Blocked by a continued diplomatic stalemate, the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) ended the first third of its 2003 negotiating session March 28 without any progress.
Since completing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, the conference only managed to initiate negotiations in 1998, and those negotiations yielded no final agreement. Sixty-six countries are members of the conference, which operates by consensus and is tasked with negotiating on arms control and disarmament issues.
The United States and China are the principal antagonists in the CD stalemate. The United States is pressing for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would prohibit the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons purposes. While claiming to support FMCT negotiations, China demands that they do not begin without parallel negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space—a linkage the United States opposes.
On March 6, Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi reiterated a proposal that the United States rejected last year. Hu said China would accept holding talks, not negotiations, on outer space if they were done “with a view to negotiating relevant international legal instrument.” But the United States, which argues that outer space negotiations are unnecessary, opposes this formulation, saying it prejudges the outcome of the talks.
Beijing and Washington will have two more work periods this year to reach an accommodation. The first will take place May 12 to June 27 and the other July 28 to September 10.