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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 86, Cover design by Calvert's Press, Photo by Rebecca JohnsonDisarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 86, Autumn 2007

New Impetus, Old Excuses - Report on the Conference on Disarmament in 2007

Michael Hamel-Green

For some ten years the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has been "negotiating about negotiating" - deadlocked procedurally despite having adopted a mandate in 1995 to negotiate a fissile materials treaty. The last substantive CD negotiations were on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which concluded in 1996.

Apart from a few weeks in 1998, year after year the CD has failed to reach the unanimous consensus required under its strict rules of procedure. In the final plenary of its 2007 session, Brazil's Ambassador Carlos Paranhos likened CD delegates' work to the fate of Sisyphus in Greek mythology: "rolling a stone again and again to the top of the mountain and letting it fall down on its own weight".[1] This year the stone was again rolled to the top and the CD teetered on the brink of adopting a programme of work. Though it did not succeed in establishing formal negotiations, progress was made, and achieving the final breakthrough will now be the task of the new "P6" - the six conference presidents who will be responsible for leading the Conference in 2008. In accordance with the CD's convention of alphabetical rotation, these are the ambassadors of: Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Venezuela.

So close....

The 2007 CD came closer than ever to reaching consensus. By the end of the year all but three of the 65 member states had agreed on a compromise programme advanced by the 2007 presidents (South Africa, Sri Lanka, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Syria).

Their carefully crafted proposal (dubbed "L1" after its CD reference number) called for immediate negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for weapons, variously referred to as a fissile material treaty (FMT), fissban or fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), depending on political perspective. Such a treaty has long been viewed as the next - and increasingly urgent - step in global efforts to prevent further nuclear weapon proliferation and a renewed nuclear arms race. The L1 proposal also called for substantive discussions on three other "core" measures: prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS); negative security assurances (NSA); and nuclear disarmament and the prevention of nuclear war.[2]

So how did the CD come so close to a substantive work programme and yet fail to agree? And what was achieved in 2007 that might finally bring a breakthrough next year?

Keeping in mind the enormous challenge of having to reach consensus between 65 states, big, and small, North and South, East and West, nuclear and non-nuclear, potential success depends critically on many things: the international environment, attitudes and policies in the capitals, diplomatic skills of the delegates and conference presidents, and the CD's own formal and informal ways of doing business.

A major breakthrough occurred when US Ambassador Christina Rocca declared that, despite reservations, the US would "not stand in the way of consensus on the P-6 proposal", adding that "After all the wasted years of fighting over a procedural mechanism, you and your fellow presidents have presented us a way forward. This proposal perfectly fits the definition of compromise in that there is something in it for everyone not to like. In this regard, if the CD cannot agree to this compromise, we do not believe it will ever be able to break out of its stalemate".[3] This was particularly significant, in view of the Bush Administration's previously selective and generally antagonistic attitude towards multilateralism and disarmament. Widely regarded as an important factor in enabling the CD to move so close to agreement, a much more experienced and constructive team has replaced the inexperienced, politically naive appointees on the US delegation during the first part of President Bush's tenure in the White House, a widely welcomed and encouraging development for the whole conference. In addition to engaging more constructively, the US has put more effort into explaining its positions.

In earlier periods of CD drought, the positions of one or more of the major nuclear powers, particularly the United States, were usually central to the problem. Though US positions on PAROS and its advocacy of a simple, no-verification FMCT are still a factor, the principal opposition to the L1 proposal has come from two other nuclear weapon possessors, China and Pakistan, together with a third state, Iran, which appears to be taking an initial step towards nuclear weapon capability by developing its own uranium enrichment facilities. Each of these three countries indicated that they were not ready to agree to the L1 proposal, although none excluded the possibility of accepting it at a later date. A fourth country, Israel, has avoided making any direct declaration of opposition to L1, but is known to be concerned about fissban negotiations going ahead.

All the remaining CD delegations (including Britain and Russia) either clearly supported the proposal or, like the United States and France, said that, notwithstanding reservations they might have, it was a reasonable compromise and they would not oppose it. Though some, like Egypt, continued to express reservations, the main concerns of many NAM countries when the L1 proposal was first put forward in March were allayed by a Complementary Presidential Statement (CRP5)[4] which clarified the P6 understanding that the proposed programme would not "prejudice any past, present or future position" of any country, would not set any "preconditions for the negotiations", and would not "preclude any outcomes for the substantive discussions" (such as the "possibility of future negotiations under any agenda item"). Combined with a linking document (CRP6)[5] that would give Conference approval for "implementation" of L1 to be guided by the Presidential Statement, these are understood to mean that there is nothing stopping either (a) substantive negotiation of such contested issues as verification, existing stockpiles, and entry into force in the context of the fissban; or (b) the proposed substantive discussions on PAROS, NSAs and nuclear disarmament proceeding on to actual negotiations in subsequent years.

Cooperation among Presidents

Though changes in the international environment set some of the parameters for what was possible at the CD, the fact that the CD came so close to achieving consensus in 2007 was due in no small part to some innovative changes in its own processes and approaches over the last two years. These in turn were the result of the skilful and determined efforts of recent presidents, with particularly noteworthy initiatives undertaken by Poland's Ambassador Zdzislaw Rapacki in 2006, and in 2007 by Ambassadors Glaudine Mtshali of South Africa, Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier (Sweden) and Jürg Streuli (Switzerland), who conducted many of the intensive consultations with individual delegations.

