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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 57, May 2001

CD Update

CD Inches Forward: Reform Coordinators But No Negotiations

By Jenni Rissanen

A month after beginning the second part of its 2001 session on May 17, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) managed to adopt a decision to appoint three Special Coordinators: to review the CD's agenda, membership and working methods. This small step forward, engineered three weeks after Colombia's Camilo Reyes Rodriguez took over the presidency from China, is the first decision taken by the Conference in almost three years. As yet, however, there is no resolution to the long-standing dispute over the CD's programme of work, in particular whether and how to undertake negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons (fissban), prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) or nuclear disarmament. In the absence of progress on substantive negotiations - or on "complementary activities" - some countries have now begun to consider the merits of engaging in work outside the CD. Most concretely, the Netherlands has proposed that Geneva delegations hold preparatory consultations on a fissban outside the Conference, until the CD can break free from the deadlock over its programme of work.

Programme of Work

The CD resumed its session under the presidency of Ambassador Hu Xiaodi of China. On May 23, in his final remarks before handing over the presidency to Ambassador Reyes, Hu said he had "no breakthrough to report". The only "bright spot" he could see was the fact that all delegations saw the Amorim proposal1 as the basis for further intensified consultations. Hu summarised the situation as he saw it: "one school of thought" held that the CD should begin negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), while considering or discussing also the prevention of an arms race in outer space and nuclear disarmament. Another school of thought envisaged simultaneous negotiations on all three topics, "or at least" sought a clear indication that this was the goal. Hu felt that most delegations would have no difficulty with either approach. As for the nuclear disarmament mandate in the Amorim proposal, Hu pointed out that some amendments had been suggested. Overall, he considered that the deadlock over the three issues remained difficult to break. Delegations had also put forth suggestions on complementary activities2, but these were "still being explored" as none of them yet commanded consensus.3

In his opening remarks as CD president on May 31, Reyes highlighted Colombia's dedication to multilateralism and promised to spend most of his time "seeking variations" to the Amorim proposal in an effort to achieve consensus. Arguing that the CD must not lapse into "total inactivity", Reyes sought to "forge ahead with those issues which have general support of the Conference".4 Reyes' persistence bore fruit when, on June 14, he brought the gavel down on a decision that he characterised as a "rather modest achievement":

"The Conference on Disarmament, reaffirming its commitment to work intensively towards the approval of a programme of work, using the Amorim proposal, as contained in document CD/1624, as a basis for further intensified consultations and taking into consideration all relevant proposals:

Decides to appoint Special Coordinators on the Review of its Agenda, the Expansion of its Membership and its Improved and Effective Functioning. These Special Coordinators, in discharging their duties and functions, will take into account all proposals and views, as well as future initiatives. The Conference requests these Special Coordinators to report to it before the conclusion of the 2001 session."5

The CD will now need to decide on which ambassadors to appoint as the Special Coordinators to carry out one-to-one and group consultations on these three areas of CD reform.6

Call for Negotiations on Outer Space

Russia and China shared their views on how the CD should deal with nuclear disarmament and PAROS, with Russia tabling a proposal for mandates for the two topics and China introducing a working paper on PAROS.

Russia began circulating an informal proposal on nuclear disarmament and PAROS earlier in the spring7 and, after receiving some feedback, has now revised and tabled it officially. The proposal envisages two ad hoc committees. A nuclear disarmament committee would "deal with" the topic and "take into consideration all relevant views and proposals", and also "address questions related to its mandate". A committee on PAROS would "negotiate with a view to reaching agreement on a regime capable of preventing an arms race in outer space. This regime could take the form of an internationally legally binding instrument." Like the nuclear disarmament committee, it would "take into consideration relevant views and proposals" and "address questions related to its mandate".

In a letter accompanying this proposal dated May 30, Ambassador Vasily Sidorov said Russia shared "the concerns...regarding the current situation in this unique multilateral forum" and wanted to "make its own contribution...by introducing a package proposal" on the two issues. Russia proceeded from the assumption that "the consensus on the third priority issue - the launching of substantive work in the Conference on FMCT - still exists".

The proposal marks the first time that Russia has supported the establishment of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament in the CD. Sidorov said the decision had been made "after thorough consideration". He further added that the proposal, incorporating consensus language from various international conferences, was aimed at being "constructive and not detrimental to the positions of any delegation".8

After concluding his term as CD president, China's Ambassador Hu took the floor in a national capacity to make a case for concluding a legally binding instrument to prevent the weaponisation of outer space. Hu said his government had instructed him to submit a working paper entitled "Possible Elements of the Future International Legal Instrument on the Prevention of the Weaponization of Outer Space".9 The document builds on an earlier Chinese working paper, from February this year, but goes further in outlining the kind of elements China envisages such an instrument should contain.

