Disarmament Insight


Monday, July 18, 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).


Aaron Tovish said...

This proposal would have made good sense five years ago. Now it simply opens the door for another wasted year. A better way to put the CD on notice is to put the Geneva diplomatic community to work on its 2009 aborted work program through UNGA ad-hoc sub-committees, as per the 2005 proposal.