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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 59, July - August 2001

CD Update

Special Coordinators Report No Agreement as Session Nears End

By Jenni Rissanen

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) opened the third and final part of its annual session on August 2. No progress on agreeing a programme of work has been made this year, and prospects for a late breakthrough are dim. Meanwhile, three special coordinators - appointed on June 14 to hold informal consultations on the CD's agenda, functioning and membership - have reported no agreement so far on these items. With only two more weeks left before the Conference concludes its session on September 14, delegations have been discussing the possibility of having the three special coordinators continue their work early next year.

Cuba's Ambassador Carlos Amat Forés declared the CD's summer break over on August 2 and chaired the CD for the first two weeks of the month. Before handing over the CD presidency to Ecuador, Ambassador Amat Forés told the CD he had "no spectacular announcement", reconfirming that the Amorim proposal1 still enjoyed "a wide measure of support as the basis for continuing consultations" to reach agreement on a programme of work. Amat Forés had refrained from suggesting amendments to the proposal because introducing them "without any real prospects for success...would have been a step back instead of a step forward". He had tried to "advance some possible formulae for compromise with some major players", but found that there were "no conditions...to agree on a programme of work and move forward on substantive issues". While not wishing to "point accusing fingers", Amat Forés at the same time felt that the truth should not be concealed: certain key countries played "a leading role in the present situation", and that real progress in the CD depending largely on decisions taken by these countries outside the Conference.

Turning to the work of the three special coordinators, Amat Forés encouraged the next CD president, Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales of Ecuador, to consider including a recommendation in the CD's annual report enabling the three special coordinators to continue their work next year. Normally, the Conference would not take a position on such matters until the opening of the new annual session.

Amat Forés also spoke in a national capacity as the Cuban Ambassador. He told the CD that Cuba was concerned that the "inflexible positions of some countries" prevented the CD from making headway in nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Amat Forés also expressed wider concern about the rise of unilateralism, saying that "recent examples such as the case of the Kyoto Protocol, the preservation of the ABM Treaty, the Programme of Action of the UN Conference on Small Arms and Light Weapons, the negotiations on the Verification Protocol to the Convention on Biological Weapons among others" had illustrated "that unless we do something in time we will run the risk of allowing unilateralism based on power to prevail and carry the day in the world." For Cuba, multilateralism was of "key importance" and "should be preserved at all costs". Amat Forés warned against indifference, pointing to "the real possibility that some powerful countries might even feel comfortable taking decisions, which affect us all in the field of disarmament, outside the multilateral forum, particularly the Conference on Disarmament". Amat Forés felt that non-governmental organisations and the media played a role in this context: "international public opinion should be aware of the risks that we all run and [the fact that] we need to act in order to avoid them".2

Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales took over the CD presidency on August 20. Ecuador is presiding over the presidency for the first time since it was admitted to the CD in 1999. Betancourt Ruales said Ecuador had joined the CD believing that a nuclear weapons free world was "not only a dream but an urgent necessity", and in the hope that the Conference would "be able to take care of the security requirements of all states and especially safeguard the rights" of non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS). Betancourt Ruales told delegates that Ecuador supported "the intensification and irreversibility" of the nuclear disarmament process and had taken active part in the preparations of the Treaty of Tlatelolco that declared Latin America a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ).

Betancourt Ruales added that the CD had "a very clear mandate to promote and preserve international peace and security through the elimination of nuclear weapons and arms reduction and control". Speaking of a "climate of stagnation", he confessed he did not expect any changes in the near term, acknowledging that, to a great extent, the overall international strategic security situation "still appear[ed]... to determine progress towards any kind of consensus". Given the short time left before this year's session concludes, Betancourt Ruales believed the CD could only now hope to "prepare the ground" for next year. He would continue to seek for agreement on a programme of work, using the Amorim proposal as the basis for his consultations. Furthermore, as suggested by the previous CD president, he would try to ensure the continuation of the work of the three special coordinators. It was "evident", however, that this work could in "no way" replace the CD's main purpose of negotiating disarmament agreements.3


The Special Coordinator on the CD's Agenda, Ambassador Günther Seibert of Germany, reported on August 30 that - unsurprisingly, given the limited time available - his consultations had not yet lead to agreement. Nevertheless, Seibert characterised Conference's decision to tackle this issue as " an important step".

Seibert told the CD he had approached the agenda "from two angles: its function and content." He felt the agenda had "undergone a considerable loss of practical relevance", and that the relationship between the CD's proceedings and the agenda was weak. The agenda had not changed since 1992 when transparency in armaments was added, although attempts at further revisions had been made after the CD concluded the CTBT negotiations in 1996. Seibert had found "two schools of thought": one school was focused on getting agreement on the programme of work, regarding agenda reform as a lesser priority. It is understood that Israel and France had expressed reluctance to see any changes to the agenda. The other school continued to attach importance to the agenda, wanting to improve it.

In more detail, Seibert's consultations had addressed the relevance of the existing agenda items, the addition of items, and the proposal to change the agenda's structure to a more general, adaptable format. Overall, Seibert had found that delegations were happy retaining four items (items 1, 3, 4 and 7): nuclear disarmament, outer space, security assurances and transparency in armaments. As for the prevention of nuclear war (item 2), weapons of mass destruction (item 5), and comprehensive programme of disarmament (item 6), "a considerable number of delegations" had expressed doubts about their relevance. Some countries have also suggested the elimination of certain items. Italy has proposed the automatic elimination of items on which no proposals regarding the establishment of subsidiary bodies have been forthcoming for many years. For example, the agenda items "prevention of nuclear war and all related matters", and "new types and systems mass destruction armaments: radiological armaments" could be removed.4 As Seibert pointed out to delegates, however, each item on the current agenda still enjoyed some degree of support.

Possible new items mentioned in the consultations included conventional disarmament and regional disarmament. A large number of delegations had supported adding conventional disarmament to the list. Anti-personnel mines (APLs) and small arms had been discussed in this context. However, it is known that the states parties to the Ottawa Convention do not want to bring APLs into the CD since they regard the issue as properly belonging to the Convention. As expected, India reportedly opposed the inclusion of regional disarmament, favoured by Pakistan. Interest had also been expressed in discussing missiles in the CD. It was further proposed that the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) be established as a separate item. There was also a more general proposal - by Italy - to automatically include as agenda items relevant disarmament issues raised in consensus resolutions from the UN General Assembly. None of the proposals, Seibert noted, with the exception of regional disarmament, had met with "outright" refusal.

Seibert concluded by arguing that the agenda merited further intensified attention and recommended that the CD appoint a special coordinator to continue these efforts early next year.5

Improved and Effective Functioning

Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, who has been exploring ways and means to improve the CD's functioning, summarised the outcome of his far-ranging but inconclusive consultations. Kariyawasam believed that the June 14 decision to appoint a special coordinator on CD reform was "a manifestation" that the Conference agreed "in principle that there is a need and desire" to adopt measures to further improve the CD's functioning. Despite this, however, it seemed that "concrete decisions on any issue still [remained] elusive".

The Ambassador gave a detailed account of the specific issues he had discussed,6 noting general agreement - but not full consensus - on a number of matters. Delegations had generally agreed that the CD had not "made optimal use of mechanisms provided for it in the rules of procedure". There was a need to make wider and more frequent use of informal and open-ended consultations, although some also suggested the CD had not taken the fullest advantage of its plenary sessions. Further, delegations supported the appointment of Friends of the President, although these needed to be seen as distinct from the Special Coordinators. The involvement of the civil society had also been discussed. There had been "many different views and perceptions as to how NGO participation could be operationalised". Although no one had objected to NGO involvement, Kariyawasam said this could not be interpreted as "ready acceptance of unqualified participation of the NGOs".

Kariyawasam then identified a cluster of more difficult and contentious issues. These included the consensus rule; the annual adoption of the CD's agenda and programme of work; the group system; the establishment of new category of committees; the continuation of the work of existing subsidiary bodies; the automatic establishment of ad hoc committees on all agenda items; the tenure of the presidency; the annual report; the idea of a small group to study the CD's improved and effective functioning; and the establishment of a CD bureau.

Kariyawasam characterised the consensus rule as "by far the most focused as well as contentious issue" raised. At the heart of this matter is the question of whether the rule of consensus should apply only to matters of substance, as has been suggested by some, or to all matters, including procedural decisions. Some regarded the rule as "the bane" of the CD, believing it should at least be applied qualitatively and selectively, whereas other felt there was "no need for any change" because of the nature of the CD's work and the need to safeguard national interests. Germany, Indonesia, Egypt and Japan are believed to want to relax the rule so that consensus would not be needed when deciding procedural issues. However, other countries, including Myanmar (Burma), Russia, Iran and Pakistan reportedly still want to hold on the rule on all matters. Some argue that it would be difficult to distinguish between procedural and substantive matters. It is understood that Canada has suggested an alternative approach: if a country could not support a procedural decision, it would need to explain its position, thus preventing the country from 'hiding behind' their regional groups.

As for the group system itself, which has been criticised as outdated and providing cover for troublemakers, Kariyawasam noted that some member states had felt strongly the current system should be "more flexible and informal", allowing for the establishment of like-minded groups. But others, however, considered that the current system was "working well".

