Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Revitalisation of the Conference on Disarmament III


These additional insights on current practices and procedures of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) are the final 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.  Self-review:
There is no mechanism in the CD’s rules for self-review. Reform of the Conference might include provision for a 5-yearly review of the kind familiar to parties to many disarmament treaties.
2.  Regional meetings:
Members may wish to bear in mind that originally regional meetings had the purpose of streamlining the president’s consultations on matters of basic procedure and timetabling of meetings. There is no rule governing the role of regional groups.  Nor are regional groups required to agree on matters of substance, although if no agreement exists within a regional group – whether on a matter of substance or procedure - it can usually be assumed that there will not be a consensus in the Conference as a whole.  Sometimes, however, when it comes to the crunch in the Plenary, and on the record, members may not pursue their objection to the point of breaking a consensus.
3.  Rotating presidencies:
The extremely short time frame for the rotating presidencies is often cited as a serious CD inefficiency. However, if and when negotiations get underway, continuity of those negotiations will be at least yearly, rather than monthly, because they will be presided over by an elected chair separate from the role of president. (Rule 9.)
4.  Agreeing the programme of work annually:
More problematic is the rule that requires the work programme to be agreed annually. However, again, if the programme of work were to be seen in its original form as a schedule of activities, the CD should be able to rise above this obstacle especially if substantive negotiations had developed a momentum of their own. (Rule 28.)
5.  Agenda:
A comprehensive review of the CD would include a review of its agenda to update it to reflect modern realities. (Rules 27 and 31.)
6.  Expansion of the membership:
Pressure is building for an expansion of the membership of the CD. It is anomalous that all UN members contribute to the costs of this body whether or not they are members of it. (Rule 2, Rules 32–36, Annex 1.)
7.  NGOs:
Pressure for improved rules for access by NGOs to the work of the CD, comparable to that in other disarmament processes, also continues to build. NGOs enjoy no greater access to the Conference than members of the public in general. Unfortunately, the decision in 2004 to enhance the level of access is dependent first on agreement by the CD of its programme of work. (Rule 42.) (see also CD/PV.946).
8.  UN specialized agencies:
The rule for access by UN specialized agencies and other relevant organs has not been updated to reflect the growth in disarmament bodies and processes that could help advance the work of the CD. (Rule 41.)
9.  CD as “a single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum”
The notion of the CD as a single negotiating forum is much misunderstood and misquoted. Even the CD’s own annual resolution and report to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) gets it wrong. The most recent CD resolution (A/C.1/66/L.13/Rev.1) tabled in the First Committee at UNGA66 mistakenly refers to the CD as “the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum” (emphasis added). What is the difference between “single” and “sole”? “Sole” has come to be used in some quarters as though the CD were the only legitimate multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. The use of the words “a single” was intended by the UN General Assembly at its first Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSODI) in 1978 to mean something else. What the General Assembly had in mind was that the CD would be a single (as opposed to the sole) forum. That is, it would provide a single edifice within which key disarmament issues would be negotiated by key states as needs arose (assuming the necessary consensus). It was seen as more effective and efficient to support a single institution and maintain a single repository of knowledge and expertise than to take up disarmament issues, one by one, in an ad hoc manner.  Not an exclusive forum for disarmament negotiations, but a convenient one.
10.  Relationship of the CD to UNGA/SSOD I:
There is no authoritative statement of this relationship to UNIDIR’s knowledge. Analysts most commonly describe the CD as an “autonomous body” but that word does not appear in the Final Document of UNSSOD-I or anywhere else.  Nor, given the CD’s close relationship with the United Nations, does that forum have all the qualities of autonomy. It is not fully independent.  For instance, the CD meets on UN premises, is serviced by UN personnel, its Secretary-General is appointed directly by the UN Secretary-General and acts as his Personal Representative, its rules require it to take into account UNGA resolutions on disarmament (although it is not obliged to act on them), it is required to send its reports to the UN, and it has become the practice for the Conference to transmit the texts of any treaties or agreements to the GA to be formally adopted and then opened for signature.  Nor – crucially - is it self-sufficient: its budget is included in the UN budget, and the UNGA has the capacity to withhold funding in total or in part.
This is a guest post by Tim Caughley. Tim is a Resident Senior Fellow at UNIDIR.