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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

Proposal Aims to End CD Gridlock

Wade Boese

At the close of March, the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) was weighing a proposal to end a negotiating dry spell that has stretched for more than eight years. The plan would launch treaty negotiations on halting the production of key nuclear weapons materials and initiate less-formal discussions on averting a space arms race, pursuing nuclear disarmament, and guaranteeing states without nuclear weapons that they will not be attacked by such arms.

Sri Lankan Ambassador Sarala Fernando presented the work package March 23 to the CD, which operates by consensus. The package had won the support of most CD members when the first of three work periods that make up the conference's annual session ended March 30. But China , India , and Pakistan had still not endorsed the package. Members agreed to try and hold a special plenary meeting sometime in April to take a decision on the plan before they officially reconvene May 14 for the second work period, which concludes June 29.

The proposed negotiations would be devoted to a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would forbid production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium for weapons purposes. A rudimentary nuclear bomb requires at least one of these two fissile materials, while more modern weapon designs employ both.

France , Russia , the United Kingdom , and the United States already have voluntarily suspended such production, albeit after accumulating significant stockpiles of weapons and weapons-usable material. Still, the four countries want to codify their separate moratoria into a legal instrument and extend its obligations to all other nuclear weapons possessors: China, India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. Beijing is generally recognized as having ceased fissile material production for arms, although it has made no formal statement to this effect.

Washington and its allies have been pressing the conference to make an FMCT its top priority since the 1996 completion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty outlawing nuclear explosions. Many countries, however, protested that an FMCT should not be the CD's exclusive focus. China and Russia called for equal treatment of preventing an arms race in outer space, and nonaligned countries pushed nuclear disarmament as their favored negotiating topic.

Until late March, the United States resisted taking up these other issues in any manner. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today March 28 that the United States “was willing to set aside [its] misgivings [on other issues] in order to breathe new life into the CD.” The official pointed out that the mandates for the trio of other subjects are not to “negotiate or search for ways to negotiate.” The mandates merely call for “substantive discussions.”

Washington submitted a draft FMCT to the conference last May. (See ACT, June 2006. ) The U.S. proposal did not contain verification measures. The Bush administration contends negotiating such measures would be difficult, time consuming, and ultimately futile because determined violators will find a way to cheat. The draft also exempted existing HEU and plutonium stockpiles from control.

Most CD members support verification measures of some kind. For instance, Canada submitted a March 20 paper on a future FMCT, noting that “an effective verification mechanism is an important element of any non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament agreement.” Other countries, such as Brazil , Egypt , Pakistan , and South Africa , have argued that an agreement also should address existing material.

The March 23 work proposal states that FMCT negotiations will be conducted “without any preconditions,” suggesting all issues are open for debate. Italian Ambassador Carlo Trezza would serve as the negotiations coordinator.

If agreed to in April, there is no guarantee that the negotiations will result in a treaty or even continue past the third and final work period of the 2007 session, which will run from July 30 to Sept. 14. The last time CD members initiated FMCT negotiations in 1998 (see ACT, August/September 1998), they failed to restart the talks the next year.

The Conference on Disarmament: Means of Rejuvenation

Michael Krepon

After a long and successful run, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has fallen on hard times. The negotiating forum that has produced treaties setting norms against nuclear testing and chemical and biological weapons has, for the last 10 years, sat on its hands. CD ambassadors who once worked on deadline to hammer out key provisions governing on-site inspections and schedules of prohibited substances now moonlight on other assignments in Geneva.

The CD’s work agenda is in dispute, and its procedures are knotted by the rule that all matters must be agreed by consensus.

The consensus rule, which has remained unchanged since this forum originated as the Ten Nation Committee on Disarmament, has become unwieldy in a body consisting of 65 members. In effect, the CD has outgrown its mission. As the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission chaired by Hans Blix concluded earlier this year, it makes little sense for a single country to prevent all others from negotiating something that could help make the world a safer place.[1]

The consensus rule is a vestige of the Cold War and was originally designed to allow one superpower to veto the nefarious designs of the other. It has since become more widely employed by other nations, mostly those with nuclear weapons or nuclear ambitions. The CD’s rules of procedure have thus become yet another reason to rue nuclear proliferation. We cannot, however, limit the blame for the CD’s inaction on its anachronistic rules of procedure. In exceptional cases, these procedures can be circumvented. For example, in 1996 the CD maneuvered around an Indian roadblock to present the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to the UN General Assembly, where it was overwhelmingly approved and opened for signature.

A second factor contributing to the stalemate at the CD has been the tectonic shift in international relations after the demise of the Soviet Union. The CD and its most important accomplishments were essentially products of the Cold War. Even the two major treaties produced by the CD that postdated the fall of the Soviet Union—the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the CTBT—were deeply rooted in bipolar politics. The first superpower discussions about a test ban occurred during the Eisenhower administration. The lineage of the CWC dates back to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The key negotiating breakthroughs for both agreements, relating to intrusive inspections, can be carbon-dated to the second Reagan administration, when Gorbachev overturned sclerotic Soviet negotiating practices.

After two of the Cold War’s major pieces of unfinished business were completed, the CD became rudderless. Its remaining agenda items have been fixed in amber, even after new challenges became more evident following the terrorist attacks of September 11. The champions of the traditional agenda have lacked clout, while the champion of the Cold War has lacked interest in new multilateral treaties. The CD has thus been orphaned during the “unipolar moment,” to use U.S. columnist Charles Krauthammer’s memorable phrase, when U.S. leaders enjoy unparalleled power, are beset by new challenges, and are disinterested in agreements that would constrain military options. In this new world, “democratic realists” such as Krauthammer have chosen “power over paper.” In their view, the negotiation of multilateral treaties would simply help weaker states tie Gulliver down. Besides, treaties are for well-behaved states; the problems of international relations lie elsewhere.[2]

A central tenet of this mode of thinking is that the world remains divided, this time between responsible states— U.S. friends and allies—and evildoers. Because these two camps operate by very different rules, the Bush administration postulated and sought to enforce separate norms for each camp. The Bush team has strongly asserted, for example, that responsible states should retain the right to hold and modernize nuclear weapons, rights that should not be granted to evildoers. This is a profound shift in thinking from the global nonproliferation system embodied in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and reflected in the previous work of the CD.

The global nonproliferation system could only be built on norms that applied to all, especially in a world divided by nuclear weapons. The norm of nonproliferation and the norm of nuclear disarmament had to be intricately linked in the NPT in order to bridge this divide. The NPT could not be sustained and the basis for constraining outliers could not be maintained unless these norms applied to all states. The unity of norms also had been central to the functioning of the CD when it was negotiating multilateral treaties that reinforced the NPT.

The norms of nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament are now faltering for many troubling reasons, and the Bush administration is entirely correct in seeking new compensatory steps to halt dangerous trends. But these efforts are undercut by the administration’s attempt to seek one set of rules for good guys and another set of rules for bad actors. There most certainly are responsible states and dangerous ones, although disagreements persist as to which states fall into which category. We are wise to distinguish responsible states from dangerous ones by comparing their actions against universal norms; we invite trouble by trying to impose different norms for friends and potential adversaries.

One size has never fit all proliferation cases, but every case becomes more intractable by trying to impose two sets of rules governing proliferation. At the very time when U.S. military dominance could have been effectively used to reaffirm global norms of nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament, the Bush administration has made hard proliferation problems even more difficult to reverse.

