After going all of last year without a formal ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), the United States will be represented in 2004 by newly confirmed Ambassador Jackie Wolcott Sanders. The Senate approved Sanders en bloc Dec. 9 with more than 50 other presidential nominations.
Sanders’ first day representing the United States in Geneva will be Jan. 19, when the CD begins the first of its three annual negotiating rounds. Sanders has spent 20 years in government and last served as deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.
Sanders’ predecessor, Ambassador Eric Javits, now represents the United States at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Bush administration shifted Javits from the CD to the OPCW in September 2002 in a move designed to show U.S. support for the OPCW and dissatisfaction with the conference. U.S. officials initially said that a replacement for Javits would be in place by the start of 2003, but the Bush administration did not nominate Sanders for the position until June of last year.
The CD operates by consensus and has been unable to negotiate an agreement since completing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. Since that time, the conference’s 66 members have been unable to agree on starting any negotiations, except for a few weeks of formal talks in August 1998 on a proposed fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).
Over the past decade, negotiating an FMCT has been a top U.S. priority at the conference, but Washington has not made much progress toward this objective. For the past several years, China refused to let such negotiations start unless the United States consented to doing the same on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The United States, which plans to explore space-based missile defense systems, has staunchly rejected this linkage.
Yet, at the close of the conference last year, China proposed a compromise. Beijing said it would be willing to approve FMCT negotiations if the United States could agree to less formal talks on outer space. (See ACT, October 2003.)
Whether Sanders and the United States will seize upon this offer remains unclear because Washington has initiated a review of its policy on an FMCT. (See ACT, November 2003.) U.S. officials have refused to discuss the ongoing review until it is concluded.
More broadly, key Bush administration officials have raised questions about the relevance of the conference, criticizing its lack of productivity. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker told the conference in February 2003 that “[w]e must all recognize that the CD as we have known it will not long survive if this malaise continues.”