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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

Ending Pakistan's Nuclear Addiction

The people of Pakistan face multiple hardships: catastrophic flooding, a Taliban-affiliated insurgency, political assassinations, and chronic poverty. Yet, the country’s powerful military establishment has directed much of the nation’s wealth and perhaps even international nuclear technical assistance to building a nuclear arsenal that does nothing to address these urgent threats.

Daryl G. Kimball

The people of Pakistan face multiple hardships: catastrophic flooding, a Taliban-affiliated insurgency, political assassinations, and chronic poverty. Yet, the country’s powerful military establishment has directed much of the nation’s wealth and perhaps even international nuclear technical assistance to building a nuclear arsenal that does nothing to address these urgent threats.

Pakistan already has enough nuclear material to build at least 100 bombs—more than enough nuclear firepower to deter an attack from its neighbor and rival, India, which itself possesses enough separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) for about 140 bombs.

Nevertheless, Pakistan’s leaders insist they must produce even more fissile material—HEU and plutonium—to keep pace with India. Fresh reports indicate Pakistan now is building a fourth unsafeguarded production reactor at Khushab.

The continued and uncontrolled expansion of these nuclear arsenals raises the risk that a border skirmish between Islamabad and New Delhi could go nuclear. Also, Pakistan’s weapons and nuclear material stockpiles are a prime target for terrorists. Its nuclear technology could once again be sold on the black market by insiders, just as A.Q. Khan did for years.

The U.S. relationship with Pakistan is now focused on turning back the Taliban and al Qaeda, but the United States no longer can afford to postpone serious efforts to break Pakistan’s nuclear addiction and encourage Pakistan, India, and China to exercise greater nuclear restraint.

To do so, stopping the production of fissile material for weapons and pursuing the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) once again must be top U.S. priorities. In 1998 the United States supported a UN Security Council resolution condemning India’s and Pakistan’s tit-for-tat nuclear explosions and calling on the two countries to sign the CTBT and halt fissile production for weapons.

At the time, the two states might have agreed to a production cutoff and signed the CTBT. But other commercial and strategic priorities, including the 2008 civil nuclear trade exemption for India and the U.S.-led offensive against the Taliban, have pushed nonproliferation opportunities to the margins.

In 2009, President Barack Obama pledged to “lead a global effort” to negotiate a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD). Given that France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all declared a halt to fissile material production for weapons, and China is believed to have halted production, a global fissile production halt would have its greatest impact on India, Pakistan, and possibly China.

Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to block the start of the negotiation, citing India’s greater fissile production potential from the plutonium in the spent fuel of its unsafeguarded power reactors, which could provide enough material for several hundred more bombs.

On Feb. 28, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made another strong pitch at the CD directed at Pakistan to allow work finally to begin on the FMCT. Until it does, U.S. and other diplomats are urging informal technical talks. Such efforts are laudable but insufficient. India and the major nuclear suppliers—France, Russia, and the United States—must do more to help break the cycle. India can and should declare that it will not increase its rate of fissile production and will put additional nonmilitary reactors under safeguards. Such a move could increase Indian security by pressuring Pakistan and China to make similar pledges.

Even if FMCT talks begin soon, it will be many years before a treaty is completed and it enters into force. By that time, India and Pakistan will have accumulated still more bomb material.

Bolder action is in order. In particular, the five original nuclear-weapon states should seek an agreement by all states with facilities not subject to safeguards voluntarily to suspend fissile material production and place stocks in excess of military requirements under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection.

Encouraging China and Israel to participate would be key. For Israel, which does not need more fissile material and has an aging reactor at Dimona, the moratorium would make a virtue out of necessity and improve its nonproliferation record. China should support the initiative because it could lead India to slow the growth of its military fissile material stockpile.

To increase leverage further, the Obama administration and Congress should press for an investigation of the IAEA technical support programs in Pakistan, which undoubtedly have aided its bomb production program. For two decades, Pakistan has received million of dollars of IAEA help for operational upgrades and control systems for its safeguarded reactors at the same time it was building and operating reactors of the same design outside safeguards for its military program.

Taken together, these steps could persuade Pakistan to drop its opposition to negotiations to halt the further production of nuclear bomb material and help slow the expensive and dangerous South Asian arms race.

UN Tackles Disarmament Machinery

Following a rare high-level meeting of UN members in September discussing ways to “revitalize” UN bodies addressing disarmament and nonproliferation, this year’s First Committee deliberations paid considerable attention to the role and methods of the international “disarmament machinery.”

Peter Crail

Following a rare high-level meeting of UN members in September discussing ways to “revitalize” UN bodies addressing disarmament and nonproliferation, this year’s First Committee deliberations paid considerable attention to the role and methods of the international “disarmament machinery.”

At the heart of the discussions on the disarmament machinery lies an increasing frustration with the failure of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN disarmament negotiating forum, to commence substantive work over the past 12 years. The high-level meeting convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Sept. 24 focused particularly on the working methods of the CD, which requires consensus for substantive as well as procedural issues, and placed the issue on the First Committee agenda this fall. (See ACT, October 2010.)

Diplomatic sources said in October that the First Committee discussions following that meeting only retraced the divisions that existed. The First Committee is the UN General Assembly forum in which UN members discuss disarmament and international security matters.

Although some delegations argued in the committee that the difficulties faced in the disarmament bodies are related to a lack of political will rather than the machinery itself, others pointed specifically to the workings of the UN bodies as hurdles to progress on disarmament issues.

“It is particularly frustrating that, at a time when the momentum on disarmament has rarely been stronger, the machinery itself has become an obstacle to capitalize on this momentum,” Ambassador Hilde Skorpen of Norway said during an Oct. 18 debate on the topic.

A number of countries, including Australia, Japan, and the United States, echoed her sentiments and suggested that if the CD remained unable to begin negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material, such a treaty should be pursued outside the CD.

The CD adopted a work program last year for the first time in more than a decade, but since then, Pakistan has blocked the start of negotiations, expressing concerns that a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) would not affect India’s existing stocks of fissile material.

In an Oct. 18 statement, Laura Kennedy, U.S. permanent representative to the CD, said that “it strikes us as unwarranted for a single country to abuse the consensus principle and thereby frustrate everyone’s desire to resume serious disarmament efforts.”

Islamabad’s opposition to language on an FMCT in the First Committee was far more pronounced than in previous years. Although Pakistan joined the consensus in a resolution supporting the commencement of negotiations on such a treaty last year, it was the sole country to vote in opposition in October. North Korea and Syria abstained.

Pakistan also cast the sole “no” votes against amendments calling for FMCT negotiations in two separate resolutions on nuclear disarmament and joined China and North Korea in voting against a similar amendment in a third such resolution. The third resolution, sponsored by Japan, not only promoted FMCT negotiations, but also called on states to declare moratoriums on fissile material production.

China is the only recognized nuclear-weapon state not to have declared such a moratorium, although it is widely believed to have stopped fissile material production in the early 1990s.

In an Oct. 14 statement explaining Islamabad’s position on an FMCT, Pakistani Permanent Representative to the CD Zamir Akram suggested that a 2008 exemption for civilian cooperation with India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) “shall further accentuate the existing asymmetry of fissile material stockpiles in our region.” (See ACT, October 2008.)

The NSG is an informal collection of 46 major suppliers of nuclear goods.

U.S. Hesitant on Space Initiatives

In the First Committee’s discussion of outer space and space security issues, the United States continued to highlight its ongoing consideration of transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space and of legally binding space security measures following its decision to carry out a space policy review last year. Washington released its new space policy in June in a document promoting confidence-building measures in space and stating an openness to arms control measures “if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.” (See ACT, September 2010.)

Between 2006 and 2009, the United States opposed multilateral arms control initiatives on space.

In spite of the policy shift, the Obama administration indicated that it still would not vote in favor of the specific First Committee resolutions on space, including those promoting transparency and confidence-building steps, and legally binding arrangements.

The United States abstained on a Russian-sponsored resolution calling for a group of governmental experts to study the prospect of transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space because of a preambular reference to a Chinese-Russian proposal on a treaty banning weapons in outer space in the CD.

