Disarmament Insight


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Creative Options for the CD Part 2

This is the second of two postings drawn from comments made on 15 May during a seminar organised by Indonesia and UNIDIR. The first post offered creative options for breaking the longstanding impasse in the Conference on Disarmament (CD).  This posting considers briefly the need for creative options to the CD itself.  It begins by asking whether the relevance of the CD has diminished since its Cold War heyday? As in the first post, it ponders the puzzling lack of initiatives by members to supplement dutiful efforts of successive presidents to find a way through the longstanding impasse.

Is it beyond the CD’s three regional groups to play a more active role in augmenting or reinforcing the president’s efforts to broker compromise?  They could depute several members – say a troika of present, past and future chairs – to meet their counterparts in other groups plus China (which forms a group of one) actively to explore ways forward instead of caucusing only in their opwn blocs .  The absence of any initiative of this or any other cross-regional kind is revealing in itself.  In the post-Cold War era, has the CD lost a sense of purpose?  Attention, in any event, has begun to turn elsewhere.

Many of those states that have experienced success this decade in the CCW on Protocol V, in the General Assembly on the ATT, and in the diplomatic conferences on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions, have begun to challenge the status quo. They know that, while the CD may be a “single” multinational negotiating body dealing with a whole range of issues under the one roof as envisaged by UNSSOD-1, it is by no means the sole negotiating forum.

In the arms control and disarmament sphere, the dynamic of like-mindedness has offered a new way forward. Action, not passivity, is the byword of groups of states that work together in common cause with civil society and international organizations notably to secure humanitarian objectives such as the stigmatisation landmines and cluster munitions and other egregious armaments.

The CD’s lengthy impasse has been the catalyst for new initiatives.  The setting up by the General Assembly of the OEWG on nuclear disarmament and the GGE on fissile material surely reflects a simple message.  If the CD has the capacity to be at all responsive to the post-Cold War security environment it needs first to confront head-on its deadlock on these two core issues of substance now assigned to parallel forums.

Second, in reaching compromise on substance, the CD needs to apply its rules of procedure in a constructive, enlightened manner rather than as the kiss of death. The path to effective multilateralism in the Conference depends on moving from a passive to an active culture with a focus on how to begin things, not how to stop them.

The responsiveness of the CD to these challenges - if not to its very existence then certainly as to its effectiveness - is on the line. Those clinging to the status quo in the Conference might do well to heed a development at the recent preparatory meeting of the NPT: - the sense of empowerment engendered by the statement of 80 like-minded states on the issue of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons was palpable.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR