Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
back to the acronym home page
WMD Possessors
About Acronym

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 60, September 2001

CD Update

Annual Session Ends In Shadow of Attacks in US

By Jenni Rissanen


The Conference on Disarmament (CD) concluded its 2001 session on September 13 in unusual and sombre circumstances, hearing numerous interventions condemning the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and expressing deep sympathy with the victims. The CD's failure to adopt a work programme and commence disarmament negotiations was overshadowed by the atrocities in New York and Washington. Since negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Conference has now spent six years mired in a state of virtual stalemate. This year, however, it did at least begin to appoint three special coordinators to begin discussions on updating its agenda, improving its working methods and expanding its membership. The CD has recommended that these discussions continue next year.

CD Concludes Work for 2001

Some thirty countries addressed the Conference's 888th plenary on September 13, all vehemently condemning the terrorist attacks and expressing shock and sorrow over the immense loss of life. Some delegations argued that the events served as a wake-up call to the CD to get back to the serious work of making a contribution to world peace and security.

Many of the statements emphasized that the attacks were directed not only against the United States but the whole of humanity. CD members pledged their support in fighting terrorism and bringing the people responsible for the atrocities to justice. A number of countries also stressed the importance of multilateral cooperation in combating terrorism and argued that the CD had a role to play in this fight. Russia condemned the "barbaric acts" and pointed out - probably in reference to the activities of the rebels in Chechnya - that it had "repeatedly" appealed for international cooperation in combating terrorism.1 Japan said the incidents reminded the world of the importance of cooperation, asserting that effective prevention of such outrages could only be achieved through joint efforts. The work of the CD was "not irrelevant" in this context. Japan felt the Conference had to overcome its differences and get down to work early next year. This would be the "best way...to pay respect to the victims of the recent incident".2 It agreed with Australia and New Zealand, who held that the attacks "underscore[d] the opportunities we have missed by not proceeding on the basis of what we all know to best achievable way forward, namely the Amorim package". The Amorim proposal, put forward in August 2000 by the then CD President, Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil, sets out the basis of a programme of work addressing a range of issues including negotiation of a treaty banning the production of fissile material (fissban).3 Those who stood so steadfastly against this programme, Australia and New Zealand argued, must surely question "the wisdom of that posture". The two states further said it would be "unconscionable" for the Conference to return next year and not get down to work "with a sense of urgency".4 Switzerland was of the same opinion, arguing that the CD should "be inspired by those events" and "draw fresh breath" so that "something positive [could] come out of these tragic" incidents.5

The CD adopted its yearly report to the UN General Assembly during this final plenary. CD President, Ambassador Roberto Betancourt Ruales of Ecuador, made his final remarks before closing the session, stating that efforts henceforth should be focussed "at a higher political level if we are to endeavour to bring the [CD] out of its state of paralysis". He noted that all members "clearly aspire to the attainment of peace and security", but added that these goals were "being moved further away...by disturbing phenomena in the strategic panorama and by the escalation of violence and terror, which has reached an unprecedented level". He believed the recent attacks on the United States would lead the Conference to "reflect on the need for the [CD] to establish, as soon as possible, more effective measures to ensure international peace and security, thus banishing the spectre of nuclear annihilation".6

Statements and Farewells

In the final weeks of the session, the CD heard two general statements, from India and the United States. A number of interventions were made to highlight issues related to the Ottawa Landmine Convention. In addition, four Ambassadors - from Brazil, Britain, Germany and the United States - bade farewell to the CD.