In an Oct. 22 statement, Kennedy said the United States could not support “artificial linkages” between transparency and confidence-building measures on the one hand and “fundamentally flawed proposals for arms control” such as the Chinese-Russian treaty proposal on the other. She noted that China and Russia acknowledge that such a treaty is unverifiable and that it does not prohibit the development of ground-based anti-satellite weapons.

The measure was otherwise adopted with 167 countries voting in favor, none opposed, and none besides the United States abstaining.

The United States continued to abstain on the annual resolution in the CD calling for the negotiation of a treaty on preventing an arms race in space. U.S. officials have said that Washington supports discussions, but not negotiations, on this topic at the CD.

Debate on Small Arms

Prolonged negotiations took place during the committee session over the adoption of a resolution tabled by Colombia, Japan, and South Africa on combating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

Although no states opposed the measure, Mexico submitted an amendment stating that such illicit trade hampers social and economic development. The language in the amendment was agreed at a June meeting, chaired by Mexico, of states-parties to the UN program of action on small arms, an international instrument on combating illicit small arms proliferation. (See ACT, July/August 2010.)

The amendment also called for the 2012 program of action review conference to consider ways to strengthen the accord.

Japan indicated that the Mexican language was included in an initial committee draft, but that Japan could not obtain consensus on the language and removed it. Mexico insisted that it would not favor the adoption of the resolution without the amended language.

In an Oct. 29 vote, the Mexican amendment was defeated by a vote of 19-54, with 70 countries abstaining. The states voting against the amendment included major industrialized countries, including the United States, and many developing nations.

The original resolution then was adopted with 167 votes and Mexico abstaining.


Pakistan Raises New Issues at Stalled CD

Pakistan has raised a new set of concerns in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN body responsible for negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Islamabad’s objections are holding up the CD’s approval of a program of work on an FMCT and other issues.

Eric Auner

Pakistan has raised a new set of concerns in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN body responsible for negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Islamabad’s objections are holding up the CD’s approval of a program of work on an FMCT and other issues.

The stalemate prompted a comment from CD Secretary-General Sergey Ordzhonikidze. Speaking Feb. 11 on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ordzhonikidze expressed “great disappointment” with the body’s lack of progress, according to an official meeting summary. He described progress in the CD as “not even zero, it was minus.”

The 65-nation CD had been deadlocked since the conclusion of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations in 1996. The CD, which operates through consensus, agreed on a work plan in May 2009. Pakistan did not block the plan, although Zamir Akram, Pakistani ambassador to the CD, said at the time it was “not perfect.” The plan included negotiations on an FMCT, as well as substantive discussions on progress toward nuclear disarmament, the prevention of an arms race in space, and the provision of negative security assurances to states not possessing nuclear weapons. (See ACT, June 2009.) The CD failed to adopt a framework to implement that work plan by the end of 2009, due in part to Pakistani concerns.

In January, Akram temporarily blocked the adoption of an agenda for the year as he suggested expanding the issues that it addresses. In a Jan. 19 statement to a CD plenary meeting, he said the “international arms control architecture is incomplete” without a “global regime on missiles.” He went on to say that “the issues of conventional arms control at regional levels and missiles are now pressing problems for the international community.”

The Indian delegation to the CD responded in a statement later that day, opposing the consideration of regional arms control issues at the CD. But the delegation said the CD could address some aspects of a global missile control regime.

In addition, the Pakistani government recently restated its opposition to an FMCT, citing regional security concerns. “Pakistan’s position [on an FMCT] will be determined by its national security interests and the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia. Selective and discriminatory measures that perpetuate regional instability…cannot be accepted or endorsed,” Pakistan’s National Command Authority said in a press release issued after a Jan. 13 meeting. The authority is the body responsible for formulating all aspects of Pakistani nuclear policy.

One of the issues surrounding the proposed FMCT is whether it should cover existing stockpiles as well as future production.

Akram communicated the country’s position to the CD in a Feb. 18 statement. “The FMCT that has been proposed will only ban future production of fissile material” and will “increase the existing asymmetry in fissile materials stockpiles between Pakistan and [India].” Akram said that India would be able to increase its fissile material stockpiles as a result of the 2008 waiver it received from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). (See ACT, October 2008.)

India does not allow international inspections of all its nuclear facilities. Acceptance of full-scope safeguards, as they are known, is a key requirement under NSG export guidelines. The 2008 decision made an exception for India, allowing New Delhi to import nuclear material, equipment, and technology. Critics of the move have said that India’s access to the international uranium market will allow India to devote more of its limited domestic uranium supply to building up its nuclear arsenal.

“We must ensure that the asymmetry” arising from an Indian stockpile increase “does not erode the credibility of our deterrence,” Akram said.

The NSG, which includes more than 40 countries, proceeded with the waiver “because their greed got the better of their principles or they simply lacked the courage of their convictions,” he said.

Ordzhonikidze responded to the Pakistani ambassador later that day. “[I]t is very hard to imagine that a program of work…will hamper [in] any way the strategic security of any member state,” he said.

Hamid Ali Rao, India’s ambassador to the CD, said Feb. 18 that “[t]he CD is not the forum to address bilateral or regional issues.” He urged the Pakistanis to avoid bringing up “extraneous” issues in the CD.



Breakthrough and Breakdown at the Conference on Disarmament: Assessing the Prospects for an FM(C)T

The May 29 adoption of a program of work by the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva marked the first time in 11 years that the 65-member body had taken such action. That step was a cause for celebration as it appeared to open the door to the negotiation of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. (Continue)

Paul Meyer

The May 29 adoption of a program of work by the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva marked the first time in 11 years that the 65-member body had taken such action. That step was a cause for celebration as it appeared to open the door to the negotiation of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

The White House was quick to applaud the development with a statement by President Barack Obama welcoming “today’s important agreement at the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which will end production of fissile materials for use in atomic bombs.”[1] Regrettably, the applause now seems premature as events since May 29 suggest that hopes for rapid progress in the CD are unrealistic.

The negotiation of a fissile material (cutoff) treaty (FM(C)T)[2] is a long-standing goal of the international community. For a brief period in the late summer of 1998, the CD began work toward this objective but failed to renew the program in January 1999 due to a dispute over the contents of the CD’s work program. That impasse continued until this spring. In his statement to the plenary June 4, Argentine ambassador and CD President Roberto García Moritán termed the CD’s prolonged failure to adopt a work program a “tragedy for multilateralism.”

The CD’s stalemate reflected two key institutional characteristics of the forum: it makes all its decisions by consensus, and the work program requires annual renewal. In other words, the CD must reach consensus each year on the program.

This article will briefly describe how the program came to be approved, review some of the obstacles placed in the way of starting negotiations, and comment on the apparent motivations behind these obstacles. It will conclude by considering possible future moves to reactivate multilateral work on an FM(C)T.

Reaching Consensus

Two key elements facilitated the CD’s adoption of the program of work, which includes a provision for the negotiation of an FM(C)T.

First, the FM(C)T forms part of a work program that also foresees activity on three other “core” CD issues: nuclear disarmament, the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), and negative security assurances, a term that refers to international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that they will not be attacked with nuclear weapons or threatened with such attacks. Each of these items has figured on the agenda of the CD for many years, and each is seen as a priority by various regional groupings and subsets of the CD membership. An essential element of the CD’s success was that the agreed work program as set out in document CD/1864 had something for everyone by incorporating all four of these core issues, not to mention some attention to three, more peripheral agenda items.[3]

Second, CD/1864 utilizes language that refers to a mandate previously adopted by the CD and under which the short-lived negotiations of 1998 took place. Known as the Shannon mandate in honor of the late Ambassador Gerald Shannon of Canada, who crafted it in 1995, it was seen as an enduring decision.[4] In a 2004 reversal of long-standing U.S. policy, however, the Bush administration rejected the mandate’s requirement that the prospective treaty be “internationally and effectively verifiable.” The administration argued that the requirement was impractical and should be discarded.

This breakdown of the traditional consensus around the mandate under which an FM(C)T would be negotiated further complicated the prevailing gridlock at the CD and made the prospect of initiating work on the treaty even more remote. With the advent of the Obama administration, the United States has restored the fractured consensus on the FM(C)T mandate by once again supporting a verifiable treaty.

