Disarmament Insight


Monday, 18 July 2011

Last throw of the dice for the CD?

The notion of a streamlined programme of work - along the lines of those used before the current impasse in the CD – was raised in Disarmament Insight on 14 October 2009. The idea gained some support during recent debates in the Conference on the CD’s future. But what would a streamlined programme of work look like?

One possibility - comprising a “schedule of activities” and associated “understandings” - is suggested below as a means of stimulating discussion.

The draft seeks to do a number of things to bring into the open, and simplify, the CD's approach to the programme of work. It relies heavily on rule 23 to try to de-emphasise the debate over the “ripeness” of an issue for negotiation. In other words, a subsidiary body would be established only when "it appears that there is a basis to negotiate a draft treaty" (emphasis on “negotiate”).

It must be acknowledged that in delaying the decision on establishing a (or each) subsidiary body, the draft merely postpones the inevitable crunch on deciding that such a body or bodies is/are needed. However, if the CD can at least get over the hurdle of settling its programme of work, then there is surely a better chance of establishing momentum for substantive work.

Nonetheless, the draft in effect puts everyone on notice that if this approach doesn't work, then the state of affairs in the CD would be brought formally to the attention of the UN General Assembly.


Draft Programme of Work: 2012

[the timetable below is dependent on the adoption of the Programme of Work at the end of the second week of the 2012 session of the CD]

Schedule of Activities

1 From the beginning of week 3 until the end of week 12, the Conference will deal with the following topics. Each topic will be allocated two weeks:

(a) Agenda items 1 and 2: Nuclear disarmament – weeks 3 to 4

(b) Agenda items 1 and 2: Fissile material – weeks 5 to 6

(c) Agenda item 3: Prevention of an arms race in outer space – weeks 7 to 8

(d) Agenda item 4: Negative security assurances – weeks 9 to 10.

2 The Conference will deal with these topics in informal plenary meetings, without prejudice to the right of any delegation to address them, or any other matter, in plenary meetings.

3 At least three informal plenary meetings will be allocated to each topic each week.

4 If there are insufficient speakers to justify three informal meetings each week, the President will invite delegations to address Agenda items 5, 6 and 7. In any event, time will be allocated for dealing, inter alia, with those Agenda items in week 11.

5 From the beginning of week 11 until the end of week 18, the Conference will consider whether the manner of dealing with any topic to date warrants intensification of work on that or those topics.

6 In the event that the Conference decides to intensify its work on any topic, it may decide to establish a subsidiary body for that purpose. [Note: rule 23 sets out clearly the purpose of a subsidiary body: “Whenever the Conference deems it advisable for the effective performance of its functions, including when it appears that there is a basis to negotiate a draft treaty or other draft texts, the Conference may establish subsidiary bodies…”]

7 If the Conference agrees to establish a subsidiary body or bodies, the mandate for each body will be based on rule 23 of the rules of procedure and will be subject to the understandings listed below.

8 If by the end of week 18 the Conference is not able to agree to establish any subsidiary body, the following steps will occur:

(a) there will be a debate on the need for more time to form a subsidiary body or bodies – week 19

(b) there will be a debate on the prospects for productive work on other topics including the working methods of the Conference – week 20

(c) in the absence of agreement that more time is needed for the formation of a subsidiary body or bodies and if there is no agreement that there are firm prospects for productive work on other topics including the working methods of the Conference, the President of the Conference will write to the President of the United Nations General Assembly indicating that for the foreseeable future the CD is unlikely to be able to fulfil its mandate as a negotiating body, and the Conference will reflect this conclusion in its 2012 report to the General Assembly - weeks 21 to 24.


1 In establishing any subsidiary body it will be the understanding of the Conference that any delegation will be able to raise and pursue any issue affecting its national interests during the work of that body.

2 In the event that two or more subsidiary bodies are to be established by the Conference, they will be established in consecutive decisions of the CD unless the Conference decides otherwise.

