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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 14, April 1997

Geneva Update No. 34
By Rebecca Johnson


The Conference on Disarmament (CD) closed on 27 March without any agreement on its programme of work. Three formal proposals were submitted in late March, but none has gained consensus. Iran proposed that two ad hoc committees be established, on negative security assurances (NSA) and on transparency in armaments. Recognising the lack of consensus on addressing nuclear disarmament and landmines, Iran proposed that special coordinators be appointed on agenda items 1 and 6 to consider the 'most appropriate arrangements' to deal with these issues. Although Iran had pressed for a decision before the first part of the 1997 session closed, the CD President reported that further consultations would be needed before agreement could be reached.

Coming from the three CD groupings, Chile, Finland and Poland jointly proposed that the CD appoint a special coordinator to determine how (or whether) to address the question of anti-personnel landmines. Egypt proposed a mandate for an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament.

The CD will reconvene on 12 May, but agreement on any of these proposals looks rather remote. The most optimistic delegations hope that the CD will decide on what it is going to do by the time this year's session ends in September. It appears that no-one expects to start on further real work in the near future.


Since my last report in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 13, only two plenaries were held. At the 761st meeting on 20 March, the incoming President, Ambassador Grigori Berdennikov of the Russian Federation, read a message of greeting from the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Evgeny Primakov. Norway and Switzerland addressed the priorities for future CD work. Switzerland announced a seminar in Thun on 17 and 18 September on the traumatic effects of ballistics. Iran presented its proposal for the 1997 programme of work. In a graceful farewell speech, the outgoing Ambassador of Italy, Alessandro Vattani, likened the CD to a monastic way of life, regulated by meals, debates and meditations, where 'perseverance, patience and conciliatory will were often put to the test'.

Stephen Ledogar, US Ambassador for the CWC and CTBT negotiations, also bade farewell to the CD. With characteristic bluntness, he expressed frustration at 'the doomed effort to force the nuclear powers to negotiate now in this forum the elements of a disarmament process that they are conducting elsewhere.' Arguing that 'the real disarmament needs of the world community are simply too overwhelming and urgent', Ledogar hoped 'that a sense of realism will once again assert itself in the CD'.

The 762nd plenary, chaired by Berdennikov on March 27, heard from Germany on the necessity to start negotiations on a fissile materials ban (fissban) and on an effective legally binding international agreement to ban anti-personnel mines. Finland and Chile presented their proposal for a special coordinator on landmines, while Canada reiterated the importance of the Ottawa process for achieving a global ban on the use of landmines.

Future CD Work

Primakov's statement noted the 'attention and interest' in Russia for the work of the CD. Referring to the CD's achievements on the NPT, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Primakov acknowledged its role as the 'sole forum in which practical talks on disarmament issues are conducted on a multilateral basis and in a global framework'.

The Foreign Secretary of Norway, Siri Bjerke, also commented on the CD. Calling it a 'key instrument' for negotiating global agreements on disarmament, she warned that if it is persistently blocked or cannot agree on its objectives, 'then negotiations will be taken elsewhere'.

Iran's Ambassador Sirous Nasseri warned that the CD might be 'moving towards a deepening of the stalemate'. Claiming 'no political agenda', he submitted his proposal so that 'the Conference can engage itself to do some work and not sit idle and discuss, in ways that are becoming rather intolerable...the issue of the agenda and the programme of work.' Iran proposed two committees, on security assurances and transparency in armaments, as well as special coordinators to consult with CD members and report on their views of how best to address nuclear disarmament and conventional disarmament (of which landmines requires the most pressing decision).

A week later, Ambassador Jorge Berguno expressed similar frustration and said that while Iran's proposal did not fully satisfy Chile or many others, it was realistic, and 'we must give not just consideration but support' to it.


(CD/1450, March 20, 1997)

1. The Conference on Disarmament decides, without prejudice to any future decisions on the organisational framework of other items, to establish:

I An Ad Hoc Committee under agenda item 4 "Effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons" with the mandate as described in CD/1121.

II An Ad Hoc Committee under agenda item 7 to consider means of promoting transparency in armaments.

2. The Conference also decides to appoint a special coordinator to seek the views of its members on the most appropriate arrangement to deal with issues under agenda item 1.

3. The Conference decides further to appoint a special coordinator to seek the views of its members within agenda item 6 on the most appropriate arrangement to deal with the issues on which consensus could be achieved.

4. The special coordinators appointed under paragraphs 2 and 3 above shall present an interim report at the end of May and a final report not later than mid-June 1997 to the Conference.

Nuclear Disarmament

Egypt's Ambassador Mounir Zahran submitted a working paper on March 27 with a draft mandate for an ad hoc Committee on nuclear disarmament (CD/1453, April 1, 1997). According to this:

The Conference decides to establish an Ad Hoc Committee under agenda item 1 on nuclear disarmament to commence negotiations on a phased programme of nuclear disarmament for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and on a convention on the prohibition of the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices taking into account the report of the special coordinator on this item (CD/1299) and the views relating to the scope of the treaty.

In discharging its function, the Ad-Hoc Committee will take into account the Proposal for a Programme of Action for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons submitted by 28 members of the Conference belonging to the Group of 21 (CD/1419) as well as any other existing proposals and future initiatives in this regard.

Norway also emphasised the importance of nuclear disarmament. Germany and Switzerland emphasised their views that the CD should get negotiations on a fissile materials ban underway without delay. Norwegian Foreign Secretary Bjerke referred to the constructive ideas in the Canberra Commission and said that the thousands of tactical nuclear weapons which have been withdrawn 'must be destroyed and not merely stored'. Acknowledging the proliferation risks 'inherent in both military and civilian nuclear activities', she called for better 'management of disarmament' including the 'secure and environmentally safe handling' of weapons materials. Norway considered that a fissban should be the next major item on the CD's agenda, and suggested that 'the inclusion of measures to monitor enrichment and reprocessing facilities would strengthen a "cut-off" treaty'. Arguing that such monitoring could be applied 'without undue interference with remaining military stockpiles', Norway also called for greater transparency on the stocks of plutonium and highly enriched uranium held by the nuclear-weapon States, including voluntary information, cooperative measures to clarify and confirm the information, international inspection, and eventually the verified reduction of all stockpiles.


Foreign Secretary Bjerke pointed to Norway's work in mine clearance but complained that 'new deployments of APLs by far outstrip present mine-clearing capabilities'. Immediate measures to ban landmines were urgently required, she said, but since 'agreement in the CD seems to be blocked by the fact that many members cannot - for the time being - accept a total ban', Norway backed the Ottawa process. Criticising the step by step or phased approaches and arguing that complete verifiability was 'neither feasible, nor necessary, nor desirable', she said that 'Once this norm is established we will work to make it universal'.

Noting that there are differences of view on how to deal with landmines, Finland presented the three-country proposal for a special coordinator, as 'the best way to start serious work to tackle and solve these questions, and so to find the most appropriate way to deal with anti-personnel landmines in the CD.' Another co-sponsor, Chile, said that landmines have both a humanitarian and a disarmament dimension, but warned that the CD must recognise that if it concludes that 'it cannot address this issue and that it is not in a position to do so', then other processes will aim to accomplish the prohibition of landmines.


(CD/1452, March 27, 1997)

1. The Conference on Disarmament decides to appoint a Special Coordinator to conduct consultations on the most appropriate arrangement to deal with the question of anti-personnel landmines under agenda item 6.

2. The Special Coordinator shall present a report to the Conference on Disarmament before the end of May 1997.


The first part of the 1997 session ran from 20 January to 27 March. The second part resumes 12 May to June 27; and the third part from 28 July to 10 September.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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