On the path of collective insecurity

Beatrice Fihn and Gabriella Irsten | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) held its first plenary meeting of 2012 on Tuesday, 24 January, with Ambassador Luis Gallegos of Ecuador taking the up presidency. The Conference adopted its annual agenda and approved the observer states, but was not able to agree on a programme of work. Statements were delivered by representatives of the United States, Canada, Peru, Cuba, Japan, Brazil, China, Mexico, the European Union, the Eastern European Group, the Latin American countries, the Informal Group of Observer States,Venezuela, Chile, France, Malaysia, Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Libya, Myanmar, Turkey, Poland, Republic of Korea, Algeria and Germany.


  • CD President Luis Gallegos of Ecuador announced that there was no agreement on a programme of work and suggested that perhaps it was time to put the CD on stand-by.

  • In a written message, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called upon member states to resume work, and noted the General Assembly is ready to consider other options to move the disarmament agenda forward.

  • After rejecting the European Union’s draft code of conduct on outer space operations earlier this month because it was “too restrictive,” the US representative announced that it would instead move forward to develop an “International Code of Conduct,” different from the EU one.

Briefing on bilateral consultations by the President
Ambassador Gallegos of Ecuador, the first CD president in 2012, briefed the Conference on the outcome of his bilateral consultations with member states during the intersessional period. The consultations had been based on a non-paper by Ecuador. Ambassador Gallegos reported that there was no agreement on a programme of work the CD, as the same disagreements from 2011 are still unresolved. He pointed out that a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) is the priority for a number of delegations but circumstances today means that negotiations are not likely to commence due to security reasons of one or two states. “Therefore, the Conference on Disarmament must be able to function without the FMCT, otherwise we will all become hostages, and the failure of consensus on an issue hindering the progress of any other,” Argued Ambassador Gallegos. 

Algeria, Poland, and Belarus took the floor to seek clarification on the nature of Ecuador’s non-paper. Ambassador Gallegos reiterated that this non-paper was only meant to be a basic for discussions and not a draft programme of work. Once confirmed that there was no consensus on a programme of work, the CD President turned to the issue of the upcoming session. Ambassador Gallegos asked if perhaps it would be better to recognize reality and take a decision to put the CD on stand-by, or to convene for a limited period, until the political conditions are more conducive to process. He also noted that it might be time to ask the General Assembly to convene a special session on disarmament to look over the disarmament machinery.

United Nations Secretary-General’s statement to the CD.
While not able to attend the opening of the 2012 CD session, the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG), Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, sent a message to member states through Mr. Tokayev, the Secretary-General of the CD. The UNSG stated that most of the CD’s successes were negotiated during the Cold War, “proving that it is possible to create global legal norms, even in times of great political disagreements.” He argued that “the rules of procedure or the absence of political will can no longer suffice as explanations for any further lack of progress.” The UNSG appealed to CD members to support the immediate commencement of negotiations and cautioned that if no substantive work takes place, the General Assembly “is ready to consider other options to move the disarmament agenda forward.”

Differences in priorities remain
While most states that took the floor emphasised that an FMCT is their priority, some states pointed out that the remaining three core issues should be dealt with as well. The Canadian delegation stated that while it believes that the other issues are of utmost importance, it argued that “we cannot do everything at once”. Ambassador Golberg of Canada also stated that an FMCT is the only core issue with a “negotiating mandate and an extensive body of preparatory work”. The United States argued that an FMCT is not some sort of deliberate diversion from “real” nuclear disarmament. Ms. Gottemoeller also noted that parallel negotiations on all four issues at the same time would not be a practical option and the CD should focus on one thing at a time. The delegations of Cuba and Peru, on the other hand, supported simultaneous negotiations on all four core issues, and the delegation of Brazil stated it was ready to move forward on any issue ready for negotiation but pointed out that the negotiation of negative security assurances “would certainly be the most simple and uncontroversial” negotiations.

Moving forward
Many delegations continued the discussion from the General Assembly’s First Committee in October 2011, on whether or not negotiations should be keep within the CD or be moved outside. Ambassador Guerreiro of Brazil stated, “The present drive for establishing an alternative to the Conference would be an easy solution, yet one that, in weakening the very structure of multilateral disarmament, may have unexpected consequences for many of our medium and long term aspirations.” Ambassador Rodrigez of Cubaalso opposed replacing the CD with another forum outside the UN. Ms. Gottemoeller of the United States highlighted that her delegation had initiated consultations with “the P5 and others” on unblocking FMCT negotiations in the CD. However, she noted that “the consensus rule has served CD members well” and “as a matter of pragmatism” she believes that the CD remains the best option for achieving “a viable, verifiable FMCT”. China, the Latin American group, and Myanmar also believed that the CD remains the most appropriate body for multilateral disarmament negotiations.

Ambassador Amano of Japan reminded the CD that the message from the General Assembly First Committee was that if no tangible progress is made during 2012, other options might be explored. Ambassador Gomez Camacho of Mexico agreed, arguing that if the CD didn’t move from procedure to substance, the General Assembly “will have to reassume its capabilities and functions in this matter, given by Chapter 11 of the Charter.”

The EU Code of Conduct
On 12 January, US Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and Non-proliferation Ms. Ellen Taucher announced that the United States rejected the EU’s draft code of conduct for operations in outer space. According to Ms. Taucher, the code is ”too restrictive”. At the CD,Ms. Gottemoeller announced that the US “has decided to enter into formal consultations with the European Union and spacefaring nations to develop an International Code of Conduct” She did not go into details on how the code would differ from the EU draft, but noted that it should be adopted by the greatest number of spacefaring nations around the globe. She also indicated that the group of governmental experts on outer space transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) scheduled to begin its work in July 2012 will be “a key opportunity to develop practical measures to enhance [TCBMs] and sustain the peaceful exploitation of space.”

Expansion of membership
Despite the dysfunctional state of the CD, the Informal Group of Observer States noted that 25 states that have applied for membership and called for the appointment of a Special Coordinator on the issue of expansion. Brazil, the Eastern European Group and the European Union supported this call.

Notes from the gallery
The 2012 session of the CD marks the fifteenth consecutive year without substantive work. Frustration and impatience grows as agreement a programme of work seems to be dismissed as unlikely already at the outset of this session. As the CD President noted at the end of today’s meeting, member states of the CD might be “on the path of collective suicide”. As RCW director Ray Acheson notedat the General Assembly First Committee in October 2011, while the stalemate at the CD continues, “modernization programmes are put into place, … billions of dollars are sunk into the weapons laboratories, and states around the world continue to shelter under nuclear umbrellas and include the potential use of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines.” During the last 15 years, the frustration within the CD might have increased, but the international community is not any closer to disarmament negotiations on any of the four core issues. Any country that is serious about pursuing disarmament must prioritize commencing substantive work over the continued existence of a dysfunctional Conference that hasn’t delivered anything of value in the last fifteen years. It is time to move beyond “considering” other options and act now.

Next meeting 
The next plenary meeting will be held on Tuesday, 31 January at 10:00 in the Council Chamber.