A Report on the UN First Committee on Disarmament and International Security

Tasneem Jamal

Sarah Estabooks and Lynne Griffiths-Fulton

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2005 Volume 26 Issue 4

The First Committee of the UN General Assembly on Disarmament and International Security meets every year for four or five weeks in October, after the United Nations General Assembly General Debate. Here we provide updates on debates and decisions regarding nuclear weapons, space security and small arms.

CD Resolution

As in so many UN meetings, the events happening inside the meeting room at the recent First Committee were overshadowed by discussions in the hallways and nearby missions about a proposed resolution to overcome the paralysis of the Conference on Disarmament (CD). The draft resolution was sponsored by Brazil, Canada, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden and called for the creation of four open-ended ad hoc committees to address the key issues that have been blocked in the CD by failure to agree on a program of work. The committees would discuss binding commitments by nuclear weapon states that use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states, nuclear disarmament, an international agreement to ban production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

This innovative proposal to create a parallel process to the CD caused a flurry of diplomatic activity and not a small amount of opposition. The US in particular expressed its strong opposition to a ”divisive proposal” that ”would compromise our common objective of getting the Conference on Disarmament to develop a program of work.” Indeed, the US statement posited that shifting the CD agenda to the First Committee would “spell the end for the CD” and confirmed that the US would not participate in the committee discussions.

While it was not the only state to oppose the draft language, strong-arm tactics by the US certainly influenced the outcome: Canada decided to withdraw its sponsorship of the resolution, causing the initiative to collapse. Indications are that the Prime Minister’s office was reluctant to have Canada step out on a limb without another NATO state as a co-sponsor. As well, there was inadequate advance preparation to leverage the necessary support of other key actors.

In a statement made on 12 October on behalf of the co-sponsors, Canadian Ambassador Paul Meyer stated that “the ideas we are proposing would benefit from the opportunity to mature and for all delegations to gain a fuller understanding of what they entail.” He also confirmed that, should the CD turn in “another sterile year in 2006, we will retain the option of reintroducing this initiative as a way of ensuring that there are democratic and multilateral alternatives to a situation where the security interests of the many are being held hostage by the policies of a few.”

Space Security

Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (A/C.1/60/L.27)

In a break from the pattern of recent years, two space-related resolutions were introduced in, and adopted by, the First Committee. The PAROS, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka and Egypt since it was first introduced in 1982, was once again tabled and again received widespread support. However, for the first time, one state, the US, voted against PAROS instead of making its usual abstention. Israel was the only other state not to vote in favour and, in keeping with its recent record, abstained.

The final voting result was 160-1-1 in favour of a resolution that, unchanged from last year, calls on the Conference on Disarmament to establish an ad hoc committee to negotiate a multilateral instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space in all its aspects. The US vote was seen by some commentators as an indication of the US drive to weaponize space, and by others as consistent with Ambassador John Bolton’s hard line.

Transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities (A/C.1/60/L.30/Rev.1)

Russia introduced a resolution on confidence-building measures. Consistent with its national declaration not to be the first state to weaponize space, the resolution “[i]nvites all Member States to inform the Secretary-General before its sixty-first session of their views on the advisability of further developing international outer space transparency and confidence-building measures in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation and the prevention of an arms race in outer space.”

The final resolution was designed to gain consensus and compromised in ‘inviting’ states to give input on confidence-building measures, rather than ‘requesting’ as the earlier draft stated. After failed negotiations to get the resolution approved without a vote, a vote was called, which resulted in 158 in favour, one opposed (the US) and one abstention (Israel). The Russian resolution establishes a role for the First Committee in the space debate, by inviting states to bring views on confidence-building measures back to the Secretary-General, and by ensuring that this issue will be included on the agenda for 2006. At the very least, the resolution broadens the space question beyond PAROS and its link to the stalemated CD.

