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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 44, March 2000

CD Still Deadlocked
By Jenni Rissanen


The President of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Sergei Martynov of Belarus, struck his gavel to mark the end of the first part of the 2000 session on March 23. Once again, delegations left the meeting with a sense of disappointment after failing to adopt a programme of work or start substantive work.

The first part of the 2000 session saw different proposals for a programme of work, including the first proposal to establish three ad hoc working groups on a ban on the production of fissile material (fissban),1 nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), and then later a proposal with three options, all of which included the establishment of special co-ordinators on nuclear disarmament and PAROS by the Austrian Presidency.2

The Bangladeshi Presidency continued consultations trying to get an agreement on the subsidiary bodies and mandates of what had become the three 'priority issues' at the CD, and produced a non-paper proposing the establishment of special co-ordinators on nuclear disarmament and PAROS and a presidential statement on a fissban. However, finding the right formula for the three issues proved impossible, which now leaves Belarus, as the new CD President, to continue the consultations in the intersessional period with the hope that the CD will get down to substantive work in the next session right after the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

The discussion on the work programme was heavily focussed on the three 'priority issues' in the first session, which underlined deep differences of opinion in particular between China, Russia and the United States. In order to bring attention to other issues and to push for fissban negotiations, Germany delivered a statement on behalf of 22 countries asking the CD to start work on issues on which there is common ground. The CD also witnessed some heated exchanges between China and the United States on national missile defence (NMD), the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and NATO.

Programme of Work

By the time Ambassador Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury of Bangladesh took over the task of seeking agreement on the programme of work from Ambassador Harald Kreid of Austria in the fifth week of the CD session this year, it had become clear that there now existed three issues on which the CD had no common understanding to start work on: fissban, nuclear disarmament and PAROS. Although no official proposal was tabled during the Austrian Presidency, an informal proposal had suggested that special co-ordinators be established on two of them - PAROS and nuclear disarmament - as part of the work programme.

Chowdhury reportedly circulated a 'non-paper' at the end of February consisting of a proposal based upon the earlier proposal by Kreid to establish these two special co-ordinators to continue to seek agreement on subsidiary bodies and their mandates. In order to address the third element, fissban, Chowdhury's proposal included a suggestion for a presidential statement on the issue. It is understood that the text of this statement stated a hope that the establishment of the special co-ordinators would lead to an agreement on a programme of work, including a mechanism to address negative security assurances (NSA) and an ad hoc committee to negotiate a fissban treaty, among others.

Delegations in the Western Group in particular were said to have expressed their lack of satisfaction with the wording of the statement because it did not guarantee getting the long-awaited fissban negotiations underway, and spoke only of the "hope" that the CD could set up a fissban ad hoc committee. Instead, the Western countries were keener to revisit the discussions on the so-called Dembri package from June 1991 that included 'more secure language' on a fissban. China on the other hand was reportedly ready to agree on the proposed text of the presidential statement on a fissban and the appointment of the two special co-ordinators. In the Eastern European Group the proposal was received with mixed feelings, whereas the Group of 21 stood ready to support Chowdhury's 'non-paper'.

No agreement was reached on the proposal by the time that Belarus began its CD presidency. In briefing the CD at the last plenary of the first session, head of delegation and First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Martynov stated that the CD was "at the end of the show" and that consultations had shown that, instead of working towards a new proposal, it was better to continue consultations on the work programme in the intersessional period. Martynov stated that he intended to conduct a new round of consultations just before the next plenary scheduled for May 22, and only then seek solutions.3

Statements at the Last Plenary

Several countries expressed their frustration over the fact that the CD was not able to start substantive work at its first session. Nearly half of the CD delegations supported a proposal presented by Germany that included the commencement of the fissban negotiations.