In addition to the two key elements described above, several smaller but still important factors contributed to the breakthrough at the CD. One of these factors was the generally improved diplomatic atmosphere created by the new Obama administration, as epitomized by the president’s April 5 Prague speech. That speech articulated a far-reaching vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and included specific commitments to an FM(C)T and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). These commitments are top priorities for multilateral arms control, as set out in the decisions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) 1995 and 2000 review conferences. Another positive driver at the CD was the widespread belief of NPT member states, in the wake of the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, that some major new impetus to multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament efforts was needed to promote a successful result at the rapidly approaching 2010 review conference.

Procedural Hurdles

In the CD, the adoption of a program of work is a necessary but, unfortunately, not a sufficient condition for success. Consensus around a work program can unravel rapidly. Events since May 29 have confirmed earlier suspicions that not all CD member states are unequivocally committed to getting FM(C)T negotiations under way. Efforts over the last two years at the CD to gain agreement on a work program had already prompted China, Iran, and Pakistan in particular to express dissent over the emerging compromise proposal for work.[5] The experience of the CD’s June session, during which García Moritán and, as of the last week of the session, Ambassador Caroline Millar of Australia, his successor as president, attempted to transform the latent accord represented by the work program into an active work schedule, suggests that these three states continue to oppose commencing work on this agenda item. García Moritán carefully constructed a list of chairmen and special coordinators for the various items of the work program and elaborated a schedule for a balanced consideration of these items in the remaining four weeks of the 2009 CD. In the face of objections from China and Pakistan, he failed to seek approval of these draft decisions at the June 26 plenary that marked the end of his presidency. Unfortunately, the CD’s rules of procedure and the stringent application of the consensus rule on all manner of decisions can allow a single member state to wreak havoc with even the most measured proposal for organizing work.

Pakistan has been probably the most vocal CD member in expressing its reservations regarding the proposed work program and the initiation of negotiations on an FM(C)T. At the CD’s June 4 plenary, in the immediate aftermath of the adoption of the work program, Ambassador Zamir Akram of Pakistan said, “We did not stand in the way of consensus on [the draft version of the work program], which has been achieved in good faith that work on all core issues would lead to the initiation of actual negotiations on legally binding instruments for universal and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament, [negative security assurances,] and PAROS. We would like to see progress in tandem on all core issues. Only this can ensure equal security for all states.”[6]

The call for equal treatment of the four core issues of the CD is one that can be expected to be raised again, to the detriment of FM(C)T negotiations. The fact that an FM(C)T is the only one of the four core issues to have been granted an explicit negotiating mandate under CD/1864 provides a basis for the proponents of negotiations on the other core issues to continue to seek equal treatment or parallel progress. That was the position that Iranian Ambassador Ali Reza Moaiyeri expressed in his June 11 statement:

The Conference should vigorously pursue its deliberations with the view to start negotiations on legally binding instruments on the four core issues. In our understanding the substantive work of the CD on all four core issues would be measured by real progress and not merely with focusing on some issues and manifestation of a talk show on the others.[7]

To the extent that states insist on equal treatment of the four issues in the working groups, progress on an FM(C)T could be held hostage to progress on the other three issues.

If reaffirming the need for equal treatment of the four core issues did not constitute a suitably high hurdle for García Moritán’s efforts to operationalize the program of work set out in CD/1864, Akram’s statement of the following week enumerated several additional procedural issues, any one of which, in the context of the CD’s consensus decision-making, could pose a significant pitfall to the president’s efforts to get the CD back to work. The selection of chairmen for the working groups entrusted with each of the issues is one area in which matters can be readily complicated. Adding to the principle of equitable geographic distribution of the chairmanships, Akram suggested that the chairmen “should not be from P-5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council], non-NPT states or countries in a military alliance or countries enjoying nuclear protection.”[8] The NPT criterion would exclude Akram’s own country, as well as India, Israel, and North Korea. The other elements of the formula would eliminate most members of the western and eastern European groups of states, which constitute two of the three regional groupings of the CD. The third group is the “Group of 21” Nonaligned Movement states. China, which acts as a group of its own, would be ineligible under Akram’s formula because it is a permanent member of the Security Council.

To complicate matters even more, Akram also stressed the importance of rotation for the chairmanships and suggested that the term of the chairmen be synchronized with the term of the CD presidents. In effect, this would impose on the chairmen the same cumbersome cycle of rotation that is required for the CD presidents. During the CD’s six months of actual working time each year, there are six presidencies, each of them lasting only a few weeks. In recent years, collaboration among the six CD presidents has allowed for common annual presidential platforms, which have been a marked improvement over the disjointed series of presidencies that were the norm in previous years.

To have the working group chairmen rotate out of their posts after a mere four to six weeks would pose major problems of continuity and sustained purpose in these activities. If all the criteria laid out for the chairmanships in Akram’s statement (neutrality, equitable geographic representation, frequent rotation, ambassadorial rank) were adopted, it would be very challenging to identify chairmen for the four working groups, let alone sustain substantive negotiation and discussions during the course of a year.

The Pakistani and Iranian ambassadors also flagged the importance of time allocation in the schedule for work. The working groups on the four core issues should have a “balanced allocation of time,” Akram said.[9] Moaiyeri went even further in stating that “the planning for implementation of the programme of work should carefully consider balanced allotment of time for the working groups and special coordinators.”[10] Devising a schedule of activity that is able to manage such a precise “balance” will be a difficult task. Unfortunately, the history of multilateral conferences on nonproliferation and disarmament is full of examples of protracted squabbles over proposed time allocations.

China has been less prominent in CD interventions on the issue of the program of work, but in its June 26 statement, it quite clearly opposed the president’s operational proposal to get down to work. Drawing on ancient Chinese proverbs (a favorite technique of China’s multilateral diplomats), China’s ambassador, Wang Qun, argued that “this melon is not ripe yet” and that the CD members “need to still exercise a bit of patience.”[11] Enumerating his objections to the president’s proposal, Wang suggested that the mandates of the chairmen and special coordinators, as well as their rotation, had not been discussed and that the length of their tenure was not clear. Furthermore, he took issue with the president’s submittal of two draft decisions (CD/1866, with its list of chairmen and special coordinators, and CD/1867, with the proposed work schedule for the remainder of the CD session) instead of a combined document. He contended that the relationship between these two drafts would require study. Finally, he argued that the duration of the arrangement was not clear even though CD/1867’s purpose was to implement CD/1864, which in turn established the work program for the 2009 session (as clearly stated in its title). Despite the behind-the-scenes consultations undertaken by the president prior to tabling his proposal, Wang argued that delegations required more time to study the draft decisions and to receive instructions from capitals.

In the face of these objections, García Moritán declined to put his proposals to the CD for decision. The gavel came down on his presidency and likely on the prospects for getting the CD back to work this year. There was little that his successor, Millar, could accomplish to advance matters in the one week left prior to the CD’s one-month summer recess. The interventions by Iran and Pakistan at the final July 2 plenary, while affirming optimism and support, only contributed additional complicating factors for the president to take into consideration.

Millar tried to pick up the pieces when the CD resumed August 3 with the introduction of a new combined draft decision (CD/1870 Rev 1) that accommodated the Chinese desire to work with a single document. This simply prolonged the ordeal as Pakistan came up with new objections (ostensibly relating to unspecified problems with the introductory language of the decision) when Millar put the draft decision to the CD plenary on August 10. Ambassador Akio Suda of Japan, picking up on the imagery used by the Chinese Ambassador prior to the summer recess, remarked that the “melon” the CD bought was now beyond ripe and was “rotten”. Millar held a further plenary August 17 where she was forced to state that no consensus existed to adopt the decision, and the Chinese and Iranian representatives made a point of intervening to praise her efforts and urged her to pursue her consultations. This she gamely did until August 20, the last plenary of her presidency, when she was obliged to advise the CD that a consensus on implementing the agreed program of work was still not possible. As she observed in her closing statement: “To those unfamiliar with the arcane workings of this chamber, this is neither understandable nor acceptable. To those within it, it is all too familiar and dispiriting.”[12]

The sentiment expressed by Ambassador Millar was widely shared in the council chamber. As U.S. Ambassador Garold Larson stated:

We, the members of the Conference on Disarmament, agreed to take up that task on May 29, and the global community gave a sigh of relief that the CD was, at long last, back to work. It is, then profoundly disappointing that nearly three months later, we have yet to accomplish the simple, straightforward, procedural task of agreeing on a schedule of work.[13]

Even if by some diplomatic miracle all the elements for operationalizing CD/1864 could have been put into place at the CD this session, there would still be the objection that such arrangements are only valid for a given year and that the whole schema, including the underlying work program, would be up for fresh consideration at the start of the CD’s new year in January. It does not take a diplomatic Machiavelli to see the potential for disruption and delay that the CD procedural rules afford any member state that may be unenthusiastic about the prospect of actually negotiating a binding agreement on fissile material or any other of the CD’s core issues. It is all too easy for CD delegations to let the clock run out on another effort to resume work while engaging in further “study,” “consultations,” and the eternal wait for instructions from capitals. This is a diplomatic version of Waiting for Godot.