Nuclear Disarmament

Nuclear disarmament was the subject of many resolutions, including a call to endorse nuclear-weapon-free zones, calls for entry into force of specific instruments such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the more heavily contested omnibus resolutions. The following two resolutions had broad support.

Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons (A/C.1/60/L.28)

This omnibus resolution received strong support in 2005, including the universal support of the New Agenda Coalition and the EU and only two opposition votes – from the US and India. The resolution supports wide-ranging efforts, both within the NPT and related treaty arrangements, to eliminate nuclear weapons. It calls on the nuclear weapon states in particular to implement nuclear reductions and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security policies. The resolution makes specific reference to the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, while encouraging civil society’s role in promoting nuclear disarmament.

Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments (A/C.1/60/L.4)

Formed in 1998 with a joint declaration, a coalition consisting of Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, and Brazil, has played an instrumental role in promoting a “new agenda for nuclear disarmament” through the NPT and First Committee processes. In 2002 and 2003, Canada was the only NATO state to endorse the New Agenda omnibus resolution, but was joined by seven NATO members in 2004.

In 2005, the resolution was once again introduced, although, in an effort to gain wider support, the text is both more general and much shorter. It affirms the Final Document of the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and calls on the nuclear-weapon states to accelerate the implementation of its ‘practical steps’ toward nuclear disarmament. Further, it calls on all states to fully comply with nuclear disarmament obligations, specifically calling on India, Israel, and Pakistan to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states. The resolution received wide support, with 144 in favour, including Canada and all non-nuclear NATO states, three opposed, and nine abstentions.

Follow-up to nuclear disarmament obligations agreed in the 1995 and 2000 Review Conferences of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (A/C.1/60/L.38/Rev.1)

Iran introduced this new resolution. It highlights the practical steps agreed in the 2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document, noting the responsibilities of the nuclear weapon states. It also calls for the establishment of an ad hoc committee at the 2006 General Assembly to review implementation of 1995 and 2000 NPT obligations. However, it makes no reference to compliance and non-proliferation concerns or IAEA safeguards.

The controversial resolution was passed by a very slim margin of 70 in favour, 52 opposed, and 22 abstentions. A separate vote was held on Preambular Paragraph 6, which was orally amended to state: “Reaffirming the resolution on the Middle East adopted on 11 May by the parties to the Treaty, in which it also reaffirmed the importance of the early realization of the universal adherence to the Treaty and placement of nuclear facilities under full-scope IAEA safeguards.” The vote on the paragraph with the added language (in bold) – a veiled reference to Israel’s nuclear program – was 58 in favour, 55 opposed, and 23 abstentions. Canada voted no on both occasions.

Compliance with non-proliferation, arms limitation and disarmament agreements (A/C.1/60/L.1/Rev.1)

The US sponsored this new resolution. Recognizing the value of compliance in enhancing confidence and strengthening security and stability, it calls on all states to fully comply with obligations. It also encourages action by states parties, the UN, and other international organizations to “prevent serious damage to international security and stability arising from non-compliance by States with their existing non-proliferation, arms limitation and disarmament obligations.” The voting on the resolution resulted in 137 in favour (including Canada), none opposed, and 11 abstentions.

Small arms

In his summary of the small arms discussions at the First Committee, the representative of Bangladesh reiterated a common refrain: that small arms are ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that all states must deal with as a top priority. The Chairman of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, Vincente Berasategui, stated that the Security Council should be working more closely with the General Assembly so that small arms are treated more comprehensively.

During the formal proceedings, many of the statements made by states focused on the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA) and preparation for the July 2006 UN Review Conference (RevCon) on small arms and light weapons. However, there was tension between states that wanted to use the First Committee to outline an agenda for the RevCon (the EU and associates) and those that wanted to take a ‘go-slow’ approach (China, Japan, and Russia). The ensuing discussions also highlighted the differences between those states wanting a robust RevCon agenda and those claiming that moving forward on some of the issues would constitute “re-opening the original PoA.”

