The Conference on Disarmament (CD) concluded the first third of its three-part annual session on March 29 without starting any treaty negotiations and with little prospect that negotiations will begin when the conference resumes May 13.
Speaking the day before the CD ended its first round of the year, Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi left little doubt that the U.S.-Chinese standoff over negotiating priorities for the conference would continue. Hu told the conference that China believed the prevention of an arms race in outer space was “just as important…if not more” than a fissile material cutoff treaty, which would ban production of the key materials needed to make nuclear weapons. Hu made clear that China favors negotiations on both subjects.
Yet the United States staunchly opposes negotiations on the outer space issue. The United States, which is pressing for the immediate negotiation of a cutoff treaty, maintains that it would consent to outer space discussions, but nothing more.
Although neither Washington nor Beijing signaled any intent of yielding, other CD members expressed frustration with the continuing stalemate. Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham reminded the UN body on March 19 that it “does not exist merely for the sake of debate.” Speaking at the close of February, German CD Ambassador Volker Heinsberg succinctly summed up the state of the conference, claiming it does “not look very promising.”
The conference, which has only held negotiations for a couple of weeks in August 1998 since completing the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, requires consensus among its 66 country delegations to begin any treaty negotiation. Although unable to start any negotiations during its first several weeks, the conference appointed three special coordinators to look at reviewing the CD’s agenda, expanding its membership, and improving its operation. These coordinators will submit reports on their findings before the CD concludes this year’s session on September 13. Special coordinators have been established in previous years on these same subjects.