Conference on Disarmament Shuts Down for Year with No Deal in Sight

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Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
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Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
Sept. 16, 2013, 6:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — A glob­al arms-con­trol for­um on Fri­day wrapped up its work for the year stuck in polit­ic­al grid­lock that has hampered it since the 1990s, des­pite high-pro­file con­cerns among mem­ber na­tions and ob­serv­ers that the body faces a slide in­to ir­rel­ev­ancy.

The Con­fer­ence on Dis­arm­a­ment’s latest ses­sion in Switzer­land in­cluded the cre­ation of a new work­ing group aimed at break­ing the en­trenched stale­mate.

However, “it is too early to say” if newly pro­posed ap­proaches will get the Geneva-based for­um back on a pro­duct­ive track, Tim Caugh­ley, a one-time deputy sec­ret­ary gen­er­al of the for­um, told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire by e-mail.

The con­fer­ence has not done sub­stant­ive work in re­cent years be­cause of a con­flict over a pro­pos­al for a world­wide ban on nuc­le­ar-weapon fuel pro­duc­tion. The 65-na­tion con­fer­ence in the 1990s laid dip­lo­mat­ic found­a­tions for even­tu­ally pro­hib­it­ing all chem­ic­al weapons and nuc­le­ar test ex­plo­sions.

Pakistan has ac­ted alone to block agree­ment on an agenda that in­cludes work on the pro­posed bomb-fuel man­u­fac­tur­ing ban. Is­lamabad has de­man­ded that any dis­cus­sions of a “fis­sile ma­ter­i­al cutoff treaty” also weigh po­ten­tial caps on ex­ist­ing nuc­le­ar-weapon ma­ter­i­al, but that pro­pos­al has failed to gain trac­tion in the 65-na­tion body.

“The Pakistanis are con­cerned that the FMCT would … not in­clude ex­ist­ing stocks, and that would lock Pakistan in­to an in­feri­or po­s­i­tion vis-à-vis In­dia,” Robert Lit­wak, a Clin­ton-era Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil non­pro­lif­er­a­tion dir­ect­or, told GSN in a brief phone in­ter­view.

The long­time rivals have spent years aug­ment­ing their re­spect­ive nuc­le­ar ar­sen­als, and ex­perts on Thursday warned that the buildup ap­pears to be tak­ing an in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous course.

Ad­dress­ing the con­fer­ence last Tues­day, Pakistani Am­bas­sad­or Zamir Akram re­af­firmed his coun­try’s op­pos­i­tion to “any ar­range­ment that is det­ri­ment­al to its se­cur­ity and stra­tegic in­terests.”

“As for the pro­posed fis­sile-ma­ter­i­al-cutoff treaty, Pakistan’s po­s­i­tion will be de­term­ined by its na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­terests and the ob­ject­ives of stra­tegic sta­bil­ity in South Asia,” Akram ad­ded in a writ­ten state­ment.

Broad­er nuc­le­ar-dis­arm­a­ment ini­ti­at­ives have faced op­pos­i­tion from nuc­le­ar-armed coun­tries and oth­ers covered by “nuc­le­ar um­brel­las,” said Caugh­ley, a res­id­ent seni­or fel­low with the U.N. In­sti­tute for Dis­arm­a­ment Re­search in Geneva.

The con­fer­ence last month es­tab­lished an in­form­al work­ing group as a means of fa­cil­it­at­ing con­ver­sa­tion among its mem­bers on how to move for­ward.

“The ar­gu­ment to Pakistan is you don’t have to go along with it, their ac­ces­sion is up to them as a na­tion­al de­cision,” said Lit­wak, now a vice pres­id­ent at the Wilson Cen­ter think tank in Wash­ing­ton. “But at least there could be mul­ti­lat­er­al dis­cus­sions and ne­go­ti­ations on it.”

As the for­um began this year’s dis­cus­sions in Janu­ary, U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon warned “it is es­sen­tial to end this con­tin­ued stale­mate to avoid jeop­ard­iz­ing the cred­ib­il­ity of the con­fer­ence.”

Speak­ing at that time, a Hun­gari­an dip­lo­mat who held the body’s ro­tat­ing pres­id­ency warned that 2013 could be the body’s “make-or-break year.”

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