Speaking on September 4, United States Ambassador Robert Grey responded to a August 30 statement by China.7 Grey said China had spoken of the ABM Treaty as it was "holy writ and perhaps a holy relic". In contrast, the United States believed that the Treaty had become "a relic" that had no place in today's post-Cold War world. Instead, what was needed was "a new security framework". Grey argued that the world needed to "move beyond MAD [mutually assured destruction] and continue to make substantial reductions in the number of offensive weapons". He further argued that yesterday's doctrines would not rid the world of nuclear weapons, the goal to which the five nuclear-weapons states (NWS) had committed themselves in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

While recognizing that missile defence would have "significant implications for China" and others, Grey found it difficult to understand why defensive measures should be regarded as threatening. Referring to the UN Charter and its "inherent right of self-defence", Grey argued that no one, including China, could "take that right away". Self-defence was, moreover, closely associated with the principles of peaceful settlement of disputes and non-use of force. Unless a country was contemplating the use of force, it had nothing to fear from a missile defence system. The solution "to all this is not to try to curtail the right others to defend themselves" but to "agree once and for all that the dispute in question will be resolved by peaceful means". Grey reiterated that the system the United States was planning was not directed against China or Russia and would not be able to withstand an attack involving large numbers of missiles. Furthermore, missile defence was nothing new: Patriot missiles had been used against Scud missiles in the Gulf War and many countries had long possessed the capacity to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range missiles in a battlefield environment. There were broader capabilities now that could ensure the protection of an entire region or theatre.

Turning to the deadlock in the CD, Grey believed that the questions of missile defence and the ABM Treaty did not provide "a valid or even a plausible reason" for obstructing negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). Grey said that although missile defence was not on the CD's agenda, it had been linked to the item on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) through "procedural manoeuvres". But proposals to negotiate an outer space treaty could not "possibly bear fruit unless and until there is a convincing demonstration that collective security and mutual restraint in outer space can be best achieved by seeking to negotiate some new legal instrument". This demonstration would have to prove that such a treaty "would actually prove effective in practice", with reliable means to verify compliance. Notwithstanding these doubts, the United States was ready to support the establishment of an ad hoc committee to "conduct exploratory discussions" on outer space issues, as well as a similar committee on nuclear disarmament, provided there were "active and ongoing negotiations" on an FMCT.8

Also addressing the September 4 plenary, Ambassador Rakesh Sood of India expressed concern that there were "no positive signs on the horizon to dispel our growing collective pessimism" and cited recent developments, such as the failure to agree a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), as a threat to multilateral disarmament negotiations.

Supporting the position collectively put forward by the non-aligned Group of 21 (G-21), India expressed its preference for an ad hoc committee to commence negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) setting out a phased programme to rid the world of nuclear weapons within a specified framework of time. India could also accept the Amorim proposal for the establishment of a committee that would "at least" begin work on nuclear disarmament. In addition, Sood said India supported the establishment of an ad hoc committee to negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material. With regard to PAROS, India supported the G-21 position of establishing an ad hoc committee with a mandate that "at least enable[s] us to begin work on substantive aspects of this agenda item".

Addressing the root causes for the CD's deadlock, Sood characterised the impasse as a result of "inflexible positions of a few delegations that have prevented agreement" on nuclear disarmament and outer space. Thus, the focus of work had turned to the work of the three special coordinators appointed in June to hold consultations on the CD's agenda, membership and working methods. However, Sood believed that "tinkering with procedural matters will not get us far in resolving the current impasse. The disarmament agenda is in a state of flux generated by certain unilateral decisions, some bilateral adjustments and a few club-based pluralistic arrangements, that threaten the very edifice of multilateral negotiation process the CD stands for". Sood concluded by arguing that, despite attempts to address some issues outside the CD, the Conference remained the right venue because it offered "more space than any other forum for official multilateral dialogue on issues of concern".9

The Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Landmines (APL) prompted a number of interventions on September 11. Ambassador Jean Lint of Belgium, co-Chair of the Standing Committee on the Convention's Status and General Functioning, briefed the CD on the growing support commanded by the accord. Chile had just become the 120th state party. Four more countries - Algeria, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Turkey - were expected to join soon. Lint noted that although 31 CD member states had either acceded or ratified of the Convention, 25 remained outside. As for implementation, Bulgaria, Spain, Malaysia, Slovakia and Zimbabwe had destroyed their stockpiles since the last meeting of states parties took place in Geneva in September 2000, bringing to 28 the number of states parties to have done so. Such progress, in Lint's estimation, was establishing a firm international standard, reinforced by the fact that the trade in APLs had virtually ceased, while the production of new mines - with only 14 producers left worldwide - had been significantly reduced. Most encouragingly, the number of victims was falling. Lint invited all CD members to attend the third annual meeting of the states parties, in Managua, Nicaragua, on September 18-21.10 A number of countries, including Algeria, Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Norway and Peru joined Lint in stressing the Convention's role and importance.

Britain's Ambassador Ian Soutar bade farewell to the CD on September 11. Soutar said he had enjoyed being a member of the 'CD Club' dedicated to the pursuit of multilateral disarmament measures. However, he was disappointed that his four years in Geneva had been a "fallow period" in the Conference's history. Soutar expressed particular dissatisfaction that his investment in learning about fissile material issues had "borne no practical rewards". Nevertheless, Soutar drew some consolation from the fact that he had contributed in "keeping the engine...well oiled and ticking against the day when, we all hope, it will be possible once more to step on the accelerator." Soutar shared some of his thoughts on what was required for the CD to pick up speed again. There was a need for "transparency in relationships" in the Conference, as the Conference's effective functioning required a high level of credibility and predictability. In addition, Soutar stressed the virtue of patience and, even if one thinks one has heard a point of view before, a "willingness to keep talking, long after bedtime if need be".11

On September 14, United States Ambassador Robert Grey said he was leaving public life after serving in the diplomatic service for 41 years. Like Soutar, Grey did not hide his disappointment about his four years in Geneva, saying that he had found them "exceedingly frustrating" from a professional perspective. During the past three years, the CD had done "nothing that would justify its existence", and it was "highly problematic" whether the CD would carry out useful work in the future. Grey was confident that arms control would still continue to be negotiated - but perhaps elsewhere. The time had come "for those who have tied this body in knots to decide whether or not they want to be part of that process". Assuring his audience that the United States took its disarmament responsibilities under the NPT "very seriously", Grey noted that only fifteen countries currently appointed full-time CD ambassadors. This number would be sure to diminish even further if the CD remained deadlocked. Governments, Grey argued, simply would not "send first-rate people to twiddle their thumbs in a moribund institution". The CD must grasp the opportunity to get down to real work by adopting the Amorim proposal. Otherwise, "the business of disarmament will shift to other venues".12

German Ambassador Günther Seibert also bowed out on September 13. Joining the Conference in 1997, shortly after it had produced "some of the finest achievements of its history" - the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the CTBT - Seibert had been convinced that it would soon produce another vital disarmament instrument, an FMCT. Like many others in the CD, Seibert said he did not believe the Conference's problems could be solved by merely improving its working methods and upgrading its agenda. However, Seibert - who was appointed as Special Coordinator on the CD's agenda in June this year - did argue that the working methods and outdated agenda had contributed to the present deadlock, pointing in particular to the "all-or-nothing approach of a comprehensive and balance program of work" and the current group system. Despite the current problems, Seibert did not believe that the CD had outlived its days, expressing the view that "its greatest tasks may still lie ahead".13

In his September 13 farewell remarks, Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil noted that the CD's third year of deadlock was "more than a bad signal", indicating that the Conference was not only failing in its mission to negotiate disarmament treaties but also failing to respond to the calls made at the 2000 NPT Review Conference to start negotiations on a fissile material treaty and to establish subsidiary bodies to deal with nuclear disarmament and PAROS. Amorim said Brazil was "concerned at the uncertainty regarding" the implementation of the Final Document adopted at that Conference. Looking back on the CD's struggles this year, Amorim said that while he was honoured his proposal for a programme of work would remain as a reference point in the deliberations ahead, the mere fact the Conference was still discussing his suggestions was evidence of its "collective failure". Amorim said he remained convinced that "with the right attitude", delegations could act upon the proposed programme of work in a way that would benefit all member states. The failure of other multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation processes made Brazil question whether the whole multilateral system was "evolving - or not evolving". Brazil believed that multilateral cooperation was the "only sure path to a stable and secure international system".14

