Concluding the first third of its 2001 negotiating session, the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) ended its March 27 plenary deadlocked, leaving its 66 members little prospect for progress when plenary meetings resume May 17. Strong U.S. opposition to Chinese and Russian insistence on negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space continued to be the key obstacle blocking the required consensus for any negotiations to get underway within the Geneva-based forum. The CD last held negotiations in 1998.
Russian Ambassador Vasily Sidorov, who asserted March 22 that current agreements covering outer space have "blank spots," reiterated Moscow's support for negotiating a regime to prohibit stationing "any type of weapons in outer space" and threatening the use of force in or from outer space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the United States, Russia, and China are party, bars stationing nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in space.
Russian advocacy of outer space negotiations is supported strongly by China but viewed by the United States as aiming, in part, to restrict possible U.S. ballistic missile defenses. Although ready to discuss the issue, Washington has stated firmly it will not formally negotiate on outer space, contending the issue is "not ripe." The United States advocates immediate negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty, but China and Russia, among others, will not support negotiations on this issue unless negotiations also begin on outer space.
Chilean Ambassador Juan Enrique Vega, who held the rotating presidency of the CD during February and March, indicated March 8 that frustrations were growing within the conference. He noted that some delegations are "impatient," while others, who feel the CD is already "dead," come to meetings with a "certain degree of boredom." The following week, Vega expressed his conviction that the nuclear-weapon states should shoulder the "greater responsibility in getting the conference out of the stalemate."