Substantive Objections

The pitfalls outlined above represent only the procedural problems that may impede negotiation of an FM(C)T. Major substantive issues also divide the CD members; those issues presumably inform the stalling tactics witnessed at the CD. In particular, the question of whether the treaty should deal with existing stocks of fissile material or prohibit only future production continues to elicit diametrically opposing positions on the part of key CD member states.

By way of illustration, two non-NPT CD members possessing fissile material and nuclear weapons are India and Pakistan. Because both are currently engaged in production of fissile material for nuclear-weapon purposes, the start of negotiations of an FM(C)T raises major security issues for them. In a statement to the CD’s May 29 plenary, Ambassador Hamid Rao of India, while reiterating his country’s support for the goal of an FM(C)T negotiated under the Shannon mandate, specified, “The scope of such a treaty would focus on the future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”[14] He further warned that “[w]e will not accept obligations not in keeping with or prejudicial to our national security interests or which hinder our strategic programme, our R&D as well as three-stage nuclear programme.”[15]

In contrast, Akram set out a very different stance on stocks and included an indirect critique of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and the subsequent lifting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ban on nuclear trade with India:

As regards the Fissile Material Treaty [FMT], the CD membership is fully cognizant that [the issue of] existing and future stocks has assumed greater significance for Pakistan in the light of the nuclear cooperation arrangements in our neighbourhood. These upset the strategic balance in the region. Unless the equilibrium is re-established, the fashioning of an appropriate FMT appears to be a difficult challenge. A treaty which would merely legalize national moratoria of nuclear-weapons-states and freeze the asymmetries will undermine the international community’s vision of a nuclear weapons free world as well as Pakistan’s national security.[16]

The differing strategic assessments that underlie the opposing positions expressed on the issue of whether stocks should be included in an FM(C)T are not limited to India and Pakistan. Some states say a ban on future production would be valuable in itself. Others say that, to have real value, it would have to encompass existing stocks, thus making it a nuclear disarmament as well as a nonproliferation measure. Although some of this debate is more theological than practical in nature, the inclusion of stocks is viewed as curtailing the manufacture of new nuclear weapons or the renewal of existing weapons. A mere production ban would bar new entrants while allowing existing members of the nuclear weapons club to draw on their existing stockpiles of fissile material to fashion additional arms.

Iran is one state calling for the inclusion of stocks. It argues that the FM(C)T “should be a clear and meaningful step for nuclear disarmament and non proliferation in all its aspects…. Past production and existing stocks as well as the future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices must be covered under the scope of the Treaty.”[17]

Verification is also a significant aspect that would need to be addressed in FM(C)T negotiations. The change of administration in the United States, as noted earlier, has permitted the reaffirmation of the Shannon mandate’s formula of an “internationally and effectively verifiable treaty.” At the same time, the practical meaning of the phrase remains an open issue. Several CD states have made good use of the conference’s fallow years by developing working papers and hosting seminars dedicated to verification. Yet, no single arrangement has emerged as a clear favorite of the CD. It may not prove efficient for negotiators to devote too much time to elaborating verification schemes until the parameters of an FM(C)T are clearer because provisions for verification are closely associated with the scope of the treaty.

Assessing Motivations

As suggested above, the actual significance of the CD’s adoption of a work program for the initiation of negotiations of an FM(C)T remains to be seen. The strategic perceptions that underlie the apparent delaying tactics being employed by China, Iran, and Pakistan to impede the start of talks on an FM(C)T can only be surmised. For Pakistan, it seems that a perception of inferiority with respect to India in terms of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes motivates the desire to avoid any constraints on production until Pakistan has “caught up.” The reality of this pursuit is debatable, given India’s own capacities and additional potential for displacement from the civilian to the military sectors of its nuclear program under the new NSG-sanctioned external supply arrangements. Once on the nuclear arms race treadmill, it is difficult to get off. An alternative strategy open to Pakistan would be to cap India’s arsenal as well as its own via a verifiable FM(C)T, especially one that would address present stocks as well as future production, as advocated by Pakistan. Notably, India, while as adamant as Pakistan in proclaiming the need for any eventual FM(C)T to be compatible with its national security interests, has not joined Pakistan in efforts to delay the initiation of negotiations. This approach may be based more on a desire to conform with commitments made to the United States in the context of their bilateral nuclear deal than on any deep Indian attachment to the goal of an FM(C)T.

For China, the motivation in letting the FM(C)T melon linger on the vine likely reflects a strategic calculation that Beijing may require a resumption of fissile material production for reinforcing its nuclear deterrent forces in light of possible future moves by the United States (expansion of ballistic missile defenses) or India (increase in its longer-range ballistic missile forces). This perceived need for a strategic “hedge” may explain why China, alone among the recognized nuclear-weapon states, has declined to commit officially to a cessation of fissile material production for nuclear weapons purposes. In this regard, it is noteworthy that China reportedly opposed the inclusion of a reaffirmation by nuclear-weapon states of the existing moratorium on fissile material production in draft recommendations compiled by the chairman at this year’s Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2010 NPT Review Conference.[18]

For Iran, the strategic calculus underlying its CD diplomacy is even more obscure. It may be a function of the priority that Tehran gives to nuclear disarmament among the CD’s four core issues and its concern that an FM(C)T not serve only as a nonproliferation instrument. Iran’s ongoing dispute with the international community over the nature of its nuclear program may be another factor, although an FM(C)T that involved some constraints on military fissile material production and stocks would seem to be in Iran’s regional security interests if applied as well to Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and other states in the region.

Options for Action

For the vast majority of CD members and other non-nuclear-weapon states that would welcome immediate resumption of work on an FM(C)T, the aftermath of the May 29 adoption of a work program does not augur well for the future. As noted above, some states have raised procedural obstacles that have effectively stymied the efforts of CD presidents to operationalize the agreed program for this year. Even if a program is adopted next January, similar steps could be taken to block efforts to get it up and running. Clever follow-up arrangements and strong leadership on the part of future CD presidents may be able to navigate around some of the procedural shoals identified above, but CD rules of procedure and the extreme application of the consensus principle practiced in that body tend to impede if not negate progress.

If this treaty project is to advance in this diplomatic forum in the near term, the friends of an FM(C)T will have to sustain public attention and political pressure on the CD’s participants. Targeted diplomatic démarches on the holdout capitals would be crucial to any strategy to overcome the blockage at the CD. These might entail a mix of incentives to cooperate (e.g., more forthcoming attitudes on the nuclear disarmament and PAROS priorities of the obstructing states) as well as warnings of intensified public criticism of (and private penalty for) their blocking tactics, if continued.

It may also be time to challenge CD member states’ apparently infinite capacity to tolerate stalemate at the conference. If governments are serious about initiating negotiations on an FM(C)T, they must move beyond lamenting the gridlock at the CD and devise alternative diplomatic strategies for achieving this aim. In an earlier article, I suggested a number of alternative options for commencing work on an FM(C)T.[19] All of them remain possibilities for dedicated FM(C)T proponents if the CD continues to come up empty-handed and make a mockery of its mandate.

The suggestion of launching a negotiation under NPT auspices may be particularly appealing with the convening of the review conference next May and in light of the absence from that forum of some of the states that are more problematic from an FM(C)T perspective. The history of arms control suggests that codifying a widely held norm can have a major influence on the behavior of even those states that initially stand aside from the enterprise. The NPT itself is a good example of this effect, not to mention the more recent multilateral accords on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions.

