26 March 1998

Press Release


GENEVA, 26 March (UN Information Service) -- The Conference on Disarmament reached agreement on a programme of work this morning, adopting a compromise proposal to establish an ad hoc committee on negative security assurances and appoint special coordinators for other issues on the agenda. It also decided that the question of nuclear disarmament would be the subject of further consultations under the authority of the President.

The agreement came as the Conference prepared to close the first part of its 1998 session. However, the proposal, the result of 10 weeks of consultations, did not enjoy complete support from the membership. Canada and South Africa said they did not back the decision, but indicated they would not oppose it so as not to block consensus. The representative of Canada said his delegation continued to question whether any real progress could be made on negative security assurances at this point, while the South African delegate said the decision represented "the lowest common denominator" and addressed solely procedural, rather than substantial, matters.

Other countries backed the decision with reservations. The representatives of India, Pakistan and Syria said the proposal did not reflect their national positions, especially regarding the priority they felt should be given to nuclear disarmament. The representative of Egypt also stressed that nuclear disarmament should receive priority attention, but said the decision at least allowed the Conference to begin concrete work.

For Japan, the decision was not entirely satisfactory, according to its representative, who said, nonetheless, that he was aware of the necessity to begin work at the Conference as soon as possible. The representative of China also called the decision "not strictly satisfactory", adding that his country had joined the consensus to show as much as possible a flexible and constructive spirit.

In the text adopted today, the Conference decided that the Presidency "shall pursue intensive consultations and seek the views of its Members on appropriate methods and approaches for dealing with agenda item 1 entitled 'Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament', taking into consideration all proposals and views on this item". The representative of

Iran said his country had joined the consensus on the understanding that, among other things, consultations on agenda item 1, and any subsequent results, would have the same status as the results of the work of other special coordinators approved today.

The representative of the United Kingdom said, meanwhile, that the members of the Western Group were prepared to engage in discussion on the persons to be appointed in accordance with the decision. The representative of Germany said the Group wished to see the quick appointment of the special coordinators called for in the decision.

Consultations on the composition of the ad hoc committee and the special coordinators will be held between now and the resumption of the 1998 session on 11 May. The next plenary meeting of the Conference will take place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 14 May.

Also this morning the Conference heard statements from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Mexico and from the representative of the United States.

Decision on Programme of Work

The Conference adopted a non-paper by the President containing a Presidential Declaration and a decision. According to the Declaration, after having identified agenda item 1 entitled "Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament" as being of an extremely high priority, and after having used all means of consultations provided for in the rules of procedure of the Conference, the President came to the conclusion that the only way to move forward on substance at this stage would consist of substantially increasing consultations regarding this item, under his authority with a view to reaching consensus on how to deal with this item.

The Conference also decided:

-- To purse intensive consultations and seek the views of its Members on appropriate methods and approaches for dealing with agenda item 1 entitled "Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament", taking into consideration all proposals and views on this item;

-- To establish, for the duration of the 1998 session, and ad hoc committee under agenda item 4 entitled "Effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons", to negotiate with a view to reaching agreement on effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. These arrangements could take the form of an internationally legally binding instrument;

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-- To appoint a special coordinator under agenda item 3 entitled "Prevention of an arms race in outer space", to seek the views of its members on the most appropriate way to deal with the questions related to this item;

-- To appoint a special coordinator under agenda item 6 entitled "Comprehensive programme of disarmament", to seek the views of its members on the most appropriate way to deal with the questions related to anti-personnel land mines taking into account, inter alia, developments outside the Conference.

-- To appoint a special coordinator under agenda item 7 entitled "Transparency in armaments", to seek the views of its members on the most appropriate way to deal with the question related to this item;

-- To appoint special coordinators on the review of its agenda, the expansion of its membership and its improved and effective functioning. These special coordinators, in discharging their duties and functions, will take into account all proposals and views, as well as future initiatives. The Conference requests these special coordinators to report to it before the conclusion of the 1998 session.

The taking of these decisions, the text continues, does not prejudge the positions of delegations on the eventual establishment of subsidiary bodies on the issues identified, but reflects agreement to advance the Conference's work with a view to reaching consensus.


CARMEN MORENO, Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said the lack of an agenda in keeping with the times and present circumstances seemed to express something deeper and perhaps more serious than a cyclical crisis. It reflected the uncertainties of a world which had not yet completely defined structures to replace those swept away with the demise of the bipolar order. In the midst of those uncertainties, a dangerous misconception that nuclear disarmament was no longer as important or urgent and was now the business of only the small group of nuclear-weapon States had emerged. This was a dangerous misconception, for nuclear disarmament was perhaps more important and urgent than ever and was in the interest of all States, especially non-nuclear weapon States. New deterrence doctrines reaffirmed the readiness to use nuclear weapons, including first use, even by powers who previously rejected them. Even more serious was that those doctrines asserted the readiness to use nuclear weapons not only against other nuclear-weapon States, but everywhere and against anyone and to prevent real or assumed threats of use of weapons other than nuclear in a presumed right of legitimate preventive self-defense not recognized by international law.

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In light of this, she continued, it was high time for all parameters of a convention on nuclear weapons to be explored. Mexico was convinced that together the international community could identify stages and agree on time-frames that would lead to the end of production of all types of nuclear weapons and the gradual and balanced reduction of stockpiles and vectors with a view to their total and definite elimination.

She said the Conference had the necessary experience and knowledge to assume its responsibilities and establish an agenda and programme of work adapted to present security concerns and in the interest of the international community as a whole. It was nevertheless true that the Conference's work methods were no longer appropriate to current realities. It was no understatement that the present division of member States into groups reminiscent of the cold war was anachronistic and did not facilitate decision-making. The real division with regard to security today was between nuclear-weapon States and non-nuclear-weapon States.

She said it was fitting to ask once again if the consensus rule, merely a euphemism of veto power, could remain unchanged if there was a real desire to overcome a perpetual stalemate in the Conference. Mexico was convinced that since the issues at stake affected the security interests of each and every State, the consensus rule guaranteed that everyone's interests were safeguarded in the context of concrete substantive negotiations. But the consensus rule could not be applied in a manner that prevented the establishment of subsidiary bodies or institutional mechanisms required for the effective functioning of the Conference. If carried to the extreme, as was happening now, consensus was reduced to the adoption of decisions that express the lowest common denominator or, better said, the line of least possible resistance.

ROBERT T. GREY (United States) said three years ago the Conference agreed to establish an ad hoc committee with a mandate to negotiate a treaty that would prohibit the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, since then the Conference had been unable to re-establish this consensus to get negotiations started. The delay was hardly a legacy the Conference could be proud of. The United States strongly supported the recent proposal by Austria to enable the Conference to begin negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.

It would be incorrect to allege that a fissile material cut-off treaty was "only" a non-proliferation measure, he said. By its very nature, a cut- off treaty would also have important benefits which related to the process of nuclear disarmament. A number of separate, but mutually reinforcing bilateral and multilateral steps, played a key role in the long-term process of nuclear disarmament. Those steps included: freezing the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons; reducing the number of delivery vehicles and warheads; limiting the amount of fissile material available for use in nuclear

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weapons; and ensuring that excess fissile material was never returned to nuclear weapons programmes.

He added that the current mosaic of nuclear disarmament initiatives still lacked a multilateral agreement to cut off the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. Such a treaty, which would apply equally to all parties, would cap the amount of fissile material available for nuclear weapons globally; extend verification measures to fissile material production facilities that are not currently subject to international monitoring; bind legally and subject to international verification those countries that have recently halted fissile material production including the United States; help foster the creation of a climate conducive to continued, long-term progress on reducing nuclear-weapon stockpiles; and meet an important nuclear disarmament commitment made by parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference -- to seek the "immediate commencement and early conclusion" of cut-off negotiations. A cut-off treaty would also have significant nonproliferation benefits, promoting stability in regions where the risks of escalating arms races were greatest.

Turning to the question of negotiating further restrictions on anti-personnel landmines, he said a number of the largest producers and stockpilers of landmines had not adhered to existing agreements, citing national security concerns and other significant factors. Given those realities, an export/transfer ban negotiated in the Conference would enable many more States to accept international obligations that restricted such mines. The right question to ask was not whether this or that agreement was better than another, but whether the Conference could act in a tangible way to further diminish the damage and loss of life that anti-personnel landmines caused. It was very clear that it could.

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