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US, China hamper UN disarmament work
R. Senthilnathan, Geneva
May 16, 2001 13:35 Hrs (IST)

T HE battle between China and the US at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) over the future of outer space has put the work of the organization in a state of perpetual suspension.

The 66-member Geneva-based CD, of which India is a member, has been in what an Indian diplomat called "suspended animation" for the past few years as it cannot even agree on its work program.

The program is expected to include a ban on production of fissile material, nuclear disarmament and weaponization of the outer space -- issues of critical importance to India.

The latest CD meeting began on May 14, but there is little hope that this session -- the second this year -- will be different from the first in March, or from those held during previous years.

The latest announcement by the new US administration that it will seek to dominate outer space has only deepened the sense of pessimism.

According to an official at the UN office here, while there is agreement on "most of the elements of a program", the two main sticking points are issues of nuclear disarmament and weaponization, or to be precise prevention of weaponization of the outer space.

China has been demanding that negotiations over what is being called the Prevention of an Arms Race in the Outer Space (PAROS) be treated as equal to talks over a treaty to prohibit the production of fissile material.

CD members have already agreed in principle to a treaty to ban production of fissile material, but the ad hoc committee that will take the talks from there towards a treaty has not been established.

China, which chairs the current CD session that will end late June, wants the outer space talks to end in a treaty banning testing, deployment and use of any weapon, weapons system and their components in outer space. The issue has the support of many nations but not that of the US, which is against the CD discussing the issue of PAROS with a view of having a treaty.

Speaking at the CD's first session in February, the US ambassador to UN in Geneva said Washington feels there is no "realistic and current need for further measures aimed at enhancing international peace and security in outer space".

China can take solace in the fact that the UN General Assembly in New York passed a resolution last year calling for outer space to remain for peaceful purposes. While 163 countries supported the resolution, the US and Israel abstained.

The last time CD members agreed to a work program was in 1998, but many diplomats and non-governmental organization (NGO) activists point out that the CD has not had done any constructive work after it concluded discussions on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

Even the CTBT issue was deadlocked at the CD, but it was broken by a controversial move by Australia, which took the issue directly to the UN General Assembly for a vote. Since 1998, the three sessions the CD conducts each year have seen talks and more talks, but no breakthrough.

Though it might appear a tactic by Beijing to link any move on the fissile material ban treaty to PAROS, some observers point China has its own reasons to link both issues. "Beijing fears that US plans with regard to missile defense will diminish the deterrent value of China's much smaller nuclear forces," says Rebecca Johnson, director of Acronym Institute, a Britain-based disarmament NGO.

Johnson says the only way for China to maintain strategic balance would be to manufacture more nuclear weapons, but that will be impossible once a fissile material ban comes into place.

India Abroad News Service

 

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