A key missing ingredient in the FM(C)T file over the last years has been leadership by influential states possessing fissile material. Although the return of the United States to the Shannon mandate, the bold speeches by British leaders at the CD on the imperative of resuming progress on nuclear disarmament, and the French government’s organization of visits by CD delegations to its closed-down military fissile material facilities are all commendable, it would be more useful if one of these nuclear-weapon states had convened a diplomatic conference dedicated to an FM(C)T and considering how best to bring one about. Perhaps it is not too late for Obama to make this a central focus of his UN Security Council summit September 24 or the planned nuclear security conference next March. If for some reason the nuclear-weapon states cannot muster the energy to initiate such action, it surely is not beyond the means of major non-nuclear-weapon states to fill this leadership void. It will be a sad commentary on the efficacy of multilateral diplomacy if this fall witnesses the adoption of another consensus UN General Assembly resolution in favor of an FM(C)T and the utter failure of the same member states to give it any practical effect.

Paul Meyer served as Canada’s ambassador and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament from 2003 to 2007. He is currently director general of the Security and Intelligence Bureau at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the department.


1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Statement by the President on Beginning of Negotiations on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty,” May 29, 2009.

2. I have adopted the abbreviation FM(C)T for this treaty as utilized by the International Panel on Fissile Materials, which in its commendable draft treaty text of March 16, 2009, explains that this name makes explicit the unresolved issue of the treaty’s scope. See www.fissilematerials.org.

3. In addition to setting up Working Groups on the four “core” issues, CD/1864 provided for the appointment of Special Coordinators on the following items: “New types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons; radiological weapons,” “Comprehensive programme of Disarmament,” and “Transparency in armaments.” These items are generally seen as less “ripe” for negotiation and hence carry a lower priority than the four “core” issues for which Working Groups are to be established.

4. The Shannon mandate is contained in CD/1299 of March 24, 1995. For official CD documents and national statements made at plenary meetings and submitted to the Secretariat, see www.unog.ch/disarmament.

5. For a discussion of this period at the CD and its implications for an FM(C)T see Paul Meyer, “Is There Any Fizz Left in the Fissban?” Arms Control Today, December 2007, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2007_12/Meyer.

6. Zamir Akram, statement to the CD, Geneva, June 4, 2009 (hereinafter Akram June 4 statement).

7. Ali Reza Moaiyeri, statement to the CD, Geneva, June 11, 2009 (hereinafter Moaiyeri statement).

8. Zamir Akram, statement to the CD, Geneva, June 11, 2009.

9. Ibid.

10. Moaiyeri statement.

11. Wang Qun, statement to the CD, Geneva, June 26, 2009, available at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

12. Caroline Millar, statement to the CD, Geneva, August 20, 2009, available at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

13. Garold Larson, statement to the CD, Geneva, August 20, 2009, available at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

14. Hamid Rao, statement to the CD, Geneva, May 29, 2009.

15. Ibid.

16. Akram June 4 statement.

17. Moaiyeri statement.

18. See Rebecca Johnson, “Enhanced Prospects for 2010: An Analysis of the Third PrepCom and the Outlook for the 2010 NPT Review Conference,” Arms Control Today, June 2009, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_6/Johnson.

19. See Meyer, “Is There Any Fizz Left in the Fissban?”


CD Breaks Deadlock on Work Plan

The Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed on a program of work May 29, ending 12 years of deadlock. The 65-member conference, which operates by consensus, agreed to negotiate a verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, or a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). The CD also agreed to enter into substantive discussions on nuclear disarmament, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and assurances that non-nuclear-weapon states will not be attacked with nuclear weapons. The CD agreed to establish working groups to consider all four issues. (Continue)

Cole Harvey

The Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed on a program of work May 29, ending 12 years of deadlock. The 65-member conference, which operates by consensus, agreed to negotiate a verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, or a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). The CD also agreed to enter into substantive discussions on nuclear disarmament, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and assurances that non-nuclear-weapon states will not be attacked with nuclear weapons. The CD agreed to establish working groups to consider all four issues.

Dozens of delegations hailed the agreement. The U.S. representative, Garold Larson, said the United States looks forward to "challenging" work after "a decade of stalemate." The Russian delegate, Victor Vasiliev, expressed hope that the agreement "would open up a new chapter for new agreements in international peace and security."

Some delegates, while saying they were pleased that the CD had reached consensus, expressed disappointment that the program of work was not more ambitious. India's representative, Hamid Ali Rao, said that the negotiation of an FMCT would be "a step forward" but faulted the conference for failing to agree to multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. Similarly, Zamir Akram of Pakistan said the agreement was "not perfect" but joined the consensus in order to end the years of deadlock in the conference.

Idriss Jazairy of Algeria, who held the rotating presidency of the CD during the negotiation of the work program, said that the current international climate was "propitious" for agreement in the CD. He cited a growing chorus of high-level voices for nuclear arms control, including a March speech on disarmament and nonproliferation by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the April 1 joint declaration by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He also counted an EU action plan on disarmament and China's support for a nuclear-free world among "many encouraging factors to resume the work" of the CD.

UN Sets Ground for Future Disarmament Battles

The UN General Assembly committee dealing with nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament issues ran a wait-and-see session in October 2008, with progress perhaps stymied by the upcoming presidential transition in the United States. The session, which ended four days before the U.S. election, debated and voted on 58 resolutions. Under the umbrella of nuclear disarmament, the committee usually considers numerous drafts on specific issues-such as operational status, security assurances, and nuclear-weapon-free zones-and three comprehensive, omnibus drafts each year.

Jim Wurst

The UN General Assembly committee dealing with nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament issues ran a wait-and-see session in October 2008, with progress perhaps stymied by the upcoming presidential transition in the United States. The session, which ended four days before the U.S. election, debated and voted on 58 resolutions. Under the umbrella of nuclear disarmament, the committee usually considers numerous drafts on specific issues-such as operational status, security assurances, and nuclear-weapon-free zones-and three comprehensive, omnibus drafts each year.

Each session, countries or groups of countries present draft resolutions on a broad range of disarmament issues, including nuclear, biological, chemical, and space issues; conventional arms such as land mines and cluster munitions; as well as on the machinery by which the United Nations debates these issues, such as the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD). After three weeks of debate on the issues and the drafts, each draft is considered with the goal, usually unrealized, of adopting resolutions by consensus. The majority of drafts on nuclear issues usually pass with large majorities.

Three omnibus drafts on nuclear disarmament were introduced in the Disarmament and International Security Committee, also known as the First Committee, by the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), and Japan. There were slight changes in the language of previous years; nearly all of the additional phrases focused on the nuclear-weapon states' responsibility to eliminate their arsenals under the Article VI disarmament provisions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The NAC, comprised of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden, continued its annual practice of presenting a draft reaffirming the international community's commitments to the NPT and the decisions taken by its nearly 190 states-parties at its once-every-five-years review conferences. In introducing the draft, Ambassador Leslie Gumbi of South Africa said, "The NAC continues to view these issues of nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation as being inextricably linked, and wishes to stress that both therefore require continuous and irreversible progress."

The text entitled "Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Accelerating the Implementation of Nuclear Disarmament Commitments" had the most changes of the three omnibus drafts. Paragraphs were added elaborating on the responsibilities of states-parties to the NPT and the preferred outcome for the remainder of the current NPT review process. For the last two years, states-parties have been preparing for the next treaty review conference in 2010 and will hold their final preparatory session in April.

One addition, for example, calls on the nuclear-weapon states to "accelerate the implementation of the practical steps towards nuclear disarmament" agreed to at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference and the 2000 Review Conference. These measures, in particular the 13 practical steps agreed to in 2000 and a 1995 resolution calling for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, have for the most part stalled. The 13 steps include negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which is stuck in the deadlocked CD, and cuts in strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. More broadly, the United States and France have been walking back from the 2000 commitments, calling them out of date and "suggestions" rather than commitments. Another addition called on the 2009 preparatory committee meeting to "identify and address specific aspects where urgent progress is required" to reach a nuclear-weapon-free world.

