THE 61-MEMBER UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) remained deadlocked at the June 25 conclusion of its second working period of the year, having failed to begin any negotiations or to resolve any outstanding issues. Sole U.S. resistance to initiating work on prevention of an arms race in outer space may forestall any talks—including those on a fissile material cutoff treaty—in the conference's third and final working part, scheduled to take place July 26–September 8. No delegation opposes fissile cutoff talks, but the CD has yet to adopt a consensus work program for 1999, a prerequisite to negotiations.
The conference did, however, move closer to a compromise on the long-divisive issue of nuclear disarmament. Speaking on June 17, CD President Ambassador Mohamed-Salah Dembri of Algeria indicated unanimous acceptance for a nuclear disarmament ad hoc working group, though he added that its mandate still needed to be resolved. If finalized, the mandate would likely resemble the February 2 proposal by Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway calling on the CD to "study ways and means of establishing an exchange of information and views" on nuclear disarmament.
Despite the apparent readiness of the nuclear-weapon states to agree to a working group, their staunch opposition—with the exception of China—to formal CD negotiations remains unchanged. A working group on nuclear disarmament, however, would mark a step up from last year's "troika" process where the past, present and future presidents of the conference simply held consultations with delegations on the issue.
In past years, the Group of 21 (G-21) non-aligned countries, led by India and Pakistan, has sought time-bound negotiations on nuclear disarmament as its highest priority, while the nuclear-weapon states, minus China, have opposed any formal negotiations on that subject. Because the conference operates by consensus, this central disagreement has impeded any substantive work since completion in 1996 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
While most member-states, including Russia, China and France, favor an ad hoc committee on outer space, the CD is weighing a working group because the United States will support nothing more formal. Washington, which has repeatedly claimed that there is no arms race in outer space, may oppose even a working group, partly out of concern for the implications such a move could hold for U.S. national missile defense (NMD) plans.
Uncertainty over an outer space mandate has further reinforced U.S. reluctance to work on the issue. Beijing and Moscow, worried about U.S. NMD plans, have called for preventing the "weaponization" of outer space, while some non-aligned states use the much broader term of "militarization," which is aimed at checking the military use of space for command, control, communication and intelligence purposes.
Also in the second working part, India termed a U.S., British and French proposal to exempt fissile cutoff talks from the annual, standard practice of agreeing on a work program "unacceptable." (See ACT, April/May 1999.) Indian Ambassador Savitri Kunadi said June 24 that such a move "divorces the work of the CD from the overall reality in which that work is undertaken."
The CD is facing a repeat of the 1997 conference, in which no negotiations took place. Even if a work program is adopted in this year's final six working weeks, a new work program will have to be agreed upon next year for any negotiations in 2000.