"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
CD Deadlock Continues as U.S. and China Square Off

Wade Boese

IN A MOVE THE UNITED STATES and China reiterated competing negotiation priorities and sharply criticized each other at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) during February, lowering the likelihood that the 66 conference members will soon reach the required consensus on a work program to start negotiations. Beijing is seeking formal negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, while Washington, the sole country blocking outer space negotiations, wants to commence work on a fissile material cutoff treaty.

Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi declared on February 10 that the conference should negotiate a legal instrument to prevent the weaponization of outer space by prohibiting the "testing, deployment and use of any weapon system and their components in outer space" and limiting the "use of satellites for military purposes."

U.S. Ambassador Robert Grey responded on February 17 that a fissile material cutoff treaty remained Washington's first priority and that the time was "not ripe" for outer space or nuclear disarmament negotiations—another priority of China, as well as the Group of 21 non-aligned movement. The United States, according to Grey, is prepared to discuss these topics in a "suitable context," which is understood to mean in ad hoc working groups.

A proposal, circulated in late January by the conference president, that all three issues be addressed in ad hoc working groups would be a "step backward," Grey said, pointing out that the CD agreed on an ad hoc committee for cutoff negotiations in 1995 and 1998. Conference subsidiary bodies and negotiations do not carry over to the following year; rather, they must be renewed by a new work program each year.

Grey characterized recent conference statements lamenting the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament as "too negative an appraisal." He noted the United States had dismantled 13,000 nuclear warheads over the past decade and that Russia and the United States were exploring lower weapons levels in START III. Washington is seeking a range of 2,000 to 2,500 deployed strategic warheads, while Moscow wants to reduce to some 1,500.

Responding to a January 27 Chinese statement that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) had been "trampled on," Grey acknowledged that the U.S. Senate's October 13 rejection of the treaty was a "setback." Grey stressed, however, that President Clinton has made it "abundantly clear that the fight is not over" and that, in the end, Clinton is convinced the United States will ratify the CTBT.

Grey defended U.S. efforts to amend the 1972 ABM Treaty to permit deployment of a limited national missile defense (NMD). He argued that weapons of mass destruction and advanced delivery means had regrettably spread and concluded that "those who allowed it to happen should have known what the consequences would be."

Deflecting a Chinese charge that the United States exercises a "double standard towards arms control and disarmament agreements," Grey said four of the five nuclear-weapon states had reduced nuclear weapons holdings and increased transparency, while one state was modernizing its forces and not increasing transparency.

Hu gave a rebuttal the next week, arguing that for a country "always taking the lead" in developing nuclear weapons it was "hypocritical" to criticize others for modernizing arsenals. Hu challenged the United States to commit to a no-first-use policy, while warning that a U.S. NMD would "open the door to the weaponization of outer space."

The CD will break for a recess on March 24 and resume on May 22, following the April 24-May 19 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty five-year review conference.