Germany's Ambassador Günther Seibert took the floor on behalf of 22 primarily western countries (including Sweden, but not including New Agenda Coalition members Ireland and New Zealand) stating that, "the continued inability of the CD to reach agreement on substantive work is a source of deep concern to us." Seibert drew attention to the fact that there were 'a number of common elements' in the different proposals put forward last and this year: the re-establishment of ad hoc committees on fissban and negative security assurances and the reappointment of special co-ordinators on anti-personnel mines (APL), transparency in armaments (TIA) and the review of the agenda of the CD. In this context, he proposed that the CD "now takes [the] decision to start substantive work on the five common elements" while continuing the consultations on nuclear disarmament and PAROS.4 Six Eastern European countries, Albania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, supported the statement from the floor raising the number of countries supporting this approach close to a half of the CD delegations.

The Netherlands, one of the supporters of this approach, spoke of the need to "strike a right balance between idealism and realism." In this context, Ambassador Chris Sanders explained the Dutch view on nuclear disarmament: "… this has to be a gradual process: arms reduction and disarmament are one and the same process, with the latter following from the relentless pursuit of the former." Sanders advised against letting the perfect become the enemy of the good and encouraged the CD to "make at least a start with a debate on nuclear disarmament… rather than being sentenced to an enduring stalemate" by considering the NATO-5 proposed mandate for nuclear disarmament from February 1999.5

Ambassador Javier Illanes of Chile who had been appointed special co-ordinator on the improved and effective functioning of the CD in 1998, recalled in his farewell speech the Chilean proposal from last year on open-ended and informal consultations, organised by the President of the CD, on each agenda item. The consultations could "serve the purpose of an alive informal exchange of views on the substance of the broad spectrum of the CD Agenda" and hopefully gradually help build consensus in the CD. As advantages of this approach, he mentioned the enriched presentation of ideas with the participation of all delegations, the opportunity for more focussed discussion and the flexibility of giving preference to desired topics. Illanes brought up the ideas in the hope that "one more year of frustration and inaction… added to the previous ones, could perhaps incline [states to re-examine]… the possibility of offering the CD the opportunity to do useful and substantial work."6

Canada's Ambassador Christopher Westdal gave support to Illanes' proposal saying it deserved some further exploration as it "could help us find bases for official substantive discussion and in due course for specific negotiations." Westdal deplored that the CD had not negotiated anything during the past four years and had failed to agree on a programme of work saying that "like it or not, this record calls our very purpose into question in public opinion and in considered assessments of our work, our credibility, our potential and our prospects." He emphasised the CD delegations' responsibility in bringing about a change and not only waiting "for the dangers to be recognized in indefinitely extended faith in nuclear deterrence, in NPT fidelity gaps, in faltering nuclear arms control and in nuclear proliferation." Westdal stressed that, "what counts here now is the quality of our service." "We serve truly, only if we ourselves spare no effort to bring that recognition home… and let it sink in, let it engender political will and leadership… only if through the inter-governmental interaction we mediate here we make this Conference itself a seedbed for political energy and commitment… move heaven and earth to get this body back to work."7

P-5 Split on Fissban, Nuclear Disarmament and PAROS

The debate about the three priority issues continued at the CD. In particular China, Russia and the United States, elaborated further on their different positions on fissban, nuclear disarmament and PAROS. The Russian and the US statements were in tune with each other on the question of nuclear disarmament and a Fissile Material Cut-off treaty (FMCT), whereas China did not confirm that it considered FMCT as the next practical step on nuclear disarmament, a position it had agreed to at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. Instead, China pressed hard on PAROS and received support from Russia on its position to establish an ad hoc committee to negotiate on PAROS.

Ambassador Vasily Sidorov reiterated Russia's willingness and flexibility to co-operate with other delegations on the issues of nuclear disarmament. However, Russia "does not consider it timely… to start work in the CD on a programme of nuclear disarmament within specified time-frames", but instead "to operate a smooth step-by-step transition from bilateral to five-lateral and then multilateral agreements… taking into account emerging international realities."8 Ambassador Robert Grey (United States) stated, referring to nuclear disarmament and outer space, that "there is a broad understanding in this body that these two topics are not ripe for treaty negotiations at this time... proposals in these fields are clearly not a basis for consensus."9