The Year in Review

The 2001 session began work in January under the presidency of Canadian Ambassador Christopher Westdal. The Conference was addressed by Pakistan's Foreign Secretary, Minister Inam ul Haque, on January 25, and by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on February 1. Despite this high-level opening, it was clear that expectations for agreement on a work programme were low. With the new Republican administration taking office in the United States, it was widely expected that US plans for a national missile defence system would come into even sharper international focus, tightening further the knot tangling the PAROS and fissban issues in the CD.

Early discussions on possible modifications to the Amorim proposal revealed some demand for strengthening the proposal's call for the establishment of an ad hoc committee to "deal with" nuclear disarmament. By the fourth week, New Zealand and South Africa, both members of the New Agenda Coalition instrumental in negotiating the thirteen practical nuclear disarmament steps agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference15, suggested that the mandate be bolstered. The two countries, supported by a number of other delegations, felt that the Amorim mandate "to exchange information and views on practical steps for progressive and systematic efforts to attain this objective" was "far from perfect" and "significantly weaker" than the Review Conference had intended.

Regardless of calls by New Zealand, South Africa, the European Union and others to start implementing the 2000 NPT Final Document's CD-related paragraphs, setting up a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament and an ad hoc committee to negotiate a fissban treaty seemed no closer. Instead, China and the United States reaffirmed their respective positions on the CD's work programme. China repeated its call for negotiations on PAROS and the United States held that outer space issues were "not ripe" for negotiations, whereas FMCT negotiations were long overdue. While the US was ready to accept the Amorim proposal's formulation for "organized discussion" on outer space issues, this did not satisfy China's insistence on PAROS negotiations. Furthermore, the overall tension in relations between the new US administration and Beijing was beginning to show, with each side blaming the other for the logjam in the Conference.

With the realisation kicking in that it was unlikely the CD could make headway in agreeing on a work programme over the coming months, the discussion soon began turning to what useful work the CD could do in the meantime. However, some CD members, including New Zealand and South Africa, quickly registered their hesitance about engaging in work that fell short of actual negotiations. China also urged a focus on substantive issues. Some other delegations, however, argued that with current negative realities prevailing, the CD should at least do what it can. Germany, Italy, and Myanmar (Burma) put forward proposals for what became known as 'complementary activities'. Germany suggested reviewing the CD's agenda and establishing special coordinators on key aspects of the CD's reform. Myanmar (Burma) wanted to hold 'structured debates' on the substantive issues on the CD's agenda to increase the exchange of views and pave the way for agreement on a work programme. Italy proposed that the CD adopt a 'piccolo work programme' to begin deliberations on the less contentious items on the CD's agenda while continuing the search for agreement on nuclear disarmament, fissban and PAROS.

The calls for complementary action bore fruit a month into the second part of the CD session (May 14-June 29) when the Conference took its first decision of any importance for three years: the appointment of three special coordinators on the CD's agenda, functioning and membership. The June 14 decision was engineered by the CD President, Colombian Ambassador Camilo Reyes Rodriquez. A week later, delegations 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.