The resolution spearheaded by Japan and a range of co-sponsors from developed (Canada, Germany, Switzerland) and developing (Chile, Paraguay) countries was entitled "Renewed Determination Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons." It contained a few new elements that highlight the responsibilities of the nuclear-weapon states, in particular the United States and Russia. One calls on the nuclear powers to "undertake reductions...in a transparent manner" and to increase transparency and confidence-building measures. Another addition calls on the United States and Russia to pursue "the conclusion of a legally binding successor" to START, which expires at the end of 2009. As usual, the bulk of the resolution focused on the range of treaty-based commitments by the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states required for the elimination of nuclear weapons. It was less explicit than the NAC draft in calling for a nuclear-weapon-free world, which is one reason the Japanese text has traditionally gained greater support in the voting.

Although the votes were mostly on track with last year, the NAC resolution did show a bit more progress in swaying abstainers. The 2008 vote was 141 to five, with six abstentions; in 2007 the same five voted no (France, India, Israel, North Korea, and the United States), but 13 had abstained. The movement from abstention to yes this year came from Australia and some NATO countries, including Greece, Hungary, and Poland. There was also a slight shift on the Japan-led draft. In 2007, three countries voted no: India, North Korea, and the United States. This year, those three were joined by Israel. The abstentions shifted from 10 last year to six this year.

The third draft, the NAM comprehensive text on "Nuclear Disarmament," contained every nuclear disarmament initiative endorsed by the group of developing countries. These include no-first-use and de-alerting of nuclear weapons, the creation of an ad hoc committee on disarmament at the CD, the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the negotiation of a "non-discriminatory, multilateral...and verifiable" FMCT, and a halt to qualitative improvements in nuclear weapons. Similar to the other two, this year's version has a couple of additions, each designed to sharpen the focus on the elimination of nuclear weapons. The 2008 vote was 104 to 44 with 21 abstentions, following the pattern of last year. Because the NAM draft goes far beyond generally agreed treaty language, it has the least success in gathering positive votes.

The United States voted against all three resolutions. In explaining its vote against the NAC draft, the U.S. representative said that although Washington supports the NPT, the keystone to the NAC draft, it could not support some of the elements, so it voted no. The Bush administration has not supported U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and maintains that parts of the 1995 and 2000 NPT commitments have been superseded by events. China abstained on the "Renewed Determination" text while voting in favor of the other two, saying the draft has elements that were "not feasible in current circumstances," without elaborating on which elements were not feasible.

As much as a trend can be read into the debate, it is that the non-nuclear-weapon states are sharpening their argument ahead of the third and final preparatory session for the 2010 NPT Review Conference: that the success of the NPT cannot be separated from real progress in nuclear disarmament.

Last year, the most dynamic resolution was on the operational status of nuclear weapons. The key line "calls for further practical steps to be taken to decrease the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems, with a view to ensuring that all nuclear weapons are removed from high alert status." Co-sponsored by Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sweden, and Switzerland, the text walks a fine line between calling for meaningful actions and not too greatly offending non-nuclear NATO countries. In its second year, there was little debate because the draft changed little. The vote was about the same as well. There were 134 yes votes and three votes against: France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. China and Russia abstained. In total, 32 countries abstained, largely NATO members and states applying for NATO membership. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States made a joint statement after the vote, saying they "disagree with the basic premise" of the resolution. They said their weapons "are subject to the most rigorous command and control systems" and "the relationship between alert levels and security is complex, and not reducible to such simple formulaic responses."


Conference on Disarmament Comes Up Empty Again

Despite urging from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many participating governments, the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) proved unable in 2008 to break its long-standing stalemate on negotiating priorities. It has been 12 years since the CD last produced an arms control agreement. (Continue)

Manasi Kakatkar

Despite urging from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many participating governments, the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) proved unable in 2008 to break its long-standing stalemate on negotiating priorities. It has been 12 years since the CD last produced an arms control agreement.

In March, this year’s conference presidents proposed a program of work for the 2008 session, but it failed to win consensus support from members even by the end of the session in September. The draft program included appointing Ambassador Sumio Tarui of Japan as the coordinator for negotiations on a proposed fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would ban the production of fissile material—plutonium and highly enriched uranium—for weapons purposes. Such negotiations would be conducted without preconditions, including over verification issues, and allow all delegations to pursue their positions and submit proposals on issues relevant to them.

Since the UN General Assembly called for FMCT negotiations in 1993, differences over whether the talks should address existing stocks and require “effective verification” and how to define materials have stalled progress. Some see a treaty excluding existing stocks of fissile materials as useless and weak. In 1995, members of the conference had agreed to begin negotiations on an “effectively verifiable” FMCT under the Shannon mandate, which refers to a negotiating directive for the treaty brokered by Canada’s then-ambassador to the conference, Gerald Shannon.

The Bush administration withdrew its support for the Shannon mandate in 2004 after an internal policy review raised concerns about the verifiability of an FMCT. (See ACT, September 2004.) As such, U.S. officials claim that requisite verification measures would ultimately burden lawful states and fail to deter cheaters. Similarly, France and Pakistan have expressed concerns about intrusive and expensive verification regimes. Several countries have also raised concerns that verification negotiations could prolong talks by years, allowing countries to produce fissile materials until final agreement is reached. However, countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom had distanced themselves from the U.S. position and stressed that verification arrangements are necessary to make an FMCT credible and effective.

In addition to FMCT negotiations, the proposed draft program of work for 2008 would have assigned coordinators to preside over less formal talks on issues of nuclear disarmament and the prevention of nuclear war, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and negative security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states. (By providing negative security assurances, countries pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states.) The program of work would not have required that specific decisions regarding these issues be taken by the end of the conference, nor would it have prejudiced any future decisions at the conference on these issues.

Most of the countries welcomed and supported the proposal as a compromise basis for ending the stalemate in the conference. However, countries such as Pakistan, Russia, and South Korea criticized it for laying greater emphasis on FMCT negotiations rather than placing equal priority on all four issues or discussing their preferred issue. Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan said that the proposal “is crafted with a built-in prejudgment about the outcome of discussions and negotiations.”

Replying to Pakistan’s criticism and demand for a renewed program of work, New Zealand’s ambassador, Don Mackay, said that the program of work does not need to be perfect and states should be willing to put their positions to test without laying down any preconditions for the results of such negotiations. He claimed that the work program was not prejudicial.

Procedural reforms in the conference were also discussed. Norway criticized a conference rule that requires consensus for a work program to move forward, saying that countries misuse it, hampering progress in the CD. Hilda Skorpen, the Norwegian deputy permanent representative, said that it was “time for an open and honest debate about working methods, rules of procedures, consensus principle, seating arrangements for that matter, and not least, the workings of the regional groups.” Ambassador German Mundarain Hernandez of Venezuela demurred, saying that the consensus rule acted as a safeguard in reaching and implementing agreements.

Skorpen also expressed concern that if the conference did not resume substantial discussions, countries would go outside to other fora and methods of negotiations. The United States had expressed similar concern in the past. For example, Stephen Rademaker, acting assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, warned in 2006 that without progress, “the real work of confronting today’s security threats will shift to other fora that are producing results for the international community.” (See ACT, December 2006.)

The session also ended without any action on a draft proposal by Russia and China on the “prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space and the threat of use of force against outer space objects.” The United States maintained that ensuring compliance with a space weapons ban would be difficult due to the inherent ambiguity and dual-use capability of many space technologies and systems. Although the draft proposal obligates parties not to threaten outer space objects, it would not prevent the research and development of air-, sea-, and land-based anti-satellite weapons. (See ACT, March 2008.)

The 2009 CD session will be held in three periods: Jan. 19 to March 27, May 18 to July 3, and Aug. 3 to Sept. 18. The next six rotating presidents of the CD are slated to come from Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

Russia Pushes Pacts as U.S. Kills Satellite

At the stalemated Conference on Disarmament (CD), Russia recently urged states to pursue separate pacts to outlaw all arms in space and ban certain types of missiles already forsworn by Russia and the United States. Chances for work on those two proposals or other long-standing subjects appear slim, however, as no issue commands the prerequisite consensus at the 65-member conference. The negotiating climate was further clouded in late February by the U.S. destruction of a faulty U.S. satellite. (Continue)

Wade Boese

At the stalemated Conference on Disarmament (CD), Russia recently urged states to pursue separate pacts to outlaw all arms in space and ban certain types of missiles already forsworn by Russia and the United States. Chances for work on those two proposals or other long-standing subjects appear slim, however, as no issue commands the prerequisite consensus at the 65-member conference. The negotiating climate was further clouded in late February by the U.S. destruction of a faulty U.S. satellite.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Feb. 12 submitted draft frameworks of the two agreements to the conference. The Geneva-based body convenes annually for three multiweek working periods but last negotiated a treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, in 1996. Members have been arguing since that time about what they should negotiate next.

