The Conference on Disarmament (CD) is an international body that is the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum that makes decisions based on consensus. The presidency is on a rotation basis among its 65 member states. The body adopts its own Rules of Procedure and its agenda for discussion, depending upon the recommendations of the General Assembly and the proposals of its members. It reports to the General Assembly annually and occasionally as required. Despite its significant role, CD is often criticized for not being able to conduct any substantive negotiations on legally binding instruments so far.

The justifications given behind this are drawn from the specific rules of procedure and the very condition of consensus-based decision-making. The member states believe that the broader geopolitical and diplomatic environment affects the functioning of CD.

The majority favors that CD should solely work for legally binding measures as for non-binding measures, there are dedicated international working groups.

Decision-making within CD is primarily challenged by political differences and the interests of individual member states. The first plenary meeting of 2024 was held on 23rd January 2024 under the Presidency of India in which the Conference adopted its agenda for the 2024 session. President Ambassador Anupam Ray opened the session while acknowledging the lack of political will by some member states that keep the forum paralyzed due to their diverging interests and geopolitical differences. This has long hindered any substantive discussions and solutions emerging from within the conference.

Speaking in the very first plenary, Pakistan initiated the discussion on the adoption of the agenda. It emphasized that following Rule 27, Pakistan proposed a working paper, ‘Addressing the Security and Stability Implications of Military Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy in Weapon Systems’ which highlights the security challenges arising from the use of AI for military purposes and integration of autonomous weapon systems. This coincides with existing CD agenda items. Pakistan emphasized the necessity of including this theme as one of the agenda items, which would demonstrate collective responsibility to adapt and respond to the evolving security environment.

While there is no consensus on adding a new agenda item, many member states like Russia agree with Pakistan’s proposal in a way that proposes to incorporate the issue under the work of a relevant subsidiary body of the CD within the current agenda rather than adding it as a separate agenda item. China also backed the idea, as the country itself pointed out the issue in its global AI Governance Initiative 2023 and also proposed to work on developing a legally binding instrument on the prevention of arms race in outer space through negotiations.

Pakistan, while highlighting the trends in arms control and nuclear disarmament, called attention to India’s activities that threaten peace and stability in South Asia. It mentioned that the strategic stability of the region is threatened by India with its military modernization and acquisition of sensitive technologies under the current course of its offensive doctrines, provocations, and risks of accidental launch. The state reiterated its call to immediately begin negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention, convention on legally binding negative security assurances (NSAs), and treaty to prevent the placement of weapons in outer space. Other member states like G21 proposed to carry out negotiations on NSAs, physical material, and radiological weapons.


(FMCT) is another instrument facing a logical deadlock. Upon discussion of beginning the negotiations, Pakistan re-emphasized that the FMCT could not address the existing disarmament challenges and it ensures that no nuclear war could ever occur. It distracts from the core CD agenda by only banning physical material production while leaving the existing stockpiles unaddressed which would undermine many of the states’ security interests.

The proposal under the FMCT and its emphasis on discussion over it remains unproductive and prevents the body from talking over the time-sensitive agenda items as well.

The initial meetings also focused the decision on the applications of observer (non-member) states as explained under section 9 of the Rules of Procedure. The decision was followed by discrepancies among member states specifically on the application of the State of Palestine with 16 others which did not meet consensus. US backed Israel in its objection against adding the State of Palestine as an observer state while stating that only States can be admitted as observers and Palestinians do not qualify as a State in the US view.

The majority of the members vocally supported the State of Palestine’s application while stating that the country enjoys the status of a nonmember observer state in the UN and is a state party to various international instruments as well. The blockage of their application only displays the double standards and politicized opinion of the few to further strangle it.

By the end of the Indian presidency in plenary 2024 this week, the President in his concluding remarks presented the result of consultations on the draft decision for the program work for the 2024 session of the CD. He said that the draft decision did not find consensus and claimed it to be primarily due to Pakistan’s reservations. Pakistan responded with a statement focusing both, on the procedure and substance of the process conducted by India as the President. It stated that instead of putting forward decisions of 2022 as the zero draft, the President called members to consider minimal changes to the 2022 discussions.

It emphasized that in multilateral diplomacy, documents are debated, modified, and amended until they are accepted by all member states. In debating new language, previously agreed formulations are usually kept as a baseline. Contrary this this, the draft circulated by the president was to a very small membership of CD, excluding a large group. Pakistan objected to the characterization made by India that it is the only member state that is not ready to join the consensus.

It mentioned the two reports that were successfully adopted from subsidiary bodies to continue work in CD as a result of the 2022 discussions. During current discussions under the Indian presidency, there has been a clear obsession with FMCT and the Shannon mandate. It was obvious that the CD in the current presidency was directly and indirectly made hostage to one issue for negotiations i.e., FMCT. These self-serving assertions have indeed created a deadlock in the past whereas the progress in CD needs flexibility and compromise from all delegations.

The initial plenary meetings of 2024 suggest that CD proceedings of the year and member states’ consensus would be shadowed by the Russia-Ukraine war and Israel’s war on Gaza.

The contemporary humanitarian crises and failure of international forums would follow the CD agenda for the year 2024, making the global nuclear disarmament goal tougher to achieve. The Indian presidency is not fruitful for the beginning of 2024 discussions and leaves it more difficult for the succeeding presidencies to reach consensual decisions.

Meanwhile, many key arms control agreements have been abandoned in recent years which again stand discouraging for global disarmament efforts. Though the Conference is preserved as a primary international disarmament and arms control architecture, it is now necessary for it to address major contemporary security issues relating to the arms race. The center focus should be to adopt those proposals that serve mutual interests rather than favoring a few states.

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