Rapacki, as the first president of 2006, held some 350 meetings before the CD opened. Out of these came the suggestion that the six designated presidents for the year should meet regularly and coordinate a common approach with the aim of developing an achievable presidents' "platform" for substantive work. Rapacki and the other 2006 presidents enlisted the support of "Friends of the President" to facilitate structured discussions. This pushing at the boundaries of CD convention and practice was widely (but not universally) welcomed as paving the way for substantive work on a range of disarmament issues encompassed by the agenda. The coordination provided greater coherence and continuity, in marked contrast with the past. Previously, with the presidency rotating every four working weeks or so, each president had tended to work individually and then pass the baton onto to the next one. With little influence beyond their own short incumbency, the default practice was to hold their own round of consultations with delegations and repeat the same working methods that had failed the CD already - little more than a ritualistic going through the motions in many cases.

The P6 ambassadors who held the presidency in 2006 put their experience of working together in a "P6 Vision Paper".[6] They also met together with the incoming 2007 presidents to share their experience and promote continuity. The Vision Paper noted the value of achieving "coherence and continuity of all CD President's activities", arranging for structured debates on all agenda items, and involving experts. It warned, however, that the conference could not just go on remaking decisions; it needed to move on to actual negotiations on those issues that were mature for such negotiations. It also suggested extending the time for focused structural discussions rather than limiting them to one week per agenda item.

Fortunately for the CD, the tenacious and astute South African ambassador, Glaudine Mtshali, was the first president of 2007. In the intersessional period between the 2006 and 2007 CD sessions, she drew from her predecessors' experiences and persuaded her fellow five presidents not only to continue the cooperative P6 approach developed in 2006, but to extend and build upon it in a number of very effective ways.

Following a marathon round of consultations with all delegations (starting during the first Committee in October 2006), Ambassador Mtshali gained support for the P6 to designate coordinators for each of the seven substantive areas on the CD agenda, and having the discussions run concurrently and with greater duration over a period of weeks. This replaced the previous pattern of consecutive discussions on agenda items limited to just a week or so. The idea was to have a kind of race or competition that would test which subjects generated the greatest interest and most detailed proposals. This in turn would be a guide as to which of the CD agenda items were most likely to be mature enough for immediate negotiation and/or substantive discussions.

As the Coordinators' reports revealed, the fissban came out first, with PAROS not far behind, NSA in third place, and the remaining 'competitors' strung out behind. (This is not to devalue the importance of the unplaced entries but merely to say that, within the consensus rule context, the level of interest, or number of delegations showing interest, was insufficient to carry the other proposals forward as feasible negotiation-stage or near-negotiation-stage topics). The concrete outcome of the various consultations and innovations was the presidents' L1 Proposal put forward on March 25, 2007.

The hold-out states

Despite the positive response of most delegations and the presidential statements of assurance that issues such as verification and stockpiles could be addressed in fissban negotiations, Pakistan, Iran and China have continued to obstruct agreement on the P6 proposal for CD work.

In Pakistan's case, there are evident concerns that a cut-off treaty would leave it the most strategically disadvantaged of the nuclear weapon possessors, since it has relatively small stocks of fissile materials (approximately 1.3 tonnes of highly enriched uranium and 0.064 tonnes of plutonium compared to 0.52 tonnes of highly enriched uranium and 5.92 tonnes of plutonium possessed by India).[7] Its concerns have been further aggravated by the US-India nuclear deal.

In theory, Pakistan should gain some benefit from India being capped, but it appears to take the view that a non-verified treaty would be no constraint on India and that the proposed US-India agreement will give India access to greater fissile stocks for its weapons, through loopholes and through the increase to its overall supply of fissile material. One particular loophole may be whether India allows its thorium and fast breeder reactor programmes to be covered by IAEA safeguards.

Ambassador Masood Khan noted in a statement to the final 2007 session that Pakistan had "serious and substantive concerns" over L1, following an interdepartmental review of the issues that included consideration by Pakistan's National Command Authority (NCA, chaired by President Pervez Musharraf).[8] The August 2007 NCA statement emphasized that the proposed US-India nuclear agreement "would have implications on strategic stability as it would enable India to produce significant quantities of fissile material and nuclear weapons from unsafeguarded nuclear reactors", and that strategic stability would have been "better served if the US had considered a package approach for Pakistan and India...with a view to preventing a nuclear arms race in the region".[9] In relation to CD negotiations, the NCA statement went on to "reiterate Pakistan's position in favour of a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally verifiable treaty, taking into account the security concerns of all states". This did not directly rule out agreeing to CD negotiations, but Khan foreshadowed that Pakistan wanted to pursue further consultations to seek a CD work programme mandate that would explicitly refer to the aim of negotiating an "effectively verifiable" FMT and to the "possibility of taking up...the scope of the treaty and the existing stocks of fissile material" and giving "equal and balanced treatment" to all of the four core issues.

One reading of Pakistan's position suggested by the NCA statement's linkage of the "strategic implications" of the proposed US-India nuclear deal to Pakistan's position on fissban negotiations is that Pakistan's leadership is seeking a bargaining chip with the United States to secure a similar nuclear agreement. Even so, Pakistan's concerns about the US-India nuclear deal and scepticism about the adequacy, applicability and effectiveness of safeguards, are shared by others. Due to the widespread nature of such concerns, advance assurances from Washington that it would be prepared at least to discuss verification questions would be helpful. Since the US-India nuclear cooperation proposal has created a further rationale or excuse for Pakistan to veto CD negotiations, it would seem particularly incumbent on the US to use its considerable diplomatic influence to bring Pakistan on board.

Further, in October 2007, the Indian Prime Minister indicated that the proposed deal had been indefinitely deferred due to opposition within the Indian Government's own ruling coalition.[10] If the deal was Pakistan's principal concern, then there would now seem to be far less excuse for Pakistan to hold up CD FMCT negotiations.

The second hold-out state, Iran, is insisting on the need for the CD work programme to specify simultaneous negotiations on all four core issues. It is also concerned that the fissban negotiations should be based on the 1995 Shannon Mandate[11] and cover verification and stockpiles. Ostensibly, Iran's concern to have simultaneous negotiations relates to the priority it places on the issue of security assurances to non-nuclear NPT states. In the Iranian view, such assurances were promised as part of the 2000 NPT Review Conference, and they are seeking, along with many other NAM countries, the negotiation of a binding treaty that would provide unconditional security assurances to all non-nuclear members of the NPT. One of Tehran's key themes is that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East for more than three decades, while Israel has been permitted to steadily increase its nuclear weapon capacity. In Iran's view, there is a limit to how long other states can be expected to continue to accept this situation without substantive progress towards regional denuclearization and binding security assurances for non-nuclear states.

The Iranian position may be interpreted in several ways. On the one hand, Iran perceives a real need for negative security assurances in the context of implicit or explicit US threats to use force if Iran goes ahead with its uranium enrichment plans. On the other hand, if there are uncertainties about whether Iran is actually complying with its NPT obligations and IAEA safeguards requirements, then its blocking of CD negotiations on a fissban could be read as intentionally pre-empting further treaty obstacles to its own acquisition of a nuclear weapon capability. As the nuclear crisis continues there is the danger that the nuclear weapon option, while clearly at variance with Iran's NPT obligations and declared policy of only pursuing peaceful uses of nuclear energy, may be presented as a warranted "deterrent" against military action by either Israel or the United States, and justifiable in the absence of progress on Middle East arms control that would lock in Israel as well as other regional states.

Negotiations at the CD will be critically affected by the unfolding crisis over Iran's nuclear intentions. Among the many adverse consequences if the US and/or Israel were tempted to intervene with air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities as the clock runs down on the Bush Administration, it should be obvious that CD hopes for negotiations would be scuppered, though that might be the least of the casualties arising from such a policy disaster.

On the other hand, if more effective diplomacy can be brought to bear on the Iranian nuclear crisis, then there may be a basis for removing Tehran's opposition to the CD work programme. Just as earlier Russian and Chinese concerns over PAROS negotiations were addressed through the constructive compromise embodied in the L1 plus CRP5 formula that made it clear that negotiations could be an outcome of initial substantive discussions, so there could be further consultations with Iran about its political and procedural concerns. Certainly, the L1 package does not preclude the taking up of the substantive concerns that Iran has put forward. More discussion in the CD about practical options for sequencing negotiations might be helpful, rather than dismissing out of hand Iran's "principle" of "equal treatment of the four issues". For example, one might envisage negotiations on a fissban commencing in 2008, followed by Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty (PPWT) in 2009-10, and nuclear disarmament negotiations in 2011. This is already possible under the L1 formulation though formidable political barriers might remain in place, especially on NSAs, as there is considerable opposition to addressing an NPT-related issue like security assurances in the CD context, which includes nuclear weapon possessors outside the NPT.

China, which wielded the main veto in 1999-2001, has changed its position on the CD programme of work several times. Its reasons for holding out against agreement this time are less obvious than those of Pakistan and Iran. At the May 2007 NPT PrepCom meeting, China went on record calling for the CD to "arrive at comprehensive and balanced programme of work as soon as possible" on all four core issues, which is what most consider the L1 proposal to offer.

China's initial concern, shared by Russia, was that the CD should begin negotiations on PAROS. However, blocking the L1 proposal prevents not only fissban negotiations but also substantive discussions and follow-on negotiations on the PAROS-related PPWT, which China is jointly pursuing with Russia - a self-defeating stance if this were China's genuine concern. It would also seem to be in China's interests to have a fissban to cap the fissile materials production of India (and, indeed, Pakistan, though Beijing would be unlikely to admit this publicly). Some might also consider that though the envisaged cut-off treaty is not directed towards civilian nuclear stockpiles, it could be harnessed to increase controls over Japan's large and growing stockpile of plutonium (approximately 154 tonnes).[12]

China's position may be related to concerns over its own fissile stocks, which are much smaller (approximately 26 tonnes) than the those of the US (approximately 587 tonnes) or Russia (approximately 915 tonnes).[13] China is understood not to have produced fissile material for weapons purposes since 1991.[14] But it is also the one P-5 nuclear weapon state that has not declared a moratorium on weapons-related fissile material production. It justifies this position on the grounds that such unilateral measures are weak and unverifiable, and that what is needed is a binding and verifiable treaty.

Be that as it may, China's position suggests a desire to keep its options open until such a treaty is concluded. This may be related to a perceived, potential requirement to expand its nuclear arsenal to maintain "nuclear deterrence credibility" in light of US ballistic missile defence (BMD) deployments, or if it finds itself spiralling into a deadly nuclear pas de deux with its increasingly powerful neighbour, India, which is now anachronistically pursuing the holy grail of would-be nuclear weapon states, namely a triad of air, sea and land based nuclear weapons.