Lavrov said his country’s initiatives were not intended to further complicate the ongoing struggle to adopt a CD work agenda. Beginning last year, members have focused debate on a compromise plan to launch negotiations to halt the production of key fissile materials, plutonium and highly enriched uranium, for weapons purposes. The draft agenda also calls for establishing less formal talks on outer space, nuclear disarmament, and assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states that they will not suffer nuclear attack.

Last year, all but three countries, China, Iran, and Pakistan, were prepared to accept that agenda. The trio argued, in part, that all the issues should be treated equally rather than giving priority to a U.S.- and Western-favored fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). European diplomatic sources in Geneva say that Algeria, Egypt, India, Israel, and Sri Lanka also harbor reservations about the proposed agenda.

Lavrov indicated that Russia’s outer space proposal, co-sponsored by China, was not in opposition to the draft agenda or an attempt to change it. Instead, he described the Russian proposal as having a “research mandate.” But Lavrov added, “We hope that subsequently, when appropriate conditions are there, our work can be channeled into a negotiating format.”

Similarly, Lavrov suggested that Russia was not seeking to graft its missile proposal on to the agenda. He said Russia was circulating the concept for “study” in hope of sparking a “constructive dialogue.”

Neither Russian proposal garnered a warm U.S. reception. Washington has long maintained that the existing 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans placing unconventional weapons in orbit, is sufficient. In its 2006 space security strategy, the Bush administration stated it would “oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space.” (See ACT, November 2006. )

The administration further contends that it would be difficult to ensure compliance with a space weapons ban because of the inherent ambiguity and dual-use capability of many space technologies and systems. For instance, a vessel used to conduct repairs on an orbiting satellite could alternatively damage or disable it.

In addition to proscribing the placement of any type of weapon in orbit or on celestial bodies, the draft Russian-Chinese treaty would obligate future states-parties “not to resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects.” But Washington argues the measure would fail to prevent the research and development of air-, sea-, and land-based anti-satellite weapons, such as the system China used last year to destroy one of its aging satellites. (See ACT, March 2007. )

Seemingly underscoring its own point, the United States Feb. 20 smashed into small pieces a defunct U.S. satellite using a modified Standard Missile-3 interceptor, which is designed to counter short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Many independent experts sharply questioned the stated U.S. justification for the action: protecting people against the slight possibility of injury or death from exposure to the satellite’s highly toxic hydrazine fuel.

Several days before the satellite intercept, Ambassador Christina Rocca, the U.S. permanent representative to the CD, said the proposed “engagement is not part of an anti-satellite development and testing program.” Moscow saw it differently. Reuters Feb. 16 quoted a Russian Defense Ministry statement accusing the United States of “going ahead for tests of an anti-satellite weapon. Such tests mean in essence the creation of a new strategic weapon.”

Two days later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao described China as “highly concerned.” After the incident, Liu asked the United States to share data on the resulting debris, which unlike that created by the Chinese satellite destruction is not expected to pose threats to other satellites or spacecraft because the U.S. strike took place at a much lower altitude, around 250 kilometers instead of approximately 850 kilometers. Consequently, the U.S.-created debris is lower than where most satellites operate and will more quickly be pulled into the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up on re-entry.

U.S. officials denied that they would alter additional anti-missile interceptors to transform them into satellite killers. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Feb. 21 that the modifications are “not something that we would be entering into the service in some standard way.”

Increased U.S. interest in developing anti-ballistic missile defenses in the late 1990s helped fuel Chinese and Russian demands for a new space agreement to limit U.S. systems. The Bush administration has subsequently sought seed money for a so-called space-based missile defense test bed, but lawmakers have consistently denied it funding, including for the current fiscal year. Still, the administration Feb. 4 resurrected the $10 million request as part of its fiscal year 2009 budget proposal (see page 30).

Like the United States, Russia expresses concern about other states’ growing missile capabilities; unlike the United States, Russia has not turned to missile defenses. One of the Kremlin’s initial reactions was to contemplate withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty so Russia could legally field missiles comparable to those being developed by other countries. The INF Treaty bars the United States and Russia from possessing ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Moscow’s Feb. 12 missile proposal indicates it has shelved, at least momentarily, the withdrawal option in favor of exploring extending the INF Treaty prohibitions to other countries. The Russian proposal urges other states to complete an agreement to stop flight testing and producing ground-launched missiles with INF Treaty-banned ranges and destroy their stockpiles.

A Department of State official e-mailed Arms Control Today Feb. 14 that the Russian proposal was “well-intentioned” but “not…the best way to address” the spread of missiles. The spokesperson contended a “one-size-fits-all treaty” would be impractical because of “complex regional situations,” such as those in South Asia and the Middle East.

Notwithstanding its skepticism, the United States joined with Russia last October to encourage other states to renounce INF Treaty-class missiles. The spokesperson noted that no government has responded publicly to that petition.

Meanwhile, many appeals to China, Iran, and Pakistan to support the draft CD agenda have failed. Pakistan in particular remains adamant that the plan is unacceptable.

While calling for a balanced work program, Pakistan maintains the current FMCT negotiating mandate is flawed for not specifying that a final agreement must be effectively verifiable. That goal used to be a common conference aim, but the United States declared in 2004 that such an objective was unattainable and should not be a precondition to negotiations. (See ACT, September 2004.) Although disagreeing, most countries have relented to the U.S. position on the understanding that verification measures can be broached in actual negotiations.

Islamabad further insists that FMCT negotiations not begin unless countries can raise the possibility that a potential agreement might go beyond stopping fissile material production to dealing with existing stockpiles. Pakistan is worried about freezing the status quo in which India has a lot more fissile material and weapons potential than Pakistan. Pakistani concerns have been compounded by the U.S. campaign to roll back rules limiting India’s access to foreign nuclear technologies and fuel.

In a rare speech by a defense minister to the CD, Des Browne of the United Kingdom Feb. 5 urged all countries to drop preconditions for negotiations on an FMCT, which he described as a “key milestone” on the road to nuclear disarmament. Despite a preliminary decision last year to extend its nuclear weapons capability at least another two decades, Browne insisted the British government supports “a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.” He said the United Kingdom would help advance that goal by hosting before 2010 a conference on verifying nuclear disarmament for personnel from British, Chinese, French, Russian, and U.S. nuclear laboratories.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also took the atypical step Jan. 23 to travel to the conference and personally admonish it. Telling the CD that its successes were “distant memories,” Ban implored members to stop holding negotiations on one subject “hostage” to work on another. He warned the conference that it risked “losing its way.”

Conference members have until March 28 to set a course before the first working period expires. The conference will then reconvene May 12 to June 27 and July 28 to September 12.

Negotiations Elude Disarmament Body Again

Wade Boese

Despite its claim to be the “single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community,” the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) recently concluded its ninth consecutive year without any treaty negotiations. A majority of members failed to persuade China, Iran, and Pakistan to support the latest proposal to revive work at the moribund conference, but many pledged to continue their efforts next year.

Since completing the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, conference members, particularly the United States and China, have clashed over negotiating priorities. Washington, Tokyo, and European capitals back the conclusion of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) to end the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons purposes. The Geneva-based conference briefly held FMCT negotiations in 1998, but they did not produce any results, and the talks did not carry over to the following year.

Beijing and Moscow, in contrast, support negotiating a new agreement on restricting future weapons deployments in outer space, while non-nuclear-weapon states lobby for action on nuclear disarmament and assurances that they will not be attacked with nuclear arms.

After 1998, members have debated various compromises to satisfy all of the competing demands. None has won the consensus required to officially start work.

Members this year focused on a March 23 initiative as the best hope to end the negotiating dry spell. That proposal calls for FMCT negotiations and less formal talks on outer space, nuclear disarmament, and assurances for states without nuclear weapons. (See ACT, April 2007. )

Many countries quickly threw their support to the package or, like France and the United States, signaled they would not block it. Russia postponed until next year submission of a draft treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, reportedly to avoid bogging down deliberations over the March initiative.

