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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 58, June 2001

CD Update

Modest Appointments

By Jenni Rissanen

The Conference on Disarmament concluded its second part of the 2001 session on June 28 having appointed the Ambassadors of Germany, Bulgaria and Sri Lanka as special coordinators on the CD's agenda, membership and reform. The appointments give some grounds for hope that sufficient political will still exists among delegations to maintain the credibility of the Conference and find purposeful activity for it as the search for a more substantive breakthrough continues.

Special Coordinators Appointed

Having decided on the three special coordinators on June 14, the CD next had to choose whom to appoint. Following a week of informal discussion, the CD President, Ambassador Camilo Reyes Rodriguez (Colombia), announced at the June 21 plenary that the matter was "just about a few hours away" from resolution. He then suspended the meeting until the following morning to allow consultations to conclude. When the meeting resumed, the CD duly appointed Ambassador Günther Seibert (Germany) as the special coordinator on the CD's agenda; Ambassador Petko Draganov (Bulgaria) as the special coordinator on the CD's membership; and Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam (Sri Lanka) as the special coordinator on the CD's "improved and effective" functioning. Reyes characterized the decision as a "modest but significant step forward".1 Algeria, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Turkey (on behalf of the Western Group) commented on the appointment of the special coordinators.

Italy expressed satisfaction that the CD president had not been "discouraged by pessimists". Ambassador Mario Maiolini felt that "with this decision...we can start the dialogue on a minimum common denominator". This was "a first block on which to build a more substantial construction". Italy recalled its proposal, referred to as a 'piccolo work programme' by some: to begin work on four "non-controversial" items in the CD's agenda (anti-personnel mines, nuclear security assurances, transparency in armaments and CD reform procedures). Had the CD been able to agree to start work on all these matters, Maiolini argued, some "mutual give and take" between delegations may well have been forthcoming. The ambassador noted that, notwithstanding Italy's support for the new decision, it gave the CD "smaller room for manoeuvring and could make our task difficult." He said the CD began its work on the premise that there was only "one shot to shoot", meaning that the Conference must not "miss [its] target".2

Germany said it attached great importance to the decision, which it described as the first "of its kind that the Conference [had] been able to take for the last two and a half years". The move was "a first step toward breaking out of the complete stalemate...[and] toward recreating some dialogue...that has hardly taken place lately". At the same time, however, it was " a very modest" step and only of a procedural nature. The route back to real negotiations remained long and hard. As a second step, Germany suggested a decision on the other "uncontroversial" or "uncontested" matters, as proposed by Germany and Italy. The CD could, for instance, appoint special coordinators on anti-personnel mines and transparency in armaments and create an ad hoc committee on negative security assurances.3

Anne Anderson, Ireland's Ambassador, said she had initially been sceptical about appointing the coordinators, but with time had reluctantly come to see that the "key players did not appear to feel themselves under any pressure to reach an accommodation on issues of substance". Thus the choice was between "continuing a total and stultifying inactivity or engaging in the kind of work that now has been mandated". Anderson hoped the development would function as a "prelude" rather than a substitute for substantive work.

The ambassador set out Ireland's views on some of the issues that lay ahead of the three coordinators. Ireland supported the CD's expansion as it would have "major implications" for the Conference's effective functioning, including calling into question the current group system. This system allowed one or two members to "hide behind a coordinator who must simply record lack of agreement". Anderson believed that if the CD were to launch a work programme, the "mismatch" between the current system and the real world "would become even more evident". Furthermore, she suggested that the CD presidents serve a longer term so as to enhance the possibilities of them achieving their goals. As for the agenda, Anderson felt it needed to "relate to current realities, have the possibility of a longer duration than one year, and be capable of regular review and amendment", allowing it to escape the fate of becoming "an annual bone of contention". Finally, Anderson spoke in favour of a formalised mechanism for input from the non-governmental disarmament community. Regardless of the type of disarmament measure being discussed, civil society had "established the right not just to be heard but to actively participate" in the deliberations - a right "effectively denied at present".4

Nassima Baghli said Algeria felt the appointment of the coordinators would not only assure the improved functioning of the CD but also enable it to respond more effectively to international security questions. Algeria particularly addressed the question of the CD's membership, arguing that the CD should "be opened to any state who wishes to become a full member". In addition, like Anderson, she argued that the Conference would gain from a structured NGO input. The CD should be open to NGOs at a time when civil society was becoming increasingly involved in world affairs. The CD should not "swim against the tide" and give an impression it was hostile to transparency.5

On behalf of the Western Group, Turkey raised a complaint on the appointment of the coordinators. Ambassador Murat Sungar said that he hoped the other groupings would "be able to approach matters in a less rigid manner", as "none of the issues we deal or intend to deal with in the CD can be regarded as the permanent responsibility of any one geographical group".6 This statement was understood to be aimed at the Group of 21 (non-aligned countries), which has traditionally held the special coordinator's post on the CD's functioning. Its desire to do so again evidently caused some dissatisfaction in among the Western Group, sparking this reaction from Turkey.

