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

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

The Conference on Disarmament, shown in session last year in Geneva, Switzerland. The arms-control forum completed its work for 2013 last Friday still stuck in political gridlock (U.N. photo). The Conference on Disarmament, shown in session last year in Geneva, Switzerland. The arms-control forum completed its work for 2013 last Friday still stuck in political gridlock (U.N. photo).

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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GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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