GENEVA - The stalemate continues in the Conference
on Disarmament (CD), which for the eighth year in a row ended its annual
sessions this week without reaching an agreement on a working program among
its 66 member states.
The CD works by consensus, which means it cannot undertake new work without
the agreement of all of the member states.
The deadlock in the multilateral negotiating body reflects the current imbalance
in international relations, in which the United States enjoys immense political
and military power.
In terms of military arsenals, a wide gap separates the United States from
the rest of the countries in the world, which is reflected in the negotiations
within the CD, said a Latin American diplomat who asked not to be named.
Patricia Lewis, director of the United
Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), said the continuing
impasse in the CD has to do with the expectations surrounding the Nov. 2 presidential
elections in the United States.
In May, at the third session of the preparatory committee for the 2005 review
conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT), which was held in New York, the Arab countries were reluctant
to grant concessions to the United States "on the grounds that if they
are changing government in November, why give anything now," said Lewis.
She also noted that the Democratic Party presidential candidate, John Kerry,
has clearly indicated that if he wins, there will be a change in the U.S. attitude
towards the negotiations in the CD. She added, however, that "there would
have to be a change" in Congress, especially the Senate, to get any treaty
The United States holds the key to overcoming the stalemate in the CD, which
is waiting for a decision by Washington to jump-start a process that came to
a standstill in 1996, after the successful debate on the Comprehensive
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) the last document agreed at the Conference.
Authorities in the United States must decide whether they support the negotiation
of a treaty banning the production of fissile material (plutonium and highly
enriched uranium) for nuclear weapons (the Fissile Material Treaty or FMT),
although they do not want a regime for verification of compliance.
The U.S. delegate, Jackie Sanders, confounded the CD when she announced on
July 29 that her government had reached the conclusion that an effective FMT
verification regime was not feasible.
Since then, the U.S. delegates have not explained to the CD just how they envision
an FMT without a verification regime the point that continues to paralyze
talks on the rest of the issues.
When the Cold War came to an end, the United States vigorously pushed for the
FMT, because like other nations, it shared the concern over where the stocks
of fissile materials in the arsenals and laboratories of the countries of the
former Soviet Union, which fell apart in 1991, would end up.
But after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the Twin Towers in New York
and the Pentagon in Washington, the United States modified its arms control
policy and began to downplay the importance of verification regimes for international
The Moscow Treaty, which in 2002 required Russia and the United States to reduce
their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds by 2012, has no verification regime.
The same is true of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, because the
United States blocked agreement on a verification regime in November 2001.
Lewis pointed out to IPS that the United States was "not interested in
the verification of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" a reference
to the March 2003 invasion of that country led by Washington, based on the supposed
existence of weapons of mass destruction, which have never been found.
The head of UNIDIR also believes the United States is no longer even interested
in the FMT, which is currently bogging down progress in the CD.
"Another thing that is quite clear from the U.S. approach is that they
this particular administration are not interested in treaties," she
Adoption of the FMT would primarily affect countries with nuclear arsenals:
the five nuclear powers China, the United States, France, Britain and
Russia as well as India, Israel and Pakistan. The rest of the world's
countries are controlled by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
If the FMT or a similar accord goes into effect, the five nuclear powers would
be allowed to keep their weapons, but on the condition that they cut off production
of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, on which there is already basically
a de facto moratorium among the five, Lewis pointed out.
But India and Pakistan "are still producing fissile material for weapons,"
she added. "So the question is how long it will take for them to build
Israel, meanwhile, is a different case, because "as far as we know it
is not producing weapons," she added. But if the FMT were to enter into
effect, the verification regime would require it to open up its records on its
decades-long nuclear program
That "would be very dangerous for Israel. I think this may be one of the
key points that people are concerned about," said Lewis.
"Israel is very sensitive on this issue because India and Pakistan have
declared themselves to have nuclear weapons. Israel has never done that,"
The FMT is holding up progress in the CD on an issue that is very costly for
China and Russia: the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
Nor has there been progress on the most pressing issues for the non-aligned
countries, like nuclear disarmament and security guarantees for non-nuclear-weapon
The inertia of the negotiations has hurt the prestige and credibility of the
CD, which does not strictly belong to the UN system, but uses the services of
the world body's secretariat in its Geneva headquarters.
Critics say the CD acts like "an exclusive golf club, or like a gentlemen's
club in London or New York," said Lewis.
In his closing message to the period of sessions Tuesday, the rotating president
of the CD, Burmese delegate U Mya Than, said he believed that it is "the
best club in the city" because it has "the best brains" representing
the most refined traditions of multilateral diplomacy.
But Chilean delegate Juan Martabit acknowledged that an eight-year impasse
has hurt the reputation of the CD, and that "legitimate questions about
its future" have been raised.
He also stated that security and peace are not achieved by building up nuclear
The real threats to peace, said Martabit, are the developing world's lack of
funds to confront poverty and hunger.
(Inter Press Service)