Conference on Disarmament

The Conference on Disarmament exists to, among other things, check compliance with disarmament and arms control agreements, as well as to negotiate new agreements.

The Geneva Conference on Disarmament (CD) has its background in the so-called Eighteen Nations Disarmament Committee which was established in March 1962 and later increased its membership to 30 states. Which in turn became the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament in 1969. Both of these bodies were chaired by the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Conference on Disarmament as we know it today was formed in 1979 as a result of the first special session on disarmament in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly a year earlier. The UN member states then considered that an international body with a mandate to negotiate legally binding agreements on disarmament and arms control should be created.

The CD is considered an independent body of the UN, but its secretary is appointed by the UN Secretary-General. The CD must also consider the recommendations made by the UN General Assembly and submit a report at least once a year to the General Assembly.

Members and meetings

At its inception in 1979, the CD had 40 member states. But over the years it has grown to 65 members states. States which are not counted as member states, but which have expressed a desire to participate in the discussions of the Conference on Disarmament, have been invited to participate as observers.

However, the name disarmament conference is misleading because a conference is often a temporary short-term event. The Conference on Disarmament has three sessions each year. The first session begins in January and lasts for ten weeks; the second begins in May and is seven weeks long; and the third begins in July and is also seven weeks. Usually one open meeting is held per week.

The member countries of the CD take turns chairing the conference according to a rolling schedule. Each chair sits for four weeks, which means that each business year has time to see six different chairs. Since 2006, the six presidencies have increased their cooperation and coordinate their activities to build on each other’s work instead of repeating what has already been done during previous presidencies.

Mandate and agenda

The Conference on Disarmament is the world’s only multilateral body with a mandate to negotiate legally binding international agreements on disarmament and arms control.

The CD discusses most of the issues on the agenda in so-called ad hoc committees (temporary committees), where discussions are held behind closed doors. This means that no one other than the government representatives has the right to attend these meetings.

The lack of transparency in the work of the CD has been criticized. Civil society representatives are asking for greater participation in the conference’s work, but this has so far not materialized.


The CD takes all its decisions by consensus. This means that no decisions can be made unless all member states agree. The consensus principle has been criticized for standing in the way of the work in CD. It is difficult to get all 65 states to agree on an issue, which unfortunately means that the CD’s work since 1996, when it completed work on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty, has been at a standstill. Complaints have also been made that the countries that block a decision do not have to do so in open meetings and thus be recorded, but can do so behind the scenes.

What has the Conference on Disarmament done?

The CD and the bodies that worked before the CD took the form it has today have negotiated many important agreements for disarmament and arms control. Among these are the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Convention on the Law of the Sea, Convention on Biological Weapons, Convention on Chemical Weapons and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Other agreements have been negotiated outside the framework of the CD because the system was considered too slow because the countries cannot agree. For example, both the convention banning landmines and the convention on the prohibition of nuclear weapons have come about through processes outside the CD.

What is happening today?

Since 1996, work in CD has been at a standstill and it is still like that today. Work to strengthen the cooperation between the rotating chair countries made the CD’s work more efficient and a hope for a stronger CD was kindled. Content-rich and fruitful debates were conducted, among other things, on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS); an agreement controlling the production of fissile material (FMCT); Nuclear weapons convention and Negative security assurances. Special coordinators have also been appointed for certain particularly important issues.

However, not much has happened, a few times they have agreed on a work program but they have not succeeded in implementing these work programs into concrete work.

Sources and more information

Conference on Disarmament, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs
Conference on Disarmament, Reaching Critical Will


Swedish Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons

Last updated
21 December, 2022