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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 55, March 2001

CD Concludes First Part of 2001 Session Empty-Handed

By Jenni Rissanen

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) concluded the first part of its annual session on March 27 with little hope for a resolution on the long-standing deadlock over its programme of work. As in the previous years, heads are hanging low after the first weeks of the year confirmed what many had pessimistically predicted - that 2001 is bound to be another lost year for multilateral disarmament negotiations in the CD. Few have had the urge to take floor, reflecting the state of depression. With the struggle for agreement on a work programme all but over, delegations have been discussing whether the CD should engage in complementary activities pending agreement of the work programme. However, there has been little progress even on this front.

Programme of Work

In his search for agreement on a programme of work, Ambassador Juan Enrique Vega of Chile, who took over the CD Presidency on February 19, focussed on three possible scenarios. Reporting back to the CD at the end of his presidency, Vega said he had first sought acceptance of the Amorim proposal1 which proved unattainable due to divergent positions. Vega did not believe that acceptance of the proposal could materialise in the absence of some extraordinary events outside the CD. Secondly, he had studied options for modifying the Amorim proposal, more specifically the mandates on nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). However, this approach was not likely to reach consensus either: while it might satisfy some parties, it may also create new problems. Finally, he had explored the possibility of altering the presidential declaration contained in the Amorim proposal in order to strengthen the nature and negotiating intent of all the mandates involved. The Amorim declaration stresses that CD "is a disarmament negotiating forum" and that therefore the mandates of the subsidiary bodies were "to be understood in that light". It also notes that the CD continues "to be influenced by and responsive to developments in the international strategic scene which affect the security interests of its individual members." Specifically, Vega argued that it would be possible to issue a presidential statement which would reaffirm the CD as the sole multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations and reiterate that all matters in the CD could be subject to negotiations. It would also emphasize that subsidiary bodies and their mandates could contribute towards the commencement of PAROS negotiations. Vega said his consultations had shown there was "some glimmer of hope" in this approach. For it to succeed, however, all parties involved would need to agree "to embark on an exercise of constructive ambiguity", enabling the CD to concentrate once more on "our prime objective" of negotiations while "setting aside considerations of precise language".

Vega concluded his Presidency by arguing that achieving a programme of work in the CD was a collective task, a burden which was not being shared equally in the Conference at present. He argued that the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) should play a greater role in getting the Conference out of its stalemate, and urged them to shoulder their especial responsibility.2

The duties of the next CD Presidency fell on the shoulders of one those states, China. Ambassador Hu Xiaodi argued in his opening remarks that the direction of the CD depended on joint efforts of the whole international community, but acknowledged that the policy orientations and behaviour of major powers would "play a significant role in these efforts". However, Hu described the state of affairs in the CD as one in which "the situation is more powerful than individual effort". He believed that "empty talk of arms control and disarmament in isolation from the international security situation is nothing more than an attempt to build castles in the air".3 Addressing the last plenary before the CD adjourned for six weeks, Hu noted that the basic points of divergence continued to persist with regard to the work programme. These were: whether to negotiate, pursue negotiations, or just discuss the various issues; and whether to deal with the issues "even-handedly, or to differentiate between them?"4

In a late development prior to the CD's six-week break, Russia reportedly approached numerous CD delegations with informal proposals for mandates for subsidiary bodies on nuclear disarmament and PAROS. For the first time, Russia endorsed the establishment of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament. The NWS have traditionally had trouble accepting this form of a subsidiary body, considered to hold the highest position in the hierarchy and generally established for treaty negotiations. Using the mandate from the Final Document of the NPT Review Conference, Russia proposed that the committee "deal with" nuclear disarmament by exchanging information and views on practical steps. Drawing from another part of the Document (paragraph 9 of the thirteen disarmament steps), the committee's role is put in the context of promoting international stability and the principle of undiminished security for all - language that could be interpreted as an attempt to highlight the potentially negative impact on the nuclear disarmament process of developments in the international security arena, notably US missile defence plans.

In its proposal on PAROS, Russia reportedly endorses language from 1998, when the CD last adopted a programme of work. The Russian text follows the 1998 formulation on negative security assurances (NSA), which at that time provided a way out of disagreement over whether the mandated objective of talks would be the conclusion of a legally binding instrument on NSA, about which some NWS have expressed concerns.5 Without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations, the 1998 formula, reintroduced now by Russia, suggests that the CD establish an ad hoc committee to negotiate on a PAROS regime, which could potentially then take the form of an international legal instrument. Whether this ambiguous formulation will work on this occasion is largely up to the United States and China, who hold opposite views on the need for a legal instrument. Whether Russia will table its proposals officially will only be seen when the CD resumes work in May.

Proposals for Complementary Activities

With the realization that there is very little hope for agreement on a programme of work, more delegations have been putting suggestions for complementary action on the table. However, not everyone agrees that the CD should engage in these activities.