Kariyawasam had found "no apparent agreement" to change the practice of adopting the CD's agenda and work programme at the beginning of each year. Under the rules of procedure, the CD first adopts its agenda and then its programme of work at the beginning of each year. The informal consultations had reportedly explored the possibility of adopting the agenda and programme of work on a plurilateral basis. A related issue is the idea of allowing already-established subsidiary bodies to continue their work without requiring annual re-establishment. Countries such as Australia, Japan, Myanmar (Burma) and South Africa are believed to have argued that such bodies should continue to operate from year to year until they either complete their task or it becomes obvious the negotiations can not be brought to a successful conclusion. Ukraine argued for this approach on August 2. Stressing the time and energy invested in drafting a mandate for a subsidiary body, Ukraine said it was "vital" that the CD drop "the practice of annually reopening the same procedural discussions".7 Kariyawasam, however, observed that some delegations regarded this stance as "illogical" since the agenda and work programme had to be adopted each year.

Kariyawasam revealed that the tenure of the CD presidency, which currently rotates in an alphabetical order from member to member every four weeks, had been the subject of "lively discussion". Some delegations strongly favoured changing the system; others thought the rotating system was " fair and a necessary tool to keep delegations engaged" in the Conference's work. Kariyawasam had also discussed the CD's annual report - which delegates are due to start writing soon. A number of countries supported the idea of including a summary of the year's main issues, themes and initiatives, as expressed in plenary statements. Others resisted this, however, on the grounds that, since the CD already kept verbatim records from its plenary meetings, it would amount to "a duplication procedure".

Kariyawasam concluded by noting that "the reflection of the current geo-political climate on the CD as well as time constraints did not permit us to agree on any specific procedure" for the CD's improved and effective functioning. Nevertheless, there was "an overwhelming desire" to continue with this work next year. Thus, he supported the appointment of three new special coordinators early next year.8


Ambassador Petko Draganov of Bulgaria was appointed as the Special Coordinator on Expansion of the Membership. Like Seibert and Kariyawasam, Draganov was unable to bridge delegations' differences. Draganov said that after receiving feedback from almost half the Conference's delegations, he had discovered three camps on the expansion issue: most wanted a considerable expansion, some a limited expansion, and a few no expansion at all.

Despite these differences, there was "overwhelming support for a considerable expansion". Two-thirds of the delegations he had spoken with stood ready either to admit the current 22 applicant countries, or to favour "qualified universality". Italy, for example, has stated it is not opposed to the Conference's eventual universalisation.9

This strong majority felt that maintaining limited membership would be a mistake in the current impasse and would "perpetuate the [CD's] legitimacy crisis", whereas opening the Conference would "democratise" the institution and "pave the way for future disarmament negotiations inside the CD rather than...outside the CD framework". At the same time, several delegations had opposed a significant growth in member states, pointing out that the 1999 expansion had not helped the CD to overcome its current stalemate. This argument had been used also by those few countries who were "still not fully persuaded in the utility" of expanding the CD again. However, as Draganov noted, many delegations had stressed that there was no correlation between membership and performance. The remaining delegations - understood to include Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia - preferred expanding the CD by 5-15 countries, using objective criteria such as date of application and balanced regional representation. Draganov said that other criteria had also been suggested: interest and capacity to participate in the CD's work, contribution to disarmament and the applicant's treaty implementation record. However, the option of limited expansion was "complicated" because of the difficulty in agreeing the selection criteria. Draganov feared that the question of criteria would "lead into an indefinite delay" because it would be impossible to accommodate all the divergent views.

Draganov concluded that regardless of a "strong determination...to reach a durable and even a definitive solution" on the issues, there was "no consensus on any of the four options" at the moment. Saying that the CD's expansion was "a dynamic process" requiring further work, Draganov asked delegations to consider his report as an "interim report". He recommended that the CD reappoint a coordinator on the issue early next year.10

Plenary Statements

Ukraine addressed itself to a range of nuclear disarmament issues on the opening day (August 2). Mykhailo Skuratovskyi said the decision by his country - whose nuclear arsenal was the third largest in the world after the break-up of the Soviet Union - to renounce nuclear weapons could "serve as an example of great moral significance and political courage to be followed". The nuclear disarmament process in Ukraine was due to be completed by December. Skuratovskyi highlighted the constructive role of the ABM Treaty during the last three decades, noting that Ukraine had ratified the Memorandum of Understanding on the treaty last December. The national security review by the United States, he believed, "should not lead to a deterioration of the global strategic stability situation and resumption of the arms race". Skuratovskyi reaffirmed Ukraine's commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, attaching special importance to the thirteen practical nuclear disarmament steps agreed at the May 2000 NPT Review Conference. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was "rightfully regarded as another key element in the architecture of strategic stability and a major complementary effort to non-proliferation", as well as constituting "standing proof" of the CD's continued relevance. The Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty was another priority to Ukraine, which was convinced it would bring "valuable security benefits" both to nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states. Thus, Ukraine considered it "discouraging" to see that the negotiations on an FMCT had still not progressed. This, Skuratovskyi felt, was due to a lack of necessary confidence. Despite these frustrations, the CD retained an "undeniable role" in promoting nuclear disarmament.11

