UN Disarmament Forum Embroiled in a Battle of Attrition

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Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Jaya Ramachandran
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

GENEVA (IDN) - The stalemate plaguing the United Nations Conference on Disarmament for the last two years is so perturbing that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has felt constrained to express his disappointment, carefully avoiding any reference to the diplomatic cut-and-thrust between Pakistan and India.

Though "the world's single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum" has produced landmark treaties that have promoted international security, the Conference's "record of achievement has been overshadowed by inertia that has now lasted for more than a decade," Ban told the Conference on January 26 in Geneva.

"The very credibility of this body is at risk. Continued inaction will only endanger its future as a multilateral negotiating forum," he cautioned. The warning couldn't be more justified. The Conference's programme of work for the 2009 session remained unimplemented, and the 2010 convention was wrapped up without starting substantive work.

"This has been deeply disappointing," Ban said, pointing out that there appeared to be "a disconnect between the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the recent positive developments in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation."

On the one hand, States had made progress on a variety of matters that have a direct impact on the global security environment. But on the other hand, the CD had played little or no role in these advances.

"Where States and civil society initiatives are on the move, this body has remained stagnant," Ban stated bluntly. "Just one or two countries must not be able to block the process indefinitely," he said, without specifying the countries he had in mind.

However, one day before Ban made an impassioned plea for breaking the continued deadlock to avoid "ominous implications" for global security, Pakistan's representative Zamir Akram insisted that he had no choice to blocking further negotiations on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), because the move was "discriminatory" and would only help neighbouring India stockpile bomb- making nuclear (fissile) materials.

"My delegation has always maintained that the CD does not operate in a vacuum. Our work is directly affected by developments in the international political system. No state can pursue policies on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation at the global level and pretend that these do not impact on our work in the CD," Akram told the Conference on Disarmament on January 25, the first day of the session which continues until April 1, 2011.

India's representative had not spoken at the Conference until January 27. But the cut-and thrust of partisan politics dictating India-Pakistan relations surfaced distinctly when Akram said the "discriminatory waiver" provided by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would "further accentuate the asymmetry in fissile materials stockpiles in the region, to the detriment of Pakistan's security interests."

The Pakistani representative warned major powers -- above all the United States -- against granting India membership of four key multilateral export control regimes that allow trade in nuclear and other materials.

A proposal to grant India full membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement was made by President Barack Obama in the course of a presidential state visit to India in November 2010.

"Clearly this irresponsible undertaking raises several issues," said Akram.

A week earlier Akram stated publicly that Islamabad would not accept the FMCT in its current form as it would enable India to increase its stockpile of nuclear warheads. "Our opposition to the FMCT is due to the asymmetry in the current proposal," Akram informed reporters.

"This asymmetry is further worsened following the civilian nuclear agreement signed by India, the United States, and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), as it would enable India to increase the number of warheads to 40 per year in which civilian nuclear fuel could be used for military purposes as India did in the past from the Tarapore reactor," he told reporters. .

"It is ironic that the Nuclear Suppliers Group was created after India's first nuclear test in 1974," said Akram, suggesting that matters were now being facilitated so that India would become member of that very same group without having to join the NPT.

When challenged about its own proliferation record whereby it has been held responsible for illegal transfer of nuclear material to Libya and Iran Akram put on a spin arguing "…we are tainted because we are seen close to China."

Akram said Pakistan was building two small nuclear reactors with technical assistance from China and would pursue a "credible deterrence" policy that would not "…match India missile to missile or warhead to warhead," India's online business magazine, www.domain-b.com reported on January 27.

While Pakistan's representative left no doubt that the CD was not the place to negotiate the FMCT, the U.S. disarmament negotiator Rose Gottemoeller maintained at a news conference on January 27 in Geneva: "We see negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty best conducted in the Conference on Disarmament because the rules of procedure of the conference, the consensus rule in particular, guarantee that the interests of all states participating are fully supported."

She added: "If a country in negotiation of the FMCT does not see its interests being supported, then there is of course full opportunity within the context of the CD not to join up with the final consensus."

Gottemoeller said evidently every country makes decisions about joining in an arms control treaty based upon calculations of its national interest -- as was the case in negotiation of the New START Treaty between the United States and Russia.

"Both of our countries had a very clear sense that the deal was in our national interests and we were willing to pursue it to its conclusion. So I do think that all countries should feel confident that if we begin negotiations of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty here in the Conference on Disarmament, that they will have full opportunity to ensure that their interests are well represented," Gottemoeller argued.

"Frankly, I'm a bit puzzled as to why the blockage," she added referring to Pakistan.

Gottemoeller said the U.S. was working with all nuclear powers to overcome the impasse, including Pakistan's close ally China, but gave no details. “I for one hope that Pakistan will take these as serious efforts to bear in mind what their concerns are,” she said.

According to diplomats and UN officials, Pakistan is the only one of the CD's 65-member states rejecting FMCT negotiations. Pakistan insists that existing fissile stocks should also be included to counter India’s perceived strategic advantage.

The extent of opposition to FMCT in Pakistan can be gauged from a report in 'Business Recorder' (www.brecorder.com) on January 23. It quoted former caretaker foreign minister Inamul Haq describing the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) as "an attempt to cap Pakistan's nuclear capabilities but UN permanent five members are legitimately possessing nuclear weapons in the presence of Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT)".

Speaking at the workshop titled, 'The CTBT and Beyond,' organised by Strategic Technology Resources (STR) on January 23, he said that FMCT will give India free hand to stockpile fissile material. He pointed out that existing stocks of fissile materials should be gradually reduced, eventually eliminating them with a schedule to transfer these stockpiles for civilian use with verification while transfers must be initiated by the states with the largest stockpiles of such materials.

This would require nuclear weapon states to irreversibly down-blend existing stocks of weapons-grade fissile materials, ensuring they could never be used for weapons again, he added.

The Business Recorder quoted him saying that FMCT is "a ploy by the U.S. against Pakistan" and that U.S. may attempt to use economic pressure to force Pakistan to give up fissile materials production and stockpiling which is totally against the strategic interest of Pakistan.

"The fragile economy might be a factor in influencing political leadership, policy and decision-makers in Pakistan to succumb to the pressure from Washington to endorse FMCT, which will a discriminatory move," he maintained.

Inam went on to say that any compromise on FMCT, in terms of the issue of stockpiles would damage Pakistan permanently. "In fact one objective of the current U.S. non-proliferation policy is to cap and eventually reverse the nuclear-weapons programme of Pakistan." (IDN-InDepthNews/28.01.2011)

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