At least Myanmar (Burma), Germany, Italy and Mexico have made suggestions on what the CD could do in the absence of actual disarmament negotiations. Myanmar (Burma) has suggested holding structured debates at plenary meetings on the substantive issues on the CD's agenda. Germany has proposed reviewing the CD's agenda and possibly establishing special coordinators on CD reform and efforts to reach consensus on specific items. Italy has advocated what Ambassador Vega has called 'a piccolo programme', allowing the Conference to begin work on the less contentious items in its agenda while continuing consultations on the three more contentious issues (nuclear disarmament, fissile materials, and PAROS). Finally, Mexico has noted that the rules of procedure allowed for the establishment of a range of subsidiary bodies, including subcommittees, technical groups and expert groups. The idea of appointing a special coordinator to address the issue of complementary activities had also been put forth.

Informal consultations, however, have revealed that not everyone agrees with the idea having the CD engage in action that falls short of actual negotiations. Ambassador Hu found that there were "notable divergences of opinion" on the question of supporting actions. Referring to the different proposals discussed above, Hu said some had felt that "there were a number of courses of action that [could] be explored". Some others, however, had wondered how these might affect the nature of the Conference (as a negotiating forum), and were worried whether the actions might in fact have a detrimental impact on the substantive issues in front of the CD. Hu suspected that these misgivings were the reason why the idea of supporting action had not yet been pursued.6 Since the CD concluded its first session on March 27, possible decisions on these proposals, if any, will need to wait until May.

With total deadlock on all CD activities, some countries have tried to keep alive and/or advance the long-overdue negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons by holding seminars on the topic. Germany organised a seminar together with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) on the verification of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) on March 14. It is understood that Japan is also planning a FMCT meeting in mid-May.

Statements in the CD

Ambassador Fayza Aboulnaga elaborated the position of Egypt on nuclear disarmament, a ban on fissile materials production, and PAROS, and made suggestions for greater transparency in the CD. Aboulnaga countered the argument that the stalemate in the CD is only a reflection of current international politics by noting that "it was precisely in this same state of international relations that the 2000 NPT Review Conference managed to achieve a historic success". She reminded the CD of a task it had been given in the Final Document of that conference: to set up a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament. Since this request could only be interpreted in the light of the nuclear weapon states' unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, it was time to establish an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament to further advance progress towards this objective. Although Egypt was disappointed that the commitment made at the NPT Conference was yet to be translated into action, Aboulnaga felt it was "a sign of some progress that there is consensus in the CD - for the first time - that nuclear disarmament should be dealt with in an ad hoc committee with a substantive mandate." She suggested that the committee deal with different aspects of a prospective legal regime for a nuclear-weapon-free world, including verification.

Egypt supported the re-establishment of an ad hoc committee to negotiate a convention to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Aboulnaga underlined that the objective of such a ban was not limited to non-proliferation but included "substantial nuclear disarmament objectives as well". Commenting on the contentious question of scope - mainly the question of stocks - Aboulnaga argued that the convention should include all potentially usable fissile materials, "including military stocks". A future verification regime should apply to all states in a universal manner. Furthermore, the entire fuel cycle should be placed under verification and all undeclared installations and stocks should be spotted under the regime. Aboulnaga said a convention could not "imply any degree of international de jure or de facto recognition or acceptance for the possession of nuclear weapons by any state not party to the NPT", nor the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons by the five NWS.

Aboulnaga said there was a need to "speedily move " towards the re-establishment of an ad hoc committee on PAROS and build on the work already done in the CD on this topic in order to "prevent a costly and destructive arms race before it starts". Egypt therefore supported negotiations as soon as possible "to prevent the use of outer space for all military purposes".

Complaining about lack of transparency in the CD, Aboulnaga drew the Conference's attention to "substantive organisational aspects". She believed the expansion on the CD's membership, the review of its agenda, and its improved and effective functioning were issues which should not be neglected. She also defended the role of civil society, saying that that CD was "one of the last fora in the world, in which a limited number of delegations still resist any role for civil society. NGOs have the potential to help in reviving the work of the Conference in more ways than one." She proposed that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) be allowed a voice in the plenary meetings, believing this was "a key element in improving the functioning of the CD and rendering it more effective".7

In his farewell remarks to the CD, Ambassador Rudolf Joó of Hungary stated that, whatever the causes, the current situation in the Conference was "deplorable". Joó said Hungary thought the Amorim proposal was "a sound basis" for the resumption of substantive CD work. He aligned Hungary with the European Union statement of February 15, in which the EU called for the immediate launch of FMCT negotiations as well as discussions dealing with nuclear disarmament and PAROS. Joó said the resumption of FMCT negotiations continued to be "a high priority" for Hungary. Hungary welcomed all initiatives to this end, and in this context welcomed the FMCT seminar by Germany and UNIDIR.

