Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Back to Basics in the Conference on Disarmament

The website for the Conference on Disarmament lists a dozen draft programmes of work proposed during the CD’s long fallow period since the CTBT was negotiated in that body. All of those work programmes have been supported by an overwhelming number of member states, but to no avail. That planning tool by which the 65 members try to prioritise and provide order for each year’s work has either fallen foul of the consensus rule or been immediately undermined after adoption.
In the face of these frustrations, there has been speculation on reforming the rules of procedure of the Conference particularly to facilitate decision-making. But the chances of opening up, let alone amending, these rules are negligible.  Better then to focus on how to apply them more imaginatively. Failing that, looking for other ways to do business...
There is certainly scope for reappraising the CD’s approach to formulating its annual programme of work.  There is a discernible pattern to the last nine of the twelve proposals just mentioned.  All ambitiously seek to set up at least three subsidiary committees or working groups of the CD as well as specifying mandates for those bodies.
The manifold layers of that approach are staggering in terms of their complexity and intensity.  They involve:
 - agreeing the precise terms for tackling more or less simultaneously four major issues affecting international security (noted below),
 - establishing three or four forums to operate concurrently for the purposes of deepening discussion on each of the four issues to the point of negotiating binding agreements on one or more of them,
 - programming the means of dealing with all four issues in a single document, and
 - requiring that the decision to undertake such complex and demanding streams of work as set out in that document be taken without a single, formal objection.
Is it any wonder that the CD remains rooted to the spot? One country blocking, say, the mandate on nuclear disarmament, ensures that no progress is made on any of the other three core issues – i.e., a ban on fissile material, preventing an arms race in outer space or securing legally binding security assurances. Paralysis is total.  Worse, it is self-inflicted.
Would it make a difference if the treatment of these issues in the work programme were to be de-linked?  That is, if the CD returned to its practice of developing separate mandates for each issue, might it be possible to make progress on at least one of them?
We know from recent decisions that no progress is currently possible on banning the production of fissile material. But, what if the CD isolated the remaining three issues and took decisions on each of them one by one?  Unfortunately, it is known also that at least one member state is opposed to progress on each of the remaining issues, although in the absence of individual decisions on mandates taken one-by-one, this state of affairs has not been formally tested in recent years.
This suggests that whether the mandates are linked or separated the result would be the same: the CD would remain in deadlock.  If this were so, the main options are to:
 - adjourn the work of the Conference, convening it only when circumstances require (e.g., for a periodic gauging of new prospects for progress),
 - take up discussions of a lesser issue or an emerging one, or
 - try a new approach to developing a programme of work – a “low-key”, groundwork approach unencumbered by substantive mandates.
The low-key option would be predicated on recognition that the mandates for the four issues covered by the recent series of work programmes are too ambitious, individually and collectively.  Instead, the focus would be less on the end product of the CD’s work on a given subject and more on the groundwork and confidence-building steps needed to underpin concrete progress. Attention would be placed on identifying and laying the foundations for such progress – defining key terms, filling gaps in knowledge on technical and scientific capacity for verification or other mechanisms, forming groups of experts, etc.
These confidence-building discussions would be scheduled on a rolling basis, initially allocating equal time to each of the four core issues.  When interest in an issue began to wane, the time originally allocated to it could be respread across the other issues. The absence of sustained, lively engagement in an issue would be as telling as the reverse.  But if none of the issues was able to secure sustained, intensifying commitment, then that would tell an even more serious story - the future of the CD, or at least the future of dealing with these issues in the Conference, would be confirmed to be in real doubt.  
At that point, the integrity of the CD would best be served by conceding defeat for the meantime and adjourning it sine die.  Taking up a lesser issue would smack of desperation. Agreeing to deal with an emerging issue would require consensus, a hurdle at which the Conference on Disarmament so often baulks.  Having already failed last week to adopt its work programme for 2013, the CD could do worse than experiment with a new approach to agreeing its annual plan of work.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR

(with acknowledgement to ClipArt for the symbol for meeting points)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Civil Society and Humanitarian Issues

 In Japanese tradition, fireworks are flowers offered to the sky, converting gunpowder from a weapon of war to a prayer for peace.  Creating a Peaceful and Safe Future: Pressing Issues and Potential Solutions” was the theme of a conference held recently in Japan.  Organized by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, through its Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific in cooperation with the government of Japan, the meeting was hosted by the city of Shizuoka beneath the inspiring presence of Mt Fuji.