The Chinese reluctance to join CD consensus on the P6 proposal has surprised those who regard Chinese positions as the most "user-friendly" of the official P-5 nuclear powers, as illustrated by their long advocacy of unconditional security assurances to non-nuclear countries and commitment not to use nuclear weapons first. By contrast, Britain, France, and the United States have persistently refused to give such unconditional and legally binding non-use undertakings, reserving the right both to first use and to use against non-nuclear countries in certain circumstances, including (explicitly for France and the United States) use in retaliation against chemical or biological weapon attack. Though the Soviet Union shared some of China's declaratory positions, including no-first-use, at the end of the Cold War, Russian doctrine moved much closer to the positions of the NATO nuclear states.

In addition to reiterating its declaratory willingness to limit the conditions under which it would use nuclear weapons, China has explicitly supported the FMCT in NPT statements, and has made a point of reminding the two major nuclear powers, the US and Russia, of their special responsibility for nuclear disarmament and for taking "the lead in drastically reducing their nuclear armaments".[15] Even so, in 2007, it was not the US and Russia who held back negotiations on an FMCT and substantive discussions on other vital disarmament measures. Despite serious US-Russian bilateral tensions over deployment of missile defence systems in Europe, Russia and the United States showed the very kind of leadership that China has called for, while China, with its own special responsibilities as a permanent Security Council member, held back the best chance in a decade for moving forward on a suite of multilateral disarmament proposals.

Whilst China was not at this stage prepared to support the L1 proposal, it did put forward its own suggestion for resolving the deadlock. This was to combine the L1 and the Complementary Presidential Statement (CPS) into one document with some minor amendments (an idea that India had previously suggested and continues to support). However, it emphasized that this would require further consultation with capitals and that combining the texts might be a step forward but was not necessarily sufficient in and of itself. China also continued to insist that the CD work programme should include an Ad Hoc Committee for the PAROS discussions rather than just a Coordinator, as presently proposed.

One advantage of combining the documents is that the understandings advanced in the CPS would be more clearly "owned" by the Conference as a whole rather than by the presidents, although it could be argued that the linking document on implementing L1 on the basis of the CPS already achieves this. The potential disadvantage would be that if the text of the L1 package were reopened, there could be pressure to include new elements on which there may be even less possibility of consensus. However, despite its risks, the proposal gives hope to some that China is still very open to further consultations and the chance of finding a basis for consensus in 2008.

On the other hand, if China, for its own strategic or tactical purposes, is not genuine about wanting fissban negotiations, then its procedural moves in the CD might well be interpreted as an example of what the outgoing Swedish Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin-Bonnier, in her impassioned farewell speech, castigated as "hiding behind the commas of the rules of procedure and shamelessly abusing the consensus rule to abort any attempt to seriously tackle difficult or sensitive issues - in effect making the whole multilateral approach to disarmament and arms control hostage to their own particular perceptions, preferences or dictates".[16]

Israel is a fourth state that is perceived to be reluctant to sign up to the L1 mandate, following a statement by Ambassador Itzhak Levanon that while Israel agreed to the 2007 CD agenda, it believed that this agenda "does not appropriately reflect a realistic effort to address today's security challenges".[17] From the Israeli perspective, the highest priorities for the CD should be to address threats of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Though an adequately verified fissban might provide an additional layer of constraint on Iran, which would presumably be in Israel's interests, it would also require Israel's own fissile material stockpiles to be declared and monitored. This could pose problems for maintaining Israel's long standing policy of nuclear ambiguity. However, as discussed elsewhere in this issue of Disarmament Diplomacy, this policy warrants review in the context of what Israel might achieve through multilateral nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arms control measures, regionally and globally.[18]

What was achieved in 2007?

The CD's Report to the UN General Assembly for 2007 talked of "substantial progress by conducting important thematic debates on all agenda items" even though the CD "could not yet reach consensus on a programme of work". It noted that "a momentum was created to move the CD out of its longstanding stalemate", and urged that "efforts to reach an agreement to start substantive work must be continued".[19] The sense that a momentum had indeed been created was underlined by almost all delegations, with even hold-out states expressing appreciation for the value of the thematic debates. Similarly, the resolution to the UN First Committee and the UN General Assembly sponsored by Syria (as the last of the 2007 presidents) on behalf of the CD, "takes note of the strong collective interest of the Conference to build on the increased level and focus of its activities throughout 2007 and to commence substantive work as soon as possible during its 2008 session" and requests the incoming president to conduct consultations during the intersessional period.[20]

A glimpse of what some of these thematic debates produced is given in the Coordinators' summaries to the P6.[21] The debates covered not only the four core issues but also three other areas that form an agreed part of the CD agenda, derived from the "decalogue" developed in the 1978 First Special Session on Disarmament.


The very detailed discussions coordinated by Ambassador Carlo Trezza of Italy were structured along the specific areas that would need to be covered in actual treaty negotiations, such as purposes, preamble, definitions, scope, verification, compliance, settlement of disputes, entry into force, ratification, duration, withdrawal, review and amendment procedure. Taking up the maximum time available, they involved the active and engaged participation of a large number of delegations, a review of all past CD documentation on the issue, and advice from experts. In the Coordinator's view, the discussion was "intensive and constructive", with many delegations indicating that a fissile materials treaty "ranked high among CD priorities", was relevant to the forthcoming NPT Review Process, and "was now ripe for immediate negotiations".

Generally supported positions by the great majority of delegations included: the need for definitions "to be further discussed with experts"; the need for the fissban's scope to "encompass additional aspects such as transfers of fissile material, assistance in production, accountancy, disposition of excess fissile material, decommissioning of production facilities"; the desirability of separately considering "naval and maritime propulsion, space propulsion, civil research reactors", which many thought should be exempted; the need for IAEA input on such matters as "definitions, stocks and verification"; the need for "transparency on fissile material inventories already in place by nuclear weapon states" (while welcoming the transparency measures "already undertaken by some NWS").

