CD Fails Again to Adopt a Program of Work

This is a pretty depressing account of the Conference on Disarmament’s most recent failure, in a long line of failures, to approve a program of work potentially leading to the negotiation of a new fissile material cut-off treaty. As in previous years, Pakistan is the lone holdout. And in a system that requires consensus, one is all that it takes to stop progress in its tracks (I can’t imagine running faculty meetings this way – they’re bad enough operating under a majority voting system! I was in a three-hour-long one on Monday).

I don’t have alot of deep thoughts about the CD, and I welcome others’ views. I do understand the general idea of moving forward only by consensus, in order to include all of the necessary players to make a resultant treaty worth having. But at some point doesn’t it become just patently obvious that some other mechanism needs to be employed to get to a new arms control treaty? It’s been 16 years now since any negotiations were conducted through the CD.

I mean, if treaties were only ever adopted when every country in the world endorsed them, we’d have precious few treaties. That may be desireable to some people, but it doesnt seem a good policy/practice to me. At some point, if a large majority of states can get on board with an agenda of work, it seems to me that it would be prudent to organize a conference outside of the CD forum in order to pursue the agenda. If Pakistan doesn’t sign the resulting treaty, that’s a shame but it shouldn’t be the cause of holding up the entire FMCT program.

And it would perhaps be good to remember that large, multilateral treaties (at least ones with universal obligations, unlike the NPT) tend over time to produce parallel customary international law, which would bind holdouts as well. This has been recognized to have occured in the cases of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, among others. 

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