To be sure, the loss of U.S. interest in the CD as a means of reinforcing the global nonproliferation system began during the Clinton administration. Once the CTBT was negotiated, the Clinton team neglected follow-on negotiations at the CD on space security. This disinterest turned to disdain in the Bush administration. Now the correlation between the global nonproliferation system and the CD is very weak, as is evident by the Bush team’s continued expressions of fealty for the former and the CD’s weak standing in Geneva.

The Bush team has adamantly ruled out the mere discussion of space security as a CD agenda item, which, in turn, enables other states to rule out a negotiating mandate on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). The Bush administration has taken the offensive by charging other states as hostage takers at the CD. This amounts to blaming the victim, however, as the CD’s logjam begins with the administration’s rejection of talks on space security and its a priori assertion that an FMCT is unverifiable. No other nation at the CD has embraced these positions although some might, if and when the CD actually applies itself to these topics. In the meantime, the administration remains isolated in Geneva, as well as at the United Nations, where the most recent resolution calling for space security initiatives was approved by a vote of 166-1-2. The no vote came from the United States; Israel and Cote d’Ivoire abstained.

Where does the CD go from here? The Tokyo Forum, a group of international experts convened by the Japanese government, concluded in 1999 that:

the Conference on Disarmament should suspend its operations unless it can revise its procedures, update its work program, and carry out purposeful work. It adheres to an agenda that has long been outdated but cannot be changed for lack of a consensus to do so. The consensus rule, even on minor procedural matters, is now causing perpetual deadlock. Consensus among CD members should not be necessary to begin or, indeed, conclude a multilateral convention. If a country does not like a treaty, it does not have to sign it. The structure of the CD’s groupings of states, based on outdated Cold War alignments, also needs to be changed to better reflect the contemporary world.[3]

It is a sad commentary on the nonworkings of the CD that, seven years later, these remedies remain largely unexplored. The CD is unlikely to return to its former role anytime soon. Nonetheless, there are still ways to derive good works from diplomats posted there. Creative diplomacy seeks opportunity out of adversity. By this measurement, opportunities abound.

One consequence of the Bush administration’s dualistic approach to proliferation has been to offer India what Washington hopes will be a single-country exception to the rules of nuclear commerce established by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Because the NSG also operates by consensus, some of its members might be inclined to attach conditions to the proposed U.S.-Indian deal before providing their consent. These conditions could either have further negative or some positive effect on proliferation. If some NSG members insist that, as a condition of their support, the United States drop its opposition to talks on space security in the CD, negotiations could also begin on an FMCT. This outcome could at least attach something positive to a deal that is likely to further weaken global norms against proliferation.

Space security and the fissile material cutoff are extremely complicated subjects. Even if the CD continues to be deadlocked, coalitions of the willing, including nongovernmental as well as governmental experts, could convene periodically in Geneva to lay the groundwork for agreements in both areas. Future agreements need not be confined to treaties, which take prolonged periods of time to negotiate and enter into force. Less-formal agreements that could be implemented more quickly than treaties might be considered by expert groups for subsequent consideration by the CD.

The CD has gingerly begun down this path, with annual workshops on space security initiated by Canada, China, and Russia with the assistance of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. One worthwhile idea discussed at these workshops is creating a code of conduct for responsible spacefaring countries, which could serve as a near-term instrument to reinforce norms that prevent dangerous practices in outer space.[4] The pace of these deliberations might well be quickened with well-structured workshops between technical experts and diplomats on the key elements of a prospective code.

Global norms supporting nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament are undercut by ongoing fissile material production for nuclear weapons. It is therefore important for the CD to conclude an FMCT, but reaching agreement on such a treaty will be an arduous task. The governments that are most needed to sign up— India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan—may also be the most resistant to such a treaty. Monitoring arrangements for a cutoff agreement will be sensitive and far from simple. Verification workshops at the CD would be helpful to widen the circle of those familiar with these challenges.

A coalition of the willing could also pursue interim steps while awaiting a formal cutoff treaty. One step would be for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with India, Pakistan, and perhaps Israel, to discuss a voluntary moratorium on fissile material production for nuclear weapons. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have publicly announced such moratoria. China has privately but not publicly said that it has stopped producing such material. A seven- or eight-party discussion might focus on how the current moratoria could be extended and how the parties might gain sufficient confidence that pledges are being honored. These talks could take place in parallel with CD deliberations.

Other workshops at the CD could be devoted to learning about cooperative threat reduction programs, such as how to improve border security to intercept the transport of dangerous materials. The CD also could host regular training sessions for the implementation of international codes of conduct, such as UN Security Council Resolution 1540.

These informal agenda items would not require consensus. Although modest, they could prove useful, leading to constructive governmental/nongovernmental partnerships and paving the way for more ambitious agenda items. The CD has had a distinguished past. With suitable adaptation, it could still have a useful future.

Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center and author of Cooperative Threat Reduction, Missile Defense, and the Nuclear Future (2002).


1. Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, “Weapons of Terror, Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons, 2006, p. 180 (recommendation 58).

2. Charles Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment,” Foreign Affairs Vol. 70, No. 1, (Winter 1990-1991), pp. 23–33; Charles Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment Revisted,” The National Interest 70 (Winter 2002/2003), pp. 5-18; Charles Krauthammer, “In Defense of Democratic Realism,” The National Interest 77 (Fall 2004), pp. 1-12.

3. “Facing Nuclear Dangers: An Action Plan for the 21st Century: The Report of the Tokyo Forum for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament,” July 25, 1999. The author participated in the Tokyo Forum’s deliberations.

4. Michael Krepon with Michael Katz-Hyman, “Space Weapons and Proliferation,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 12, No. 2 (July 2005), pp. 323-341.

The Conference on Disarmament: Getting Back to Business

Ambassador Paul Meyer

The 65-member-state Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva last negotiated a treaty in 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and for the intervening decade has been engaged in on-and-off discussions that often seemed remote from its mandate as the world’s “sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum.”

This disappointing state of affairs in turn reflects CD members’ inability to agree on what issues they should take up and how they are to be treated.

For years, the CD has continued with the same underlying agenda, which consists of seven broad, substantive items ranging from “cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament” to “transparency in armaments.” Yet, it has failed to agree on a program of work that would translate the general categories of the agenda into a plan for tackling specific issues.

At the root of this failure are differing national priorities, interests, and threat perceptions among the CD member states. To break the logjam, several proposals have been put forward over the years for a CD work program, all entailing activity on four core issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), and negative security assurances, which are guarantees by nuclear-weapon states not to threaten or use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Yet, so far no proposal has received the general acceptance that this consensus-based body requires.

Developing countries have consistently emphasized the need for nuclear disarmament while developed countries have cited conclusion of an FMCT as their top goal. Russia and China consider PAROS to be their priority issue. The differences are exacerbated when some states insist that only their preferred item should figure in an eventual CD work program. For instance, the United States has insisted on limiting the work program to an FMCT while Russia and China demand attention to PAROS. The United States decries this Sino-Russian “linkage” as others are equally vocal about the necessity to ensure that their priorities are also accommodated. Whether one prefers to speak of “linkage” or “respect for the concerns of others,” it has long been evident that, in a body that follows a strict consensus rule for decision-making, it will not be feasible to obtain agreement on a program of work that does not at least address these four core issues.