The issue of verification, in Trezza's view, was a "complex and difficult" one, but he noted that the "principle of verifiability was not challenged but rather its feasibility and effectiveness, including from the viewpoint of costs". He also noted that many believed that the key provisions should be "subject to verification"; and that there was also the possibility of addressing this issue at "expert level".

From this author's interviews it appeared that the majority regarded the US Draft FMCT tabled in May 2006 as a positive step forward, but all except the US itself wanted to see it strengthened in the areas of verification and control over stockpiles. Most, with the exception of Pakistan and Iran, believed that though these issues are important, they should not be made preconditions for negotiations so long as they can be addressed in the negotiations themselves. The US has indicated its willingness to have verification and control over stockpiles discussed as part of the negotiations, while maintaining that it believes that it will not be possible in practice to have "effective" verification and controls.


According to the Coordinator for Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, Ambassador Paul Meyer of Canada, there was general support for: improving or enhancing the implementation and universalization of existing outer space accords; adopting "transparency and confidence building measures" (TCBMs) that could complement legal measures (CD/1827, p 30); and having a "dialogue between the CD and COPUOS" (UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) on matters of common interest. The urgent need for new measures in this area was identified by the International WMD Commission, chaired by Hans Blix, which had argued that while "there are already a number of international treaties and instruments regulating space activities... they do not cover the challenges posed by space-based weapons or ballistic missile defence. In particular, although some agreements prohibit or restrict the deployment of weapons or use of force in outer space, the provisions are limited in scope and coverage. Moreover, none of the existing legal instruments unequivocally prevents the testing, deployment and use of weapons - other than nuclear, chemical and biological weapons - in outer space".[22]

The key initiative considered by the CD in this area was a draft treaty proposed by Russia with support from China and others. After several years of consultations, a draft text of what they have called the Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty (PPWT) was circulated at the CD and "reviewed in a comprehensive manner".[23] The Russian-Chinese initiative was praised as a "timely one with a view to cover the loopholes of the current legal system" on peaceful uses of outer space.[24] In a detailed compilation of responses to the initiative, there was widespread recognition amongst the delegations that "the prospect of weapons in space" is "destabilizing for disarmament, nonproliferation and international security" and that "prevention is less costly than remedy".[25] In the course of discussions, the notion that anyone would gain strategic advantage by introducing weapons and weapons threats into outer space was ridiculed as "fundamentally flawed" since "it would threaten the very benefits and developments it is supposed to protect".[26] Noting that "one special feature of outer space is its asymmetric aspect", one delegation stressed that "developing a functioning weapon capability in outer space....is an extremely complex and expensive endeavour, but the potential countermeasures could be much less 'high tech'".[27]

With regard to the draft PPWT text, there was much discussion of definitions, including the definition of 'weapons' in the context of this treaty. One proposal was to focus on those weapons systems that are "especially designed" to destroy space objects. Another was to define space weapons broadly as "ground-to-space", "space-to-space" and "space-to-ground" weapons without needing to be more precise about what constitutes a specific weapon.[28]

In terms of the basic obligations, there were suggestions that the words "testing", "production", "transfer" and "use" should be incorporated into the intended prohibitions of the PPWT. Some argued for the treaty to focus on the "whole process from research to use", with a test ban regarded as a key element since it would limit "capabilities before they emerge and is the most visible part to be monitored".[29]

The discussions also considered transparency and confidence building measures, including such steps as: prior notifications of launches of space launchers and ballistic missiles, establishment of an international notification centre, notification of geographic impact areas, notification of orbital parameters of space objects and intended functions, and international cooperation on space monitoring and debris reduction. In particular, UNIDIR presented ideas developed through several years of expert seminars in Geneva on outer space security,[30] including proposals for establishing "rules of the road", such as: "no simulated attacks on space assets and satellites; no dangerous manoeuvres; advance notice of manoeuvres; no harmful laser use; mitigation of debris; advance notice of launch; regulation of access and launch; and no interferences with national technical means". Self-declared moratoria on tests and placement of weapons in space were also welcomed, as Russia has already moved to do in declaring that it would never be the first to place weapons in outer space.

Concerns were also raised that the weaponization of space would mean a proliferation of space debris, posing a hazard to civilian satellites on which there is increasing dependence for global communications and economic development. China's recent ASAT test, which created widespread space debris, was cited as a grim illustration of this risk.

The one nuclear weapon state to be distinctly unenthusiastic about working towards a treaty to prevent the weaponization of space is the United States, which argues that the existing outer space treaty regime is sufficient and that there is no need to address a "non-existent" threat of an arms race in outer space. While it has repeatedly said that it does not have any weapons in space and has no plans to build such weapons, the US has also indicated that it is continuing to consider the role of space-related weapons in protecting its space assets from potential future attacks.[31]

Looking ahead, Paul Meyer proposed that the CD should either create an Ad Hoc Committee on PAROS, as proposed several years ago in an initiative spearheaded by Brazilian Ambassador Celso Amorim and four others (known as the A5)[32] , or at the very least that discussions should continue under CD auspices, including informal work on the PPWT initiative and confidence building measures.

