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Conference on disarmament: seeking to break impasse.

Ray Acheson

During the first part of the CD's 2009 session, the UN Institute for Disarmament Research chaired a series of informal meetings with a diverse group of CD delegates and civil society representatives, leading to some recommendations on how to get the Conference on Disarmament back on track. It also addressed the awkward situation of WILPF's being forced to present its statement (p. 7) by way of an intermediary.

Canadian Ambassador Marius Grinius introduced a related paper called 'Getting the Conference on Disarmament Back to Substantive Work: Food for Thought,' which he hopes will 'promote understanding and dialogue among CD members, and help the CD find its way progressively and positively through the current impasse and to a resumption of its substantive work.' Some excerpts are included below.

Relevance of the CD

The paper notes that while 'barren periods of the kind currently being experienced by the CD are not unprecedented in the security arena,' some Permanent Missions in Geneva argue the CD is losing its value and may be 'acting as an obstacle to the emergence of alternative efforts toward nuclear disarmament goals.'

Many, however, consider the CD's past successes indicative of its future potential--though the paper notes that since the CD's establishment, several disarmament treaties have been negotiated outside of it. The paper asks if it would be possible to remove any of the current crop of issues from the CD for negotiation elsewhere, but assumes that the nuclear weapon states would 'almost certainly not participate'. In terms of current membership, the paper argues that while many states call for expansion of the CD, very few accuse the CD of being unbalanced--though if an Arms Trade Treaty is to be negotiated in the Conference, 'it could be claimed that this forum does not include among its Members the most affected states.'

Engagement with civil society The paper describes the annual reading by the CD president of a statement from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom rather than by a member of that organization as 'patronizing and demeaning to women and to the Conference itself.' It argues, 'the issue has become symbolic of the need for a broad change in policy toward greater civil society participation.'

The paper also questions if the 2004 decision, that NGOs be allowed to deliver presentations once a year after a programme of work has been adopted, is still tenable given that a programme has still not been adopted, and questions the rationale for the CD being more exclusive than the Non Proliferation Treaty, Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, and Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons meetings.

The paper recommends the six presidents or appointed 'friend' determine the formality of the level of engagement with civil society; determine the regularity of engagement; decide whether the International Women's Day address is to be treated separately from the practice of broader engagement with NGOs; and settle on a formula for receiving statements from NGOs.


Four core issues

The paper also asks if a less complex question' than the current four core issues should be taken up in the CD to build confidence in its ability to work, though it says 'no issue in recent years has been articulated as a CD proposal.' [The issues are the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty, Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, Negative Security Assurances, and Nuclear Disarmament.] Regarding the issue of a fissile materials cut-off treaty specifically, the paper asserts, 'It cannot be taken for granted that a fissile material mandate that includes the negotiation of a verification mechanism will be sufficient on its own to break the deadlock,' as other members 'can be expected' to link progress on the fissile materials issue to progress on another issue--which, the paper assesses, could be used to prolong the stalemate.

RELATED ARTICLE: Decade of deadlock ends!

The Conference on Disarmament (CD), based in Geneva, Switzerland, is mandated to negotiate multilateral disarmament treaties. On 29 May, 2009, for the first time in over a decade, consensus agreement was reached to begin negotiating a new treaty on fissile materials. This came just one day after WILPF organized an historic NGO panel presentation to the CD. Total and universal disarmament has been one of WILPF's goals since its inception in 1915. WILPF has played an integral role as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the Special Sessions on Disarmament, in the Non Proliferation Treaty conferences, and in the Conference on Disarmament.
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Publication:International Peace Update
Article Type:Conference news
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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