An increasing number of states see arms brokering as crucial in curbing small arms proliferation. Nigeria, on behalf of the African Group, called for “an effective international regime on brokering.” However, there were disagreements between member states on the role of the Group of Governmental Experts on Tracing Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (GGE), that is due to begin work following the RevCon, especially if it should be mandated to explore the feasibility of a legally binding international agreement.

Five resolutions on small arms were submitted, three tabled for the first time.

The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects (A/C.1/60/L.57 omnibus resolution)

This resolution has been tabled annually since 2001 by Japan, Colombia, and South Africa and was updated this year to reflect developments during the First Committee discussions on small arms.

The proposed amendments related to work on small arms transfer controls in the lead up to the RevCon, suggested topics to be submitted to the Preparatory Committee in January (without prejudicing the eventual agenda for the RevCon), and strengthened the mandate of the GGE on brokering. These proposals were rejected by states including China, Egypt, India, and the US in favour of preserving consensus on the resolution.

A change that did make it into the resolution was recognition for NGOs in providing assistance to states in the implementation of the PoA. The most significant change was the addition of the call for the establishment of the GGE on brokering (although not with a strengthened mandate).

While there was a separate vote on one paragraph, the resolution as a whole was adopted by consensus.

Addressing the humanitarian and development impact of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (A/C.1/60/L.34/Rev.1)

The Netherlands introduced this new resolution in recognition of the link between disarmament and human rights and development. The Resolution is based on the UN World Summit Outcome Document that Heads of State agreed to by consensus and which highlights the impact of the illicit small arms trade on development, peace and security, and human rights. Statements by Mexico, the EU, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Canada also referenced these links. Although the final text reflects Members States’ views that there needs to be an explicit link between small arms and development some of the references to human rights were removed. Canada was disappointed that the reference to human security was dropped from the final document. However, an explicit reference to the opportunity that the RevCon affords to take up the issue of the interconnectedness of peace and security and development was left in.

Although the hope was that the resolution would be adopted by consensus, the US voted against – even after the reference to civilian possession had been removed, as requested by the US – because it rejects the idea that disarmament and human rights, development and the environment should be linked, despite the World Summit Outcome document.

International instrument to enable States to identify and trace, in a timely and reliable manner, illicit small arms and light weapons (A/C.1/60/L.55)

Sponsored by Switzerland, the Draft International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons, the work of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on marking and tracing, was criticized from different perspectives. The instrument is only politically binding and does not cover ammunition. A number of countries, including Canada, stated that they would have preferred a legally binding instrument.

Others praised the instrument; Myanmar stated that “the adoption of such an instrument is closely related with other disarmament efforts, especially towards the total elimination of all weapons on mass destruction, which should be accorded adequate attention by the international community.”

The resolution was adopted with a vote of 145 in favour, 0 against, and 25 abstentions.

Problems from the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus (A/C.1/60/L.40)

This resolution, sponsored by France, attempted to get around the fact that the proposed marking and tracing instrument does not include ammunition. It is voluntary but calls on interested states to determine the size of their surplus stockpiles of ammunition, explosive materials, and detonating devices if they deem these a security risk and are in need of external assistance to eliminate them. The resolution was adopted without a vote.

Assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons and collecting them (A/C.1/60.L.37)

This resolution has been tabled in previous years and calls on the international community to provide technical and financial support to strengthen the capacity of states to implement the PoA. It also mentions the need to provide the same support to civil society organizations and was expanded to include all regions. Many countries that have been hard hit by small arms, including Fiji, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique, spoke strongly for this resolution. It was adopted by consensus, as it was last year and in 2003.

Looking towards the RevCon

With only a few months to prepare for the July 2006 UN RevCon, civil society organizations are working hard to ensure that the Conference produces a strengthened PoA with a robust implementation agenda. Civil society and progressive governments will have to work hard to ensure that the work that was accomplished at the First Committee is seized upon and that issues such as brokering, transfer controls, demand and development issues, and civilian possession are moved forward.

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