Frustration over the impasse at the CD has been steadily mounting in the wake of the failed nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in 2005 and the absence of any agreed text on nonproliferation and disarmament in the UN Summit Outcome document later that same year. In response, the six presidents of the CD for 2006 ( Poland, South Korea, Romania, Russia, Senegal, and Slovakia) launched an initiative to have a “common platform” to govern CD activity during the year. Previously, each president had acted independently during his or her tenure. The so-called six presidents’ (P6) initiative established a timetable for 2006 that included one week of “focused structured discussion” for each of the seven substantive items on the CD agenda.

The P6 initiative was a major experiment and yielded some distinct benefits. It provided much needed continuity among all six presidents. It identified specific times for the focused discussion, thus allowing for proper preparation, including the possibility for expert participation. As a presidential initiative, it did not require formal agreement by the conference and could simply proceed. The exchanges that did occur during the designated “theme” weeks were intense, involving in many cases experts from capitals, and generated several useful working papers that complemented the oral interventions. During a week in mid-May that focused on an FMCT, the United States tabled a draft negotiating mandate and draft treaty text. That marked an important sign of U.S. re-engagement in the conference after a protracted period in which Washington was enmeshed in an internal review of the FMCT issue and did not take a position on the question within the CD.

A swallow does not a summer make, however, or a week’s discussion a negotiating forum. Although the P6 initiative brought some benefits, it also had some clear deficiencies, which became more apparent and irksome as the year proceeded. The process only provided for one week of focused discussion per agenda item, and its rigidity did not allow work on a given topic to continue after its week in the limelight was over. It also did not differentiate between an issue such as an FMCT, which enjoys wide support and is ripe for negotiation, and an item such as “Comprehensive Program of Disarmament,” with no current proposal for action. Finally, as the P6 initiative was an informal one, there was no official status granted to the work done pursuant to it and no formal way of carrying this work forward. The prospects for next year remain wide open and in the hands of the incoming president, Ambassador Glaudine Mtshali of South Africa. Mtshali is already actively consulting with member states as to what could be done with the CD in 2007.

The view that next year’s deliberations at the CD cannot be a simple repetition of 2006 is widely held. At a minimum, many delegations would want to see a program that would provide for sustained work and a far greater utilization of the time available to the conference (the conference often meets only one or two half-days per week when it is in session). In addition, an improved program would need to differentiate between issues instead of applying an artificial equality of treatment among the different agenda items. Finally, it should allow for some official status to its proceedings so that progress is built on and appropriately recorded.

Ideally, the conference would agree next year to establish one or more subsidiary bodies to focus activity on the selected issues. Subsidiary bodies, such as ad hoc committees or working groups, would enable the various issues to be treated at their own pace, as decided by the chairs of the respective bodies, and would thus avoid the problem of the conference having to decide on an equitable allocation of time per issue. Contrary to what some suggest, nothing in the CD’s rules of procedure equate the establishment of an ad hoc committee with acceptance of a negotiating mandate. Subsidiary bodies are simply organizational tools that assist the conference in its functions.

From a Canadian perspective, a CD work program that would be both substantive and generally acceptable would have three components: a negotiating mandate for an FMCT, a discussion mandate for PAROS, and a discussion mandate for nuclear disarmament under which rubric the topic of negative security assurances could be subsumed. This would represent a manageable work program reflective of these issues’ relative state of development. Further, such a program would enable all key constituencies of the CD to claim that their priority issue was being addressed. It is worth recalling that the immediate commencement of negotiation of an FMCT and the establishment of a subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament were two specific tasks that the 2000 NPT review conference assigned to the CD. The failure to deliver on these agreements has been one of the factors contributing to the current crisis of confidence surrounding that treaty.

Similarly, the international community for many years has called for the establishment of an ad hoc committee on PAROS at the CD in a series of UN General Assembly First Committee resolutions. The most recent resolution was adopted with the support of 166 states. Only the United States stood in opposition, while two countries, Israel and Cote d’Ivoire, abstained ( Cote d’Ivoire’s representatives subsequently stating that they had intended to vote yes). These indicators demonstrate the wide political support for the CD taking action on an FMCT, nuclear disarmament, and PAROS.

The outgoing and incoming CD presidents are tasked with conducting consultations during the current intersessional period and recommending a program of work that could be agreed on. It is Canada’s hope and that of many other CD members that the consultations will yield a breakthrough in identifying a program of work that could command consensus support when the CD reconvenes next month. A promising indicator in this regard was the statement made to the CD on May 18 by Stephen Rademaker, then assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, which included the affirmation that the U.S. delegation “believes that the CD could continue to discuss other, so-called traditional issues as it conducts FMCT negotiations.” This stance appears compatible with a program of work that would combine negotiation of an FMCT with discussion of PAROS, nuclear disarmament, and possibly nuclear security assurances.

All the elements of a generally acceptable work program for the CD are at hand. All that is required now is an act of political engagement by some key member states to realize an agreement. Some have decried the “linkage” politics that they see being applied at the CD, but realistically, in a consensus-based, multilateral forum, there needs to be something for everyone if a universally acceptable outcome is to be arrived at. At the St. Petersburg summit this July, the Group of Eight states dedicated themselves to the reinvigoration of multilateral disarmament and nonproliferation fora “beginning with the Conference on Disarmament.”

Progress on multilateral arms control and disarmament is particularly critical now, given the grave challenges facing the global nonproliferation, arms control, and disarmament regime and the growing concern that we are sliding back into an anarchical nuclear world. There is nothing wrong at the CD that a little concerted diplomacy cannot fix. The alternative is another year of “going through the motions” at the CD while failing to progress on issues of real importance for the health and future viability of the regime.

Ambassador Paul Meyer is Canada’s permanent representative to the United Nations for disarmament. In that capacity, he has led Canada’s delegation to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, to the Conference on Disarmament, and to meetings of states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Biological Weapons Convention. He has served in Canada’s Foreign Service for three decades, including as director-general of the international security bureau from 1998 to 2001. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

The Conference on Disarmament: Time is Running Out

Stephen G. Rademaker

The problems confronting the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) were succinctly and correctly diagnosed in the June 2005 final report of the congressionally mandated bipartisan Task Force on the United Nations:

As the multilateral negotiating body responsible for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and other agreements, the CD has in the past made major contributions to arms control and nonproliferation. But for nearly a decade, it has produced no new agreements and has spent most of its time wrangling over priorities and procedural matters. Having grown to 65 members and 37 observers, it has become much too unwieldy to do serious work, especially for an institution that operates by consensus. It has become a debating society, not a negotiating body. Moreover, the CD remains focused mainly on the traditional state-to-state arms control and nonproliferation agenda and has been slow to take up measures addressing the non-state actor threat. As it has become gridlocked, governments have begun to downgrade their participation in the forum.

The task force, co-chaired by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine), was established by Congress in 2004 to develop recommendations for making the UN more effective. Its members came from across the U.S. political spectrum, ranging from former Senator Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) to former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander, and Donald McHenry, a former ambassador to the UN under President Jimmy Carter. Yet, this ideologically diverse membership had no problem coming to a consensus recommendation: “The CD has outlived its usefulness and should be abolished.”

The CD’s period of prolonged inactivity extends back to the end of 1996, when it completed work on the CTBT. That year, the CD decided to admit 23 additional countries to full membership. Although some of the new members, such as Israel, South Africa, and South Korea, are well situated to contribute positively to the work of the conference, others, such as Belarus, Iraq, North Korea, and Syria, have been less clearly committed to advancing the conference’s objectives. Eleven of the new members belong to the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), which has predisposed them to support positions taken by other NAM members, such as Pakistan and Iran, that have contributed to gridlock at the conference.

