Last chance for the Conference on Disarmament

Beatrice Fihn and Gabriella Irsten | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
13 March 2012

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 13 March to discuss a new draft programme of work, tabled by the current CD President, Ambassador Badr of Egypt. The delegations of Egypt, ArgentinaPeru, SwitzerlandGermany, Ethiopia, Cuba, PakistanEcuador, Italy, Ireland, Russian Federation, Chile, India, Iran, New Zealand, and China delivered statements.


  • Ambassador Badr presented the draft programme of work and opened up the plenary for deliberations on the draft.
  • Most states expressed support for the efforts made by the Egyptian presidency, although they all emphasized that it is a compromise and therefore not ideal.
  • Ambassador Akram of Pakistan restated his delegation’s view on negotiations of a fissile materials cut-off treaty (FMCT) without including current stocks, and highlighted some concerns regarding the draft.

The new draft proposal
Ambassador Badr dedicated today’s plenary to the discussions on his proposed programme of work, CD/1933. Just like CD/1864, the last programme of work adopted in 2009, the proposal calls for four working groups to be set up on the “core issues” of the CD: nuclear disarmament, FMCT, prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), and negative security assurances (NSAs). However, CD/1933 does not call for “negotiations” of an FMCT, but will instead “deal with elements of a multilateral treaty”. It also mentions that such elements should be on the basis of the Shannon mandate “while dealing with all related matters”. These related matters usually refer to existing stockpiles of fissile materials, something that is not specifically referenced in the Shannon mandate.

The working groups on PAROS and NSAs do not call for negotiations either, but will “discuss” the issues “substantively, without limitations”. However, the mandate for the NSA working group also says that it will not exclude recommendations “related to an internationally legally binding instrument”. The PAROS mandate contains no such reference.

The working group on nuclear disarmament does not even call for substantive discussions. The draft programme of work simply states that it should “deal with nuclear disarmament”.

The working groups will meet for nine days each and report back to the Conference before the end of the 2012 session.

Ambassador Badr explained that this draft was created after extensive consultations and took all delegation’s concerns seriously. He believes it is a good compromise between the different positions of CD delegations. While acknowledging that not all delegations will be happy with the draft, the Egyptian ambassador believed it was a possible solution and that it will allow substantial work to begin without compromising the national interests of member states.

Ambassador Badr also announced that he has asked the regional coordinators to take up discussions on potential volunteers for the working groups, chairs, and special coordinators of the agenda items, which so far have been left blank in the current draft.

Views from around the room
Many delegations, including those of India, Pakistan, Italy, China, and Iran, pointed out that the draft is currently being discussed in their respective capitals and therefore more concrete comments will be delivered at a later stage.

Mr. Conroy from the Peruvian delegation hoped that the draft would be adopted as soon as possible so that the CD could start substantive work. The Ethiopian representative found the draft to be a good compromise to end the CD deadlock and expressed his hope that the procedural points, such as appointment of coordinators, would not derail its implementation. Ecuador saw the draft as a sufficient balance and Myanmar stated that this document is not satisfactory to all states, including theirs, but that it captures the “basic nominator” and should be something with which all delegations can work. German Ambassador Hoffmann supported the adoption of this document and recalled a few points he made on 21 February in the CD, where he argued that consensus does not mean “that one has to say, ‘yes’ to a proposal, but rather that one does not feel compelled to say ‘no’.”

Ambassador Fasel of Switzerland believed that the president’s draft was a promising approach, but noted that he had wanted to see a stronger negotiation mandate. Brazilian Ambassador Mr. Vallin Guerreiro stated that he would have preferred the FMCT to be combined with nuclear disarmament in one working group, as the FMCT should be seen as an integral part of nuclear disarmament. However, he still gave his full support to the proposal and hoped it would break the deadlock. The Irish delegation saw the proposal as pragmatic and realistic, and offered its support and cooperation. Ambassador Higgie of New Zealand believed CD/1933 is an excellent base to move forward and that paragraph two of the draft is a realistic attempt to bring the issue of fissile materials forward. Cuba said it supported the important new document which would furnish the basis of substantive work, and gave its full support. Russia was prepared to view the document from a favourable point of view and support it in that spirit

Concerns regarding the draft
As Pakistan was the only country that publicly opposed the implementation of CD/1864 and the adoption of any subsequent draft programme of work, CD members were eager to hear the Pakistani delegations reactions to the draft. Ambassador Akram of Pakistannoted that the draft was based on some of the ideas that had been discussed during consultations with the President, but said that “some phrases in Para-2 of draft document CD/1933 are new additions to your initial ideas, which have a substantive impact on the earlier language.” Ambassador Akram did not reject the proposal, but shared some comments and asked for some further clarifications.

