"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Rocca to Push Controversial Draft Treaty

Sonia Luthra

The Senate Aug. 3 confirmed Christina Rocca as the new U.S. permanent representative to the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. Rocca, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, will begin the position as the Bush administration is pushing the forum to negotiate the controversial U.S. version of a treaty ending the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Washington has been without a permanent representative to the CD since Ambassador Jackie Sanders left in February. Sanders is now the alternative representative to the United Nations for special political affairs, working closely with John Bolton, the U.S. permanent representative to the UN.

The stalemated CD, which operates by consensus, has not concluded an agreement since the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Bush administration is frustrated by the conference’s lack of movement on U.S. priorities and asserts that this year could be crucial to determining future U.S. participation in the negotiating body. Specifically, the administration is seeking negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

An FMCT, which has lingered on the CD horizon since 1995, would ban production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons. The United States submitted an FMCT draft text May 18 as a starting point for negotiations. (See ACT, June 2006.)

The U.S. draft is controversial because it does not include a verification mechanism, in contrast to previous calls by the Clinton administration and other countries for such provisions. (See ACT, June 2006.) The Bush administration claims that a verification mechanism would be too extensive and intrusive for key signatories, yet unable to protect against cheating. (See ACT, September 2004.) Other nuclear-weapon states disagree. For example, France continues to show support for the 1995 Shannon mandate calling for a verifiable treaty, although it has said that it does not want to set preconditions on beginning negotiations, a stance echoed by the United Kingdom. India, which has nuclear weapons but is not a nuclear-weapon state under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, similarly says that an FMCT needs to be “verifiable and nondiscriminatory.”

Although all conference members claim to support at least some kind of FMCT, some insist that the CD not focus solely on such a treaty. Instead, a group led by China and Russia would also like the conference simultaneously to hold talks on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Motivated in part by U.S. missile defense plans, such as space-based missile interceptors (see ACT, May 2005), proponents of an outer space agreement want to bar the installation of any type of weapons system in space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty outlaws the deployment of unconventional weapons in space.

The United States opposes any CD talks on outer space and has rejected formulas that tie the start of FMCT negotiations to work on other issues, including space and nuclear disarmament. John Mohanco, deputy director of the Department of State’s Office of Multilateral Nuclear and Security Affairs, stated at a June 13 CD meeting that “there is no, repeat no, problem in outer space for arms control to solve.”

Russia and China have both stated throughout the 2006 session that they would like a “balanced” program of work at the CD. This formulation is an explicit rejection of the U.S. wish to focus solely on an FMCT. China has been adamant about this, stating at the CD June 8 that “any idea that aims at circumventing the ‘program of work’ and initiating negotiation solely on one issue while refraining from substantive work on other issues will not fly.”

CD delegations will have until September 15 to try to break the deadlock. The conference concludes its working session then and will not reconvene again until early next year.