As suggested by the task force report, it is clear that the decision to expand the conference was a mistake because, under the CD’s consensus-based rules of procedure, 23 additional members equates to 23 additional potential vetoes over any proposed action by the conference. The problem was underscored again this year when Syria single-handedly prevented the adoption of a substantive final report on the conference’s work for 2006. There is an obvious lesson here for those who might be tempted to believe that the UN Security Council can be made more effective by expanding its size and increasing the number of veto-wielding members.

The CD’s consensus requirement for decision-making has proven very useful over the years. It has prevented the CD from wasting time negotiating doomed instruments by ensuring that negotiations on proposals that lacked essential support never got off the ground. On other occasions, it has given countries that have doubted a particular proposal the confidence necessary to enter negotiations knowing that they could deny consensus should their core interests be jeopardized. In these respects, the CD’s consensus requirement has strengthened the CD and enhanced its ability to produce arms control and nonproliferation instruments of enduring value.

Since 1996, however, the consensus requirement has been systematically utilized by some countries not just to block negotiations on proposals they oppose, but also to try to force negotiations on proposals opposed by others. These countries have, in other words, intentionally denied consensus in one area in order to try to create an artificial consensus in other areas. Cloaked behind euphemistic calls for a “balanced program of work” at the CD, this misapplication of the consensus requirement has amounted in practice to nothing more than hostage-taking.

The proposed fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would end the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, is a meritorious idea that all CD members profess to support in principle. Yet, it has been blocked for nine years in an effort to coerce holdouts to acquiesce in the progress of other, unrelated ideas that they oppose, such as instruments regarding nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances, and the prevention of an arms race in outer space ( PAROS). In diplomatic parlance, negative security assurances are guarantees by the nuclear-weapon states that they will not use nuclear weapons against states that have formally renounced them.

Some have tried to suggest that the sole obstacle to adoption of a “balanced program of work” is the opposition of the Bush administration to PAROS, but both the United Kingdom and France have serious reservations to negotiations on nuclear disarmament or negative security assurances. Moreover, the Bush administration did not invent the U.S. policy of opposing negotiations on PAROS. The Clinton administration also was opposed to such negotiations, and it would be more than a bit strange for the Bush administration to retreat from that position, particularly given its relatively stronger commitment to missile defense as a national policy.

It is not surprising that members of the CD with strong attachment to particular ideas, such as nuclear disarmament and PAROS, would consider using all tools at their disposal, including hostage-taking, to advance their favored ideas. What is surprising is the tolerance of other countries for the tactic. Currently, the vast majority of delegations in Geneva pay lip service to the need for a “balanced program of work” at the CD. The accumulated frustration from nine years of inactivity is directed primarily not at the hostage-takers—after all, they are merely seeking to compel adoption of a “balanced program of work”—but rather at those countries that have refused to pay the ransom demanded.

This mindset on display today in Geneva is nothing less than a diplomatic manifestation of the Stockholm syndrome. After nine years of captivity, most of the prisoners in Geneva today identify more closely with their captors than with those who are working for their unconditional release. This attitude, widely embraced by those in Geneva with the purest of intentions and unquestioned commitment to the CD as an institution, is in fact no less of a threat to the CD than continued inactivity because, as everyone knows, paying ransom does not end hostage-taking. Rather, it encourages more of it. Virtually every country at the CD either has or could quickly come up with some favored arms control or nonproliferation idea that today is a nonstarter. The moment the CD grants the demanded negotiations, other countries that until now have exercised self-restraint will decide to join the queue.

The CD’s salvation lies not in propitiating this behavior but in returning to what has worked for it in the past: finding a single serious idea that can command consensus on its own merits and negotiating on it until a consensus product emerges. For nine years, delegations in Geneva have put forward new ideas in hopes of sidestepping the gridlock over a “balanced program of work,” but so far no idea has come close to an FMCT in terms of the seriousness of its subject matter or the degree of consensus it commands. Unless a brilliant new proposal emerges that has eluded CD members for nine years, the CD will only regain its relevance if it commences negotiations on an FMCT. It will continue its drift into irrelevance if it does not.

A key point that needs to be made at the outset of any discussion of an FMCT is that the United States is not the obstacle to concluding such a treaty. An FMCT would ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes. It would not ban the production of fissile material for other purposes, such as the manufacture of medical isotopes or naval propulsion systems. The United States stopped all production of fissile material for weapons purposes in 1988 and has no foreseeable need to resume production of such material in the future.

Presently, the United States is grappling not with the problem of too little fissile material but rather with the problem of too much. As a result, the United States is spending billions of dollars to dispose of excess fissile material left over from the Cold War. Highly enriched uranium (HEU) that was produced at great expense is being downblended to produce fuel for civil nuclear reactors, and a facility is being constructed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel for power reactors. If the United States had any concern that its need for fissile material might grow in the future, the first thing it would do is stop spending billions of dollars to eliminate fissile material it currently has, not block the negotiation of an FMCT.

The principal obstacle to conclusion of an FMCT is countries, such as Pakistan and China, that today either are producing fissile material for weapons purposes or harbor plans to do so in the future. None of these countries will say that it opposes an FMCT. To the contrary, they insist that they favor a properly constructed treaty. It is no coincidence, however, that they are at the forefront of those CD delegations that have conditioned commencement of FMCT negotiations on progress on other unrelated issues, such as PAROS. Nor is it a coincidence that these countries are among the most outspoken advocates of including extensive verification measures as part of an FMCT.

It is counterintuitive that countries wanting to produce fissile material would be so keen to undergo intrusive international inspections of their most sensitive nuclear facilities, until one considers that the elaboration of such verification measures is sure to prolong the conclusion of any FMCT negotiation for many years, if not indefinitely. In the case of Pakistan’s insistence that FMCT verification extend beyond new production of fissile material to include existing stocks of such material—a demand that has been rejected by all nuclear-weapon states—one has to suspect that the real objective is indefinite postponement.

It was in part to avoid such delays that the United States proposed in July 2004 that the CD negotiate an FMCT containing no verification provisions. Not only would this expedite the conclusion of the treaty, but it would avoid creating a costly yet ineffective new verification mechanism.

A careful U.S. review had determined that even an ideal international verification mechanism would have serious deficiencies and would have great difficulty detecting cheating by countries determined to produce fissile material in violation of the treaty. Moreover, U.S. officials had concluded that, as a practical matter, an ideal international mechanism would not emerge from FMCT negotiations at the CD. Inevitably corners would be cut in order to minimize the financial costs of establishing and operating such a mechanism as well as to avoid intrusion into facilities of national security concern. The United States is not alone in having these concerns. Taking into account the limited effectiveness of the verification mechanism that was likely to be agreed at the CD, as well as the lengthy delays in concluding an FMCT that necessarily would be required in order to reach agreement, the United States had come to the view that seeking to establish such a mechanism was more trouble than it was worth.

The United States stressed that this approach did not mean that an FMCT would be unverified, any more than the BWC is unverified because it has no international inspectorate. Rather, responsibility for making compliance judgments would fall to the parties to the treaty, each of which would be expected to use its own capabilities to detect cheating. Such national capabilities have often been able to detect covert nuclear activities, the detection in 2002 of North Korea’s centrifuge-based enrichment program being a recent case in point. That program was first detected on the basis of intelligence information relating to suspicious procurements by North Korea, precisely the kind of information that an international inspectorate would never be able to generate on its own. If such an inspectorate existed today, it still would not be able to generate proof of the existence of that program using the tools available to it, primarily because it would not have the slightest clue where to go in North Korea to find the program.