Still, some states raised reservations or objections to the March proposal. A few of those countries, such as India, eventually and grudgingly accepted the package; but China, Iran, and Pakistan could not be swayed before the 2007 conference’s Sept. 14 close.

China, as well as Iran, contends the package does not ensure enough “substantive” work on issues other than an FMCT. Although Beijing in August 2003 dropped its insistence on outer space negotiations, it apparently wants reassurance that consenting to outer space discussions under the current proposal would not foreclose the possibility of future negotiations.

Some Western officials familiar with the conference speculate that Beijing is using the outer space issue to avoid FMCT negotiations. China is the only recognized nuclear-weapon state—the other four are France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—that has not publicly declared a moratorium on fissile material production for weapons. A senior U.S. official Sept. 20 told Arms Control Today that “if China decides negotiations on an FMCT are in its interests, Iran and Pakistan may reevaluate their position.”

Several CD diplomats interviewed in September by Arms Control Today, however, suggested that Pakistan presents the biggest hurdle to future adoption of the March package. Masood Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the conference, said in a Sept. 13 speech that the four core issues should receive “equal and balanced treatment.” That position is unacceptable to several countries, particularly France and the United States.

Islamabad also charges that the fissile material treaty part of the package is inadequate. The proposal states that FMCT negotiations should be conducted “without any preconditions.”

Pakistan maintains that a prescribed goal of any fissile material treaty negotiations should be an accord that is verifiable, an objective initially endorsed by the entire conference in 1995 but rejected by the Bush administration in 2004. (See ACT, September 2004. ) Administration officials say governments would waste money and time on creating verification measures that ultimately would burden lawful states and fail to deter cheaters.

The U.S. position has little support, yet most CD members, unlike Pakistan, have relented on proclaiming “verifiability” as a fixed goal of negotiations to accommodate the United States. The senior U.S. official said that Washington understands that not all governments accept the U.S. position at “face value” and therefore it is “prepared to make [its] case in the course of negotiations if others should propose a [verification] regime.” 

Pakistan also wants a fissile material treaty negotiation mandate to explicitly note that countries may explore measures on existing stockpiles of fissile material instead of focusing narrowly on halting fissile material production for weapons. Pakistan has long favored such an approach because it does not want a future FMCT to have the effect of freezing existing fissile material imbalances between it and India.

Indeed, Islamabad is pointing to a two-year-old Bush administration initiative to increase U.S. and global civilian nuclear trade with New Delhi as jeopardizing Pakistani security and justifying its hard-lines on a fissile material treaty. Pakistan’s National Command Authority, which includes President General Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan’s foreign affairs and defense ministers, warned in an Aug. 2 press release that the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation deal would “enable India to produce significant quantities of fissile material and nuclear weapons.”

Washington contends the deal is solely about aiding India’s nuclear energy growth, while critics charge it also will benefit India’s military complex by enabling New Delhi to devote more of its limited domestic resources to building nuclear bombs. (See ACT, September 2007. ) Islamabad argues that it should have been offered a similar arrangement.

Despite the stiff resistance of Pakistan to the March proposal, the CD diplomats interviewed by Arms Control Today see it as the likely starting point for discussions when the conference reconvenes Jan. 21, 2008. Sergio Duarte, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, exhorted the conference Aug. 21 that it “stands tantalizingly one short step away from resolving its long-standing impasse.”

Some ambassadors ending their tenures at the conference used farewell speeches to express their frustration with the conference’s failure to move sooner. Speaking Aug. 16, departing Canadian Ambassador Paul Meyer argued that “[i]f the CD was a business, it would have been declared insolvent long ago and shut down,” while Italian Ambassador Carlo Trezza lamented Sept. 13 that conference diplomacy amounted to “negotiation on negotiations.”

Swedish Ambassador Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier complained sharply Aug. 30 of witnessing “an anemic stalemate with delegations resorting to recitals of ceremonious mantras, covering up the traces of their own passivity by useless finger-pointing and blame games, hiding behind the commas of the rules of procedure and shamelessly abusing the consensus rule to abort any attempt to seriously tackle difficult or sensitive issues.” Nonetheless, she concluded by saying that she left the conference “with hope and expectations.”

Then-Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Stephen Rademaker implied last year to the conference that if it did not initiate FMCT negotiations soon, the United States would reconsider its CD participation. The senior U.S. official declined to say if the United States would scale back its presence next year, simply saying that “Americans believe in results, not endless process games.” The United States is scheduled to be one of six countries to occupy the body’s rotating presidency next year.

Conference on Disarmament Stalemate Persists

Wade Boese

The latest bid to end the prolonged negotiating impasse of the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) is faltering primarily because China and Pakistan are raising objections to the March 23 proposal.

Western diplomatic sources and a UN official close to the conference indicated to Arms Control Today in May interviews that the prospects for the conference holding negotiations this year are growing dimmer as each day passes. The UN official said May 16 that there is a “definite sense of momentum being lost.”

The CD operates by consensus, and the last agreement it negotiated was the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Following the conclusion of that treaty, conference members have almost continuously clashed over negotiating priorities.

The sole exception was a few weeks in 1998 when the conference convened negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would prohibit the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for weapons. No agreement resulted from those talks.

Renewing FMCT negotiations is a key element of the March 23 work package offered by Sri Lankan Ambassador Sarala Fernando. The package also includes less formal discussions on nuclear disarmament, prevention of an arms race in outer space, and negative security assurances, which are intended to assure states without nuclear weapons that they will not suffer nuclear attacks. (See ACT, April 2007. )

Most conference members announced support for or indicated they would not block the package before the end of the CD’s first of three annual working periods on March 30. But some delegations, most prominently China and Pakistan, said they had to wait for instructions from their capitals. Others not prepared immediately to adopt the proposal included Egypt, India, and Iran.

Aiming to get final approval for the four-item package before the CD’s second work period started May 14, Fernando proposed a special April plenary for this purpose. That meeting never occurred because some countries again said they needed more time.

China announced May 22 that the package, among other failings, does not adequately address the outer space issue. Beijing’s remedy for this perceived shortcoming is to specify that the proposed discussions on space could lead to negotiation of a treaty—an outcome staunchly opposed by Washington.

Concerned about U.S. missile defense developments, China puts higher priority on negotiations on outer space than an FMCT. Beijing reportedly has stopped fissile material production for weapons, but it has not publicly announced such a halt as have France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Although Pakistan claims to be still reviewing the package, Islamabad also raised some objections May 15. One of the diplomatic sources said May 16 that Pakistan appears intent on “killing” the proposal.

Pakistan suggested all four items in the package should be treated equally. Iran seconded this notion, an approach anathema to France and the United States. Iran, which the United States and several others allege is illicitly pursuing nuclear weapons, recently obstructed a separate conference on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see page 23 ).

Pakistan, as well as China, argued that FMCT negotiations should aim to produce a verifiable treaty, meaning one with mechanisms to detect cheating. Pakistan’s neighbor and nuclear rival, India, endorsed the same objective May 15, but it was unclear how firmly each of the countries was making this goal a precondition for negotiations.

Most countries support a verifiable FMCT, but they are not insisting this be a declared negotiating outcome because the United States opposes such an approach. Washington asserts that an FMCT verification regime would be time consuming to negotiate, costly to implement, and ultimately imperfect, potentially impinging on the national security interests of law-abiding states while not deterring determined cheaters. Before 2004, the United States supported a verifiable FMCT. (See ACT, September 2004. )

Although Algeria and Egypt also questioned certain aspects of the March 23 proposal, some of the Western diplomatic sources implied that China’s position was key because it provides other countries cover to raise objections.

Winning consensus on the proposal, a couple of the sources said, would be further complicated if Russia follows through on President Vladimir Putin’s February pledge to submit a draft treaty to bar space weapons. Such a move might further increase pressure to elevate the outer space issue from discussions to negotiations.

All the sources pointed out that time to conduct any negotiations this year was dwindling. The second work period ends June 29, and the third and final work period begins July 30 and expires Sept. 14. Moreover, some of the last period is consumed by end-of-the-year administrative work.


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