Conference on Disarmament Completes Another Barren Year

ON SEPTEMBER 8, the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) ended its annual 24 weeks of talks without launching any arms control negotiations for the second time in three years. China and members of the Group of 21 (G-21) non-aligned movement, led by Pakistan, would not allow fissile material cutoff treaty negotiations, which no countries publicly opposed, to begin without a work program agreement. At the same time, sole U.S. refusal to negotiate on the agenda item of prevention of an arms race in outer space and the continued unwillingness of the nuclear-weapon states, minus China, to hold formal talks on nuclear disarmament prevented the now 66-member conference from passing a work program.

The long-standing dispute between the nuclear-weapon states, except China, and the G-21 over how to address nuclear disarmament was superseded this year by a growing clash over the outer space issue. NATO's 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, particularly the May 7 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, further soured the CD atmosphere.

Secretary of Defense William Cohen's January 20 announcement on funding for deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) system and President Clinton's subsequent July 22 signing of legislation that made it U.S. policy to deploy an NMD system as soon as "technologically possible" provoked a wave of calls, led by China, for the CD to hold negotiations on arms and outer space. Chinese CD Ambassador Li Changhe set the terms of the CD debate on May 27 by noting that Beijing, among others, believed that the "importance" of outer space, as well as nuclear disarmament, was "no less than" that of a fissile cutoff.

While CD members neared, but did not reach, a compromise on nuclear disarmament that would have established a working group for exchanging views on the issue, the United States, which claimed that there is no arms race in outer space, remained steadfast in its opposition to outer space talks.

In closing remarks on September 7, U.S. Ambassador Robert Grey decried the 1999 session as "especially impoverished." He did, however, note that "at least the parameters of the debate have been clarified," which provides the "possibility of preparing the CD to begin work rapidly in the next session." Grey also pledged that he would "take advantage of any flexibility that may exist on the part of my government" so that a work program could be achieved next year.

Not everyone shared Ambassador Grey's cautious optimism. French Representative Hubert de la Fortelle, in his closing statement, described the conference as "gravely ill" and termed the prospects for the 2000 session as "very bleak." He further charged that the "practice of links, all or nothing, was in the process of killing an irreplaceable organization."

Finland, speaking for the European Union, called for an early decision on cutoff talks next year. Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, however, circulated a statement by Islamabad's Foreign Secretary warning that if India intended to manufacture 400 or more nuclear warheads—as hinted at by one of the designers of India's August 17 draft nuclear doctrine (See ACT, July/August 1999)—then "neither India nor Pakistan could accept the conclusion" of a fissile material cutoff treaty.

The CD's 2000 session will be divided into three parts: January 17-March 24, May 22-July 7 and August 7-September 22.