, the CD adopted its yearly report to the UN General Assembly. As discussed during recent weeks, the report recommends that the CD re-appoint the three special coordinators early next year. It remains to be seen whether the CD can reach agreement on adopting a work programme, but many are already saying that the prospects for this are very dim.

The dates next year's session are as follows: Part I, January 21-March 29; Part II, May 13- June 28; Part III, July 29-September 13.

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.