China demurred, arguing that "the majority of the member States of the Conference, including China," do not agree with the US interpretation, and questioned why the time was not right to address the issues at the CD. Ambassador Hu Xiaodi recalled UN resolutions calling on the CD to establish an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament to begin negotiations on a phased programme of nuclear disarmament, as well as the resolutions on requesting work on negative security assurance and other issues, including fissban, and asked: "Is there any difference in terms of their priority and importance as far as the political and legal status of the above-mentioned United Nations resolutions are concerned?"10

Both Russia and the United States also briefed the CD in their statements about the unilateral and bilateral steps they have taken so far to reduce their nuclear arsenals. In addition, the US delegation invited the CD members and observers to attend an informal briefing held on March 7 about nuclear disarmament at which Frank Miller, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategy and Threat Reduction in the Department of Defense, reviewed the US record on nuclear disarmament and also responded to questions related to US NMD plans, the ABM Treaty and outer space.

Responding to the US assessment of the CD's readiness to address outer space issues, Hu said that "the current reality is that… only a few countries, even only one country, due to its outer space weapon development programmes, insists that the time is "not ripe" to negotiate" on PAROS and that this should not be viewed as "broad understanding"." Instead, Hu defended the right for other countries to address "matters of concern to all and for the whole international community at large" such as the ABM Treaty.11 Sidorov expressed "solidarity with our Chinese colleagues, who also advocate the immediate re-establishment in the CD of an ad hoc committee on the prevention of an arms race in outer space...". The ad hoc committee should "draw up specific, practical arrangements that would block the path to the transformation of the near-Earth space into a new arena for power confrontation."12

In reference to China's position on equal treatment for the fissban, nuclear disarmament and PAROS, Grey stated that the United States' "first priority remains the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT)" and regretted that China "will not permit the CD to negotiate on FMCT unless there are parallel negotiations on nuclear arms reductions and outer space." Grey reminded the CD that China had subscribed to the 1995 NPT "Principles and Objectives" document that identified a fissban treaty as the next practical step in nuclear disarmament. "Here in the CD the United States has already shown considerable flexibility on important elements of our programme of work… If the CD does not get down to work, it will confirm my authorities' suspicions that this is because some governments do not want it to work."13 Sidorov, too, expressed Russian support for the early commencement of fissban negotiations at the CD in his statement saying that Russia is "convinced that that the next step in enhancing the international non-proliferation and disarmament regime should consist" of a FMCT.14

Exchanges between the Nuclear-Weapon States (NWS)

Following China's strong intervention on January 27, there were further heated exchanges between the US and China, which also prompted a statement from Russia on the issues of NMD, the ABM Treaty and PAROS.15

Grey accused China of having made statements referring to NATO as "little more than a tool of the United States, available on demand for enforcing hegemonism, intervening in countries' internal affairs, and practicing the unauthorized use of force" which Grey regarded as extraneous to the CD. Responding that, "Americans are not interested in that sort of thing," he said that " we do not seek domination, we seek balance… we do not seek hegemony." Grey also stated that, "the assertion that our NATO allies are manipulated with impunity by the United States is not true"; they "do not take orders from anyone."

According to Grey, the US and its allies, instead of adding to international tensions, "have worked very hard to reduce them." In support, Grey stated that "NATO has radically reduced its reliance on nuclear forces… the number for sub-strategic forces in Europe has gone down by 85 per cent…the readiness posture of alert forces is now measured in weeks rather than minutes, and in 1996 NATO ministers announced that NATO has "no intention, no plan, and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new member countries."