Negative Security Assurances

In the view of NSA Coordinator Ambassador Carlos Paranhos of Brazil, discussions on security assurances did not succeed in bridging the differences of view, but did clarify the various existing and potential NSA options. He noted that the discussions indicated that while both UN Security Council Resolution 984 and the security assurances enshrined in nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) are important, there were limitations to each of these avenues, including "geographic limitation, conditionality, legal nature and real added value".[33]

A "clear majority" of states "expressed the view on the need for a global legally-binding instrument to assure NNWS against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons to be negotiated".[34] Problems with existing assurances to states in NWFZs were highlighted in a debate that involved expert presentations from Professor Jozef Goldblat and Dr Patricia Lewis, Director of UNIDIR. With only 46 states in NWFZs currently covered by NSAs, it was noted that only two of the NWFZs (Tlatelolco and Rarotonga Treaties) have ratifications from almost all of the P-5 weapon states (the US still has not ratified the Rarotonga Treaty protocol) and even then with reservations.[35] In addition, Professor Goldblat argued that the problem of new nuclear weapon possessors not recognized under the NPT could be solved by a universal treaty binding on all states.[36]

Apparent inconsistencies in some countries' positions were revealed. For example, the UK has highlighted NWFZs as a way forward for NSAs and yet has been highly selective in giving such assurances, declining to provide guarantees to either the South-East Asian (Bangkok Treaty) or Central Asian (Semipalatinsk Treaty) NWFZs. Similarly Norway, Canada and Australia, despite declaratory support for the NWFZ approach, have declined to support the Central Asian NWFZ. There are further problems with France and United States, who are not only very selective about which NWFZs they will recognize, but have also said they would use nuclear weapons if attacked with other WMD, such as chemical and biological weapons, making it difficult to provide assurances based on absence of nuclear weapons alone, the defining feature of NWFZs.

As a way forward, Paranhos proposed a further substantive round of CD discussions to resolve the differences, and more specific structured discussions on the elements of a possible treaty to provide legally binding security assurances.

Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and Nuclear Disarmament

Coordinated by Ambassador Wegger Strømmen of Norway, the discussions on this agenda item identified a wide range of ideas for discussion and possible negotiation. These included: a Nuclear Weapons Convention to prohibit the development, production, and use of nuclear weapons, and staged variations of this; developing an overview of the legal, technical and political requirements for a nuclear weapons free world; non-use and no-first-use agreements; transparency and confidence building measures, including de-alerting and reducing operational readiness; and establishing NWFZs, especially in the Middle East.

These ideas did not generate the same level of CD interest and support for immediate action as the fissban and PAROS proposals, even though some are regularly canvassed by means of UN First Committee and General Assembly resolutions.

New types of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Ambassador Petko Draganov of Bulgaria coordinated discussions on new types of WMD, which encompassed consideration of a ban on radiological weapons, a universal comprehensive agreement to ban the development and manufacture of new types and systems of WMD, controls over the threat of radiological terrorism, and the issue of munitions using depleted uranium. As with the agenda item on "Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race", these were rather generalized discussions, with no real prospect of being taken forward in the near future.

Comprehensive Programme of Disarmament

Similarly the Coordinator for discussions on the agenda item relating to comprehensive disarmament, Ambassador Makarim Wibisono of Indonesia, could only list a number of ideas raised in discussions rather than flag any generally agreed proposal that might meet the consensus requirement. Among the ideas raised were: further initiatives on landmines, cluster munitions, and small arms; the need to address the issue of missiles in all its aspects; and strengthening regimes for WMD nonproliferation, including questions relating to terrorism and terrorist acquisition. Reluctance to deal with these issues in the CD did not necessarily reflect a lack of priority - several of these issues, such as landmines, cluster munitions and an arms trade treaty, are already being addressed in other treaty or fora, and many delegations considered that the CD would either duplicate or undermine progress that is already underway.

One new issue raised was the use of information and communication technology for military purposes contrary to the maintenance of international peace and security. The Coordinator suggested that this particular agenda area had value as a discussion forum and "testing ground for any possible new emerging issues".

Transparency in Armaments

Ambassador John Duncan (UK) coordinated the agenda item on Transparency in Armaments (TIA), where there was also no agreement on specific CD action, though several issues were discussed, including: an arms trade treaty, cluster munitions, MANPADS (surface to air missiles known as man-portable air defence systems), phosphorus munitions, regional TIA measures, extending transparency to nuclear weapons, and a transfer ban on arms to terrorists.

Implications for 2008

Gaining agreement on L1 or an L1 variant is the crucial task facing next year's CD. The outcomes of the thematic debates as reported by the coordinators appeared to confirm the L1 approach that the first priority for immediate negotiations is the fissban, with PAROS close behind as a growing number of CD states are coming to the conclusion that outer space security needs to be legally strengthened, with the draft Russian-Chinese PPWT serving to concentrate minds on what might be possible. Even in some of the other CD agenda areas on which there is less prospect of concrete negotiations, there is scope for further exploration in 2008 to find potential common ground for future work.

Though there were detailed and productive debates on both the fissban and PAROS, there was a clear sense that the fissile materials discussion had been at such a level that the next step could only be actual negotiations. Indeed, some delegations have indicated that there is little point in continuing to talk without a negotiating mandate, since they will only get effective instructions, including parameters for concessions, once they are actually engaged in formal negotiations.

Recognizing that the biggest challenge for 2008 is getting agreement on the main feature of the L1 proposal, Fissban Coordinator Carlo Trezzi told the final CD plenary of 2007 that the conflicts over verification were surmountable: "It should be made clear to capitals that the main issue is not verification as such but whether verification should be a precondition for negotiations...No delegation seems to oppose dealing with such an issue in a negotiating framework. The principle of verifiability 'per se' was not challenged but rather its feasibility and effectiveness...This obstacle is surmountable and its solution could provide a key to a breakthrough".[37] With regard to a second major issue of contention, existing stockpiles, some states are adamant that they must be addressed, while others insist that they must be exempted. The point is that the L1 mandate precludes neither approach, and if negotiations commenced it will be possible for states to consider compromise proposals, such as that advanced by Canada[38] , that might become the basis for agreement.

