Another round of thematic debates

Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

The Conference on Disarmament met on Tuesday 22 May for a plenary meeting focused on nuclear disarmament. Statements were delivered by the delegations of Switzerland, Russia, Informal Group of Observer States (IGOS), China, European Union (EU), Turkey, Pakistan, India, United States, France, Japan, Iran, Germany, and The Netherlands.

Summary of the discussions

Nuclear disarmament

  • The US, the EUFrance, Germany, Japan, India, and The Netherlands argued that Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) was the priority of the CD and should be the topic to be negotiated.
  • India and China supported a global treaty on no-first use.
  • Pakistan noted that any use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states would be in violation of the UN Charter.
  • The EU, Russia, France, the US, and Japan called for implementation of the 2010 NPT Action Plan.
  • Japan and Iran called on NWS to further reduce the role of nuclear weapons in all military and security doctrines.
  • Russia suggested a list of next steps for nuclear disarmament, including gradual involvement in reductions by all states possessing nuclear capabilities, prevention of placement of weapons in space, abandoning unilateral missile defense system plans, elimination of imbalances in conventional weapons, and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty.
  • While advocating for a step-by-step approach, Japan said it was willing to participate in discussions on how multilateral nuclear disarmament should look like in its final phase.
  • India and the EU argued that the states with substantial nuclear arsenals should take meaningful steps towards nuclear disarmament.
  • Pakistan called for negotiations on nuclear disarmament to start.
  • Russia, the US, and France reported on past disarmament achievements.
  • The US wanted to pursue a future agreement with Russia for broad reductions in all categories of nuclear weapons.
  • Iran noted that no practical steps have been taken to reduce tactical nuclear weapons by the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and argued that the limited reductions made barely go beyond mere decommissioning.


  • Pakistan and Iran noted that some NWS continue to invest heavily in developing sophisticated technologies and modernizing nuclear arsenals, systems and means of delivery.
  • Switzerland raised concerns about ongoing modernization programme of nuclear arsenals.
  • The US argued that its Nuclear Posture Review ruled out the development of new nuclear warheads and ruled out new missions and capabilities for existing warheads.

Moving forward in the CD

  • India, the EU, and France reiterated its support for a programme of work in line with CD/1864.
  • Turkey argued that any revitalization of the CD should lead to the start of negotiations.
  • Iran called on the CD to establish an ad hoc committee to negotiate nuclear disarmament.

Moving forward outside

  • Switzerland drew attention to the statement by 16 countries at the NPT PrepCom in Vienna on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and argued that this topic should become an integral part of nuclear disarmament discussions.
  • Germany and The Netherlands announced that they will host two meetings of scientific experts on FMCT in Geneva at the end of May and end of August.

Notes from the gallery
The CD is now engaged in yet another round of “thematic debates”, which has been done many times during the 15-year deadlock. And just as in previous thematic debates, very few practical suggestions or concrete comments on how to move forward on multilateral nuclear disarmament were made and no interactive discussion or debate took place. Instead, most non-nuclear weapon states focused on issues related to other fora and topics, such as implementing the 2010 NPT Action Plan, moving forward with bilateral reductions, reducing the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines, and negotiating an FMCT. The nuclear weapon states chose to recycle statements from the NPT PrepCom in Vienna and mainly focused on discussing past achievements.

While two plenary meetings during the remaining part of the 2012 session are scheduled to deal with “revitalizing the CD”, it still seems to be business as usual in the Council Chamber and very few new ideas, input, or suggestions have been made. One of the exceptions to this was Ambassador Fasel of Switzerland, who argued that the catastrophic humanitarian consequences should be an integral part of nuclear disarmament discussions. Perhaps a better use of the remaining plenary meetings in 2012 would be to devote time and efforts to this increasingly important topic.

The solution is not to give the CD and its member states more time to deliver general statements; it has had plenty of that. All states must instead take responsibility for the CD’s failures and initiate multilateral work on nuclear disarmament elsewhere. 

Next meeting
The next plenary meeting will be held on Thursday 31 May, at 10:00 in the Council Chamber. The plenary meeting will focus on banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.