Alittle more than three weeks into its 2001 negotiating session, the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) appeared destined to repeat its last two years of deadlock, as China, backed by Russia, and the United States reaffirmed conflicting positions on negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
Neither side has indicated a willingness to resolve differences in negotiating priorities. The 66-member body requires consensus to start negotiations on any topic or to pass a work program for negotiations, which it has failed to do three out of the past four years.
At the conference's opening plenary on January 23, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a statement read by CD Secretary-General Vladimir Petrovsky, expressed concern that the conference had not recently lived up to its potential as a negotiating forum. Annan said that "harmony" among key countries must be restored if the conference is to avoid another year without negotiations.
Six days later, however, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement charging U.S. CD Ambassador Robert Grey with "wittingly distorting" Russia's record at the conference in an interview with Arms Control Today. During the interview, published in December 2000, Grey fingered Moscow as being partially responsible for the CD's lack of negotiations during the past year by linking the start of fissile material cutoff treaty negotiations with those on outer space. The ministry said Moscow condemns linkage, but then declared that Russia supported negotiating these two issues on "parallel tracks," describing such an arrangement as being of "fundamental importance."
Speaking on February 15, Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi argued the case for conference negotiations on nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cutoff treaty, negative security assurances, and outer space, which he alleged the United States had "single-handedly obstructed" in recent years. Starting negotiations on all these issues was the "only possible way to break the current stalemate," the ambassador concluded.
Staunch opposition to possible U.S. ballistic missile defense programs underlie the Chinese and Russian demands for outer space negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, addressing the conference February 1, alluded to such defenses, warning that "some medicines are more dangerous than diseases themselves." Also targeting U.S. missile defense plans, Hu said, "The most outstanding menace comes from attempts to overthrow the 1972 ABM Treaty and weaponize outer space." The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty bars national defenses against strategic ballistic missiles and testing or deploying space-based ABM systems or their components.
Grey defended U.S. missile defense plans on February 15, asserting that missile defenses can "enhance strategic stability and further reduce the danger that nuclear weapons will ever be used." He further described the outer space issue as "not ripe for negotiations" and said the United States, which wants immediate negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty, would hold only discussions, not negotiations, on outer space and nuclear disarmament. Grey ruled out further compromise, saying that the United States had already "agreed with great reluctance" to discussions on outer space and that "we have gone as far as we can go."
The first third of this year's negotiating session concludes March 30. CD members will meet again from May 14 to June 29 and from July 30 to September 14.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken note of the interview of Robert T. Grey, the United States Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), published in the December issue of the American journal Arms Control Today.
The U.S. diplomat, wittingly distorting the real state of affairs at the Conference, calls Russia one of the main culprits of the standstill in its activity. Grey's assertions that Russia has been hindering the adoption of a Conference work program by "linking" the launching of talks for a ban on the production of weapons grade fissile materials to commencement of talks on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, can only be seen as an attempt to put everything from its feet on its head. It will be recalled that in the speech of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov at the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in the repeated statements of the Russian delegation at the CD it has been pointed out that we condemn the path of interlinkages at the CD, of converting one issue into the hostage of another. We advocate the earliest possible achievement of progress in Conference activity, including—on parallel tracks—the start of the work within its framework of the Ad Hoc Committees on weapons grade fissile materials and on talks to prevent an arms race in space. We consider it of fundamental importance that both committees have a mandate to negotiate.
Yet it is the delegation of the United States, actually the only one to do so at the CD, that has with invariable persistence been blocking the talks on the extremely urgent question of averting an arms race in space. As Grey admits in the interview, "[W]e are not ready for talks on a treaty to ban space weapons." This looks especially paradoxical given that the U.S. delegation too approved recently the UN General Assembly resolution calling for the commencement of such talks.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirms the principled stand of our country in support of the effective functioning of the CD as a unique multilateral negotiation forum for the elaboration of universal multilateral agreements in the field of disarmament. Russia's priorities in the activity of the Conference on Disarmament, and generally the ways of promoting global strategic stability, and intensifying the disarmament process will be the focus of the forthcoming speech at the CD of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov.
Editor's Note: On January 29, the Russian Foreign Ministry released the above statement, criticizing comments Ambassador Robert T. Grey, the U.S. representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament, made in an interview with Arms Control Today. The full text of the interview, which was published in the December 2000 issue, can be found online at www.armscontrol.org/act/dec00.