While the L1 proposal continues to be stymied by a handful of delegations, the CD's closeness to reaching consensus on it demonstrated and vindicated the diplomatic strategies and approaches developed over the last two years by the successive presidents, whose cooperative forum approach served to show the kind of commitment and resolve that could enable the CD to take advantage of positive developments in the international relations environment and start negotiations. The new modus operandi has also increased the number of delegations taking responsibility for the work of the Conference, either as presidents or agenda item coordinators, and has developed greater trust and cooperation in moving beyond narrow and fixed positions.

The next year's P6 appear to be committed to pursuing similarly cooperative and engaging processes to those that were developed and refined in 2006-7, as indicated in statements made by some of the designated presidents at the last CD plenary of 2007. As noted earlier, the first president for 2008 will be the ambassador for Tunisia, followed by Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela. The new P6 have already held meetings with the outgoing P6 to exchange experiences and foster continuity, and consultations have already begun under Tunisia's auspices.

The presence of two major nuclear powers, the US and UK, amongst next year's presidents could have implications for 2008, which could be positive or negative. On the one hand, both countries are currently engaged in ballistic missile defence developments and nuclear weapon modernization programmes and so may be reluctant to see the CD negotiate instruments that could restrain their options in these areas. Their involvement in the Iraq war has lost them friends and influence and relations with Iran and China may complicate efforts to secure consensus.

On the other hand, both the UK and US are supporting the L1 mandate to commence FMCT negotiations and, in relation to this, appear willing to see discussions go forward on the other core issues. Moreover, the Geneva ambassadors for these two nuclear weapon states - Christine Rocca (United States) and John Duncan (UK) - are already well respected for their diplomatic acumen and the commitment they have already shown to the L1 approach. In addition, the UK has signalled that it wants to take a more vigorous approach to achieving substantive disarmament progress.[39] Provided that their governments' support for L1 and the CD is genuine, the US and UK may have greater persuasive powers than most to facilitate consensus to get the CD working again. The cooperative P6 forum approach, and the need to assume presidential responsibilities for the whole conference (and not just pursue their own national interests) may contribute to the US and UK developing a more flexible and responsive approach to the wider concerns of the CD delegations, the great majority of whom are from non-nuclear states.

Though the United States is no longer viewed as obstructing the CD work programme, its draft for a cut-off treaty without verification remains part of the problem. The US claim that effective verification is not possible has given grist to the mill for some of the hold-out states, particularly Pakistan. Moreover, the proposed but now deferred US-India nuclear deal has played into Pakistan's concerns, although, paradoxically, it may have been a factor in India itself agreeing to join the L1 consensus since it was an explicit part of the original July 18 2005 agreement between President Bush and Prime Minister Singh that India "work with the U.S. for the conclusion of a multilateral Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty".[40]

Further, Iran's insistence on prioritizing negative security assurances is undoubtedly related to perceived threats from the United States regarding its nuclear programme. Other aspects of the international environment that may have indirectly influenced the ability of the CD to reach consensus are the US moves to deploy missile defence systems in both Europe and Asia and the growing power and potential rivalry between the Asian giants, China and India.

The US probably has the least to lose and most to gain (in terms of controlling horizontal proliferation) from the L1 package which places the fissban first and delays negotiations on the other issues. In view of the wider international context, it should not be beyond the diplomatic capacity of the United States, even in the remaining year of the Bush Administration, to exercise diplomatic leverage to ensure that Pakistan and Israel are on board. Since at least one of the Democrat candidates, Barak Obama, has already expressed a preparedness to support an internationally verified fissban, the US elections might open up further opportunities to carry CD negotiations forward.

China remains an uncertain element, but has given some informal signals that following further consultations with Beijing it may join the consensus next year. Iran, too, is an uncertain element, but it may yet be persuaded by further consultations on verification and scheduling issues, incentives (especially with regard to security assurances), and/or pressure from other delegations, particularly allies from among the G21 Group of Non-aligned States. Much may depend on developments over Iran's nuclear programme, with the widespread understanding that any direct US, Israeli or other military intervention in the coming year would worsen the situation.

Two kinds of practical fears emerged during 2007 that will need to be taken on board. One concerns workload and the other relevance. Despite not adopting a formal programme of work, CD delegations worked long hours in 2007. Though there is no procedural bar to having simultaneous rather than sequenced negotiations, many ambassadors think simultaneous negotiations would be unrealistic since the resources and staffing of most delegations would only be able to sustain one treaty negotiation at a time. At the same time, it must be recognized that many delegations have been pared back over the past decade of deadlock, and if negotiations were to commence in earnest, the key countries would be likely to build their resources and expertise back up. There are also well-founded concerns that the 2007 informal discussions were so intensive that any further work in 2008 would simply be going over the same ground.

As the year ends, the question faced by the governments represented in the CD is whether they have sufficient commitment and strong enough shoulders to keep the draft Work Programme from falling back down to the bottom of the hill.


[1] Ambassador Carlos Paranhos, Statement to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, September 11, 2007.

[2] Presidential Draft Decision, CD/2007/L.1, June 29, 2007, originally issued on March 23, and reissued for technical reasons.

[3] Ambassador Christine Rocca, Statement of the United States to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, March 23, 2007.

