Brainstorming old ideas

Gabriella Irsten and Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 31 January for a brief plenary meeting. Representatives of Ecuador, Russian Federation, Nepal,Austria, Israel, New Zealand, Algeria, Sweden, Australia, Slovakia, United States, Ethiopia, Portugal, and Canada delivered statements.


  • The Conference discussed CD/1929, based on the president’s non-paper from last week, in which the president suggests puting the CD on standby or only convening for a brief period if no work takes place.

  • New Zealand and Australia agreed that this proposal could be an option in the future.

  • Several delegations continued discussing potential ways to break the deadlock and begin negotiations.

Discussion on CD/1929
On 30 January, CD/1929 was circulated to all CD delegations. In this working paper, CD President Luis Gallegos of Ecuador urges member states to look actively for a new approach to solve the current situation in the CD and notes that the Conference “must be able to function without the FMCT: otherwise, its members will be collectively taken hostage, since the lack of consensus on one issue blocks progress on any of the others.” The paper argues that new ideas are needed, but that the CD should move away from the core issues and adopt a new perspective. The paper further suggests that if political will is the problem, perhaps the CD should be put on standby or only convene for a short period until the political climate improves. It also notes that perhaps a Fourth Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD-IV) could be convened. In conclusion, the paper announces the president’s intention to hold a series of plenary meetings “for frank and honest discussions on the future of this body.”

The remainder of the meeting focused on this paper. While all speakers showed appreciation for the work the president, some disagreed with the views expressed in his paper.

Regarding the president’s call of new ideas, the Israeli delegation referred to its 2007 paper CD/1823, in which it had proposed to expand the issues on the CD agenda and start discussing a legally-binding treaty to stop conventional arms transfer to terrorists. Ambassador Higgins from New Zealand, on the other hand, expressed concerns about calls for new items to be incorporated into the CD agenda, since she believes that “the unacceptable result of it would be that the wishes, security interests, and priority identified by the vast majority of CD members would be ignored—and supplanted instead by the viewpoint and security interest of the few.” 

Both the New Zealand and the Australian delegations picked up on one of the suggestions from CD/1929, noting that putting the CD on standby or only conducting a few meetings a year could be an option if the stalemate in the CD continues. However, Ambassador Kennedy of the United States expressed concern about any decision to put the CD on standby and argued that such an act would be difficult to reverse.

Ambassador Woolcott of Australia disagreed with other parts of the president’s paper; in particular that the CD must be able to function without the FMCT. Ambassador Woolcott argued that Australia “does not see FMCT as a problem whose complexity requires it to be set aside” and drew attention to the 189 states parties to the NPT, who in May 2010 reaffirmed FMCT as an “urgent necessity”. In addition,New Zealand, Russia, Sweden, Slovakia, Canada, and the United States also emphasized that negotiating an FMCT based on the Shannon mandate is still a priority. Ambassador Borodavkin of Russia argued that it would be “counterproductive to launch any discussions on the FMCT topic parallel to the CD, unless they comprise all countries possessing military nuclear arsenal.” Meanwhile, the US ambassador believed that that setting aside the FMCT would be to declare the CD’s failure as a negotiating body, and the US was not prepared to admit defeat.

Ideas on ways forward
Some delegations brought up old proposals for initiating substantive work in the CD, arguing that there still might be potential ways out of the CD’s deadlock. For example, Algeria stated its support for either CD/1864 or a simplified programme of work. Ambassador Jazaïry noted that CD/1864 was not mentioned in the president’s paper and argued that since this document was negotiated for years, with further attention it could possibly reach consensus.

New Zeeland drew attention to the 1998 agreement in the CD, when two individual negation mandates were adopted, one on FMCT and one on negative security assurances, and suggested that CD members need to de-link the mandates. The Russian delegation suggested that its unofficial proposal made on the margins of the 2011 General Assembly, which included a programme of work that would “elaborate elements” of an FMCT and continue substantive discussions on the other three issues, “might be an effective alternative to radical ideas on the reform of the UN disarmament machinery.”

Looking outside the CD, the Austrian ambassador reminded the Conference of the draft 2011 First Committee resolution, A/C.1/66/L.21, “Taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations,” which was presented by Austria, Mexico, and Norway. Ambassador Strohal explained that “the proposal was based on our conclusion that a greater amount of flexibility among member states would be needed to break out of our substantive deadlock.” He noted that some states had argued that this draft resolution challenged the disarmament machinery “by proposing to deal with disarmament issues within the General Assembly.” However, Ambassador Strohal believed that “to suggest dealing with issues within the UN General Assembly can hardly be interpreted as a challenge to the UN disarmament machinery.”

Missile defence
In addition to discussing the difficulties facing the CD, the Russian delegation also took the opportunity to outline other concerns, in particular the issue of NATO missile defence in Europe. Ambassador Borodavkin argued that the “accelerated and unrestricted build-up by one party, moreover, by a military alliance, of ABM capabilities would inevitably make another party strengthen, as a compensation, its offensive arms or take other asymmetrical actions.” The Russian ambassador continued by noting that the “speedy development” of missile defence projects significantly undermines strategic stability and international security and shared his concerns on, amongst many things, the imbalance in conventional arms in Europe, plans for placement of weapons in outer space, and plans to develop strategic offensive arms in non-nuclear configuration.

Membership in the CD
During the plenary meeting, the delegations of Austria and Russia showed support for an enlargement of the CD. In addition, the delegation of Nepal stated that “given the interconnected nature of global security, we believe· that a more representative and inclusive membership is suitable for building international support and advancing disarmament agenda.” Austria also called for greater contribution from academia and civil society in the activities of the Conference.

Next plenary meeting
The next plenary meeting will be held on Tuesday, 7 February at 10 am.