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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
CD Session Ends in Deadlock; Coordinators Appointed
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Wade Boese

The 66-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) closed its second of three negotiating periods this year on June 29 without agreeing on a plan of work. But, for the first time since 1998, on June 14 the CD appointed three special coordinators tasked with reviewing the conference’s agenda, expanding its membership, and improving its functioning.

The three special coordinators will be charged with consulting delegations and reporting to the conference at the end of September’s negotiating session on all proposals and views concerning their respective topics. Special coordinators on these same subjects have been appointed in the past with little result, though the conference did add five members in August 1999. However, the United States has said it will not support any additional members until the conference proves it can operate at its current size.

Although a few CD members expressed some hope that the special coordinators could help break the deadlock that has prevented the conference from conducting any negotiations for almost three years, the appointment of the coordinators is unlikely to ease the current stalemate because the key dispute over whether the CD should negotiate on the prevention of an arms race in outer space does not appear to be waning. In fact, China submitted a document June 7 outlining the key elements for a treaty to prevent the weaponization of outer space, a proposal the United States staunchly opposes.

Arguing that the possible weaponization of space is “imminent,” Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi provided the conference with a model of a treaty prohibiting the testing, deployment, or use of any weapons, weapons systems, or their components in outer space. The working paper also proposed barring the testing, deployment, or use of any land-, air-, or sea-based weapons that could be used for war-fighting in space. Hu left no doubt that his proposal was targeted at Washington, referring in his introductory remarks to U.S. missile defense plans and the Pentagon’s recent initiatives to reorganize its management of U.S. space activities. (See ACT, June 2001.)

The United States has repeatedly dismissed efforts to negotiate on outer space, contending that there is no arms race in outer space and that existing treaties on the subject, such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty banning the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space, are sufficient. Instead, Washington wants immediate negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty, which China, Russia, and others are unwilling to support without negotiations on space.

The conference will only have from July 30 to September 14 to begin negotiations this year. However, any negotiations, which require conference consensus, initiated this year would not be guaranteed to be resumed next year because CD negotiations do not carry over from one year to the next. Instead, parties will have to agree upon a new work plan in 2002.