[4] Complementary Presidential Statement Reflecting an Understanding of the Conference on the Implementation of CD/2007/L.1, June 29, 2007, CD/2007/CRP.5.

[5] Draft Decision by the Conference, CD/2007/CRP.6, June 29, 2007.

[6] The P6 Vision Paper, CD/1809, January 31, 2007.

[7] Total stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium as cited in Hal Feiveson, Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, & Frank Von Hippel, 'Fissile Materials: global stocks, production and elimination', SIPRI Yearbook 2007, SIPRI, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007, pp 562 & 566.

[8] Ambassador Masood Khan, Statement of Pakistan to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, September 13, 2007.

[9] Government of Pakistan, Statement by the National Command Authority, August 2, 2007, Rawalpindi.

[10] Randeep Ramesh, 'India-US Nuclear Deal Stalls Indefinitely', Guardian Unlimited, October 16, 2007.

[11] Report of Ambassador Gerald E. Shannon of Canada on Consultations on the Most Appropriate Arrangement to Negotiate a Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices, CD/1299, March 24, 1995.

[12] ISIS, Global Stocks of Nuclear Explosive Materials, www.isis-online.org/global_stocks.

[13] Total stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium as cited in Feiveson, Glaser, Mian, & Hippel, SIPRI Yearbook 2007, op. cit. pp 562 & 566.

[14] Ibid., Tables 12C.1 and 12C.2, pp 562 & 566.

[15] Working Paper on Nuclear Disarmament and Reduction of the Danger of Nuclear War, submitted by China to NPT PrepCom, NPT/Conf.2010/PC.1/WP.46, May 7, 2007.

[16] Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier (Sweden), statement to the CD on the occasion of her departure, Geneva, August 30, 2007.

[17] Ambassador Itzhak Levanon of Israel, Statement to the CD, Geneva, February 13, 2007.

[18] Rebecca Johnson, "Rethinking Security Interests for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Middle East"; and Merav Datan, "Building Blocks for a WMD Disarmament Regime in the Middle East", Disarmament Diplomacy 86 (this issue), Autumn 2007.

[19] Revised Draft Report of the Conference on Disarmament to the General Assembly of the United Nations, CD/WP.546/Rev.1, September 13, 2007.

[20] South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and Syrian Arab Republic (2007 CD Presidents), Report of the Conference on Disarmament : draft resolution to General Assembly First Committee, A/C.1/62/L.11, October 22, 2007, adopted without a vote, GA/DIS/3356, 31/10/07.

[21] Letter Dated 10 August 2007 from the President of the Conference on Disarmament Addressed to the Secretary-General of the Conference transmitting the Reports of the Seven Coordinators submitted to the President of the Conference on the Work Done during the 2007 Session on Agenda Items 1-7 and Annexes I to VII, CD/1827, August 16, 2007.

[22] Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons, WMDC Report, 2006, www.wmdcommission.org/files/Weapons_of_Terror.pdf, p 147.

[23] The original Russian and Chinese working paper on the draft elements for a PPW treaty are presented in CD/1679, June 2002, with further comments provided by the Russian and Chinese delegations in the 2007 document, Compilation of Comments and Suggestions to the CD Working Paper on PAROS (CD/1679), CD/1818, February 12, 2007.

[24] Compilation of Comments and Suggestions to the CD Working Paper on PAROS (CD/1679), CD/1818, February 12, 2007, p 2.

[25] Ibid., p 2.

[26] Ibid., p 3.

[27] Ibid., p 3.

[28] Ibid., p 10.

[29] Ibid., p 10-11.

[30] The report of the UNIDIR conference held in April 2007, "Celebrating the Space Age: 50 Years of Space Technology, 40 Years of the Outer Space Treaty" was forward for inclusion in the official documents of the CD by the Canadian Mission, September 10, 2007.

[31] Ambassador Christine Rocca of the United States of America, Statement to the Conference on Disarmament on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, Geneva, February 13, 2007.

[32] CD/1693, January 23, 2003. This was a joint proposal put forward by the Ambassadors of Algeria, Belgium, Colombia, Chile and Sweden and is colloquially known as the 'Five Ambassadors' (or A5) Initiative. See, for example, Ambassador Rakesh Sood, 'Overcoming Deadlock in the CD' and associated documents, Disarmament Diplomacy 73 (October/November 2003), pp 36-41.

[33] Letter Dated 10 August 2007 from the President of the Conference on Disarmament Addressed to the Secretary-General of the Conference transmitting the Reports of the Seven Coordinators submitted to the President of the Conference on the Work Done during the 2007 Session on Agenda Items 1-7, Annex IV, CD/1827, August 16, 2007, p 34.

[34] Ibid., p 34.

[35] Ibid., Attachment 2, p 38.

[36] Jozef Goldblat, 'Negative Security Assurances', Attachment 3 in CD Letter Dated August 10, 2007, op.cit., p 42.

[37] Ambassador Carlo Trezza of Italy, Statement to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, September 13, 2007.

[38] Canadian Mission to CD, An FMCT Scope-Verification Arrangement, CD/1819, March 21, 2007.

[39] See for example, We Want Results on Disarmament, speech by the UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, June 25, 2007.

[40] US State Department Fact Sheet, US-India Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, Joint Statement by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, July 18, 2005, Office of the Spokesman, Washington DC, July 22, 2005.

Michael Hamel-Green is an associate professor in the School of Social Sciences, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia, and a visiting researcher at UNIDIR where he conducted the research for this article. He is a peace researcher specializing in regional denuclearization, and would be happy to be contacted directly at: michael.hamel-green@vu.edu.au.

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