Bid to Save Global Disarmament Forum Faces Scrutiny

Diplomats seen before a speech at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland. Recommendations to end a years-long deadlock on the body prompted questions from the United States and other nations.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
June 4, 2014, 11 a.m.

Wash­ing­ton and oth­er cap­it­als are cast­ing a crit­ic­al eye on what could be a last-ditch bid to save a U.N. dis­arm­a­ment for­um from para­lys­is.

A lead­er of the Con­fer­ence on Dis­arm­a­ment has urged ne­go­ti­at­ors to re­shuffle how they seek con­sensus among the body’s 65 mem­ber na­tions. However, the push promp­ted ques­tions on Tues­day from both sides of a dead­lock that has pre­ven­ted the body from pur­su­ing a form­al agenda since 1996.

The for­um’s act­ing sec­ret­ary gen­er­al urged par­ti­cipants to ad­opt a broad fo­cus, by de­cid­ing first on “areas of com­mon ground” they could refer to an in­form­al work­ing group for fur­ther dis­cus­sion. Us­ing that guid­ance, the work­ing body could ham­mer out broad out­lines for po­ten­tial dis­arm­a­ment deals in so-called “frame­work con­ven­tions,” Mi­chael Møller said in a May 20 present­a­tion of his four-pronged strategy for ad­van­cing dis­arm­a­ment talks.

Build­ing off of broad out­lines “is not a new idea” in dip­lomacy, the Dan­ish dip­lo­mat said. He noted that gov­ern­ments have stead­ily ex­pan­ded a con­ven­tion­al-arms treaty since the 1980s to in­clude new cat­egor­ies of weapons.

The United States, though, on Tues­day joined sev­er­al oth­er na­tions in ask­ing Møller to flesh out his own pro­pos­al.

“Our pre­lim­in­ary re­ac­tion is that it is not evid­ent to us that this ap­proach would help to break the CD’s cur­rent im­passe,” Chris­toph­er Buck, Wash­ing­ton’s del­eg­ate to the for­um, said in pre­pared re­marks.

Sim­il­ar con­cerns were raised by Pakistan, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the nuc­le­ar-dis­arm­a­ment ad­vocacy group Reach­ing Crit­ic­al Will. Is­lamabad for years has ac­ted alone in block­ing agree­ment on a con­fer­ence agenda, cit­ing ob­jec­tions to form­ally dis­cuss­ing a po­ten­tial ban on the pro­duc­tion of fis­sile ma­ter­i­al for nuc­le­ar weapons.

Møller’s oth­er re­com­mend­a­tions in­cluded a call for the for­um to con­sider pos­sible found­a­tions for pur­su­ing “vol­un­tary” arms-con­trol agree­ments.

“To make a dif­fer­ence, the CD does not have to aim at ne­go­ti­at­ing leg­ally bind­ing in­stru­ments only,” he said in his May re­marks.

Be­fore en­ter­ing its cur­rent stale­mate, the mul­ti­lat­er­al dis­arm­a­ment body pro­duced treat­ies that in­cluded bans on chem­ic­al arms and nuc­le­ar test det­on­a­tions.

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