Joó also commented on the negotiations on a Protocol to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in Geneva, chaired by Ambassador Tibor Tóth of Hungary. Believing that "significant progress" had been made at the negotiations, Joó called on states parties to "redouble their efforts...and to make the [necessary] political decisions". Joó believed that given the general condition of stalemate in multilateral disarmament, the conclusions and adoption of the Protocol "would gain even greater significance by demonstrating the determination of the international community to counter the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction".8

Ambassador Vasily Sidorov spoke on PAROS and the upcoming conference on outer space, to be held in Russia on April 11-14. Sidorov said the purpose of the conference was two-fold: it would address the question both of PAROS and of the peaceful use of space. Representatives of space agencies, foreign and defence ministries, scientific academies, research centres, universities, private enterprises and others had been invited to attend the conference. Moscow expected more than 40 countries and international organizations, including the UN, to take part.

Explaining Moscow's rationale for organising the meeting, Sidorov said Russia had "taken into account the fact that human activities in outer space may pursue various objectives". They could be activities that strengthened international security through building confidence and ensuring compliance with international arms control agreements. However, he cautioned that there was "a real threat that military outer space systems could be eventually created and deployed" that could undermine global strategic stability. Russia wanted to draw attention to this and "prevent by joint efforts such dangerous developments", believing "that a speedy elaboration of an international legal regime prohibiting deployment in outer space of weapons other than WMD, should become one of the principal tasks of the world community". Sidorov said the current legal instruments contained "blank spots" and did not ensure an effective ban. Russia wanted an accord clearly and permanently preventing "the stationing of any type of weapons in outer space" and confirming the decision of the international community to "renounce the use or threat of use of force in outer space, from outer space or towards outer space". Sidorov emphasized that Russia's initiative was of a universal nature and not directed against any state.9

On March 7, the CD received its annual address from the participants of the Geneva International Women's Day Disarmament Seminar. In their joint statement, read by CD Secretary General Vladimir Petrovsky, the NGO groups involved urged the CD not to allow the deadlock to continue, arguing that the CD needed "to address the political difficulties and differences within the relevant negotiations rather than letting them become the destructive means of blocking further progress". They stressed that there had been remarkable successes in the field of arms limitation and restraint, and that a number of them had been achieved in the CD chamber. They reminded delegates that over the last five decades, with only a very few exceptions, arms control treaties had been observed and no state had withdrawn from a major arms control treaty, a situation they described as "a significant record of achievement and commitment to restraint and good sense". The statement called upon the CD "to immediately accept and implement the work programme proposal contained in CD document 1624, particularly paragraphs 1, 2 and 3" (nuclear disarmament, fissban and PAROS). It was time "to put aside interpretations as to what might be discussed under the heading of preparations, before any subsequent negotiations are allowed to begin". The point was "to get started". In the meantime, countries should "refrain from pursuing further research and testing of any devices that could undermine the talks". The NGOs also underlined the question of small arms and reminded the CD that women were "particularly affected by the wide availability and use of small arms both in times of war and in times of peace".10


Having concluded the first part of its session empty-handed, expectations for the second part, or the third for that matter, are virtually non-existent. Recent international events outside the CD, including developments straining relations between China and the United States, might also impact negatively on the work of the Conference, further complicating efforts to bridge existing differences.

CD Dates for 2001:

January 22 to March 30; May 14 to June 29; and July 30 to September 14.

To view the full texts of plenary speeches, visit the website of the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) at: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/cd/cdindex.html.

Notes and References

1. The Amorim proposal (CD/1624, August 24, 2000) recommends the establishment of four ad hoc committees: one each to "deal with" nuclear disarmament and PAROS, one to negotiate a ban on the production of fissile materials, based on a specific mandate agreed in 1995, and one, with a broader mandate, to negotiate on negative security assurances (NSA). In addition, it proposes the establishment of special co-ordinators on anti-personnel mines, transparency in armaments, and the review of the CD's agenda, the expansion of its membership and its effective and improved functioning. Furthermore, a draft presidential declaration has been attached to this proposal which stresses that the CD is a disarmament negotiating forum and that the (above) mandates should be viewed in that light and notes that the CD continues "to be influenced by and responsive to developments in the international strategic scene which affect the security interests of its individual members."

2. Juan Enrique Vega, Ambassador of Chile to the CD, March 15, 2001. CD/PV.870.

3. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, March 22, 2001. CD/PV.871.

4. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, March 27, 2001. CD/PV.872.

5. In its decision on the adoption of a programme of work in 1998, the CD decided to establish an ad hoc committee on NSA "to negotiate with a view to reaching agreement of effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. These arrangements could take the form of an internationally legally binding instrument." (emphasis added).

6. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, March 27, 2001. CD/PV.872.

7. Fayza Aboulnaga, Ambassador of Egypt to the CD, March 27, 2001. CD/PV.872.

8. Rudolf Joó, Ambassador of Hungary to the CD, March 15, 2001. CD/PV.870.

9. Vasily Sidorov, Ambassador of Russia to the CD, March 22, 2001. CD/PV.871.

10. NGO Joint Statement to the CD on the Occasion of International Women's Day, read by CD Secretary General Vladimir Petrovsky, March 8, 2001. CD/PV.869.

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

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.