In May this year, the United States followed up on its July 2004 announcement by tabling the text of a proposed FMCT. The United States said it can no longer support a mandate for FMCT negotiations that presupposes an outcome contrary to its position on verification, such as the so-called Shannon Mandate, with its requirement that an FMCT be “internationally and effectively verifiable.” Yet, the United States has not called for a mandate that requires its preferred outcome on verification. The mandate proposed by the United States is simply silent on the issue of verification, allowing all parties to come to the negotiations and advocate whatever outcome they prefer with respect to verification. Therefore, although the U.S. proposals are controversial among those who want an FMCT to include verification measures, no one should question the good faith of the United States in putting forward its ideas.

In a similar vein, some details of the U.S.-proposed text for an FMCT have drawn the fire of critics. Some have faulted the U.S. proposal for permitting the continued production of HEU for naval propulsion purposes. This criticism is somewhat strange, given that even the widely supported Shannon Mandate provided only for the negotiation of a treaty “banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” Inasmuch as naval vessels are plainly neither nuclear weapons nor nuclear explosive devices, there would have been no basis under the Shannon Mandate for negotiating a ban on the production of HEU for naval propulsion purposes.

Therefore, those who fault the U.S. proposal for permitting the continued production of HEU for these purposes are really faulting an FMCT as traditionally conceived. They are essentially calling for a treaty banning the production of all fissile material, full stop. There are arguments to be made in favor of such an approach, but there is one compelling reason to reject it, namely that it would be flatly unacceptable to many of the key governments at the CD. All nations with nuclear-powered navies stand with the United States in rejecting the notion that an FMCT should extend to the production of HEU for naval propulsion purposes. Further, those states that are investing in the full nuclear fuel cycle, including plutonium reprocessing, would never agree to prohibit the production of plutonium for nuclear fuel-cycle-related purposes. The United States, of course, is not among the latter group of states.

Some critics of the U.S. proposal have also quarreled with the provision that would have an FMCT expire after 15 years, subject to the ability of the parties to extend it at a review conference. Critics of this provision gloss over the fact that the NPT contains a similar provision, albeit one that provided for expiration of the treaty after 25 years. Obviously, there is a difference between 15 years and 25 years, but certainly the figure of 25 years set forth in the NPT was the product of a negotiation in which some countries initially advocated a shorter period. The larger point is that this particular provision, as well as the rest of the U.S.-proposed text, is merely a proposal. It was put forward to provide a basis for discussion and expressly not as a “take it or leave it” offer.

The record of the past nine years provides little basis for optimism that the CD is going to be able to rise to today’s challenges. International organizations being what they are, the recommendation of the Task Force on the United Nations that the CD be abolished caused hardly a stir in Geneva. The international civil servants there have continued their work secure in the knowledge that they will be collecting their paychecks long after hard copies of the task force’s final report have been removed from the shelves of research libraries. Meanwhile, countries will likely follow the example set by New Zealand and Sweden and withdraw their full-time ambassadors from the CD. The real work of confronting today’s security threats will shift to other fora that are producing results for the international community, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Proliferation Security Initiative, and (one hopes) the UN Security Council.

Stephen G. Rademaker is policy director for national security affairs and senior counsel for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). During 2002-2006, he served as an assistant secretary of state, heading at various times the Bureaus of Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and International Security and Nonproliferation. Over the previous two decades, he held high-level positions in the House of Representatives and in the White House during the George H. W. Bush administration.

Rocca to Push Controversial Draft Treaty

Sonia Luthra

The Senate Aug. 3 confirmed Christina Rocca as the new U.S. permanent representative to the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. Rocca, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, will begin the position as the Bush administration is pushing the forum to negotiate the controversial U.S. version of a treaty ending the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Washington has been without a permanent representative to the CD since Ambassador Jackie Sanders left in February. Sanders is now the alternative representative to the United Nations for special political affairs, working closely with John Bolton, the U.S. permanent representative to the UN.

The stalemated CD, which operates by consensus, has not concluded an agreement since the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Bush administration is frustrated by the conference’s lack of movement on U.S. priorities and asserts that this year could be crucial to determining future U.S. participation in the negotiating body. Specifically, the administration is seeking negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

An FMCT, which has lingered on the CD horizon since 1995, would ban production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons. The United States submitted an FMCT draft text May 18 as a starting point for negotiations. (See ACT, June 2006.)

The U.S. draft is controversial because it does not include a verification mechanism, in contrast to previous calls by the Clinton administration and other countries for such provisions. (See ACT, June 2006.) The Bush administration claims that a verification mechanism would be too extensive and intrusive for key signatories, yet unable to protect against cheating. (See ACT, September 2004.) Other nuclear-weapon states disagree. For example, France continues to show support for the 1995 Shannon mandate calling for a verifiable treaty, although it has said that it does not want to set preconditions on beginning negotiations, a stance echoed by the United Kingdom. India, which has nuclear weapons but is not a nuclear-weapon state under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, similarly says that an FMCT needs to be “verifiable and nondiscriminatory.”

Although all conference members claim to support at least some kind of FMCT, some insist that the CD not focus solely on such a treaty. Instead, a group led by China and Russia would also like the conference simultaneously to hold talks on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Motivated in part by U.S. missile defense plans, such as space-based missile interceptors (see ACT, May 2005), proponents of an outer space agreement want to bar the installation of any type of weapons system in space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty outlaws the deployment of unconventional weapons in space.

The United States opposes any CD talks on outer space and has rejected formulas that tie the start of FMCT negotiations to work on other issues, including space and nuclear disarmament. John Mohanco, deputy director of the Department of State’s Office of Multilateral Nuclear and Security Affairs, stated at a June 13 CD meeting that “there is no, repeat no, problem in outer space for arms control to solve.”

Russia and China have both stated throughout the 2006 session that they would like a “balanced” program of work at the CD. This formulation is an explicit rejection of the U.S. wish to focus solely on an FMCT. China has been adamant about this, stating at the CD June 8 that “any idea that aims at circumventing the ‘program of work’ and initiating negotiation solely on one issue while refraining from substantive work on other issues will not fly.”

CD delegations will have until September 15 to try to break the deadlock. The conference concludes its working session then and will not reconvene again until early next year.


U.S. Unveils Draft Fissile Material Treaty

Wade Boese

At the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, the United States May 18 unveiled a draft treaty to end production of the two essential ingredients for building nuclear weapons. But prospects for negotiations on the proposal are slim because many countries disagree with key elements of the draft and with the U.S. insistence that the conference only address this issue.

The conference, which operates by consensus, last produced an accord in 1996. Since approval that year of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, members held unfruitful negotiations for a couple of weeks in August 1998. Otherwise, they have been stalemated even on beginning formal talks.

Contending that the CD has spent the last decade in “nearly meaningless exercises in rhetoric,” then-Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Stephen Rademaker urged conference members to devote their energies to negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would outlaw new production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons purposes. Rademaker, who left his position May 19, offered a draft text with the stated purpose of spurring negotiations toward completion of a treaty before the CD ends its annual session Sept. 15. He told reporters afterward that the draft U.S. agreement was not a “take it or leave it” proposition.

