Geneva: Global disarmament efforts appeared set for prolonged stalemate with China and Russia challenging the US in a diplomatic game over nuclear weapons and missile-defense shields.
Beijing and Moscow formally outlined their proposal for a global ban on space arms on Tuesday, including defensive shields, while Washington urged all countries to agree to halt production of the fissile material needed for making atomic bombs.
Neither proposal appears to have a chance of gaining full support in the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament. But they are threatening hopes of reviving a disarmament process that has gone nowhere since the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1996.
“Russia is of course dissatisfied,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “The substantive work of the conference has been blocked for 10 years now.”
The solution, Lavrov told the Geneva-based body, was an international ban on space weapons , a proposal that Washington has labeled a diplomatic ploy by the two nations to gain a military advantage because it would prohibit an American missile interceptor system from being installed in the Czech Republic and Poland. Meanwhile, Chinese and Russian ground-based missiles that can fire into space would not be covered in the plan, which also says nothing of normal satellites that can be used as weapons against other satellites.
“The desire to acquire an anti-missile shield while dismantling the sheath, where the nuclear sword is kept, is extremely dangerous,” Lavrov said, warning that “weapons deployment in space by one state”, a reference to the US, could cause a “new spiral in the arms race both in space and on Earth.”
He backed up his call with an implied threat, noting that the Soviet Union caught up with the US after World War II by developing its own nuclear weapons.
“Let us not forget that the nuclear arms race was started with a view to preserving a monopoly of this type of weapon,” Lavrov said. “But this monopoly was to last only four years.”
Jozef Goldblat, a veteran author on disarmament who monitors the conference, said the space weapons proposal had no chance of gaining a consensus and was only aimed at pressuring Washington on the missile shield.
Russia and China “just can’t swallow it. They can’t digest it,” he said. But while the proposal would not likely succeed, he said, it was damaging the United States “because many countries are in favor of discussing it and that would be a diplomatic victory for the proponents.”
“People are afraid of anarchy in space,” Goldblat said, citing traditional US allies on security such as Canada, which at least wanted to entertain the notion of a new treaty.
Washington has rejected the proposal because, it argues, it is directed only at US military technology, and it pointed to China’s launch last year of a ballistic missile that destroyed one of its old weather satellites and created thousands of pieces of space debris.
The test was widely criticized as a provocative display of China’s growing military capability, and has been used by Washington to highlight why it needs to pursue programs to ensure that satellites and other spacecraft are protected.
The US did not speak at the conference Tuesday, and its mission in Geneva refused to comment. It is trying to rally support for a ban on the production of all fissile material for the making of atomic weapons. The material is already controlled under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but does not include nonmembers India and Pakistan, or China, which has opted out of that agreement.
Those same countries oppose the American proposal, which also has its critics.
Because the US can recycle fissile material from old warheads it is dismantling, the treaty would allow Washington to continue to develop new and better nuclear weapons while preventing other nations.
Goldblat said he believed the US was most concerned about moving ahead with its anti-missile systems. The administration of US President George W. Bush has stymied the Sino-Russian proposal since it was first introduced as an idea in 2002, two weeks after the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Bush signed an order in October 2006 tacitly asserting the US right to space weapons, and opposing the development of treaties or other measures restricting them.