The agenda covered a wide range of arms control and security issues but featured nuclear disarmament, beginning with an examination of “humanitarian issues and nuclear weapons”.  This was an understandable focus given Japan’s experience of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it gave rise to an intriguing dynamic. 
Of course, Japan was part of the consensus adoption by the 2010 NPT Review Conference of the action plan in which deep concern was expressed by the NPT parties of the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”.  And in a joint public statement in September 2010, the foreign ministers of the NPT lobby group of 10 states known as the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), which includes Japan, publicly echoed the Review Conference’s concern about humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons’ use.
Japan has not, however, subscribed to the efforts of a larger, Swiss-led group to amplify this expression of concern. At the first preparatory committee meeting in the current review cycle of the NPT last May in Vienna, Switzerland delivered a statement on behalf of 16 states parties. Barely 6 months later a similar statement was delivered in the name of 34 states and the Holy See during the most recent session of the UN General Assembly.
That statement concludes with these words: “The only way to guarantee [that nuclear weapons are never used again] is the total, irreversible and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, under effective international control, including through the full implementation of Article VI of the NPT (see further below). All States must intensify their efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons and achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. Civil society plays a crucial role in raising the awareness about the devastating humanitarian consequences as well as the critical IHL implications of nuclear weapons”.
Japan, though sympathetic to this message, seems concerned that that over-emphasizing a humanitarian approach and a “rapid push for a ban” on nuclear weapons might invite staunch opposition from states possessing nuclear arsenals and thus prove counter-productive.  Japanese officials prefer for the meantime to approach the goal of nuclear disarmament in a manner it characterizes as “realistic”, “practical and gradual”, or “step-by-step”. Its view that the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) should be the first such step is well known.
Whether concern about the humanitarian consequences of the detonation of a nuclear weapon will eventually inspire the successful push needed to ban those armaments remains to be seen.  Indeed, how best to make progress on nuclear disarmament is itself an open question, when existing forums hold so little promise.  The Conference on Disarmament (CD) – a body in which all nine of the nuclear weapons-possessing states are represented – is still chronically unable to reach the necessary consensus for a mandate for negotiations on nuclear disarmament (or on FMCT or anything else for that matter). 
Even embracing the word “negotiations” in relation to a mandate for progress on nuclear disarmament is a step too far for nuclear-armed states in the CD.  And in the NPT, the negotiations envisaged by Article VI of that treaty are not in prospect.  In the NPT, as in the CD, nuclear weapons states essentially control the agenda, relying on the consensus rule (or practice) to do so. 
Some civil society representatives at the Shizuoka meeting seemed skeptical of a step-by-step approach, at least in part because of the obstacles in the way of taking the first step. They are aware that Japanese delegates are very active in the UN General Assembly, NPT, CD as well as in the NPDI group where Japan, with Australia, has been pressing the nuclear weapon states for more reporting on nuclear weapons’ holdings and doctrines.  But they are equally aware that those states have not yet been responsive to these calls for transparency. 
Civil society in Japan holds the key to influencing their government, in order to help it to recognize the potential for the humanitarian approach for re-energizing the nuclear disarmament debate, and refocusing discourse on the effects of the use of those weapons rather than on their strategic and military purposes. 
In this connection, the words of the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs delivered at another recent event in Japan are instructive.  On 2 February, during her keynote address to "The Second World Citizen Forum" commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Kwansei Gakuin University, Angela Kane made these observations: “Given the horrible humanitarian and environmental consequences from any war involving the use of nuclear weapons—consequences that would not only cross national borders but affect the entire planet—citizens everywhere are quite justified in raising their voices on behalf of progress in nuclear disarmament. There is enormous potential for progress in this great collective effort, provided the people are willing to pursue this goal, willing to encourage diverse organized groups throughout society to work for its achievement, and willing to extend this cooperation to the peoples of other nations”.
Measuring the potential for progress to which the High Representative refers will be the subject of further analysis in Disarmament Insight. The forthcoming events in Oslo on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons – the Civil Society Forum on 2-3 March and the international conference on 4-5 March - will be important pointers in this regard. Indeed, the fact that these events are taking place at all – and that they are currently the subject of widespread reflection in many states at present – is testimony to the value of bringing fresh humanitarian perspectives to bear on a problem of global significance that, in disarmament and non-proliferation terms, has become a Gordian knot.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR