Wang Qun is Chinese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary for disarmament affairs and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), a position he has held since 2007. He was president of the CD from March 21 to May 29, 2011. He agreed to answer written questions from Arms Control Today on the CD’s current stalemate, which is preventing progress on the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and on other disarmament issues.
ACT: In your March 17 address to the CD, you said, “In my view, [the] CD’s deadlock is attributable first and foremost to political factors. The CD’s work is like a barometer of the evolving international security situation.” From
Wang: The CD deadlock is indeed attributable primarily to political and security factors. This is presumably self-evident as the relevant countries already have been most forthcoming and explicit, on the record, as to what difficulties they see in embarking on a process of negotiating an FMCT at the CD. However, it should be noted that different countries sought or have sought, at different points over the past 12 years, to block the CD negotiation of an FMCT out of various political or security considerations.
Countries may differ in terms of their size or position; their security concerns could, nevertheless, equally be relevant at the CD and subsequently bear on its work. This is a fact of life before us, and such concerns should be duly addressed.
ACT: Some countries have suggested that the consensus rule should not be applied to procedural matters at the CD and should instead be restricted to substantive work in order to prevent a single state from using procedure to prevent the start of negotiations. What is
As CD president, I am open to any suggestions and stand to be guided by member states as to whether or how procedural adjustments should be made so as to help make the CD a more efficient and effective part of the UN disarmament machinery. That, I believe, is not only the right of member states, but also provided for in explicit terms in the existing Rules of Procedure of the Conference on Disarmament.
ACT: What steps is your government taking to persuade
What is desirable is to give equal weight to the legitimate security concerns of various countries in pursuit of a win-win situation based on security for all. In the meantime, the dialogue between the countries concerned is also crucial if the issues related to the CD deadlock are to be put behind us.
ACT: In your view, how can the current CD impasse be broken, so that the CD can commence its negotiation of an FMCT? Is there any specific formula to that end?
Wang: As the current CD deadlock is primarily attributable to political factors, the solution lies in political will and political wisdom, coupled with the right perception and working methods. In this context, we should work to detect and identify any evolving consensus even in the embryonic stages, especially by proceeding from the actual effects, with an FMCT as the objective.
The CD is now bogged down in a debate about how to define or characterize, in the context of the CD’s program of work, its ongoing exercise, i.e., “negotiation“ or “discussion“ of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. In the meantime, we should not fail to recognize the following basic common understanding, i.e., no delegation has hitherto sought to dispute the early commencement, on the basis of the CD’s balanced and comprehensive program of work, of its substantive work, which naturally covers the subject of the above treaty on the basis of the Shannon mandate (CD/1299 of March 24, 1995). Moreover, there has been, in fact, constructive and serious work at the CD, inter alia, on such a treaty, especially since the beginning of this year.
Although some may see the above common understanding as insignificant, it should not be belittled. On the other hand, the current CD debate on “negotiation“ versus “discussion,” no matter how significant, should not be unduly emphasized, especially with the caveat that the CD exercise is not linguistic in nature. Further, it is axiomatic that, if a treaty is reached, the process leading up to its conclusion can only be negotiation whereas, even if no one seeks to dispute embarking on a “negotiating process,” there could be considerable skepticism about whether it may produce something to that effect as long as a treaty remains elusive.
So, what do we want, “negotiation” or an FMCT? This question merits our serious reflection, on the basis of the 2009 program of work (CD/1864 of May 29, 2009), if an FMCT is really the aim.
ACT: The CD has long been considered to be the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament. Given the availability of other forums for discussing disarmament issues, how can the CD maintain its distinct role if it cannot begin substantive talks on issues of interest to many countries, including a fissile material cutoff, weapons in space, and negative nuclear security assurances? If the CD remains deadlocked, are there other ways and other forums through which progress on these matters might be achieved? Some countries have initiated informal expert-level discussions on an FMCT to discuss issues such as definitions and verification. How does
Wang: The CD is a good body. While it is true that it has not concluded any new treaties since 1998, its achievements or failures should nevertheless be viewed from a historical perspective.
Certain countries are, to my knowledge, thinking of setting up a “new kitchen” so as to move FMCT negotiations out of the CD. If the purpose of such a move is to reach a negotiated FMCT, we should be clear, if not clearer, about what the objective of the prospective treaty is in the first place. What is the relevance of such a treaty reached outside the CD in the absence of the participation of key countries with the capability of producing fissile materials, and how, under such circumstances, do we achieve the objective of nonproliferation of nuclear materials?
Although it presumably is not difficult at all for the FMCT negotiations to be moved out of the CD, it is nevertheless difficult for any new or alternative mechanism to replace the role and have the same effect as the CD, a nonexclusive disarmament and nonproliferation body with members from all regions and groups, both developed and developing. It includes, in particular, the five NPT nuclear-weapon states and other countries with nuclear weapons or certain nuclear capabilities. This, I believe, merits our careful reflection.
As for the “informal expert-level discussions on an FMCT” you referred to, I think such discussions per se are useful, though they would be truly meaningful only if channeled into the CD process on the treaty with the participation of all relevant countries.
Wang: You’re right to look at this issue in the context of Beijing’s support for an FMCT as an important nonproliferation instrument.