July 25, 2024

Conference on Disarmament 2024: Key Highlights

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By: Mahima Sharma, Research Analyst, GSDN

Conference on Disarmament 2024 in progress: source Internet

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) stands as a pivotal forum for international dialogue and negotiation on disarmament issues, playing a crucial role in shaping global efforts towards arms control and non-proliferation. With a history dating back to 1979, the CD has been instrumental in facilitating discussions among member states to address pressing security challenges and promote peace through disarmament measures. In the context of the 2024 session, the theme of “Strengthening Multilateralism for Peace and Security: Towards a Safer World” underscores the collective commitment of nations to reinforce multilateral cooperation in tackling contemporary disarmament challenges and fostering a more secure global environment.

The Conference has a rich history dating back to its establishment as a single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the Tenth Special Session on Disarmament of the United Nations General Assembly in 1978. Over the years, the CD and its predecessors have played a crucial role in negotiating major arms limitation and disarmament agreements, including significant treaties like the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CD’s agenda items encompass critical issues such as nuclear disarmament, prevention of nuclear war, arms control in outer space, and transparency in armaments. Despite its achievements, the CD has faced challenges in reaching consensus on a program of work due to disagreements among member states and attempts to link progress in different areas. The CD’s annual sessions, divided into three parts, involve discussions among its 65 member states, including key military powers. The CD’s work is guided by a rotating presidency and conducted through consensus, with support from the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. The 2024 session of the CD focuses on strengthening multilateralism for peace and security towards a safer world, highlighting the ongoing commitment to advancing global disarmament efforts through collaborative international dialogue and negotiation.

The High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in 2024 was held from February 26 to March 1, marking a significant period of intense discussions and diplomatic engagements at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. This segment served as a crucial platform for high-ranking officials and representatives from member states to address pressing disarmament issues and reaffirm their commitment to global peace and security. During this session, notable statements were made by participating countries, with the European Union (EU) notably condemning Russia’s actions, underscoring the importance of upholding international norms and agreements in the face of escalating tensions.

In his speech at the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the importance of values and trust in fostering global peace and security. He stated, “Deadlock over disarmament is ‘not acceptable.’” Guterres highlighted the need for collaboration and partnership, acknowledging that the United Nations cannot succeed alone and must work with other actors to address complex global challenges. He also stressed the necessity for reform within the UN to enhance its effectiveness in promoting peace and sustainable development. Guterres emphasized the urgency of preventing crises and transitioning from fear to trust among nations, advocating for a shift towards a more peaceful and stable world. 

During the 2024 session, several key issues were addressed, reflecting the diverse challenges and priorities in global disarmament efforts. Non-proliferation efforts took center stage, with a focus on strengthening international norms and agreements to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Emerging technologies also emerged as a critical topic, highlighting the need to establish international norms regarding the military use of artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure responsible and ethical practices in warfare. Additionally, disarmament treaties were a key area of discussion, emphasizing the importance of upholding existing agreements and exploring new avenues for arms control and reduction.

Specific concerns raised by different countries during the 2024 session including Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which drew condemnation from various nations for violating international norms and destabilizing regional security. The European Union (EU) strongly condemned Russia’s actions, including its nuclear rhetoric and threats, underscoring the urgent need for accountability and adherence to international law. Furthermore, concerns were raised about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s persistent pursuit of nuclear and missile programs, which pose a significant threat to global disarmament efforts. Calls were made for DPRK to engage in dialogue and commit to comprehensive abandonment of all weapons of mass destruction programs in a verifiable manner. These discussions at the CD highlighted the complex geopolitical landscape and underscored the ongoing challenges in achieving disarmament and non-proliferation goals amidst evolving security threats.

Various Member States expressed their viewpoints on critical disarmament issues, reflecting a diverse range of perspectives and priorities. South Korea, represented by Vice Minister Kang Insun, highlighted concerns regarding recent setbacks in global non-proliferation efforts. Specifically, Vice Minister Kang emphasized Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, its unilateral suspension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), and its withdrawal from the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). She called upon the five nuclear-weapon states (P5) to actively re-engage in dialogues aimed at promoting transparency and rebuilding mutual trust. Additionally, South Korea underscored its active participation in initiatives dedicated to strengthening the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime, emphasizing the need to address the rapid advancement of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) in military contexts.

On a different note, Pakistan obstructed the adoption of the ‘2024 Program of Work’ proposed by India, which aimed to set the agenda for future disarmament talks. Despite India’s efforts to formulate a comprehensive proposal during its presidency, Pakistan’s opposition, rooted in concerns about the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and military posture vis-à-vis India, effectively derailed the consensus-based decision-making process at the CD. This move by Pakistan drew criticism from disarmament experts and other delegations, including major powers like the US, France, Russia, the UK, and China, who supported India’s proposal. Diplomats familiar with the matter speculated that Pakistan’s blockade was driven by a desire to prevent India from achieving success rather than substantive concerns related to the proposal itself. 

During this year’s Conference on Disarmament, diverse calls to action and resolutions were proposed to address pressing disarmament challenges, emphasizing the critical need for collective efforts to promote global peace and security. Member States urged for renewed commitment to existing disarmament treaties and agreements, such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), to strengthen the international disarmament regime. Additionally, proposals were made to enhance transparency in armaments, prevent the weaponization of outer space, and address emerging threats posed by new technologies like cyber warfare and autonomous weapons systems. The conference highlighted the importance of international cooperation and multilateral dialogues in advancing disarmament goals, underscoring the shared responsibility of nations to work together towards a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons and other arms. Collaborative efforts, mutual trust, and diplomatic engagement were emphasized as essential components in achieving meaningful progress in disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives on a global scale. As we move forward, it is imperative for countries to uphold their responsibilities, strengthen existing disarmament frameworks, and foster a culture of peace to address the evolving threats to international security effectively.

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