Taking over the CD presidency from Reyes, Ambassador Carlos Amat Forés of Cuba said he intended to continue where the former CD president had left off: he would work towards advancing the work of the three appointed special coordinators as well as getting agreement on the issues in the Amorim proposal.7 He called the CD a body of "absolute validity". It had negotiated important landmark agreements in the past and if it did not exist, it would need to be created.8

Statements in the CD

Anne Anderson, Ireland's outgoing Ambassador, bade farewell to the CD in an eloquent speech. Anderson, her country's first CD Ambassador since it joined as a full member in 1999, spoke on the Conference's role as the "sole multilateral negotiating forum in the disarmament area". She examined this "most hallowed phrase" more closely: while it was true that the CD was the "sole" standing forum, everyone was aware "of the increasingly unfavourable comparisons with successful examples of ad hoc negotiations" elsewhere. Anderson said it was critical to retain the CD as "negotiating forum" so that it did not become "a talking shop". She acknowledged, however, that in the real world these distinctions were "not always watertight": discussion could lead to pre-negotiation that in turn could lead to negotiation proper.

It was the term "multilateralism" that Anderson focussed on most. She shared her impression that the "opportunity cost of a stalled CD" did not weigh heavily in key capitals, but argued to the contrary that if the CD's proceedings were "not making things better, they risk making them worse". National statements easily became "vehicles by which differences are sharpened and deepened rather than attempting to find common ground". Furthermore, Anderson warned against putting the CD "into cold storage for long periods" and taking it "out again for business as usual". This could "prove flawed". Instead, she called on the Conference to exercise "responsible multilateralism".

The essence of such responsibility, as Anderson outlined it, was a balance between a recognition by others that the key players often needed to formulate their policies amongst themselves, and, at the same time, a recognition from those players of the need to be responsive to the views of the international community. She argued that this balance was presently lacking and, as a result, the CD risked becoming "an irrelevant sideshow". Anderson rejected the notion that multilateralism was "the self indulgence of small nations". It was, rather, "critical" to fostering a meaningful international dialogue: it gave a voice to smaller nations and created a sense of ownership of the negotiated instruments, as well as helping to ensure the irreversibility of the measures approved.

Anderson questioned current CD structures, saying that they had not adapted to the new security environment. Ireland believed that the "more fluid, less polar, circumstances" of post-Cold War international relations created opportunities for new coalitions, such as the New Agenda Coalition, of which Ireland is a member. As an example of the kind of success that such coalitions could attain, Anderson mentioned the NPT Review Conference last year where the New Agenda Coalition helped shape the Final Document, particularly the thirteen practical nuclear disarmament steps it set out. There could be other such coalitions, she said.

As for substantive issues, Ireland considered nuclear disarmament to lie "at the heart of the CD". It wanted a subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament and immediate negotiations on a treaty dealing with fissile materials. There was also "merit" in embarking on a process that would eventually lead to the non-weaponisation of space. If this topic was not addressed, Anderson believed, the military and political momentum behind space-weaponisation would get "to the point where it too would have to become the subject of a non-proliferation effort".9

Nassima Baghli summarised Algeria's views on nuclear disarmament. She recalled the unequivocal commitment the nuclear-weapon states undertook at the 2000 NPT Review Conference towards the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and called on them to honour their commitments. However, the "enthusiasm and promises" that had characterised that Conference had not been followed up with any action or progress. Algeria "deplored" the fact that the CD had not established an ad hoc committee with a clear nuclear disarmament negotiating mandate. It recalled the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons and believed that nuclear disarmament negotiations, the extension of nuclear-weapon-free zones and bringing the CTBT into force, as well as the universalisation of the NPT, would help in attaining the objective of full and final nuclear disarmament. Algeria was concerned about the lack of dialogue on the START process and the ABM Treaty.

Baghli spoke also on the question of nuclear deterrence and doctrines. Algeria found that the situation had "hardened" in April 1999 when "one military alliance" [NATO] had affirmed nuclear weapons as a component of its military doctrine. This was not in conformity with the NPT objectives. Algeria saw negotiations on fissile material as a way to strengthen the dynamics contained within the last Review Conference. However, to make the negotiations capable of delivering a real disarmament milestone, stocks, as well as production, of fissile material needed to be addressed. Algeria wanted an ad hoc committee to study the "ins and outs of these issues" as soon as possible, allowing a treaty to be completed "promptly". Finally, Baghli spoke in favour of a treaty on the non-militarisation of outer space. "A spirit of dialogue and open-mindedness" were needed so that the CD could start working on a programme of work.10


Having secured the mandate and completed the appointment of the three special coordinators, the CD broke for a summer recess of four weeks. It resumes its work on August 2 when it begins its third and final part of the 2001 session. The prospects for progress during the remaining weeks of this year's session are hard to gauge. Optimism would be unfounded, but the Conference has at least shown some signs of a willingness to look at itself in the mirror by appointing the special coordinators.

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. Camilo Reyes Rodriguez, Ambassador of Colombia to the CD, June 22, 2001. CD/PV.878.

2. Mario Maiolini, Ambassador of Italy to the CD, June 14, 2001. CD/PV.877.

3. Klaus Achenbach, Counsellor at the German Mission, June 14, 2001. CD/PV.877.

4. Anne Anderson, Ambassador of Ireland to the CD, June 28, 2001. CD/PV.879.

5. Nassima Baghli, Counsellor at the Algerian mission, June 28, 2001. CD/PV.879.

6. Murat Sungar, Ambassador of Turkey to the CD, June 22, 2001. CD/PV.878.

7. 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."

8. Carlos Amat Forés, Ambassador of Cuba to the CD, June 28, 2001. CD/PV.879.

9. Anne Anderson, Ambassador of Ireland to the CD, June 28, 2001. CD/PV.879.

10. Nassima Baghli, Counsellor at the Algerian mission, June 28, 2001. CD/PV.879.

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

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.