Egypt takes over the CD presidency

Gabriella Irsten and Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 21 February for the first plenary meeting of the Egyptian presidency. Statements were made by the delegations of Egypt, Argentina, Russian Federation, Iraq, Germany, Serbia, Cuba, Mexico, Turkey, United States, South Africa, Chile, United Kingdom, and Iran.


  • Ambassador Hisham Badr addressed the Conference and outlined his engagement to adopt a programme of work during his presidency.

  • The Conference welcomed the new Argentinian Ambassador, Mr. Alberto Pedro D’Alotto.

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

Egypt outlines the task at hand
The Egyptian Ambassador Hisham Badr took over as the second president of the 2012 session and in his opening statement he reassured member states of Egypt’s commitment to the Conference. Ambassador Badr stated that Egypt would work to preserve the CD as “the single multilateral negotiating body on disarmament affairs by working towards adopting a program of work.” He explained that “certainly, if we [Egypt] were able to change a political system that was entrenched for thirty years, we are cautiously optimistic about reaching a compromise on a programme of work in the CD.”

He noted that he will be conducting consultations with the regional groups throughout this week on the basis of establishing working groups on all four core issues and appoint special coordinators on the others. Ambassador Badr did not believe “that setting aside substantive issues and concentrating on procedural adjustments will achieve this objective [preserve the CD], although this might be needed in the future.”

Discussion on procedural vs. political problems
In his first statement,Ambassador Alberto Pedro D’Alotto of Argentina joined the Egyptian Ambassador in stating that no other body could compare to the CD and the results it has achieved in the past. While arguing that concluding disarmament treaties was the goal for Argentina, Ambassador D’Alotto said he believes that caution and responsibility in evaluating alternatives is required.

The Russian and the Turkish delegations agreed with Egypt on the problem in the CD not being of a procedural nature. Ambassador Oguz Demiralp of Turkey highlighted that “Turkey wishes to see the immediate resumption of substantive work in the Conference, with its present membership.” He continued by stating that “if there is a belief that CD is prevented from promoting important issues, such important issues can be taken to the UN Disarmament Commission where all UN members are represented and the procedure are much more relaxed.” The Russian delegation agreed that the obstacle in the way of substantive work in the CD is not procedural and instead emphasized that it is precisely the existing rules of procedures that have made it possible for the CD in the past to work.

The German Ambassador disagreed and argued that “some of the rules under the CD has to operate are anything but ideal for effective work.” He also pointed at the issue of consensus and how it has been used as a “de facto” veto, and suggested that this could be added to the Secretary General’s list of problematic procedural issues. Ambassador Hoffmann explained, “consensus does not necessarily mean that everybody is happy with an outcome,” but rather that it entails “that one can live with an outcome and that the pain is shared by all in equal measure.” He believed that only through such use of the consensus rule can multilateral bodies be productive at all and pointed out that “all states have a heavy responsibility and also a duty to make their contribution to make multilateralism and its institutions function.” US Ambassador Kennedy expressed her delegations willingness to “move out of its comfort zone” and find a compromise that would “entail pain for all”.

Ways forward
The Russian delegation once again highlighted 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 core issues. US Ambassador Laura Kennedy expressed support for the Russian suggestion. Mr. Vasiliev of Russia also supported further work on the other core issues, but argued that priority should be placed on the prevention of placement of weapons in outer space. Mr. Vasiliev also suggested the idea of convening a special high-level meeting on the issue of renewing the CD and to implement the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, in particular the establishment a group of experts on the topic of revitalization of the CD. The Serbian delegation supported the President’s proposal to continue with working groups on core issues. It also issued support for the CD Secretary-General’s recommendation that three special coordinators be appointed on the agenda, rules of procedure, and membership. The Chilean delegation argued that it is time to make a basic agreement, rather than an all-encompassing one, in order to open the door for political commitment.

Ambassador Adamson of the UK delegation drew attention to the positive outcome of the recently concluded preparatory committee on the Arms Trade Treaty in New York and argued that perhaps working in a more informal mode in Geneva could help delegates to reach agreement. In addition to the recent ATT PrepCom, several delegations, such as Turkey, UK, Germany, and Argentina emphasized another UN disarmament forum, the upcoming nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) cycle scheduled to begin in April 2012. But while many focused on the recent positive developments in the ATT process and at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, several delegations criticized the UN disarmament machinery in general. For example, Ambassador Hoffmann of Germany stated, “if we continue to fail, a situation may arise where a rethink of the UN disarmament machinery as a whole might be becoming urgent.” The Serbian delegation believed that an impartial look at disarmament machinery is needed and that the CD needs to be adapted to today’s changing political, ethnical, military, and economic environment.

Notes from the gallery
During the first weeks of the 2012 session, numerous states have expressed concerns regarding the continued stalemate. Many delegations have emphasized that 2012 is a critical year and that the CD is running the risk of losing its credibility as a disarmament negotiating body. To civil society, this is an under-statement. NGOs all over the world made those arguments over a decade ago, and have stated endlessly that “patience is running out” or “the clock is ticking”.

After a week of preparations in New York for negotiation of an arms trade treaty, a treaty that has the potential to make a significant impact all over the world, it is more frustrating than ever to watch the inability of the CD to move forward. Hardly anyone engaged in disarmament issues would expect negotiations on any of the topics of the CD agenda to begin anytime soon. In order to find progress on disarmament-related negotiations during the last decade, one must look at treaties created through bilateral negotiations, a General Assembly process, or multilateral negotiations entirely outside the UN framework. Progress takes place anywhere but in the “single multilateral negotiating body on disarmament issues”. Does this not mean that the CD in fact already lost its credibility?

The situation has been clear for quite some time. One member state will not agree to work on an FMCT based on the Shannon mandate. At the same time, other member states will not agree to any substantive work that doesn’t include negotiations of an FMCT. It is time for delegations to move beyond the CD and pursue real progress in any forum that will allow for it.  

Next meeting
The next plenary meeting will be held on Thursday at 3:30 pm, where the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Ms. Dipu Moni, will address the Conference.