Disarmament Insight


Saturday, 15 June 2013

CD: “Simplified” programme of work

The notion of a “simplified” programme of work is getting increasing airplay in the Conference of Disarmament (CD) these days. (For those unfamiliar with the chronic stalemate in the CD, agreeing a programme of work setting out the priorities of the Conference is a necessary precursor to real engagement in that body.)
It is not surprising that interest in simplifying the annual work programme should be growing.  Since 1999, drafts of the programme have been unnecessarily laden with mandates that have defied the consensus required for their adoption except in 2009 when there was an-all-too short-lived breakthrough (CD/1864). Mandates included in draft work programmes since 1999 are to begin real work on up to four “core” priorities dealing with nuclear disarmament, fissile material, outer space and security assurances.
The Rules of Procedure, as well as CD/1036 (a decision on the “Improved and Effective Functioning” of the Conference adopted on 21 August 1990), envisage a streamlined approach whereby the programme of work would be no more than a mere schedule of business rather than an overarching mandate or mandates for beginning to elaborate a treaty or memorandum of understanding on one or more of the core issues.
Decision CD/1036 led to the current rule on the work programme, rule 28, with its emphasis on establishing rather than adopting. This is not a matter of semantics. It means that having established through his or her consultations that no reasonable objection exists to the schedule of business for the year, the CD president would get work underway without a formal decision. In theory at least, the work programme, shorn of mandates, would be so simple as not to require a formal, consensus decision of the Conference.
Things haven’t panned out as envisaged.  Mandates on the 4 core issues have become inseparably linked, and worse, they have been embodied unnecessarily in draft work programmes. These linkages aren’t accidental.  They are deliberate.  Therefore they can be broken. A simplified programme of work might help in that regard.
What would a simplified programme look like? This column has been offering ideas since 2009 – see list below – and suggested a possible format in 2011.  Boiled right down, a simplified approach would have these features:
1. There would be an allocation of time to be spent during the annual session on each of the 4 core issues and other substantive agenda items.  That timetable would also allocate space for the annual high-level segment and for agreeing the CD’s report to the UN General Assembly.  In addition, it would reserve time for discussion of the outcomes of the second feature of the programme.
2. Within the allocation of time for each of the core issues, the central matter for CD members to resolve would be: under rule 23 of the Rules of Procedure, is there a need to establish a subsidiary body in which engagement would be intensified? That is, does a basis exist for the negotiation of “a draft treaty or other draft texts”?  Note that a subsidiary body is generally regarded as being more appropriate for facilitating intense engagement than the comparatively stilted, formal option of conducting work in plenary, although under the Rules, plenary meetings are the default option and would be the venue for fulfilling this part of the simplified work programme.
3. As when and if the questions arising under rule 23 are answered in the affirmative, members would immediately apportion time from the reserved allocation (see 1. above) for the negotiation of the necessary mandate. Mandates would evolve independently of each other.
4. Agreement on the negotiated mandates would require consensus.  Decisions on mandates would take place singly rather than collectively, unless otherwise agreed (by consensus)(see further below).  Agreement on individual mandates is most unlikely to be achieved simultaneously.  The timetable would need to be flexible enough to deal with that reality.
In weighing the pros and cons of this simplified approach, the following key considerations arise:
- Does this approach involve bending the Rules of Procedure? No, it entails applying them more faithfully.
- Will the mandates that have been refined and embodied in successive draft programmes of work since 1999 remain on the table? Yes, of course, but they will be examined one-by-one, and judged on their individual merits rather than as a package of four.
- What is the main advantage of this approach? It will help members to gauge issue-by-issue whether there really exists a will to begin serious work on each priority and, if so, their readiness to compromise on the ingredients of the mandate that will be required.  This may assist in recalibrating the 4 priorities, for example, in downgrading the push for security assurances, an issue whose need may have subsided marginally relative to the other 3 issues.  And by considering each issue on its own merits, members should be able to weigh more acutely the CD’s capacity to make progress on elaborating more than one “draft treaty or other draft texts” at a time.
- Will treating the mandates one-by-one guarantee that linkages among them are avoided? No, but any attempt to forge linkages will necessarily be more transparent.  Linkages may be needed, for instance, in developing a framework of issues as a compromise solution to the standoff over fissile material and nuclear disarmament.  Or there may need to be an understanding over the sequence of treatment of core issues to ensure that none is unacceptably overwhelmed by intensifying work on others.  Members protecting their interests in such a way on a given issue will necessarily do so openly on the record of the CD. 
The key difference from the present situation is that work on the mandates will be taking place under an agreed work programme, albeit a simplified one. The clock will actually be running. Members will no longer be wringing their hands waiting for the president to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR