THE MAY nuclear tests of India and Pakistan elicited widespread condemnation and regret during the second session of the 61-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, which opened the day after India completed its second set of tests. India's subsequent pledge to participate in future negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty removed a leading obstacle to starting talks in the CD, but Pakistan and Egypt must still be won over before work can begin on this initiative, a priority of the nuclear-weapon states and Western group at the conference. Non-aligned members, including India, continued to press for negotiations on nuclear disarmament.
During the opening plenary meeting on May 14, more than 40 states rose to criticize and express concern over India's tests on May 11 and 13. Members from both the Western group and the non-aligned condemned New Delhi's actions as violating the international norm against testing established by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, not all the criticism was directed at India and Pakistan. Colombia, for example, accused the nuclear-weapon states of failing to show a commitment to nuclear disarmament. Egypt reiterated the same point May 28, the day Pakistan first tested, when it charged that the nuclear-weapon states "have not convinced countries with nuclear capabilities to adhere to the nuclear non-proliferation regime."
Following Pakistan's tests on May 28 and 30, the CD convened a special plenary on June 2. New Zealand and 46 other states, including all five nuclear-weapon states, issued a statement accusing India and Pakistan of "blatantly" undermining the international non-proliferation regime. The statement demanded that both states renounce their nuclear weapons programs, accede unconditionally to the CTBT and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and to begin negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty. While seven non-aligned members signed the statement, others, including Egypt and Iran, opted not to because the statement did not call for negotiations on nuclear disarmament.
In announcing its first set of tests on May 11, India declared that it would be "happy to participate" in fissile material cutoff negotiations. The CD agreed in March 1995 on a mandate to negotiate a ban on fissile material production for weapons purposes, but India has led a number of non-aligned members in refusing to take part unless the talks were subsumed within or conducted in parallel with negotiations on a timebound framework for nuclear disarmament. However, India made no such linkage in the May 11 statement or in a May 30 statement on its willingness to participate in the talks.
According to Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute in London, the non-aligned statement at the second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the NPT review conference in 2000, held from April 27 to May 8, also did not condition the start of fissile cutoff talks on the negotiation of a timebound framework for nuclear disarmament.
In a May 19 statement, Islamabad criticized a fissile cutoff as "entirely irrelevant" and called the establishment of an ad hoc committee at the CD a "waste of time." At the June 2 plenary, the Pakistani CD ambassador, Munir Akram, explained that Islamabad's position on a fissile cutoff depended on "India's nuclear status, its degree of weaponization and size and quality of its fissile material stockpiles." In the past, Pakistan, along with Egypt, has called for a cutoff treaty that accounts for past production rather than one that is limited to a ban on future production that would freeze in place existing stockpiles of fissile materials, which heavily favors India in terms of producable weapons.
Addressing the conference on May 28, Egypt's CD ambassador, Mounir Zahran, said that cutoff talks should be held within an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament and that such talks should be based on the CD's 1995 mandate, which many members interpret as allowing for discussion of existing stockpiles. Zahran said a cutoff treaty that ignored current stockpiles would be a "limited non-proliferation measure with no real disarmament value." All five nuclear-weapon states reportedly have ceased production of fissile materials for weapons purposes, although China has not made an official declaration.
Despite its nuclear tests, India insisted that it remains committed to the "complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified framework of time" and called on all states to join in a nuclear weapons convention. In a May 15 press release, New Delhi warned that the nuclear-weapon states were trying to deflect attention away from their own nuclear doctrines, which according to India are being altered "to justify the possible use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states."
Non-aligned members and observers at the CD asserted that the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests demonstrated the need for establishing an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament. Iran and Malaysia called for a timebound framework, while Egypt and Syria warned the conference against confining its attention to only India and Pakistan, but to include Israel as well.
The 113-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), of which 29 are CD members, declared at the Cartagena Summit meeting of the NAM Coordinating Bureau, May 19-20, that its highest priority at the CD continues to be a phased program for nuclear disarmament within a timebound framework. In the final summit document, the NAM expressed "concern over the failure of the nuclear-weapon states to demonstrate a genuine commitment with regard to complete nuclear disarmament."
While nuclear testing seized the attention of the CD, the conference did name Antonio de Icaza of Mexico as chairman of the negative security assurances ad hoc committee and filled the six special coordinator positions, including reappointment of Australian Ambassador John Campbell on anti-personnel landmines. The special coordinators are expected to provide interim reports on their consultations with member-states before this session concludes on June 26 in order to assess what work can be accomplished during the third and final session for 1998, scheduled from July 27 to September 9.