AT THE OPENING plenary of the third and final 1998 session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on July 30, Pakistan announced its support for starting negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty. The move by Pakistan, along with India's pledge following its May nuclear tests to participate in cutoff talks, removes a significant obstacle to what the United States considers to be a top negotiating priority for the conference.
While India and Pakistan had been the principal holdouts during the past three years to establishing cutoff talks, prospects for commencing work remain uncertain because all 61 members, including Israel, must support or not block the establishment of an ad hoc negotiating committee. A special plenary will be held on August 4 to determine if a consensus exists. However, the conference will only have until the close of the third session on September 9 to conduct any negotiations because a mandate ends with the final session of each year. Conference members would need to reach consensus again to reopen the negotiations in 1999.
As recently as May, Pakistan had declared that work on a cutoff regime would be a "waste of time." But according to a July 30 statement to the conference by Munir Akram, Pakistan's CD ambassador, agreement was reached during a July 21–23 visit to Islamabad by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to support "the immediate commencement of negotiations on a non-discriminatory, universal and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material" for weapons purposes based on the March 1995 "Shannon" mandate. Under that document (CD/1299), negotiations would not preclude discussion of existing stockpiles.
If an ad hoc committee is convened, Akram said that Pakistan will "seek a solution to the problem of unequal stockpiles," which Islamabad believes "could erode the stability of nuclear deterrence" in South Asia. Pakistan, Egypt and other non-aligned countries have declared that a ban limited to future production of fissile material would merely freeze in place existing stockpile disparities and serve as only another non-proliferation measure rather than as a step toward nuclear disarmament, the highest priority of the non-aligned countries. So far, none of the five nuclear-weapon states have declared support for a fissile material regime that takes into account existing stockpiles.
APL Transfer Ban
On June 25, a day before the end of the CD's second session, conference delegates heard a proposed mandate to negotiate a transfer ban on anti-personnel landmines (APLs), another U.S. negotiating priority, from Ambassador John Campbell, the CD's special coordinator for APLs. He cautioned that the recently signed Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of APLs, would have to be the standard for definitions, and that there existed "no shared willingness" to go beyond a transfer ban.
Campbell further recommended that a "statement of understanding" accompany the proposed mandate to leave open for discussion such issues as individual country's national security concerns, demining, availability of alternative technologies, the nature of APL trade and the impact of a transfer ban on indigenous production. The statement would also stress the "need for consistency with the terms of existing international instruments."
Canadian Ambassador to the CD, Mark Moher, warned the conference on June 25 that Canada would not support a transfer ban framed as a first step in a more comprehensive treaty, or the creation of any bureaucracy or verification regime since the Ottawa Treaty did not create such a body. If the conference "confuses or undermines in any way the global prohibition on APLs entrenched in the Ottawa Convention," Canada would withdraw from the negotiations and not sign any final document, Moher said. Other Ottawa Treaty signatories and Western European states have expressed similar views.
Moreover, Mexico and South Africa may block consensus at the CD, as both states have expressed reservations with negotiating a transfer ban at the conference because it could detract from the Ottawa Treaty as well as other CD priorities such as nuclear disarmament.
In other conference business during the second session, the two special coordinators for prevention of an arms race in outer space and transparency in armaments did not propose any negotiating mandates, while the ad hoc committee on negative security assurances made no headway as members reiterated prior positions. China maintained that negative security assurances should include no-first-use pledges by the nuclear-weapon states for each other, a view not shared by the other four, and the United States continued to insist that the way to secure legally binding negative security assurances is through the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free-zones and not a negative security assurances treaty.
The Western group will be in a position to steer conference discussions for the near future as the United Kingdom will assume the presidency of the conference for the close of the final 1998 session. The United States will accede to the presidency for the start of the first session of 1999.