3 The work of any subsidiary body or other mechanism agreed by the Conference will continue beyond 2012 until such time as the Conference agrees to adjourn or conclude it.

4 The convening of formal plenary meetings under rules 19, 20 and 30 is unaffected by this programme of work.

5 If there is agreement at any time to do so, or if the President believes that it would not attract an objection, the Conference may review this programme of work.

6 If any review of this programme of work is conducted, the programme will be revised only if there is agreement to the proposed revision or revisions.


This idea is put forward in an effort to stimulate discussion. It is based on the type of streamlined programme of work habitually used in the 1980s and 1990s (see also here). The challenge is for those who favour the current approach of loading the programme of work with mandates for subsidiary bodies to explain why they believe that a return to the successful recipe, on which the draft above is based, is not worth a try, perhaps as the last throw of the dice for the Conference on Disarmament.

This is a guest post by Tim Caughley. Tim is a Resident Senior Fellow at UNIDIR – for other comments on the CD see here.

[Photograph attributed to http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Diacritica).

Thursday, 14 July 2011

CD – one step forward…

A feature – for better or worse – of the Conference on Disarmament is the sanctity attributed to the CD’s rules of procedure (CD/8/Rev.9). Incoming Presidents, when assuming the chair of the CD in the alphabetical rollover of the presidency every four weeks, solemnly insist that they will abide by the rules of procedure throughout their (derisorily short) term. This has become code for saying that they will not countenance presiding over any action of the CD unless there is unanimous support for such action – the literal, and misplaced, embodiment of rule 18 that the Conference shall conduct its work and adopt its decisions by consensus.

Sometimes it seems that strict observance of the rules of procedure is an objective in itself, whereas the purpose of the rules is to facilitate orderly work rather than frustrate it. Perhaps, however, a new sense of enlightenment is afoot. Recently the CD took the unusual step of acting in direct contradiction to its rules. Rule 9 ordains that the rotation of the presidency, based on the English alphabetical list of Member States, “shall be followed”. Yet the Conference has acquiesced in a reversal of that order, placing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea before Cuba for the remaining presidencies of this year. (This outcome does not fall within the circumstances envisaged in rule 10 which afford a temporary relaxation of rule 9 within a presidency.)

The purpose of this switch between Cuba and the DPRK was seen as a pragmatic one to accommodate exigencies of the respective delegations. It is in any event harmless enough, although on a future occasion such a swap might be engineered for less innocent reasons. The point, however, is that the Conference has shown itself ready to overlook its rules when it suits it to do so.

Nonetheless, these particular circumstances have led indirectly to an unfortunate outcome. The Foreign Minister of Canada announced on 11 July that Canada will boycott the CD through the remaining three weeks of the DPRK’s rotation as President. Whether this stance was triggered by the switch of presidencies is not clear. But one of the values of the CD is that it brings under the one roof all the States that possess nuclear weapons irrespective of their international standing, and affords an opportunity for principled advocates for nuclear disarmament like Canada to make their views very clear.

Canada has taken full advantage of that opportunity, and its leadership – including as one of this year’s collegium of presidents for 2011 – Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba and the DPRK – has been exemplary. It is for no want of skill and energy of the Canadian presidency, whose efforts bridged the 2010 and 2011 annual sessions of the CD, that the Conference remains in its decade-long deadlocked state.

To go back to the beginning of these comments, the rotation of presidents of the Conference takes place strictly by rule rather than by election. And more importantly, the President, in the time-honoured manner of the office, acts first and foremost in a neutral capacity. If the chair needs at any point to project a national viewpoint, he or she makes it clear that they are speaking on that occasion as a Member State rather than as President. Given the current state of the CD, what is needed is a constructive, concerted effort of trust-building rather than individual acts of self-acknowledged symbolism.

This is a guest post by Tim Caughley. Tim is a Resident Senior Fellow at UNIDIR – see here for other comments on the CD.

Graphic courtesy of Google images.