Hu viewed the US remarks as made "in a polemic tone of cold war nature." He rejected Grey's claim that he had said or implied that NATO allies were manipulated by the US emphasising that "it has never been my intention to make comments… which may affect the relations between the Chinese delegation and other delegations."16

Grey also responded to China on the issue of US plans for NMD and the ABM Treaty. Grey said that China had "implied that the United States practiced a double standard toward arms control agreements and was attempting to weaken or abolish the ABM Treaty." He rejected this, noting that "the facts should be clear by now." He referred to changes in the international environment since the signing of the 1972 ABM Treaty and the threats deriving from the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile technologies arguing that, "those who allowed it to happen should have known what the consequences would be."17

In response, the US was now considering a limited system in defence against such threats. Grey emphasised that the US was committed to work in co-operation with Russia to identify adaptations to the ABM Treaty. Referring to China as "modernizing its forces and... not increasing its transparency", and its 'test-firing' of a missile in 1996 "in response to political developments of which it did not approve," Grey wondered why "an open, orderly process aimed at finding necessary adaptations that can keep a long-standing arms control agreement relevant and effective" was called into question.18

Responding to the US remarks on transparency of nuclear arsenals Hu replied that it was "relatively easy to practice some transparency in nuclear matters" for a country that possessed the largest nuclear and conventional arsenals" and challenged the US to match China's declared no-first-use nuclear policy. On the question of Taiwan, China said that the United States should not deliver weaponry to the island, thereby "encroaching upon China's sovereignty, interfering in its internal affairs and threatening its security."19

Sidorov contradicted Grey's assertion on US-Russian co-operation on the ABM Treaty underlining that "the Russian side is not conducting negotiations with the United States on the adaptation of the ABM Treaty… we openly and frankly state that we will not take part in the destruction of this fundamental document…" Furthermore, Sidorov emphasised that even a limited NMD "is contrary to the key provision of article 1 of the Treaty, which constitutes its substance." Adapting the Treaty to allow a limited system "might be setting… a precedent whereby an addition or amendment… would convert it into an agreement permitting the build-up of military potential." Russia, Sidorov stated, did "not agree with such logic." He warned that if the US were to proceed with its plans on NMD, the ABM Treaty would be destroyed and the structure of treaties and agreements in the field of nuclear disarmament would crumble along with it."20

Sidorov went on to say that, "it is well known that the world public is especially worried about the danger of turning near-Earth space into a new arena of power confrontation... The prevention of an arms race in both outer space and on Earth fully and completely depends on the viability of the 1972 ABM Treaty." As a means to prevent the weaponisation of space, Sidorov asked the CD to draw its attention to a proposal Russia made at the G8 meeting in Cologne last June on the creation a global missile and missile technology non-proliferation control system.21

High-Level Statements

The CD delegations were addressed by high-ranking ministers from New Zealand, Norway, Mexico and Ukraine. In a speech largely devoted to constructive approaches to foster a successful NPT Review Conference, Knut Vollebæk, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Norway, called

on the CD to "make a fresh commitment to substantial disarmament and arms control" at the threshold of the new millennium and "to avoid the impression that the CD is becoming sidelined." In view of the upcoming NPT Review Conference, Vollebæk saw the CD's role particularly important in achieving concrete and lasting results in translating "the agreed principles and objectives for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation into concrete action" and developing "new measures and initiatives that all parties can endorse." He also endorsed the CD as an important forum on nuclear transparency and recalled the "NATO-5" proposal from February 1999 "to establish an ad hoc working group to study the ways and means of establishing an exchange on information and views within the Conference on endeavors towards nuclear disarmament."22 Vollebæk also voiced his disappointment to see that the CD had still not started negotiations on a FMCT.23

The Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Carmen Moreno, warned the CD that beginning the 21st Century "with a new failure in this Conference is unacceptable and dangerous." Moreno encouraged the CD to fulfill its "duty and concretize the required agreements." She emphasised the need to end nuclear deterrence doctrines "if nuclear disarmament is to become reality in this millennium." Moreno said that the CD "must amend its procedures and adopt a new pragmatic and realistic approach to advance in concrete nuclear disarmament measures.24

Ukraine's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Borys Tarasyuk, regretted that "progress in disarmament was and is often put hostage to diverging national security considerations, foreign policy ambitions, internal political debates, or confrontation between neighboring states" and stressed the negative impact of nuclear weapon possession. Tarasyuk said that Ukraine "fully realized that clinging to the nuclear legacy would seriously jeopardize our independence, destabilize the world order and lead to international isolation. Instead, voluntary renouncement of the world's third largest nuclear potential brought its obvious dividends in the form of wide recognition and strengthened political and economic co-operation with the world."25

