"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June/July 1997
Edition Date: 
Sunday, June 1, 1997

CD Ends Session Without Resolving Divide Over Agenda


Wade Boese

THE CONFERENCE on Disarmament (CD) concluded its second session of 1997 on June 27, with delegates still at odds over whether the body should pursue negotiations leading to a global ban on antipersonnel landmines, a fissile material cutoff treaty, or a time-bound framework for nuclear disarmament. The CD's continuing inability to agree on a work program for 1997 has prevented it from establishing any ad hoc committees for conducting talks.

The conference appointed Australian Ambassador John Campbell as a special coordinator on landmines to "conduct consultations on the most appropriate arrangement to deal with the question of antipersonnel landmines" and present a report to the CD on his findings. Additionally, the conference appointed separate special coordinators to address each of three areas: the CD's agenda, the possible expansion of the CD and improving CD effectiveness.

On May 15, Hungary and Japan proposed forming an ad hoc committee with a mandate to negotiate a global ban on landmines, but the proposal stalled as the conference failed to reach a consensus, a requirement for any decision in the CD. China, Egypt, India, Mexico and Turkey opposed a complete ban because it would not take into account some states' "security concerns." Mexico also objected that forming an ad hoc committee on landmines would divert attention away from nuclear disarmament. Finally, some states were reluctant to address the landmine ban, fearing it would detract from or duplicate the work of the Canadian-led "Ottawa Process," which aims to achieve a global ban by the end of 1997. (See this month's feature article by Jim Wurst) The appointment of a special coordinator finally emerged as a compromise on the day before the session ended, when the Syrian delegate left the room to allow consensus.

Despite a consensus resolution by the UN General Assembly in 1993 calling for fissile material production cutoff talks, and the "Principles and Objectives" agreement at the 1995 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference to begin "immediate" negotiation, the CD has failed to begin negotiating a treaty because the Group of Non-Aligned States have linked a cutoff treaty with progress on negotiating nuclear disarmament in the CD.

John Holum, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, said on May 15 that negotiating nuclear disarmament in the CD would "set back disarmament." The United States sees bilateral U.S.-Russian negotiations as the sole forum for nuclear disarmament. A U.S. official said the CD should not become "paralyzed by an insistence to attempt tasks that are clearly beyond its capability," and that "the way to make progress in the CD is to work on topics that are suited to it," such as a cutoff treaty. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, in a June 5 address to the CD, also endorsed giving priority to a fissile material cutoff.

Yet, 26 of 29 members of the Group of NonAligned States proposed a mandate on June 12 to establish an ad hoc committee for nuclear disarmament after the group's work proposal proclaimed this as its "highest priority." The nonaligned states, led by India, insist that a cutoff regime should be encompassed within or be considered secondary to nuclear disarmament negotiations. Previously, in a May 31 statement, Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral said India would not sign any forthcoming cutoff treaty.

While the nuclear-weapon states support a ban on the future production of fissile materials, prospects for negotiating are further endangered by substantive disagreements over what such a treaty would entail. A majority of the non-nuclear-weapon states support including stockpiles or "past production."

The appointment of the special coordinators may be the only progress in the conference this year if the delegations cannot agree on a work program or resolve outstanding differences during the final session, scheduled for July 28 to September 10.

DOE Conducts 'Subcritical' Test

On July 2, the Department of Energy (DOE) conducted the first in a series of "subcritical" experiments deep underground at the Nevada Test Site. Although these experiments involve the use of nuclear weapon materials (including plutonium) and high explosives, these components are not in a potential weapons configuration and cannot generate a nuclear yield. DOE maintains that the experiments, which will produce data on the behavior of plutonium under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure, are an "essential component" of its science-based stockpile stewardship program intended to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal under the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty. DOE plans to conduct one more subcritical experiment this fall and four in 1998.

Though the July 2 experiment, code-named "Rebound," drew some international and domestic criticism, most governments (Iran was the notable exception) refrained from characterizing the experiment as a nuclear weapons test and a violation of the CTB Treaty. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Tang Guoqiang said July 3 Beijing "will closely follow this situation" and urged all states to "faithfully fulfill their commitments" under the treaty. That same day, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns replied that the subcritical experiments are consistent with the CTB Treaty because they are not nuclear tests and that the Chinese "ought to get their physics right."

Earlier, in a June 20 letter to President Bill Clinton, 44 members of the House of Representatives urged the administration to cancel the experiments, claiming that they are not necessary to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile and "could severely damage global entry-into-force of the [CTB]."


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