The Conference on Disarmament: history, role and methods of work
Established in 1979 as a result of the first Special Session on Disarmament of the UN General Assembly (SSOD-I, 1978), the Conference on Disarmament (CD) is the first and most important multilateral forum available to the international community for negotiations on disarmament and non-proliferation. It originates from the first multilateral body set up by the UN in this field: the Committee of the Eighteen. This Committee was created in 1962 and consisted of 18 Member Countries under the joint chairmanship of the United States and the Soviet Union. The membership was later expanded to thirty countries and the Committee was renamed “Committee of the Conference on Disarmament” (CCD) in 1969.
Today, the Conference on Disarmament is based in Geneva and counts 65 Member States and 38 Observer States. It includes the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, United Kingdom, Russia, United States) and the most militarily significant States. The Members of the Conference are also representative of the major geopolitical groups in the United Nations: 24 States (including Italy) form the Group of Western countries (WEOG); 34 are gathered in the Group of Non-Aligned Countries (NAM); and 7 are part of the Group of Eastern-European countries. China is not part of any group.
Although the Conference on Disarmament was created by the United Nations General Assembly, it remains an independent multilateral and intergovernmental body and it operates according to its own rules of procedure. The CD meets in annual sessions divided into three segments (the first lasting ten weeks and the other two lasting seven), and is presided by each member State on a rotating basis. The Secretary-General of the Conference is appointed by UN Secretary General in the person of the Director General of the United Nations Office in Geneva. At the end of each annual session, the CD is required to submit a report of its activities to the General Assembly and to enforce its recommendations, if there are any.
The permanent agenda of the Conference on Disarmament, commonly known as the “Decalogue”, includes a set of issues relating to disarmament and arms control that is quite general. For this reason, every year the CD adopts a more specific agenda that includes the following topics:
Cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament; Prevention of a nuclear war; Prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS); Effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons (Negative Security Assurances – NSAs); New types and systems of weapons of mass destruction, including radiological weapons; Comprehensive programme of disarmament; Transparency in armaments.
Since the end of World War II, the Conference on Disarmament and the bodies that preceded it have been the fora in which the most important multilateral disarmament agreements have been negotiated by the international community. These include the Treaty Banning Nuclear Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water (Partial or Limited Test Ban Treaty – PTBT or LTBT); the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention – BTWC); the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention – CWC); and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
However, since 1996 (when the CTBT was adopted), the CD Members have been unable to reach the consensus necessary to start substantive work on the remaining agenda items. Divergent views have emerged, in particular, on a possible negotiating mandate on a treaty banning the production of fissile material (Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty – FMCT), specifically on its possible scope – whether including or excluding the already existing stocks of fissile material – and system of monitoring and verification.
The Conference’s purely political deadlock has resulted in the inability of its Members to adopt a Programme of Work (POW) for over twenty years now. This is usually explained by the fact that, according to its own basic rules of procedure, the Conference “conducts its work and adopts its decisions by consensus”. Despite this long period of formal deadlock, however, the Conference has continued to meet in plenary and informal sessions, which has not only allowed for the continuation of dialogue among the major actors on the political and military scene, but also for the ongoing development of the technical studies and expertise on issues of disarmament and arms control.
In one of its numerous attempts to break the CD deadlock, in 2012 the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 67/53, which established a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), responsible for drawing recommendations on possible aspects of a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. The work of the GGE was held in 4 sessions in 2014 and 2015 and ended with the adoption by consensus of a report to be presented to the 70th General Assembly session.
Also in 2012 and, again, in order to revive the work of the CD, the General Assembly adopted resolution 67/56, which provided for the creation of an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) responsible for drafting proposals to advance multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. The OEWG held three sessions in 2013 and its final report was presented to the General Assembly in the same year, but this did not result in the renewal of the Group’s mandate.
The Italian participation in the Conference on Disarmament
Italy has been a member of the Conference on Disarmament since its establishment; in fact, it has been a member of all multilateral disarmament bodies since 1962. The current Permanent Representative of Italy to the Conference on Disarmament is Ambassador Leonardo Bencini, a career diplomat, who took office in Geneva on 19 May 2022.
