Disarmament Insight


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Conference on Disarmament (CD) - Echoes of the Past

“My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.

Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.”

In his recent monograph of war poet TE Hulme, David Worthington remarked that Hulme’s poem ‘Trenches: St Eloi” (from which the quote above is drawn) has obvious contemporary resonance.  In so saying, Worthington may not have had the desperately bogged-down Conference of Disarmament  (CD) specifically in mind, but an analogy with the CD is not far-fetched.
As the Conference prepares for its 2013 session (to run from 21 January to 13 September), its 65 member states will be acutely aware that their current paralysis is entering its 16th successive year.
This is not any normal disagreement over the precise wording of a disarmament treaty.  If only it were. Rather, the CD is deadlocked simply over how to get the negotiation of a treaty underway. No lasting blueprint for negotiating a new treaty has emerged in 15 annual 24-week long sessions. The trenches have been dug so deeply that the warring parties hunkered down within them seem either entirely disoriented or immune from growing international pressure for an end to the hostilities. 
Whether or not the minds of CD member states resemble corridors, there is a strong sense amongst them of the futility - echoing Hulme - in having nothing to do but, in the face of continuous stalling by the nuclear powers, keep on enduring seemingly endless repulsion in the quest for an acceptable formula for a blueprint or mandate that will trigger a new negotiation.
Alternative ways forward within the Conference – including successful recipes of the past - have been regularly suggested on this site (see links below) and are not repeated now.  But concrete alternatives outside the CD have recently emerged at least in respect of two of the possible subjects for treaties on disarmament issues.
The decisions of the UN General Assembly to establish forums on nuclear disarmament  and on a ban on the production of fissile material for explosive purposes  may not challenge the actual legitimacy (as opposed to the effectiveness) of the CD.  But at the least they amount to an incentive to its members to rethink the repressive way in which  the rules of procedure of the Conference are applied particularly to the laying of foundations for launching treaty negotiations.  
More importantly, these developments should offer encouragement to members that the issues in which they are most interested do not have to be eternally trapped within the Conference.  It will be intriguing to assess at the end of this year’s 6 month session of the CD where the balance of effort of disarmament diplomats was expended – on revitalizing the CD or in pursuing fresh new ground beyond the current trenches. ... Any bets?

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR

List of relevant links:

Photograph of a field gun at St. Eloi courtesy World War I Battlefields (http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/flanders/south.html)