Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Revitalisation of the Conference on Disarmament II


These insights on current practices and procedures of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) are the second of a three part posting of what was offered by UNIDIR as an abbreviated backgrounder to the current thematic debate in the CD on ways to revitalize the Conference. Participants in that debate on 14 June will have heard the CD’s president, Ambassador Kahiluotu (Finland), draw on some of the following points.
1.  Simplifying the “programme of work”, confining it largely to a schedule of activities, shorn of negotiating mandates:
Until 1992 the programme of work (rule 28) consisted mainly of a schedule of activities of the Conference and the agenda (rule 27), adopted together in a single document. However, after the conclusion of negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1992, the presidency of the Conference began consultations on reviewing both the agenda and the membership of the Conference. This separate focus on the agenda led to it being treated as separate from the programme of work thereafter.
2.  De-linking mandates from the programme of work:
The reason why the agenda and the programme of work were once embodied in a single document was for ease of allocating blocks of time to respective agenda items. But if the work programme is treated in a manner separate from (but related to) the agenda, it can still serve the same purpose. The programme would set out specific periods of time and the relevant dates for taking up specific agenda items. It would also list other organizational matters that it wanted to address. For instance, in CD/963 of 7 February 1990 and CD/1119 of 22 January 1992, the Conference projected the need to convene subsidiary bodies “according to the circumstances and needs” of those bodies. It also agreed dates for the meeting of the Ad Hoc Group of Scientific Experts on seismic events (pre-CTBT).
In the past, the first step of the CD each year was to agree on the organizational framework for the session ahead, including the allocation of time or space for subsidiary bodies. No mention was made of actual mandates.  The second step was to settle on mandates for the subsidiary bodies that members agreed to establish. At its broadest abstraction, the UN General Assembly’s mandate for the CD is that it must operate as a negotiating body. Hence, it was seen as logical that at least one of the mandates for subsidiary bodies would be a negotiating mandate or would foreshadow one. In any event, the CD is not compelled to establish subsidiary bodies, but can do so “when it appears that there is a basis to negotiate a draft treaty” (rule 23).
Incidentally, “Comprehensive and balanced”, the qualifying words used frequently in references to the work programme, carry no weight in terms of the CD’s rules, but are political interpolations used to perpetuate linkages. The CD’s rules of procedure require that a programme of work must be established each annual session as the basis for the CD’s efforts for that year. But the rules do not require that that programme be “comprehensive and balanced” in those specific terms. There is no procedural requirement for the programme to be comprehensive, although it would need to be perceived to be balanced as a practical element of the consensus necessary for concerted implementation of it.
3.  Consensus rule:
In the absence of any likelihood of obtaining agreement to replace the consensus rule, there is a case for developing an understanding amongst CD members of the responsibilities attached to invoking the consensus rule. Such an understanding might situate the rule in the context of actual substantive negotiations and decisions on the mandate for those negotiations, leaving decisions setting the procedural parameters for those negotiations to a more relaxed “general agreement” approach – that is, the absence of any persistent objection. (Rule 18.)
4.  Adoption of reports by consensus:
There also needs to be a better understanding about the rule on adoption of reports by consensus. That rule makes it clear that the approval by consensus of Conference reports such as the annual report to the General Assembly requires the faithful reflection of the positions of all the members. This rule underpins the furnishing of substantive reports rather than minimalistic ones by making it clear that a member cannot object to the inclusion in a draft report of a viewpoint with which it disagrees as long as that viewpoint faithfully reflects the position of its proponent(s). (Rule 25.)
5.  Annual reports to the UN General Assembly (UNGA):
It is arguable that in the current circumstances of deadlock, the CD’s annual report to the UNGA should reflect substantive positions on issues of both substance and procedure, rather than the customary, anodyne procedural reports. (See also the note on rule 25 above.)
6.  Conduct of work in Plenary Meetings:
Better understanding is needed of the rule that the work of the Conference shall be conducted in plenary meetings—the default option. It is open, of course, for the CD to agree on any additional arrangements, such as informal meetings with or without experts. There is a mistaken view that negotiations can only be carried on in subsidiary bodies.  This is not the case.  Subsidiary bodies are to be convened only on a discretionary basis 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. (Rules 19, 22 and 23.)  In practice, however, negotiations of a draft treaty lend themselves to the greater informality - off the record - offered by subsidiary bodies compared to formal plenaries.
A further posting will cover additional possible areas for reform within the CD’s practices and rules of procedure.
This is a guest post by Tim Caughley. Tim is a Resident Senior Fellow at UNIDIR.