Matt Robson, New Zealand's Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control, told the CD that New Zealand's Parliament had adopted a resolution calling for the fulfillment of the obligation to pursue and conclude negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament, as affirmed in the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Robson stated that the CD "cannot escape the responsibility for the inertia, and the risks continuing paralysis entails." New Zealand would "do all that we can do to advocate for disarmament and arms control in whatever forum…" and be "committed to the New Agenda Coalition as offering a way forward." Robson recalled the upcoming NPT Review Conference and said that in 2000 "we must… achieve the disarmament bargain of this Treaty, to quash once and for all the falsehood that indefinite extension sanctioned the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons."26


The first part of this year's session showed that while the overall situation in the CD remained the same as a year ago, with no work programme and negotiations, the increased use of the word "priority" seems to indicate that the positions on fissban, nuclear disarmament and PAROS have shifted somewhat. The views of the NWS, in particular, seem to have drifted further apart. In addition to what has often been referred to as the two remaining issues at the CD in the context of the work programme, nuclear disarmament and PAROS, there is growing concern amongst some delegations that the consensus mandate dating from 1995 on fissban may be slipping away. Many delegations now have their eyes on the NPT Review Conference, due to be held from April 24 to May 19, to see whether or not it can give the CD a much needed push to help it overcome the current deadlock.

CD Dates for 2000

January 17 to March 24; May 22 to July 7; August 7 to September 22.

Notes and References

1. In view of the continuing disagreements in the CD about what to call the negotiations, Disarmament Diplomacy uses the abbreviation 'fissban', which does not prejudge the issues of scope and stocks. In referring to the positions of particular states, we will also use the terms FMCT or FMT, or even FM(C)T, as indicated in their own statements.

2. For more information on these proposals see the CD Update in Disarmament Diplomacy issue 43.

3. Sergei Martynov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, March 23, 2000.

4. Gunther Seibert, Ambassador of Germany to the CD, on behalf of Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, March 23, 2000.

5. Chris Sanders, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the CD, March 23, 2000. The NATO-5 proposal suggested an ad hoc working group "to study the ways and means of establishing an exchange on information and views within the Conference on endeavors towards nuclear disarmament."

6. Javier Illanes, Ambassador of Chile to the CD, March 23, 2000.

7. Christopher Westdal, Ambassador of Canada to the CD, March 23, 2000.

8. Vasily Sidorov, Ambassador of Russia to the CD, March 23, 2000.

9. Robert Grey, Ambassador of the United States to the CD, February 17, 2000, CD/PV.842.

10. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, February 24, 2000, CD/PV.843.

11. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, February 24, 2000, CD/PV.843.

12. Vasily Sidorov, Ambassador of Russia to the CD, February 24, 2000, CD/PV.843.

13. Robert Grey, Ambassador of the United States to the CD, February 17, 2000, CD/PV.842.

14. Vasily Sidorov, Ambassador of Russia to the CD, March 23, 2000.

15. See China's statement on January 27 in CD/PV.839.

16. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, February 24, 2000, CD/PV.843.

17. Robert Grey, Ambassador of the United States to the CD, February 17, 2000, CD/PV.842.

18. Robert Grey, Ambassador of the United States to the CD, February 17, 2000, CD/PV.842.

19. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, February 24, 2000, CD/PV.843.

20. Vasily Sidorov, Ambassador of Russia to the CD, February 24, 2000, CD/PV.843.

21. Vasily Sidorov, Ambassador of Russia to the CD, February 24, 2000, CD/PV.843 and on March 23, 2000.

22. CD/1565.

23. Knut Vollebæk, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Norway, March 9, 2000.

24. Carmen Moreno, Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, March 23, 2000.

25. Borys Tarasyuk, Minister for Foreign Affairs for Ukraine, March 9, 2000.

26. Matt Robson, Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control for New Zealand, March 23, 2000.

Jenni Rissanen is the Acronym Institute's Analyst attending the CD in Geneva.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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