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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
CD Progress Slowed by Nuclear Disarmament Issue
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Wade Boese

AFTER CLOSING the 1998 negotiating session with ad hoc committees on a fissile material cutoff treaty and negative security assurances, the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) failed during its first six working weeks of 1999 to resume negotiations on these two subjects. The delay in adopting a work program stemmed from long-standing disagreements among the 61 members over nuclear disarmament.

The CD opened its 1999 negotiating session on January 19 and adopted an agenda two days later. As in past years, the agenda included seven topics under which negotiations can be held: cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament; prevention of nuclear war; prevention of an arms race in outer space; negative security assurances; new types of weapons of mass destruction; a comprehensive program of disarmament and transparency in armaments. Although the conference agreed last year to form two ad hoc committees and appoint six special coordinators, member-states must reach consensus this year to reconvene the committees and reappoint the coordinators because CD mandates expire at the end of the year's negotiating session.

In addition to last year's ad hoc committees, the Group of 21 (G-21) non-aligned members proposed the creation of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament, which the G-21 called its highest priority. However, the United States and the other nuclear-weapon states, except China, continue to oppose the negotiation of nuclear disarmament within the CD. Washington argues that nuclear disarmament should remain a bilateral issue between Russia and the United States until weapons levels reach a point where other nuclear-weapon states can join in a multilateral reduction process.

South Africa pushed for appointment of a special coordinator on nuclear disarmament, citing a 1990 rule that if consensus cannot be reached on formation of an ad hoc committee or other body for an issue, the CD president can appoint a special coordinator to help find consensus.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Grey, who held the rotating presidency of the conference for its first four weeks, opted not to appoint a special coordinator, claiming that no consensus would be found on a mandate for a coordinator on nuclear disarmament.

Canada renewed a proposal for an ad hoc committee to discuss nuclear disarmament, while five NATO states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Norway) proposed that the conference establish an ad hoc working group to study and exchange views on the issue. Other delegations within the western group, including the United States, have not ruled out the five-nation proposal.

Other CD Issues

Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and Disarmament John Holum outlined Washington's position on a fissile material cutoff treaty before the conference on January 21. Holum called for a strict monitoring and verification regime, run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that would apply to all enrichment and reprocessing facilities as well as all facilities that "use, process or store newly produced fissile material."

Holum reiterated the U.S. position—shared by the other nuclear-weapon states, Israel and India—that verification provisions should apply only to fissile material produced after the treaty's agreed cutoff date. The United States will accept no restrictions on existing stocks, stated Holum, who claimed that even declarations of existing stocks could risk legitimizing the nuclear weapons programs of states outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

However, Egyptian Ambassador Mounir Zahran, speaking on January 26, implied that failure to address existing stocks would confer "de-facto recognition or acceptance for the possession of nuclear weapons" by non-NPT states, as well as the "indefinite possession" of nuclear weapons by the five nuclear-weapon states.

Both China and the G-21 proposed the formation of an ad hoc committee on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking before the conference on January 26, noted that more than 30 countries are involved in space-related activities and that the goal of keeping outer space free of weapons is widely shared. The United States, however, opposes formal negotiations on this issue.

Despite a plea by the Secretary-General, prospects for negotiations on a transfer ban on anti-personnel landmines also appear dim. Mexico, a signatory of the Ottawa Convention (which enters into force on March 1; see Factfile), expressed doubts with negotiating another instrument on landmines.

In his final statement as president of the conference, Grey lamented on February 11 that the conference could not even agree to extend membership to Ecuador, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Tunisia. While Iran has dropped its opposition from last year, India and Pakistan are now blocking membership for this group of states to punish Ecuador and Kazakhstan for condemning the May 1998 Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests.

The first part of the conference's 1999 negotiating session concludes on March 26, followed by a second part from May 10 to June 25 and a final part from July 26 to September 8.