Hu said the "Treaty on the Prevention of the Weaponization of Outer Space" should contain four basic provisions: (1) "not to test, deploy, or use in outer space any weapons, weapons systems or their components"; (2) "not to test, deploy or use on land, at sea or [in the] atmosphere any weapons, weapon systems or their components that can be used for warfighting in outer space"; (3) "not to use any objects launched into orbit to directly participate in combatant activities", and (4) "not to assist or encourage other countries, regions, international organizations or entities to participate in activities prohibited by this legal instrument". Hu underlined that these obligations would prohibit all space-based weapons and weapons attacking outer space targets from the earth "once for all". The paper also contained China's proposals for definitions of 'outer space', 'weapons', 'weapon systems' and 'components of weapon systems'.

Underlining the need for the negotiations, Hu said structured consideration of the issue was "not only necessary, but also a pressing task". Nothing less than world peace and the future of mankind depended on whether outer space was going to be "utilized rationally". There was a growing amount of civil activity in space, but it was also known that outer space was "now faced with the danger of being weaponised, which manifests itself in two aspects, namely the development of the missile defense program and the 'space control' plan". Hu argued that it was "clear" that the US missile defence system currently under research and development would "go beyond" the constraints of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and incorporate space weapon systems. Furthermore, Hu said the US military space development plan "Vision 2020" from 1998 demonstrated that "the combatant theory of assuring space superiority has been initiated". "Equally alarming" was the 'space exercise' of January 2001 that envisaged outer space as a battlefield. Hu also referred to the Rumsfeld Commission report from January this year recommending that the United States should develop means to deter against hostile acts in and from space as well as develop new capabilities that could operate "to, from, in and through space".

Hu reasoned that these developments showed that the weaponisation of space was "by no means a remote issue"; instead, the "danger was imminent and the issue most urgent". The international community had to act without delay as "the window of opportunity would soon close". A treaty along the lines that China was proposing would guarantee that all countries' interests and assets, whatever the extent of their space capabilities, would be "equally protected".

In a clear message to the United States, Hu said that "if the real motivation towards space [was] to defy the obligations of international legal instruments and seek unilateral and absolute military and strategic superiority based on the political, economic and military strength, [this] would be another matter". The introduction of weapons to space would be "detrimental to the interests and security of each and every state, including the very one that introduces" them: "the consequences [would] be most serious and in no one's interest".

As the international community's sole multilateral negotiating forum, the CD "should play a role in this regard" and negotiate a treaty capable of safeguarding space for peaceful use and development. Hu recalled China's proposal for the establishment of a negotiating ad hoc committee on PAROS10, adding that China also fully supported the recent Russian proposal in this regard.11

Activities Outside the CD

The Ambassador of the Netherlands, Chris Sanders, has reportedly been conducting consultations on an initiative to begin an exercise - outside the CD - in preparation for negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material. The Dutch initiative is aimed at preparing, facilitating and enhancing work on the topic through regular open-ended meetings on a continuous basis. The Dutch have underlined that they do not want to begin actual negotiations outside the CD, but only to prepare for them with the aim of transferring the fruits of this exercise back to the Conference as soon as it agrees on a work programme allowing for the launching of negotiations.

The Dutch organized an informal meeting to introduce their idea and answer questions on May 16. The meeting was widely attended, although there were a few countries, including China and Pakistan, which, according to some at the meeting, made a point of not being present. Reactions to the initiative have varied greatly and it is still too early to say how or if it might be carried forward. Many delegations have welcomed the idea, but some have also expressed concern about exactly how the fruits of the exercise could be brought back to the CD, and how countries choosing not to participate in the preparatory process might be expected to react when it returned to the Conference. Notwithstanding these doubts, if allowed to succeed, this constructive initiative could lead to some valuable preparations on a fissban treaty and perhaps give a needed psychological boost to the negotiating atmosphere in Geneva.

Meanwhile, other delegations have continued to hold seminars on the fissban issue. Most recently, on May 14-15, Japan and Australia organised a two-day seminar entitled "Geneva Workshop on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices". Ambassador Seiichiro Noboru of Japan explained that the workshop was intended "to contribute to deepening the participants' knowledge and expertise on the treaty issues and to developing their views on those issues in order to get ready for the moment the negotiations start in the CD". The participants discussed the nature of likely obligations under the treaty, verification, and possible treaty structures, including the implementing organisation and entry-into-force. Also under discussion were possible next steps allowing for the negotiations to commence in the near future.12

Plenary Statements

On May 23, Mr. L. Erdenechuluun, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, addressed the CD "on some key issues related to international security, arms limitation and disarmament". The Minister asked whether the world, as it entered the new century and millennium, found itself any closer to the collective and ultimate goal of complete and general disarmament, and whether the international community had "succeeded in making the global disarmament process a sustainable one"? Was the "world less or more safe?" Reviewing progress, the results were mixed: while there had been "certain movement in some areas, there has been little or no progress in others."

