CD Fails to Adopt Program of Work


For the 10th consecutive year, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) concluded in mid-September without reaching consensus on the adoption of a program of work.

The final report on the conference stated that throughout the 2019 session, successive CD presidents “conducted intensive consultations with a view to reaching a consensus on a program of work,” but despite those efforts, they “did not succeed.” Since the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty opened for signature in 1996, the 65-member, Geneva-based CD has managed to adopt a program of work only twice, in 1998 and 2009.

The 2019 session involved 48 formal plenary meetings and 16 informal meetings. In February, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged states to overcome their differences and warned that “key components of the international arms control architecture are collapsing.” He specifically referenced the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which ultimately collapsed in August, and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is scheduled to expire in February 2021. “I urge you in the strongest possible terms to take a decisive action to safeguard and preserve the existing system through dialogue that will help restore trust,” Guterres said.

In addition to Guterres, representatives from nearly 40 countries addressed the conference over the course of the 2019 session, including the United States and Russia. All these dignitaries, according to the final report, “expressed concern about the Conference’s current situation.”

The CD’s permanent agenda contains 10 items, but there are four core issues: nuclear disarmament, a treaty banning the production of fissile material, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and negative security assurances. The current deadlock is largely attributed to disagreements between members about the prioritization of those issues and attempts to link progress on one issue to progress on another.—SHANNON BUGOS