Italy held the Presidence of the Confernce on Disarmament on 2014, the latest time. The strong commitment by the Italian Presidency achieved significant results, such as the renewal of the mandate of the Informal Working Group (IWG), responsible for developing a “robust in substance and progressive over time” Programme of Work. A programme of activities centered on structure and substantial discussions concerning the main items on the agenda was also submitted to the Conference by the Italian Presidency. This programme aims to provide the Conference with a concrete framework for the launch of future negotiations, in order to try to overcome the impasse that continues to characterize its work.
As President of the Assembly, Italy also guided the work of the annual High-Level Segment of the CD, that has seen, in the course of a week, the participation of sixteen political representatives of the Member States (Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Under Secretaries of State). The constructive approach proposed by the Italian Presidency – which was designed to separate the procedural discussions on the adoption of a Programme of Work from those of substance on the agenda items – was widely shared and favored the development of constructive dialogue, despite the continuing difficulties of the CD in adopting and implementing an agreed Programme of Work and negotiating mandate.
Plenary Sessions 2023
Session on the CD report (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 5 September 2023.
Session on a comprehensive programme of disarmament (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 17 August 2023.
Session on the prevention of a nuclear war (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 15 June 2023.
Session on disarmament and the gender perspective in the context of the “Women, Peace and Security” agenda (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 23 May 2023.
Session on nuclear disarmament (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 16 May 2023.
Session on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 30 March 2023.
Session on nuclear risk reduction (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 23 March 2023.
High Level Segment (H.E. Antonio Tajani, Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), 28 February 2023.
Session on negative security assurances (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 9 February 2023.
Opening Session (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 26 January 2023.
Plenary Sessions 2022
Session on cyber-security (Couns. Tancredi Francese), 11 August 2022.
Plenary Session (Amb. Leonardo Bencini), 19 May 2022.
Session on the importance of including women’s perspectives in the work of the CD (Couns. Tancredi Francese), 8 March 2022.
Session on the situation in Ukraine (Couns. Tancredi Francese), 3 March 2022.
High Level Segment (Dep. Minister Sen. Benedetto Della Vedova), 1 March 2022.
Opening Session (Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato), 25 January 2022.
Plenary Sessions 2021
Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato, 19 January 2021.
Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato, (PAROS) 1 June 2021.
Plenary Sessions 2020
Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato (items 5, 6 and 7 of the CD Agenda), 8 September 2020.
Mr. Tancredi Francese, 30 June 2020.
Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato, 21 January 2020
Plenary sessions 2019
On. Emanuela Del Re, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament, 25 February 2019
Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato, 29 January 2019
Subsidiary Body Meetings 2018
Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato, 16 May 2018 (Subsidiary Body 2 – FMCT); 17 May (SB 5 – items 5, 6 e 7 CD agenda); 22 May (SB 4 – Negative Security Assurances); 25 May (SB 3 – PAROS); 25 June (SB 1 – Nuclear Disarmament); 27 June (SB 2 – FMCT, scope and verification); 28 June (SB 2 – FMCT, institutional arrangements).
Plenary sessions 2018
Amb. Gianfranco Incarnato, 23 January 2018
Informal sessions of the “Way Ahead Working Group” 2017
Amb. Vinicio Mati, 10 August 2017 (nuclear disarmament); 9 August 2017 (nuclear disarmament); 8 August 2017 (nuclear disarmament); 30 June 2017 (NSAs); 29 June 2017 (NSAs); 28 June 2017 (NSAs); 23 June 2017 (FMCT); 22 June 2017 (FMCT); 20 June 2017 (FMCT); 15 June 2017 (PAROS); 1 June 2017
Plenary sessions 2017
Sen. Benedetto Della Vedova, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament, 28 February 2017
Amb. Vinicio Mati, 31 January 2017
Plenary sessions 2016
Dr. Palma D’Ambrosio, 30 June 2016
Sen. Benedetto Della Vedova, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament, 2 March 2016
Plenary sessions 2015
Sen. Benedetto Della Vedova, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament, 4 Marzo 2015
Plenary sessions 2014
Amb. Vinicio Mati, CD President, 11 March 2014
Sen. Benedetto Della Vedova, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, High-Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament, 3 March 2014
Documents and Resources
Resolutions and Decisions of the 10th Special Session of the UN General Assembly (1978): Creation of the Conference on Disarmament (1978)