He inquired as to what the language “to deal with” means specifically; whether it would entail negotiations, pre-negotiations, or discussions. He argued that the mandates were too vague and warned that defining the mandate should not be left at the discretion of the working group, nor should it be allowed to evolve during the deliberations of the working groups. Ambassador Akram also asked for clarification on the words “while dealing with all related matters” and wanted to know if it meant that reduction of stocks would clearly be included in the work of the subsidiary body and/or if it meant “negotiations on all matters related to reduction of fissile material stocks for nuclear weapons”.

Ambassador Akram also noted the difference between the mandate for nuclear disarmament and the mandate for fissile materials, and argued that it would be worthwhile to reflect how such an imbalance could be addressed. He suggested that the mandate for the working group on nuclear disarmament should include language calling for the group “to deal with the elements of a ‘Convention’ on Nuclear Disarmament as is the case for a ‘treaty’ on fissile materials for nuclear weapons.” Similarly, he called for the mandates on PAROS and NSAs to use the language “to deal with” to ensure “balance in our work on all four core issues.”

He concluded by stating that Pakistan “cannot accept negotiation on a FMCT that does not clearly include the reduction of stocks of fissile material for nuclear weapons” but indicated that the draft has been sent to Islamabad and any clarifications to the issues he had raised would help shape the response.

The Iranian delegation also had some concerns about the draft. Ambassador Sajjadi agreed with Ambassador Akram in wondering if “to deal with” for the working group of nuclear disarmament would mean starting negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention. He also asked for more clarity in the mandate based on rule 23 of the rules of procedures. The Iranian ambassador also wondered if the phrase “dealing with all relevant matters” would provide enough guarantee that the issue of stocks would be fully covered under in negotiations.

The Russian delegation pointed to that fact in the draft proposal the issue of NSAs is listed third and PAROS fourth—Mr. Victor Vasiliev advised that the numbering should be in accordance with the agenda item numbering, i.e. the reverse. He also pointed to a gap in the timetable, starting with the week of 19 June, and suggested that this week could perhaps be allocated to considering agenda items 5, 6, and 7.

In order to respond to the requests of clarity, the CD President stated that “to deal with” means that the mandate allows the working groups to work substantively on the issue and advance the substantive work in accordance to the rules of procedure. He also emphasised that the word “deal” has the same meaning whenever it is applied in the text. He noted that the suggestions for technical amendments would be taken into consideration in the final draft, which will be presented on Thursday. Regarding the appointment of chairpersons to the working groups, the President said he was waiting for consultations and hoped to preserve balance in that regard. Ambassador Badr hoped that these clarifications would be forwarded to capitals so the document could be presented on Thursday for adoption.

Notes from the gallery
It has long been clear that Pakistan will not agree to a programme of work that includes negotiations of an FMCT without existing stocks, and several other delegations will not agree on a programme of work that doesn’t include negotiations of an FMCT. This new draft programme of work is a delicately crafted proposal that includes small modifications from previous drafts. Most notably, these modifications include the elimination of the actual word “negotiations”, and also the inclusion of a reference to all other related matters, i.e. stockpiles. It is intentionally vague in order to accommodate both sides.  
If one’s objective is to preserve the CD as an institution, adopting CD/1933 on Thursday may well be the last chance to do so. Previous concerns about the stalemate has in the last few years grown into outspoken criticism, questioning of the CD’s relevance, and even concrete suggestions for shutting it down. The CD has become irrelevant and if a programme of work isn’t adopted, substantive work on these issues will start somewhere else. Rejecting this programme of work would be clear evidence that the CD will not be able to perform its task in any reasonably foreseeable future and probably put a final nail in its coffin.

However, it is far from a perfect programme of work. It has considerable flaws due to its vagueness and lack of negotiations on any issue. Many delegations and members of civil society wanted something much more substantial in particular on nuclear disarmament. There is also the risk that if the CD adopts and implements this programme of work, it will mean that the CD continues to toil without achieving substantive results. It will be up to member states to not only adopt and implement this programme of work, but to make the work they undertake meaningful. The best reason to adopt this programme of work is not to preserve the CD but to achieve progress on nuclear disarmament and human security. Otherwise, it’s time for something else.

Next meeting 
The next plenary meeting will be held on Thursday, 15 March at 10:00 am.


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