However, Rademaker made clear the United States was only willing to negotiate on an FMCT and nothing else. Deriding what he labeled as “an unconscionable tolerance for hostage-taking,” Rademaker argued, “it is time for delegations finally to acknowledge that the package approach…will never succeed.”

Specifically, he said the United States sees “no need…for the negotiation of new multilateral agreements on nuclear disarmament, outer space, or negative security assurances.” The last item refers to codifying statements by nuclear-armed states that they will not use such weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states.

All three issues are broadly supported among conference members, and the United States is generally recognized as the sole country blocking any talks on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Washington, which has plans to place experimental missile interceptors in orbit, contends no arms race exists in outer space, so such talks are unnecessary.

Still, both China and Russia declared prevention of an arms race in outer space their top priority at the conference. In the two days preceding Rademaker’s speech, both countries reaffirmed their demand for a “balanced program.” Similarly, the Group of 21 developing countries holds that nuclear disarmament is its highest priority.

Aside from rigid divisions over what topics should be negotiated, many conference members also differ with the United States on the substance of a fissile material treaty. The two most significant issues of contention are whether the treaty should address existing stockpiles and whether it should have verification measures.

Several countries assert that a treaty on fissile materials should not only end future production for weapons but also prevent existing stockpiles from being used to build new weapons. Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan further argued May 16 that stockpiles had to be dealt with because “inequalities should not be frozen and perpetuated.”

The U.S. draft, however, excludes stockpiles. “Existing stocks of fissile material…would be unaffected,” Rademaker declared. This is a position that China and Russia recently endorsed.

Rademaker also reiterated U.S. opposition to negotiating verification measures for an FMCT. He said it would be up to states to monitor each other’s compliance, and if a serious problem arose, the UN Security Council could be requested to look into the matter.

First enunciated in July 2004 (see "Bush Shifts Fissile Material Ban Policy" Sept. 2004), this U.S. stance broke with long-standing U.S. support for FMCT verification, as well as the CD’s 1995 decision to negotiate an “effectively verifiable” agreement. Washington argues that verification measures would not catch determined cheaters, while providing a false sense of security and prying too much into legitimate security concerns of states.

The Bush administration also asserts negotiating such provisions would stretch the negotiations out too long. “With every day that goes by, the value of an FMCT diminishes because there will come a point where countries that are currently producing fissile material have all…they could possibly want,” Rademaker stated.

That is apparently the case with France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which have publicly declared they no longer produce fissile material for weapons. China also is understood to have ceased such production. India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea have not renounced such production.

Other conference members disapprove of the U.S. verification position. Australia, Brazil, and South Africa all voiced support for verification measures in May speeches but said the matter should be resolved in the negotiations themselves. Japan and Canada took similar tacks, although Canadian Ambassador Paul Meyer warned May 16 that “an FMCT which proves ultimately to be merely a vague declaratory statement of good intentions about future production does the international community a disservice.”

In a speech the day before Rademaker’s presentation, Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad also argued that the verification question should be determined during the negotiations. However, he added, “[a]bsence of a verification mechanism may engender [a] lack of confidence in compliance with the treaty, encourage willful noncompliance, and lead to allegations and counter-allegations of noncompliance.” Following Rademaker’s presentation, Prasad said he would like to reaffirm his statement and that he hoped further talks “will help us collectively to move toward a consensus.”

Last year, the Bush administration unsuccessfully tried to get India to halt fissile material production for weapons as part of a U.S. initiative to resume civilian nuclear commerce with India (see "U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal Simmers" June 2006). Instead, New Delhi merely reiterated its past commitment to support negotiations on an FMCT at the CD. Other governments, some U.S. lawmakers, and many nongovernmental nuclear experts have criticized the administration for failing to secure a more substantial commitment.

Rademaker suggested the timing of the U.S. FMCT proposal had nothing to do with these criticisms. “As far as why we’re doing this today as opposed to last month or next month, these kinds of things take time within a government,” he stated. But Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack said May 18 that the fissile material matter with India has “been an issue for some people, so we’ve put that [draft text] out there.”

Despite challenging the conference to conclude negotiations on an FMCT this year, the United States currently does not have a permanent representative to the conference. President George W. Bush nominated Christina Rocca, former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, for the position May 11, but it is uncertain when the Senate will vote on her nomination.

Rademaker used Rocca’s nomination as an occasion to imply that the United States might reconsider its participation at the conference if there was no action on an FMCT. “I urge all delegations to work with us in order to ensure that she does not serve as the last U.S. ambassador to the CD,” he declared.


Nations Remain Split on Disarmament

Wade Boese

This year, national governments have failed on several occasions to agree on measures to take steps toward disarmament, particularly of nuclear weapons. The latest setbacks occurred in September at a high-level meeting at the United Nations in New York and the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva.

World leaders gathering in New York Sept. 14-16 for a UN summit endorsed a document setting out a broad agenda for the international organization and its member states in the coming years. However, the document contained no action plan for mitigating threats posed by chemical, biological, and nuclear arms.

It represented the second major setback on nuclear disarmament in five months, following a May nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, at which a full month of talks among 150 states-parties did not yield any consensus on steps to strengthen the accord. (See ACT, July/August 2005.) The NPT obligates states without nuclear weapons to forswear them and nuclear-armed states to work toward giving them up. It also provides for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy under international supervision.

An early August draft document for the UN summit included a disarmament and nonproliferation section consisting of 21 separate items. But UN members, beginning with the United States, started to weigh in on the draft later in the month, whittling this section down to seven elements before deciding on the eve of the summit to scrap them all because of a lack of consensus.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan harshly criticized the result Sept. 13. “This is a real disgrace,” Annan declared. He continued, “We have failed twice this year.… I hope the leaders will see this as a real signal for them to pick up the ashes and really show leadership on this important issue when we are all concerned about weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that they may even get into the wrong hands.”

Following the fruitless NPT review conference, Annan had seized on the September summit as a second chance for finding common ground on addressing global weapons threats. “Bold commitments at the September meeting would breathe new life into all forums dealing with disarmament and nonproliferation,” Annan wrote May 30 in the International Herald Tribune.

Seven countries—Australia, Chile, Indonesia, Norway, Romania, South Africa, and the United Kingdom—banded together to see if they could help bridge the growing fissures exposed by the May meeting. In a July 26 statement, they warned that, if countries could not put aside their differences and unite on nonproliferation and disarmament, “[w]e believe that failure to do so may ultimately imperil peaceful nuclear cooperation and our shared vision for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Yet, the same divisions that frustrated the NPT conference confounded the September summit. Saying the focal point should be stemming proliferation, the United States spearheaded opposition to all language supporting disarmament. Egypt and other members of the Nonaligned Movement pushed back, insisting on the inclusion of disarmament.

Negotiators also had to contend with additional opposition from India, Israel, and Pakistan to any reference calling for treaty commitments to be made universal. These three nuclear-armed states have never signed the NPT and had not participated at the May meeting.

In a Sept. 1 letter on the proposed summit document sent to other delegations, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations John Bolton criticized that it “does not express the gravity of the WMD threats facing the international community, nor does it place this challenge in the proper context.” Indeed, he argued that one element “emphasizes disarmament, when the true threat to international security stems from proliferation.”

Bolton further objected to any mention of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans nuclear testing. The Bush administration opposes the CTBT but says it has no plans to conduct a nuclear test. However, it maintains that the emergence of new threats or a technical failure in existing U.S. weapons may necessitate a resumption of testing.

