The UN General Assembly plenary meetings indicate that while the international diplomatic community is frustrated over the continued deadlock, the majority of countries—including many of those in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and most of permanent five members of the UN Security Council (P5)—appear unwilling to consider actions that could potentially disrupt the status quo.
Judging by their statements to the plenary meetings, neither the majority of NAM countries (assuming that the NAM statement delivered on 27 July reflects the position of most NAM countries) nor most of the P5 (with the exception of the United States) have signaled willingness to start negotiations on any of the CD’s four core issues outside of the CD. At the same time, most of the NAM and at least two of the P5 (China and Russia) are also opposed to reforming the CD’s working methods or rules of procedure.
(Note: Despite issuing a collective statement on this topic that indicated unwillingness to reform or circumvent the CD, the NAM’s position on this matter cannot be considered uniform. Several members of the Movement spoke in their individual capacity with remarks contradictory to this position, including Chile, Colombia, the Philippines, and South Africa. Based on this sample, it could be concluded that other NAM states may also disagree with the umbrella NAM statement.)
Most countries argue that the problem with the CD is not procedural but political. They’re not wrong. The CD has, in the past, managed to negotiate international disarmament and arms control treaties, with the same working methods it operates under today. Furthermore, with all nuclear weapon-possessors currently undertaking or planning modernization programmes for their nuclear weapon arsenals, delivery systems, and related facilities, it is clear that genuine political will to achieve nuclear disarmament is a missing key ingredient.
However, the solution of continuing to call for “more political will,” after fifteen years without negotiations, is like calling for another bucket of water to put out a fire that’s been blazing for months. What is needed is a massive downpour, a change in climate—or in the case of the CD, a fundamental shift of governmental thinking around disarmament, arms control, and national security.
“We are living in a global, interdependent world that faces as a community a multitude of disarmament and non-proliferation challenges,” said Swiss Counsellor Serge Bavaud. “It is important to move from one-dimensional approaches to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation to more holistic approaches.” He also noted, “It is critical to recognize that disarmament and nonproliferation affect numerous areas of concern to the international community besides peace and security, notably human security and human rights, development, the environment and health to name just a few. Only if we further include these aspects will we be able to confront the challenges we are facing.”
Similarly, Costa Rica’s Ambassador Eduardo Ulibarri said that “disarmament is not an isolated event of an exclusively militaristic nature. It is an organic process that interests and affects us all, and in which we must constantly advance through productive negotiations.”Arguing that “an essentially militaristic approach on security and disarmament could bring us closer to arms regulation and the control of international arsenals, but never to global disarmament,” he urged that “any action taken in the process of revitalization and restructuring of the multilateral disarmament negotiations must prioritize a focus on human security.”
Highlighting the relationship between human rights, international law, and disarmament and arms control, Ambassador Ulibarri also suggested that the CD “could begin to interact and cooperate with the bodies in charge of the promotion and protection of human rights and international humanitarian law, with the goal of carrying out a more effective follow up to the fulfillment of the States’ duties in those subjects in light of their commitments to disarmament.” For example, “the fulfillment of the agreements on disarmament [should] be incorporated as a variable to the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.”
The NAM itself recognized the need for a paradigm shift, arguing that part of realizing a world free of nuclear weapons will require the “colossal global expenditures and energies” devoted by nuclear weapon-possessors to the “possession, development and modernization of nuclear weapons” to instead be “used to further global development and peace.”
Yet for the most part, discussions related to the substantive work of the CD continue to be firmly predicated on a narrow, traditional view of “national security”.
At the plenary meeting, as it has before, Pakistan’s delegation stated, “No treaty can be negotiated in the CD which is contrary to the security interests of any of its member states.”
Indeed, this has been held as a truism in the CD—and not just by Pakistan. The US delegation is single-handedly blocking negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and during the Bush administration, it blocked negotiations on an FMCT because of the inclusion of verification in the negotiating mandate. The US and Pakistani administrations both relied on the argument that such treaties would undermine their security interests.
However, how can a government possibly know this before negotiations even begin, let alone conclude? Pakistan is not the only country with concerns about negotiating a fissile material treaty that does not include stocks. However, those others are willing to engage in negotiations and to insist on the inclusion of stocks in due course. If the treaty does not, in the end, include stocks, delegations can walk away from negotiations at any time, or refuse to ratify the resulting treaty. But stating that a treaty that does not yet exist undermines one’s national security in fact undermines the principles of good faith, multilateralism, and collective security. Furthermore, blocking negotiations of treaties on such critical matters as disarmament and non-proliferation threatens the national security interests of the majority of the countries in the world, especially since, as Ireland’s delegation noted, small states that depend on the rule of law and international treaties to ensure their security.
Pakistan’s delegation is not wrong that the FMCT sought by the majority of nuclear weapon-possessors is indeed “cost free” for those that already possess major stocks of fissile materials. This makes it all the more important to negotiate the treaty in a multilateral forum where the interests of all states, including those that do not possess any fissile materials at all, are on the table.
