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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 37, May 1999

Geneva Update No. 46
By Rebecca Johnson

Continuing Stalemate at The CD

With fewer than 12 session-weeks before the end of its 1999 session on 8 September, the Conference on Disarmament is still mired in political wrangles over its programme of work. As a consequence, the much heralded decision to start negotiations on a ban on the production of fissile materials for weapons (fissban), taken on 11 August last year, has been thwarted, since the CD has been unable to reconvene the ad hoc committee charged with negotiating the treaty. Other important issues languishing in the impasse are nuclear disarmament, preventing the weaponisation of space, and security assurances, though unlike the fissban, none of these are presently the subject of any negotiating mandates.

Shortly after the CD re-opened in May, the United States, Britain and France proposed establishing a work programme based on last year's, with ad hoc committees to negotiate the fissban and to discuss security assurances and special coordinators on 'prevention of an arms race in outer space' (PAROS), landmines and transparency in armaments, as well as to consult on procedural questions for the CD, including expansion of membership, review of its agenda, and improved functioning, which it clearly needs. To avoid disrupting the negotiations and having to fight about re-establishing the fissban negotiations every year, the three-power proposal provided for the fissban committee to "meet in successive sessions of the Conference until its work is completed, without the need for annual reauthorisation". To address nuclear disarmament, which has been demanded by non-nuclear-weapon States from all political groupings, the P-3 proposed continuing 'troika consultations' under the President, with the assistance of the outgoing and incoming CD presidents "as its first priority and substantially to intensify its vigorous efforts", including holding open-ended consultations at least once per Presidency (normally 4 working weeks) and presenting interim reports at the end of each Presidency.

There was opposition from various delegations of the G-21 group of non-aligned States. They wanted more on nuclear disarmament and objected to the proposal that negotiations on the fissban should automatically reconvene each year. It is generally thought that India and Pakistan would like to string the fissban negotiations out long enough to produce as much plutonium and highly enriched uranium as they deem necessary for their projected nuclear weapon requirements. The delays and supposed leverage of an annual tug of war in the CD are therefore practically and politically convenient.

China rejected the P-3 proposal because it offered only a special coordinator on PAROS. Earlier this year China proposed a mandate for a deliberative ad hoc committee on PAROS, which the United States rejected. Observing that "the significant divergence on the position of CD members on the two agenda items... Nuclear Disarmament and PAROS reflects the different stands of various countries on the objectives and purposes of disarmament" China countered the P-3 proposal by calling for "necessary working mechanisms" - either ad hoc committees or working groups - with appropriate mandates to address these issues. In some very pointed exchanges between the ambassadors for China and the United States, Li Changhe noted that "Many delegations, including the Chinese delegation, believe that the importance of nuclear disarmament and PAROS is no less than that of FMCT". Robert Grey responded by castigating linkages "which suggest that all the items we are considering have equal support in the CD". He said that "This is not conducive either to the Conference's work or to its reputation as an effective multilateral negotiating body". The United States is the sole opponent of an ad hoc committee to discuss the weaponisation of space.

At time of writing, it is understood that the CD President, Ambassador Mohamed-Salah Dembri, is attempting to get acceptance for a formula which would re-establish the fissban committee for this year, but would also provide working groups - not committees - to address nuclear disarmament and PAROS. With France on the one hand and the G-21 on the other prepared to accept a working group along the lines proposed by Belgium and the NATO-5, at least as a first step, the search is on for acceptable deliberative mandates for each of the suggested working groups. Ireland, for example, had pointed out that the draft NATO-5 mandate appeared to imply "'talks about talks' rather than a dialogue on substantive endeavours'". Ireland suggested removing the procedural aspect of the discussion and going straight to substance. The main opposition still seems to be the United States, which is researching and developing missile defence systems. Arguing that there is no arms race in outer space to worry about, the US delegation does not want to go beyond a special coordinator on this issue.

Concluding her thoughtful analysis of the CD's work prospects, Ambassador Anne Anderson of Ireland again called for implementation of the decision to admit five new members to the Conference: Ecuador, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Tunisia. This mini-expansion nearly went through in September 1998, but was blocked by Iran for extraneous reasons. Early this year, after Iran gave its agreement, Pakistan impeded the decision in order to 'punish' some of the applicants for the role they had played in votes on the UN First Committee and General Assembly resolutions condemning the South Asian tests. Commenting that "we are all aware that the views of all of the five on all issues are not congenial to everyone", Anderson quoted a former Ambassador of Pakistan to the CD, Ahmed Kamal from March 1995: "...It does not matter if there are differences of opinion here; difference of opinion is the essence of democracy. We all learn from the opinions of others, and it is in adjusting to the opinions of others that we do not weaken ourselves individually but strengthen ourselves collectively."

During the debates in the last few weeks there have been sharp exchanges between the United States and China and Russia over NATO action and bombing in Yugoslavia and missile defence. Ambassador Vasily Siderov drew attention to the Joint Russian-Chinese Press Communiqué on Consultations on Issues pertaining to the 1972 ABM Treaty. In an angry response to Chinese accusations over missile defence Ambassador Robert Grey denied that the United States had breached the ABM Treaty and said that the US would not make a decision on deployment "until the year 2000 or thereafter". He affirmed that the "ABM Treaty remains a cornerstone of strategic stability for the US, and we are committed to continued efforts to strengthen the treaty and to enhance its viability and effectiveness". Pakistan's Ambassador Munir Akram supported China's position on PAROS and the threats to the ABM Treaty and raised questions about NATO's actions and new strategic concept of "new and unprecedented missions which can be conducted without recourse to the provisions of the UN Charter". As fighting increased in Kashmir, those tensions were mirrored on the floor of the CD in sharp exchanges between India and Pakistan.


Even if the President is successful in finding a compromise work programme, it is too late for any substantive work to be done on the fissban. A face-saver this year without any firm commitment and collective intention to proceed along the same lines in 2000 will accomplish little. Even if fissban negotiations get underway, the prospects are for a long, slow and difficult few years.

CD Dates for 1999

18 January to 26 March; 10 May to 25 June; 26 July to 8 September.

Appendix: Documentation

Plenary Session, 11 May

United Nations Press Release DCF/367, 11 May 1999

"The Conference on Disarmament this morning began the second part of its 1999 session, and at the invitation of its President [Ambassador Nguyen Quy Binh, Viet Nam], observed a minute of silence for the victims of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). ... The representatives of the Russian Federation, Pakistan, Kenya and India also offered their condolences to China. ...


Vasily Sidorov (Russian Federation) drew the attention of the Conference to the joint Russian-Chinese press release on consultations on issues pertaining to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), held in Moscow on 14 April. The text of the release was issued as an official document of the Conference, CD/1584 on 29 April 1999 [see below]. ... The Russian Federation believed that common efforts would enable all to prevent the alarming situation developing around the Treaty and would keep it from collapsing. ... Munir Akram (Pakistan) said he shared the concerns expressed by the delegations of China and the Russian Federation over certain developments which would have far-reaching results for international security. Over the past few years, Pakistan had repeatedly expressed serious concerns that the nuclear threat was increasing in the post Cold War era. This was because some of the nuclear-weapon States sought to create new and questionable justifications to retain indefinitely their nuclear weapons. The threat of other weapons of mass destruction was being exaggerated to negate the security assurances which had been offered by the nuclear-weapon States. This new strategic concept of a military alliance would set back endeavours to promote disarmament and non-proliferation. ... [P]lans to deploy national and theatre defence missiles and moves to change the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty could lead to serious destabilization and could have serious results for regions like southeast Asia. Pakistan hoped that the Conference on Disarmament could study this issue and take expeditious action to arrest it. ..."

China-Russia Communiqué

'Russian-Chinese press communiqué on consultations on issues related to the ABM Treaty,' issued in Moscow, 14 April 1999; reissued as CD document CD/1584, 29 April 1999

"In accordance with the agreement reached between the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation and Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China on 25 February 1999, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, G. E. Mamedov, and the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, Wang Guangya, held consultations on issues of strategic stability in Moscow on 14 April 1999. Military and diplomatic experts from both sides participated in the consultations.

Particular attention was devoted to discussion of the situation developing in regard to the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (the ABM Treaty). The discussion of this problem was based on the understanding set out in the joint statement entitled 'Russian-Chinese relations on the threshold of the twenty-first century' issued on 23 November 1998 at the end of the Russian-Chinese summit meeting, concerning the critical importance of preserving and strengthening the 1972 ABM Treaty, which was and remains a cornerstone of efforts to maintain strategic stability in the world.

The two sides voiced their grave concern at the fact that plans announced in the United states to prepare a national anti-missile defence system for deployment are currently posing a serious threat that the ABM Treaty may be undermined. The implementation of such plans would constitute a violation of a fundamental obligation under the ABM Treaty - the obligation not to deploy ABM systems for the defence of national territory and not to provide a base for such a defence.

The two sides consider that the undermining or violation of the ABM Treaty would lead to a series of negative consequences: the emergence of new factors which could destabilise the international situation both at the global and at the regional level, and of conditions for the resumption of the arms race and for the creation of additional obstacles to the process of disarmament. In the developing situation, Russia and China consider it necessary to draw the attention of the international community in the most serious manner to the consequences which might result from a violation of the ABM Treaty.

On the basis of its traditional interest in supporting strategic stability and strengthening international security, China, which is not a party to the ABM Treaty, declares its solidarity with the efforts being made by Russia to prevent the Treaty from being undermined or circumvented. Russia, for its part, fully supports China's efforts to enhance international and regional stability. The two sides express their concern that the realization of the existing plans for the creation and deployment of an ABM system by a number of countries in the Asia and Pacific region could cause an increase in tension in areas of conflict in that region.

The two sides declare their readiness to continue in the future, as the situation develops, to discuss and cooperate in respect if issues related to the preservation of the ABM Treaty, as well as associated problems."