In the wake of various US moves during the last weeks, including President Bush's unequivocal statement of intent to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, China made a strong intervention in favour of multilateralism on August 30. Referring to various setbacks in the international arms control and disarmament efforts, such as the "undeserved challenges" presented to the CTBT and the BWC Protocol, and apparent plans to introduce weapons into space, China felt it necessary to present its "guiding principles and basic positions" on international peace and security.

Ambassador Hu Xiaodi told the CD that the main purpose of China's foreign policy was to "safeguard world peace and promote common development". China desired world affairs to be handled "by the governments and peoples of all countries through consultations based on equality, and solved through multilateral collective efforts". Hu said "unilateralism [would] come to no avail". Surely referring to the US plans for missile defence, Hu said that although countries had the right to look after their security interests, "none should do it at the expense" of others. There was a need to "set up a new security concept of multilateral cooperation and collective security...with a view to promoting multi-polarisation". In fact, Hu made mention of a series of new concepts: a new security concept with mutual trust, disarmament and cooperative security as "key content"; a new type of international relationship of partnership but no alliances; and a new model of regional cooperation for both big and small countries. Hu told the CD that on June 16 China had established, together with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the "Shanghai Cooperative Organisation", an organisation that promoted across-the-board cooperation without alliances, confrontation or targeting of any other countries or organisations.

Hu listed the measures that China considered were of "utmost importance" for arms control and disarmament: the preservation of strategic stability; upholding existing treaty regimes; not introducing weapons into outer space; and the promotion of complete prohibition and thorough destruction of WMD while preventing their proliferation and the spread of their means of delivery. Hu specifically raised the case of the ABM Treaty, calling on countries to "urge" the United States and Russia to "honour the integrity and effectiveness of that treaty, and to advocate under the premise of upholding and abiding by the ABM Treaty to further reduce offensive strategic weapons". Hu believed that what was most needed in the current circumstances was "perseverance, solidarity and unrelenting efforts". This was "the only way" to bring arms control and disarmament "back to their correct course". As for the CD, it needed to take "resolute measures" to conclude an international treaty aimed at preventing the weaponisation of outer space. China supported the Russian work programme proposal of May 30: to start "dealing with" nuclear disarmament and to commence both FMCT and PAROS negotiations.12


Having languished in virtual stalemate for the last six years, the CD is close to having to admit defeat for yet another session. Having no programme of work, the Conference's major achievement in 2001 seems set to be the appointment of the special coordinators. With this step, the CD at least proved capable of taking a look at itself in the mirror. Unsurprisingly, the special coordinators have not yet been able to inspire any actual reform. It remains to be seen whether the Conference will agree to their reappointment next year. With only two weeks of this year's session left, the CD is now only left with drafting its report.

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. Carlos Amat Forés, CD president and Ambassador of Cuba, August 16, 2001. CD/PV.882.

3. Roberto Betancourt Ruales, CD president and Ambassador of Ecuador, August 23, 2001. CD/PV.883.

4. Mario Maiolini, Ambassador of Italy, August 2, 2001. CD/PV.880.

5. Günther Seibert, Special Coordinator on the Agenda of the Conference on Disarmament and Ambassador of Germany, August 30, 2001. CD/PV.885.

6. To read a more detailed account of the results of his consultations, please see CD Bulletin of August 28 at http://www.acronym.org.uk/cd/index.htm.

7. Mykhailo Skuratovskyi, Head of the Ukrainian delegation to the CD, August 2, 2001.CD/PV.880.

8. Prasad Kariyawasam, Special Coordinator on Improved and Effective Functioning of the Conference on Disarmament and Ambassador of Sri Lanka, August 28, 2001. CD/PV.884.

9. Mario Maiolini, Ambassador of Italy, August 2, 2001. CD/PV.880.

10. Peter Kolarov, Minister Plenipotentiary, on behalf of, Petko Draganov, the Special Coordinator on Expansion of the Membership of the Conference on Disarmament and Ambassador of Bulgaria, August 30, 2001. CD/PV.885.

11. Mykhailo Skuratovskyi, Head of the Ukrainian delegation to the CD, August 2, 2001.CD/PV.880.

12. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China, August 30, 2001. CD/PV.885.

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

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.