Richard Grenell, spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the UN, told Arms Control Today Sept. 19 that “nobody should be surprised” by the September outcome because of long-standing U.S. positions on these issues. He added, “We put forward a lot of creative ideas on punishing proliferators, but others were not willing to be as creative and just wanted to talk about disarmament.”

Two arms-related initiatives were preserved in the peacekeeping section of the final document adopted by world leaders. One calls for implementation of the 2001 UN program of action on preventing illicit transfers of small arms (see box), and another urges states to adhere to their commitments on limiting the use of or eliminating anti-personnel landmines.

One of the many disarmament items that the United States succeeded in stripping from the document was a call to revitalize the moribund CD, which last produced an agreement, the CTBT, in 1996. Any hope of injecting life into the CD, however, will have to wait until 2006 because it closed its third and final session Sept. 23 without having started treaty negotiations.

The United States pushed the conference this year to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) to prohibit the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons purposes. It also asked members to conclude this agreement without verification measures because the United States claims an FMCT cannot be crafted to prevent cheating. This stance conflicts with past U.S. positions and a 1995 CD decision to negotiate an “effectively verifiable” FMCT. (See ACT, September 2004.)

Some CD members opposed the U.S. FMCT position. Other members, led by China and Russia, demanded that the United States consent to talks on the prevention of an arms race in outer space in conjunction with FMCT negotiations. Others called for similar attention to nuclear disarmament. The United States adamantly rejected such linkages. As a result, the conference, which operates by consensus, was stalemated all of 2005. It will resume meeting in January 2006.


Fissile Material Treaty Dispute Prolongs Conference on Disarmament Deadlock

Wade Boese

In past years, Washington severely criticized the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) for not initiating work on a treaty to stop production of the key ingredients for building nuclear weapons. But a revised U.S. position on the proposed accord is now helping stall those negotiations and other arms talks in Geneva.

Last year, the United States announced that it no longer viewed as “effectively verifiable” a proposed fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would prohibit the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons purposes. (See ACT, September 2004.) The announcement ran counter to U.S. efforts at the CD since 1995 to conclude an “effectively verifiable” FMCT.

U.S. officials said the shift reflected a lengthy policy review that concluded cheaters could violate the FMCT with little fear of being caught or punished. They argued that, because the treaty would allow the retention of existing fissile material stockpiles and continued production of fissile material for civilian uses, inspectors would find it difficult to determine the purpose for which any suspicious fissile material had been made and whether it had been manufactured before or after the treaty took effect.

Washington failed last year to convince all of the other 64 members of the conference, which operates by consensus, to endorse its position, and the CD closed for the sixth year in a row without launching any formal talks. The stalemate has not only blocked action on the fissile material treaty but also helped hamper discussions on other subjects from weapons in outer space to nuclear disarmament. Little has changed since the conference reconvened Jan. 24.

Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter told Arms Control Today Feb. 7 that the United States is “not saying ‘no verification.’” She made clear, however, that the United States would not subscribe to negotiations premised on a final agreement being “effectively verifiable.”

Chris Ford, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, added in the same Arms Control Today interview that “[w]e think it is a bad idea to create this situation where you create an imperfect international regime that people do not understand to be imperfect.” This outcome would create a “false sense of security” that would incorrectly lead governments to lower “their level of concern, vigilance, and due diligence,” he argued.

Several countries do not share the U.S. perspective. Speaking to the conference Feb. 15, Norwegian Ambassador Wegger Strommen said that dropping “effectively verifiable” from the FMCT negotiating mandate “is at the outset not desirable, nor does there seem to be support for it.”

The beginning of treaty negotiations would not be guaranteed even if a compromise emerged on the verification impasse.

U.S. officials have repeatedly argued that the CD focus exclusively on an FMCT. Many other CD members have said this stance is unacceptable, arguing that other issues also merit attention.

Although China in August 2003 shelved a demand that the conference negotiate on the prevention of an arms race in outer space in parallel with an FMCT, Beijing insists that less formal outer space discussions should still be held. Russia also backs this approach.

CD members belonging to the Nonaligned Movement support similar talks on nuclear disarmament and negative security assurances, which are commitments by nuclear-armed states not to use such weapons against those states without them. The Nonaligned Movement is a loose coalition of more than 100 countries from the developing world.

In his outgoing speech as the rotating president of the conference on Feb. 17, Dutch Ambassador Chris Sanders criticized the inflexibility of some countries. “I fail to see how discussions on improving security in space or how discussions on dealing with the subject of nuclear disarmament could threaten anyone’s security interests,” the ambassador said. He further argued that members need “to take each other’s proposals seriously” and warned, “you cannot simply continue saying no or making proposals which you know will stand no chance of getting any support.”

A failure by the CD to begin any negotiations or talks before ending the first part of its 2005 session on April 1 could become a point of contention at the upcoming review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in May. At the last NPT Review Conference in 2000, the nearly 190 treaty states-parties called on the CD to commence “effectively verifiable” FMCT negotiations immediately, with an eye to completing them in five years, and to establish a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament.

The CD will reconvene after the review conference for two periods: May 30 to July 15 and Aug. 8 to Sept. 23.


Bush Shifts Fissile Material Ban Policy

Bush Shifts Fissile Material Ban Policy

September 2004

By Wade Boese

Following an internal policy review lasting well over a year, the Bush administration has reaffirmed past U.S. policy to negotiate a treaty ending the production of two key materials for nuclear arms. But it has added a new twist: it does not believe the agreement can be crafted to protect against cheating. The change in tack puts Washington at odds with some of its closest allies and raises questions about whether the new U.S. approach will jump-start or further bog down the long-stalled treaty talks.

Speaking July 29 to the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD), Ambassador Jackie W. Sanders announced the United States would pursue negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would outlaw production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons purposes. A nuclear weapon cannot be made without one or the other.

Sanders said the administration’s recently concluded FMCT policy review “raised serious concerns that realistic, effective verification of an FMCT is not achievable.” Since 1995 the United States and others had been urging the CD to begin negotiations on an FMCT that would be “effectively verifiable”—this phrase was part of a broader negotiating mandate for the treaty brokered by Ambassador Gerald Shannon, who served as the Canadian representative to the conference at that time.

A verifiable treaty is typically understood to have mechanisms and procedures, such as on-site inspections, to detect violations.

At a January 1999 conference in Washington, D.C., Michael Guhin, a U.S. arms control official, outlined the then-U.S. government position on verifying an FMCT. “We think that a strong regime of routine monitoring of all [fissile] production facilities and all newly produced material and a regime for nonroutine or so-called challenge inspections would give us enough building blocks to build an effective verification regime,” he said. Guhin is now the Department of State’s point man on fissile material issues.

An administration official interviewed Aug. 13 by Arms Control Today said the United States “does not have a draft treaty in its pocket” and is not ruling out verification provisions as a possibility. The U.S. position, the official explained, is that, regardless of the verification measures agreed to, an FMCT is not able to be “effectively verifiable.” Hence, the United States wants to remove that language from the 1995 Shannon mandate.

The official declined to comment on what would constitute “effectively verifiable” or why the U.S. government assessment about the proposed pact’s verifiability has changed.

Another administration official interviewed Aug. 20 emphasized that the U.S. approach is motivated by wanting to establish a prohibition against the production of fissile material for weapons sooner rather than later. The concern is that negotiating a verification regime would prolong the talks by years, allowing countries currently producing fissile material without any restraints to continue to do so until a final agreement is reached.