Pakistan’s delegation is also not wrong that the US, which is now open to options outside the CD for negotiating the FMCT, at one time firmly rejected taking any issues outside the CD when it was the sole obstacle to progress in that forum. But just as the United States was incorrect in 2005, in saying that taking the issues of the CD will “retard the very international non-proliferation and disarmament objectives that [those countries] want to advance,” Pakistan is likewise incorrect about that now.
Ambassador Ulibarri of Costa Rica described the CD as “going through the ‘illusion of disarmament’,” arguing, “It is the illusion that destroying certain weapons signifies an advance, despite their being immediately replaced by more powerful ones; it is the illusion of proscribing certain weapons because the strategic advantage they may have is exponentially inferior to the one offered by newer and more advanced ones; it is the illusion of fulfilling the requirements of civil society, when the only result is a paralyzed and paralyzing process.”
The states that are most actively seeking to break this status quo of illusion and paralysis do not want to “circumvent” the CD so that they can “get their way”. These states are also not pursuing action simply for the sake of negotiating an FMCT—most of them actually probably prefer negotiations directly on nuclear disarmament. Rather, these states seek to break through the rigid conception of national security and pursue collective security, human security in a multilateral forum that respects the views and concerns of all states but does not allow the interests of the few to outweigh the interests of the many.
Mr. Bavaud of the Swiss delegation argued, “Our institutions should not be based upon, and continuously favor, a clearly outdated conception of an all-prevailing national security paradigm.” Instead, he called for “institutions that are designed to produce results and do not favor the preservation of the status quo. They must be both responsive and preventive and thus be able to produce the instruments needed to address current as well as future challenges.”
Furthermore, those that seek to reform the CD and/or go outside the body to begin negotiations do believe that political will is essential. They do not assume that taking up negotiations in a different venue will magically eliminate the political problems faced by the CD. However, as Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, Austria’s Director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, argued, “political will can also be created through process.” That is, “by starting to address the issues that have been stuck on the CD agenda for all these years,” states that are resistant to engage can be encouraged to join in by the reality of the international community moving along without them. This has been seen in other negotiation process and with treaty ratifications. Furthermore, a different negotiating environment or under different working methods could enable states to find new compromises and overcome some of the political difficulties currently facing the CD.
Before the plenary meetings, Reaching Critical Will and the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy drafted a possible formulation to advance multilateral disarmament negotiations. We suggest that the UN General Assembly establish two open-ended working groups: one on nuclear disarmament and the other on prevention of an arms race in outer space. The open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament could have three main committees: a convention or framework agreement on nuclear disarmament; fissile materials; and negative security assurances and the prohibition of use of nuclear weapons.
In addition to cutting off future production for weapons purposes, we argue that an agreement on fissile materials must prevent the use of existing materials, civilian and military, in weapons, and contribute directly to irreversible disarmament. Its negotiation must not be treated as a step to be completed before negotiations on elimination of nuclear forces are commenced. A convention or framework agreement on nuclear disarmament could have a protocol on fissile materials, or provide for its subsequent negotiation. The policy of sequentialism, which has not proved to be an efficient way to achieve nuclear disarmament, must be abandoned, and a policy of integration and parallelism adopted.
As many delegations have pointed out over the years, the FMCT is not the only item “ripe” for negotiation. The majority of CD member states appear ready to work on any of the other core issues of the CD’s agenda—very few would block the commencement of negotiation on any particular issue, even if they might prefer one over another.
There are also actions that can be undertaken while the international community establishes some sort of negotiating framework. As the European Union urged, all nuclear weapon possessors should declare and uphold a moratorium on the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes. In our joint paper, RCW and LCNP suggest that until a fissile material treaty is negotiated, all nuclear weapon possessors should act as if it is already in force, as they do with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. All states possessing nuclear weapons should also engage in collaborative transparency and verification measures regarding their fissile material production facilities and stockpiles in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Furthermore, as the Costa Rican delegation suggested, “To build trust and signal good intentions in order to achieve the commencement of negotiations in the Conference of Disarmament or a parallel process, nuclear weapons States should drop their plans for modernization, replacement, refurnishing and upgrading of these arsenals and their facilities, amongst others.” Ambassador Ulibarri argued, small reductions of nuclear weapons are not conducive to disarmament when they “command robust resources towards the research and modernization of facilities capable of maintaining or multiplying these threats.”
The question now is what happens next. Almost every single delegation taking the floor at the plenary meetings said they wanted to revitalize the CD. It is unclear what this means to those delegations that do not wish to reform its working methods or rules of procedure. Unfortunately, many of the delegations participating on the plenary meetings did not offer concrete proposals for moving forward, leaving uncertainty about what will be tried—and what will succeed—at the UN General Assembly in a few months time. The US and UK indicated that the P5 would be engaging in consultations ahead of the next UNGA, and it’s clear that many non-nuclear weapon states are interested in pursuing something concrete during First Committee in October. But if a decision is not made before the end of year about what should happen with the CD and with multilateral disarmament negotiations, are we doomed to waste another year in 2012? There seems to be very little to be done in terms of “revitalization” if states are unwilling to change the way the CD operates or to consider creative, alternative methods and venue of work. It is the sincere hope of civil society that the states take a bold step this year by taking a concrete decision at the General Assembly’s upcoming session to begin multilateral negotiations with an integrated approach that links disarmament and non-proliferation to human security.