Meanwhile, however, there was no progress to report on the search for a programme of work. China and Russia had pressed further for negotiations on outer space. Russia advocated the establishment of two ad hoc committees, on nuclear disarmament - the first time Moscow had signalled its acceptance of such a body - and outer space, with the latter mandated to "deal with" PAROS and negotiate "with a view to reaching agreement on a regime capable of preventing an arms race in outer space."16 China submitted a working paper on "Possible Elements of the Future International Legal Instrument on the Prevention of the Weaponization of Outer Space", outlining the main elements China envisages such an instrument containing.17

Growing frustration over the stalemate led some countries to consider the merits of conducting work outside the CD. The Netherlands proposed in May that the Geneva delegations hold preparatory consultations on a fissban treaty outside the Conference until such time as the CD is able to take the issue in earnest. The Dutch initiative envisaged preparing, facilitating and enhancing work on the topic through regular open-ended meetings on a continuous basis. However, regardless of Dutch assurances that they did not want to begin actual negotiations outside the CD, the initiative met with resistance from a number of countries, notably China and Pakistan, who declined to take part in a well-attended informal meeting to discuss the proposal on May 16. Undaunted, the Dutch continued their consultations throughout the summer and, generally encouraged by the response, are expected to reintroduce the suggestion next year if the CD again fails to agree on a work programme.

The consultations of the three special coordinators featured prominently in the third and final part of the session (July 30-September 14). All three coordinators reported that although their discussions had been useful, time had not permitted them to secure agreement on any action.18 The CD included a recommendation in its yearly report to re-establish the three posts again next year.


With the exception of a brief period in 1998 when the CD established an ad hoc committee on fissban, the Conference has now been effectively unemployed for six long years. In the current context of general turmoil and uncertainty for multilateral arms control and disarmament efforts, it seems likely that further barren sessions may lie ahead. As a result, there is talk - although no one has said this openly - of cutbacks in CD delegations, including possible withdrawals of disarmament ambassadors, until a more promising era dawns. Such a downgrading would no doubt provide evidence of the CD's malaise and undermine the CD, although perhaps not any more than the current deplorable situation. This malaise, however, is symptomatic of a deeper illness, the causes of which can neither be located nor cured at Geneva.

CD Dates for 2002

January 21 to March 29; May 13 to June 28; July 29 to September 13.

Notes and References

1. Anatoly Antonov, Minister Plenipotentiary and Deputy Head of Delegation of Russia to the CD, September 13, 2001. CD/PV.888.

2. Seicchiro Noburo, Ambassador of Japan to the CD, September 13, 2001. CD/PV.888.

3. 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."

4. Lesley Luck, Ambassador of Australia to the CD, September 13, 2001. CD/PV.888.

5. Christian Faessler, Ambassador of Switzerland to the CD, September 13, 2001. CD/PV.888.

6. Roberto Betancourt Ruales, Ambassador of Ecuador and CD President, September 13, 2001. CD/PV.888.

7. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China, August 30, 2001. CD/PV.885. See 'CD Update', Disarmament Diplomacy No. 59 (July/August 2001).

8. Robert Grey, Ambassador of the United States to the CD, September 4, 2001. CD/PV.886.

9. Rakesh Sood, Ambassador of India to the CD, September 4, 2001. CD/PV.886.

10. Jean Lint, Ambassador of Belgium to the CD, September 11, 2001. CD/PV887. See Documents and Sources in this issue for coverage of the Managua meeting.

11. Ian Soutar, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the CD, September 11, 2001. CD/PV.887.

12. Robert Grey, Ambassador of the United States to the CD, September 14, 2001. CD/PV.888.

13. Günther Seibert, Ambassador of Germany to the CD, September 14, 2001. CD/PV.888.

14. Celso Amorim, Ambassador of Brazil to the CD, September 14, 2001. CD/PV.888.

15. For analysis of the Review Conference, and the full text of the plan of action included in the Final Document, see Rebecca Johnson, 'The 2000 NPT Review Conference: a Delicate, Hard-Won Compromise,' Disarmament Diplomacy No. 46, May 2000.

16. CD/1644.

17. CD/1645.

18. For a detailed account of the special coordinators' reports, please see the CD Bulletins of August 28 and 30 available on our website at http://www.acronym.org.uk/cd.

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

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.