Erdenechuluun recalled the 2000 NPT Review Conference and its Final Document, particularly the conclusions and recommendations related to the establishment of a subsidiary body in the CD to deal with nuclear disarmament, and the call for further efforts by the nuclear-weapon states to reduce their arsenals unilaterally and for further unilateral reduction initiatives with regard to non-strategic nuclear weapons, as well as the engagement of all five NWS in the process leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. He also underlined the importance of an early entry into force of START II and the CTBT treaties and said Mongolia looked forward to the upcoming conference in New York to facilitate the CTBT's entry into force. It was "compelling" that the CTBT enter into force as early as possible "in light of the activities that could seriously undermine the nuclear non-proliferation regime". Erdenechuluun spoke more broadly on the importance of verification for the credibility of international instruments prohibiting weapons of mass destruction, welcoming "efforts ensuring the reliable operation of the existing control and monitoring systems under the CTBT and the CWC and undertaking measures to improve the verification mechanism of [the] BWC".

Erdenechuluun was concerned about the growing emphasis on nuclear weapons in nuclear doctrines and spoke on the importance of safety measures such as de-alerting, removal of warheads from delivery vehicles and no-first-use pledges. What was also needed was legally binding negative security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states. Mongolia welcomed the UN Secretary-General's initiative on holding an international conference on nuclear dangers.

The Minister argued for "earnest negotiations on an early conclusion of a universal and verifiable Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty". Pending this, he felt the NWS should declare moratoria on production, and exercise transparency through disclosing their stocks. He urged the UN to "establish a Register for all stocks of weapons-grade fissile material", believing this "would help establish an important balance with the UN Register of Conventional Arms". Erdenechuluun also commented on US plans for a missile defence system, which he said would "inevitably impact upon global security and strategic stability". However, Mongolia welcomed the US readiness to consult with other countries on the issue.

Turning to a topic of great importance to Mongolia, Erdenechuluun described nuclear-weapon-free zones as "an important component of nuclear non-proliferation with a positive impact on regional security and stability". The UN Disarmament Commission guidelines would "play a significant role" in advancing the spread and effectiveness of such areas. Mongolia had declared its territory a nuclear-weapon-free zone in 1992, and in February 2000 adopted a law on its status, "institutionalising it at the national level". Furthermore, at the last UN General Assembly, the five NWS made a joint statement providing Mongolia with security assurances, "an important step along the road to institutionalising that status at the international level". Erdenechuluun said it was imperative to begin negotiations in the CD on legally binding negative assurances. Finally, Erdenechuluun supported the Amorim proposal as "a sound basis for further consultations" in order to break the ongoing deadlock on a programme of work.13


Managing to appoint three coordinators to address the problems of the CD's agenda, membership and procedures may be grounds for some relief but not hearty congratulations. Whether this modest breakthrough will, as Reyes hoped, give the CD "fresh impetus" in finding agreement on the outstanding issues is yet to be demonstrated. With arms control now under the looming shadow of US plans to develop and deploy missile defences, PAROS has established its place as the main bone of contention in the CD, with China and Russia in particular pressing hard for negotiations. At the same time, the long-awaited negotiations on a fissban treaty still have their active and strong supporters. Some, tired of twiddling their thumbs, are now looking at ways to make progress outside the CD, hoping at least to pave the way for substantive negotiations in the Conference at some time in the future. With only three months remaining of the 2001 session, this may be the best the CD can achieve.

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 Geneva-based Women's International League for 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. Amorim attached a draft presidential declaration to this proposal stressing that the CD is a disarmament negotiating forum and that the above mandates should be viewed in that light, and further noting 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. For more discussion on the proposals for complementary activities, please see Jenni Rissanen, "CD Concludes First Part of 2001 Session Empty-Handed", Disarmament Diplomacy No.55 (March 2001).

3. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, May 23, 2001. CD/PV.874.

4. Camilo Reyes Rodriguez, Ambassador of Colombia to the CD, May 31, 2001, CD/PV.875.

5. CD/1646, adopted by the Conference on Disarmament at its 877th plenary meeting on June 14, 2001.

6. Camilo Reyes Rodriguez, Ambassador of Colombia to the CD, June 14, 2001. CD/PV.877.

7. For more discussion on the Russian proposals, see Jenni Rissanen, Disarmament Diplomacy No.55.

8. CD/1644.

9. CD/1645.

10. CD/1606.

11. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, June 7, 2001. CD/PV.876.

12. Seiichiro Noboru, Ambassador of Japan to the CD, May 17, 2001. CD/PV. 873.

13. L. Erdenechuluun, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mongolia, May 23, 2001. CD/PV.874.

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

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.