India and Pakistan are believed still to be churning out fissile material for arms, while the status of Israel’s production activities is unclear. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all declared that they no longer produce fissile material for weapons purposes. China has reportedly ceased as well. In her speech, Sanders encouraged all states to pledge publicly not to make any more fissile material for bombs.

A July 29 statement released by the Bush administration also shed some light on the thinking behind the policy shift. “Effective verification of an FMCT would require an inspection regime so extensive that it could compromise key signatories’ core national security interests and so costly that many countries will be hesitant to accept it,” the statement noted.

For instance, the United States and other countries are opposed to providing access to facilities involved in providing nuclear fuel for their naval propulsion reactors.

Israel, which shrouds its nuclear activities in secrecy, made well known its concerns about an FMCT in 1998 when it decided not to block the conference from initiating negotiations on the accord. The talks disbanded after a few weeks without any progress. (See ACT, August/September 1998.)

Intrusive or expensive verification measures also are understood to be of concern to China, France, and Pakistan, although all have previously endorsed the goal of a verifiable FMCT.

This is not the first time the Bush administration has shied away from verification provisions. It elected not to seek a verification regime for its May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty with Russia and sank international efforts to add one to the Biological Weapons Convention the year before.

Some conference members, including key U.S. allies, swiftly made clear they do not share the U.S. perspective. Canada and Japan reiterated their long-standing support for the Shannon mandate and Australian Ambassador Michael Smith argued Aug. 12 that, “to be credible and effective, the FMCT should include appropriate verification arrangements.” British officials also have indicated that they favor verification measures.

Washington expects other capitals to try and persuade it that the agreement can be verified. A team of U.S. experts is traveling to the conference Sept. 1-2 to present the opposite case.

Although Sanders also spoke of the U.S. desire to ban exports of landmines lacking self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms (see below), the near-term priority is getting the CD to focus on an FMCT, according to U.S. officials.

The U.S. position runs counter to CD efforts extending back to last year to formulate a compromise package of issues, including an FMCT, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and nuclear disarmament, to all be dealt with at the same time. China and Russia submitted Aug. 26 two informal working papers on the outer space issue and made clear that they opposed the conference working solely on an FMCT. Russia described the outer space issue as its “clear priority,” while China called for adopting a “comprehensive program of work.”

However, time is short for any CD negotiations to begin this year. The conference concludes its current session Sept. 10 and will not reconvene until January 2005. CD rules hold that talks started one year do not automatically carry over to the next.

This practice, coupled with the requirement that no work can begin if a single CD member objects, has helped deadlock the conference since 1996 when it wrapped up the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

In May 2000, the then-187 states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) called upon the CD to complete an FMCT within five years. The NPT states-parties are gathering again this coming May, and the lack of progress on an FMCT is likely to be cited by many non-nuclear-weapon states as evidence that nuclear-armed countries are not living up to their NPT commitment to work toward disarmament.

U.S. Pushes Landmine Initiatives

Wade Boese

A U.S. landmine initiative announced July 29 received a cool reception from other countries. The proposal, put forward by U.S. Ambassador Jackie W. Sanders at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), calls for an international ban on the sale or transfer of all landmines without self-destruct and self-deactivation devices.

Canada and some of the other 142 states-parties to the Ottawa Convention, which bans anti-personnel landmines (APLs), including those with self-destruct and self-deactivation devices, rejected the initiative out of hand. Canadian Ambassador Paul Meyer explained, “Clearly and simply put, [Ottawa Convention] states will not be in a position to enter negotiations on a lesser ban aimed at arresting trade in one category of [APLs] alone but implying the acceptability of trade in other categories of these weapons.” Because the CD requires consensus for starting negotiations and 42 of the conference’s 65 members are Ottawa Convention states-parties, the U.S. proposal’s prospects are bleak.

The United States announced in February that it would cease using any type of landmine lacking self-destruct and self-deactivation measures. Washington also declared it would not join the Ottawa Convention, an option it suggested in 1998. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The United States is having better luck with another international landmine initiative. Support is growing for a U.S. proposal to restrict the use of anti-vehicle mines, which are not prohibited by the Ottawa Convention.

At a July 5-16 meeting in Geneva, states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) inched closer toward adopting an anti-vehicle mines measure, which has been debated for years. A U.S. government official said Washington is aiming to complete the negotiation early next year so that it does not drag on indefinitely.

Now endorsed by 29 other countries, the proposal would require that any anti-vehicle mines deployed in the future be detectable. In addition, it would obligate countries to equip anti-vehicle mines delivered by aircraft or artillery systems with self-destruct and self-deactivation devices. The CCW already mandates that APLs have such mechanisms.

The 30 co-sponsors are now weighing whether to amend their proposal to demand that any anti-vehicle mines lacking features to neutralize themselves after a short period be restricted to deployment in marked areas.

A CCW measure can only be approved by consensus, and China, Russia, and Pakistan currently oppose adopting the proposal. Their objections vary from assertions that nondetectable mines are needed for border protection to the costs of altering mines to comply with the proposal.

Proponents say they are making headway, however, in arguing that the proposal will not be as costly as some fear because it will apply only to mines deployed in the future, not to those already in the ground or that remain stockpiled. The U.S. official voiced confidence that it is only a matter of time until the proposal prevails.


Senate Approves New U.S. Ambassador to CD

After going all of last year without a formal ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), the United States will be represented in 2004 by newly confirmed Ambassador Jackie Wolcott Sanders...

Wade Boese

After going all of last year without a formal ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), the United States will be represented in 2004 by newly confirmed Ambassador Jackie Wolcott Sanders. The Senate approved Sanders en bloc Dec. 9 with more than 50 other presidential nominations.

Sanders’ first day representing the United States in Geneva will be Jan. 19, when the CD begins the first of its three annual negotiating rounds. Sanders has spent 20 years in government and last served as deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.

Sanders’ predecessor, Ambassador Eric Javits, now represents the United States at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Bush administration shifted Javits from the CD to the OPCW in September 2002 in a move designed to show U.S. support for the OPCW and dissatisfaction with the conference. U.S. officials initially said that a replacement for Javits would be in place by the start of 2003, but the Bush administration did not nominate Sanders for the position until June of last year.

The CD operates by consensus and has been unable to negotiate an agreement since completing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. Since that time, the conference’s 66 members have been unable to agree on starting any negotiations, except for a few weeks of formal talks in August 1998 on a proposed fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Over the past decade, negotiating an FMCT has been a top U.S. priority at the conference, but Washington has not made much progress toward this objective. For the past several years, China refused to let such negotiations start unless the United States consented to doing the same on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The United States, which plans to explore space-based missile defense systems, has staunchly rejected this linkage.

Yet, at the close of the conference last year, China proposed a compromise. Beijing said it would be willing to approve FMCT negotiations if the United States could agree to less formal talks on outer space. (See ACT, October 2003.)

Whether Sanders and the United States will seize upon this offer remains unclear because Washington has initiated a review of its policy on an FMCT. (See ACT, November 2003.) U.S. officials have refused to discuss the ongoing review until it is concluded.

More broadly, key Bush administration officials have raised questions about the relevance of the conference, criticizing its lack of productivity. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker told the conference in February 2003 that “[w]e must all recognize that the CD as we have known it will not long survive if this malaise continues.”







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