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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
CD Closes 1st Session, Establishes One
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March 1998

Wade Boese

After more than a year of stalemate, during which the Conference on Disarmament (CD) did not establish any formal negotiating bodies, the Geneva-based forum on March 26 adopted a compromise work program establishing an ad hoc committee on negative security assurances. The 61 members failed, however, to address the most divisive issues facing the conference: nuclear disarmament and a fissile material production cutoff treaty.

The conference also agreed to appoint six, as-yet-unnamed special coordinators to seek members' views on the best ways to deal with the prevention of an arms race in outer space, anti-personnel landmines, transparency in armaments, the CD's agenda, expansion of CD membership, and improving the functioning of the conference. Between the end of its first session on March 27 and the beginning of the year's second session on May 11, the conference will determine who will fill the special coordinator positions and chair the ad hoc committee.

No negotiating committees or special coordinators were established to begin work on either nuclear disarmament or a fissile material cutoff treaty, though a provision calling for the conference president to pursue "intensive consultations" on cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament topped the work program. Egypt, India, Pakistan and Syria reiterated that nuclear disarmament would remain their priority in the CD, while U.S. Ambassador Robert Grey, addressing the conference on March 26, highlighted the disarmament and non-proliferation benefits of a fissile material production ban and called it "ripe for negotiation."

Within the negative security assurances ad hoc committee, CD members are to negotiate "effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons." However, concluding a legally binding agreement will prove difficult as Canada and South Africa did not support the work program, but only chose not to oppose it. South Africa, which agreed not to exercise a veto for two years as a condition of joining the CD in June 1996, has stated that negative security assurances should be dealt with as part of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review process rather than at the CD.

At plenary meetings earlier this year, Canada and France voiced reservations with establishing an ad hoc committee on negative security assurances, questioning what could be accomplished. Also expressing skepticism, a U.S. official said, "[T]here exists no sufficient common view for the ad hoc committee to negotiate a treaty on negative security assurances."

While calling for unconditional negative security assurances, the Chinese CD ambassador, Li Changhe, on March 12 said that negative secrity assurances should "include the commitment by nuclear-weapon states to no-first-use of nuclear weapons against each other." Moreover, the foreign minister of Pakistan, Gohar Ayub Khan, in a March 19 statement to the CD said that within a negative security assurances ad hoc committee, members should seek a "disavowal of recently propounded doctrines of possible nuclear use against non-nuclear states." Neither commitment will likely be acceptable to the other nuclear-weapon states.