"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
CD Ends First '99 Session Without Agreement on Work Program

Wade Boese

THE 61-MEMBER UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) finished the first third of its 1999 negotiating session in Geneva on March 26 without beginning any negotiations. Despite a repeat of last year's consensus to work on a fissile material cutoff treaty, these negotiations have not been renewed as the Group of 21 (G-21) non-aligned countries have pressed for inclusion of nuclear disarmament and preventing an arms race in outer space in the CD's work program. The United States opposes formal negotiations on both issues, and without agreement on an initial work program, talks on any subject cannot start.

Due to international concerns that a U.S. national missile defense (NMD) may include space-based components, Secretary of Defense William Cohen's January 20 announcement on funding for NMD deployment sparked strong calls, particularly by the non-aligned and China, for the CD to address the space issue. China proposed on March 11 the establishment of an ad hoc negotiating committee to prevent the "weaponization" of space, while Pakistan and others have used the broader term of "militarization," which could include satellites used for military purposes. Whereas most delegations favor an ad hoc committee of some type for negotiations, Washington objects to any committee, even one whose mandate is limited to deliberating.

Long-standing disagreements over nuclear disarmament, however, continue to be the largest hurdle to adopting a work program. Though the non-aligned favor formal negotiations on a phased program of nuclear disarmament, the G-21 have stated a willingness to explore options between formal negotiations and last year's troika construct, in which the past, present and future presidents of the conference consulted member delegations on nuclear disarmament. Some Western states, including Canada and Germany, expressed readiness to discuss nuclear disarmament. Yet the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom remain adamantly opposed to formal negotiations.

Despite the consensus for negotiating a cutoff treaty, members remain deeply divided over the treaty's scope. Pakistan reiterated its long-standing position that the treaty should account for fissile stockpiles, arguing that Islamabad could not agree to a treaty that would "freeze inequality." The five nuclear-weapon states, India and Israel—which have larger fissile stockpiles than Pakistan—oppose including stocks.

On March 18, Canada called on the nuclear-weapon states to deal with fissile stockpiles in parallel with cutoff negotiations by increasing transparency through declarations and taking steps to reduce stocks "irreversibly," such as disposition of declared excess fissile material. Canada also criticized the nuclear-weapon states for failing to undertake a formal production moratorium. While all five have reportedly ceased fissile production for weapons purposes, Beijing and Paris previously rejected Washington's proposal for a joint declared moratorium prior to the 1995 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review and extension conference.

A few states, including Austria, Canada and South Africa, called on the CD to address small arms and light weapons, while Bulgaria, on behalf of 22 members, recommended negotiations on a transfer ban for anti-personnel landmines. Mexico responded that the conference did not have the necessary expertise to deal with either issue.

The conference will reconvene for the second part of its 1999 negotiating session on May 10, the same day that the third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting for the 2000 review conference of the NPT opens in New York.