Disarmament Insight


Friday, 27 January 2017

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?

In an earlier posting on this site, I suggested that the Conference on Disarmament move away from the complicated, multi-mandate annual programmes of work of the past 20 years. It was proposed that in order to get the CD going again, its focus should be substantially narrowed ideally to a single issue. And, the work programme should, as in the distant past, be no more than a schedule of activities for the year.
The current President of the Conference (Ambassador Vierita of Romania) appears to have a similar idea. His ‘initiative’ is to call for the setting up of a working group of the CD with the sole task of taking stock of the progress on all agenda items and possible new areas in order to identify the way ahead. He has invited support from CD members for this approach.
The objective of such a subsidiary body could equally be discharged by the plenary itself, the default mode ordained by article 19 of the CD’s rules of procedure. The President may feel, however, that the exercise of taking stock of progress is more efficiently conducted in the more informal atmosphere of a working group.—The necessary rebuilding of trust and confidence among members after years of bitter disputes over its priorities may be facilitated in such a group. And the initiative sensibly envisages that the chair of the group would be elected for the full session of the Conference rather than rotate monthly like the presidency.
The initiative is not described as a programme of work or a schedule of activities (as will be required under rule 28), although it envisages that the chair of the group would establish a timetable for 2017. Nor is it clear whether members of the public would be able to observe its sessions as they are entitled to do in the case of formal meetings of the CD. These are important details that the President will no doubt wish to clarify over the next week or so during which feedback from member states can be expected.
If the intention of the new proposal is to move away from the unsuccessful multi-mandated approach of the past two decades, it should be taken seriously. Its simplicity is to be welcomed, although in my view its additional idea of also setting up “Informal Thematic Working Groups” adds unnecessary complexity.—Such bodies may indeed prove useful but they can readily be established if and when a demonstrable need emerges and a climate of trust and confidence has been engendered.
At the least, this single-mandate focus could serve as an overdue test of whether members of the CD are serious about overcoming their longstanding deadlock. Passing this test will depend on whether the Conference is not only able to break old habits but also on whether it ensures that such a working group is not just business-as-usual under another procedural guise. In other words, if they pursue the President’s initiative, can members successfully debunk the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR