Getting Back to Work? The P6 Initiative and Informal Debates in the Conference on Disarmament

Tasneem Jamal

Sarah Estabrooks

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2006 Volume 27 Issue 2

In an unexpected development on 18 May, the US presented to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) a Draft Mandate Text that proposes a way to commence negotiations on the Fissile Material Control Treaty (FMCT). The text was introduced during an informal CD debate on the FMCT, part of the Six Presidents (P6) initiative to engage the CD delegations in substantive discussions in spite of the continued paralysis over approval of an agenda. While the US proposal is deficient in several areas and unlikely to gain approval, its presentation was noteworthy. After nine years without authority to proceed on its program of work because of disagreement on an agenda, the CD has found alternative ways of engaging in debate. But will the P6 initiative enable CD members to break the deadlock and get back to work?

The nuclear arms control and disarmament regime is under pressure on all sides as the threat of both horizontal and vertical proliferation increases and a small group of states blocks the majority that support progressive action to eliminate nuclear weapons. The most blatant example of this inaction is the Conference on Disarmament, where abuse of the consensus rule has led to stalemate, with no agenda approved since the 1998 session.

In 2005, then President of the CD, Ambassador Wegger Strømmen of Norway, announced a set of informal discussions on the key agenda issues. Welcomed by most member states, these plenary meetings gave delegates the opportunity to deliver statements, which the President summarized. This minor breakthrough came late in the annual session and allowed for only a single meeting on each issue. Still, this action created the precedent for the 2006 P6 initiative and efforts to find alternative means to work.

At the 2005 UN General Assembly First Committee, a group of six states—Brazil, Canada, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden—floated a draft resolution that called for the creation of four ad hoc committees within the UNGA to engage diplomats and officials in substantive discussions on 1) a fissile material ban, 2) the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, 3) negative security assurances, and 4) a commitment to “deal with nuclear disarmament.” Because the proposal lacked strong support, particularly from the nuclear weapon states, it was withdrawn. In announcing its withdrawal on behalf of the co-sponsors, Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament Paul Meyer (2005b) stated: “We wish to give notice that if, for whatever reason, the CD turns in another sterile year in 2006, we will retain the option of reintroducing this initiative as a way of ensuring that there are democratic and multilateral alternatives to a situation where the security interests of the many are being held hostage by the policies of a few.”

During the discussions about the draft resolution, it was clear that many states were hopeful that the CD would hold another round of informal discussions in 2006. The first CD session in the winter of 2006 saw Poland in the rolling presidency. Together with the Republic of Korea, Romania, the Russian Federation, Senegal, and Slovakia, Poland announced the creation of the P6 initiative, through which the Presidents for the year agreed to build continuity through their terms. Friends of the Presidents were appointed, including the Ambassadors of Sri Lanka, Algeria, Bulgaria, Chile, Italy, and Japan, who were charged with reviewing administrative issues, including the agenda and rules of procedure.

After lengthy bilateral consultations, Ambassador Rapacki (2006) of Poland announced in February that there was still no consensus on a program of work. With this continued impasse, the P6 agreed to “create the conditions for deliberations on substance that could lead us to adopting the long awaited programme of work.” A timetable for a series of informal debates was proposed, to address seven themes: nuclear disarmament, fissile material control, Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, new weapons of mass destruction and radiological weapons, negative security assurances, a complete program of disarmament, and transparency in armaments.

In his tenure as President of the CD, Ambassador Rapacki set the tone for the debates and has been acknowledged as the primary driver behind the P6 initiative. On 24 January he called on member states to encourage Foreign Ministers and high-level officials to address the CD, increasing the political weight of its activities.

The first informal debate on nuclear disarmament was held under the auspices of the Republic of Korea. Because the timetable was announced with very little advance warning for the first debate, few states invited experts or presented working papers. However, NGO monitors of CD activity observed that the discussions were characterized by a relatively high degree of interactivity between states, with cross-table dialogue that is a rarity in diplomatic fora (Nordstrom 2006).

From May 15-19 the second informal debate was held, focusing on the FMCT under the presidency of Romania. Long considered the most likely issue upon which CD negotiations can and should begin, there is still disparity among states’ perceptions of what a fissile material measure would look like. Two issues dominate the FMCT debate: whether a treaty verification mechanism should be negotiated with the treaty, and whether the scope of the treaty should include existing stockpiles of fissile materials.

Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland contributed working papers during the discussions. Canada’s update of a 1999 working paper examined measures to deal with fissile materials including transparency, declarations of excess fissile materials, verification, and disposition of excess fissile materials, and suggested practical ways to share information about stockpiles of fissile material and proceed toward their verifiable disposition, outside a possible FMCT.

Presented by Stephen Rademaker, US Acting Assistant Secretary, International Security and Nonproliferation, the draft text provided a model FMC treaty. Rademaker (2006) declared that “it’s all here,” clearly indicating American preference. However, the US proposal does not extend to stockpiled material and in Article II.3 states: “The term ‘produce fissile material’ does not include activities involving fissile material produced prior to entry into force of the Treaty, provided that such activities do not increase the total quantity of plutonium, uranium-233, or uranium-235 in such fissile material” (US Govt 2006). The model treaty does not call for any verification measures beyond national enforcement, with states parties responsible to ensure that no actor under their jurisdiction is producing fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.

Although the US proposal does not meet the concerns of all states, the initiative appears to have been welcomed as a step in the right direction. States expressed appreciation for all of the working paper submissions, which Canada called “a substantive base to build on” (Meyer 2006). The Canadian Ambassador then asked how the CD would get beyond these discussions to commence negotiations. Similarly, on behalf of the EU, the Austrian ambassador (Petritsch 2006) expressed the hope that these discussions would generate sufficient momentum to overcome the agenda deadlock.

At the 2005 UNGA First Committee many states commented that the draft resolution, in circumventing the CD, would undermine the negotiating body. It appears that the proposal served a purpose in spurring the CD to action and at the very least the P6 discussions provide a mechanism for the exchange of ideas. However, the discussions and proposals remain in the realm of the ‘ad hoc’, without any mandate for formal discussions or negotiations. Neither have the debates maximized the time allotted for the CD to meet. Further, there is no evidence that next year’s presidents – South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland and Syria – will continue this initiative while the agenda debate remains unresolved.

In the wake of the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament Paul Meyer (DFAIT 2005a) stated: “We have witnessed intransigence from more than one state on pressing issues of the day, coupled with the hubris that demands the priorities of the many be subordinated to the preferences of the few.” The machinery of the arms control and disarmament regime continues to be manipulated by the few. However, creative solutions to the blockage are emerging and there is some optimism about informal discussions in the CD and an ad hoc committee approach to discussions of pressing arms control issues. As matters stand, traditional multilateral arms control negotiations are a distant hope.



Meyer, Paul 2005a, Concluding statement at 7th NPT Review Conference by Ambassador Paul Meyer Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament and Head of Delegation, May 27.

––––– 2005b, Initiating work on priority disarmament and non-proliferation issues, Statement by Ambassador Paul Meyer of Canada on behalf of Brazil, Canada, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden, 12 October.

––––– 2006, Statement to the CD by Ambassador Paul Meyer of Canada, 22 May.

Nordstrom, Jennifer 2006, CD Report, March 7.

Petritsch, Wolfgang 2006, Statement by Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch, Permanent Representative of Austria to the Conference on Disarmament on behalf of the European Union, 22 May.

Rademaker, Stephen 2006, Statement to the Conference on Disarmament Geneva, Switzerland, May 18, 2006.

Rapacki, Zdzislaw 2006, Statement by Ambassador Zdzisław Rapacki, the President of the Conference on Disarmament, 2 February.

US Government 2006, Draft Mandate Text and Treaty on the Cessation of Production of Fissile Material for Use in Nuclear Weapons and Other Nuclear Explosive Devices, 18 May.

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