Nuclear Disarmament and the UN General Assembly

Tasneem Jamal

Sarah Estabrooks

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2002 Volume 23 Issue 1

The 56th session of the UN General Assembly (GA), scheduled to meet from September 12-21, was postponed due to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. When the session did open in October, discussions on all fronts were influenced by the tragedy of September 11. But even in the shadow of the terrorist attacks; the bombing of Afghanistan; and concern about biological, chemical, or nuclear terrorism, there were no major breakthroughs on the agenda related to weapons of mass destruction.

After two weeks of general debate, the General Assembly split into its six committees to address the agenda items. The First Committee on Disarmament and International Security opened its sessions on October 8 after Ambassador André Erdös of Hungary was acclaimed committee chair. The committee’s agenda covered a wide range of disarmament and security issues, including several that have caused division and stagnation in the Conference on Disarmament, such as the Treaty on Preventing an Arms Race in Outer Space.

The First Committee brought 19 nuclear disarmament resolutions to the General Assembly. Several resolutions did not require votes, including one concerned with the dumping of radioactive waste. There were five resolutions to create Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones – in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Latin America-Caribbean, and one, which required a vote, for the Southern Hemisphere. Canada introduced a resolution supporting the Conference on Disarmament decision to begin negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials. The New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden) did not bring forward a resolution this year. Rather, a communiqué from their Foreign Ministers’ meeting was read and, with a procedural resolution introduced by South Africa, the topic “Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World – The Need for a New Agenda” will be retained for the 2002 agenda.

The major nuclear issues that were debated at the table and required a vote are outlined below:

A/56/24A: Preservation and Compliance with the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems – Russia (82-5-62) Canada Abstained1

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) was the subject of much debate throughout the General Assembly session because of ongoing discussions between Russia and the US about the ABM and US plans for a missile defence system. This resolution, supported by both Russia and China, was aimed at preventing the weakening or dissolution of the ABM Treaty. Several states abstained because the outcome of the ongoing Russia-US dialogue on the issue was then unknown. Many of the NATO states felt that a resolution on the ABM Treaty should have the support of both parties to the treaty. Less than one month after the GA vote the US announced its intention to pull out of the ABM Treaty.

A/56/24B: Missiles – Iran (98-0-58) Canada Abstained

Iran’s resolution notes the development and progress of a panel of governmental experts on the issue of missiles. It requests that the Member States provide further information for the panel’s report, which is scheduled to be submitted to the General Assembly in 2002. The voting on the Missiles Resolution illustrates the disagreement on how to address this issue, not a lack of support for a missile technology control treaty. NATO states, the EU countries, and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)2 countries, with the exception of Russia, abstained from the vote, showing their support in principle, but a preference for the comprehensive, legally binding Code of Conduct they are pursuing through the MTCR.

A/56/24C: Reducing Nuclear Danger – India (98-45-14) Canada No

This resolution calls states to address nuclear danger, particularly the risk of accidental use of nuclear weapons, through de-alerting measures. It also emphasizes the need to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Evident was the division between the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) states that voted ‘yes’ and the EU and NATO that voted ‘no’. China abstained.

A/56/24O: Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: 2005 Review Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Its Preparatory Committee – Algeria (156-1-3) Canada Yes

This procedural resolution, which takes note of the Preparatory Committee session scheduled for April 8-19, 2002 and requests the support of the Secretary-General for this session, was taken to a vote at India’s request. The non-NPT countries did not support this resolution: India voted ‘no’ while Cuba, Israel, and Pakistan abstained.

A/56/24N: A Path to the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons – Japan (139-3-19) Canada Yes

Japan’s resolution expounds upon the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the 13 practical steps to nuclear disarmament contained in the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference, while also addressing issues such as fissile materials production and transfers of nuclear materials. It emphasizes the safeguarding of nuclear materials, equipment, and technology, stressing the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in preventing proliferation. The resolution retains the universally agreed language of the NPT and analysts consider its text to be friendly to the Nuclear-Weapons States. The US and India opposed this resolution, while the New Agenda countries, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan abstained. The NATO countries, including France and Great Britain, voted ‘yes’.

A/56/24R: Nuclear Disarmament – Myanmar (103-41-17) Canada No

Known as the NAM resolution, this resolution suggests several mechanisms to implement a disarmament program, including international instruments banning the first-use of nuclear weapons, the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, and the production of fissile material; support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; an ad hoc committee of the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a program to eliminate nuclear weapons; and an international conference on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects. The resolution recognizes the “genuine need to diminish the role of nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons will ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination” (Recommendation 2). Voting on this resolution was broken up with one vote for recommendation 9, which welcomes the NPT, and a vote for the whole resolution. Because they are not parties to the NPT, Israel, Pakistan and India voted against paragraph 9. In the General Assembly vote on the entire resolution, the NATO and EU countries, with the exception of Ireland and Sweden, voted ‘no’, while the Non-Aligned countries voted ‘yes’.

A/56/24S: Follow-Up to the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons – Malaysia (111-29-21) Canada Abstained

This resolution is a response to the 1996 International Court of Justice advisory decision which determined that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal. The resolution supports the ICJ decision and calls states to immediately begin multilateral negotiations on a convention to prohibit the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat, or use of nuclear weapons. Again, voting was in two parts: on the first recommendation, which offers general support for the decision, and on the entire resolution. France, Israel, Russia, and the US voted ‘no’ on both counts while Great Britain abstained. Those who voted against the entire resolution included the Nuclear-Weapons States and most NATO countries.

A/56/25B: Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons – India (104-46-11) Canada No

This resolution calls for the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to begin negotiations on an international, legally binding convention prohibiting the threat of use or use of nuclear weapons. The US led a strong contingent of NATO states and allies in voting against this initiative, arguing that the time was wrong to begin such discussions. The NAM countries supported India’s recurring proposal.

A/56/22: Conclusion of Effective International Arrangements to Assure Non-Nuclear-Weapons States Against the Use of Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons – Pakistan (105-0-54) Canada Abstained

The issue of negative security assurances, through which non-nuclear states are ensured against the threat or use of nuclear weapons, is the source of great division in the Conference on Disarmament. This resolution, sponsored by several NAM states, raises the issue and recommends continued negotiations in the CD to come to an agreement. NAM and China voted in favour while NATO and Russia abstained.

Decision: United Nations Conference to Identify Ways of Eliminating Nuclear Dangers in the Context of Nuclear Disarmament – Mexico (115-7-37) Canada Abstained

This item began as a new resolution calling for a “UN Conference to consider ways of eliminating nuclear dangers in the context of nuclear disarmament.” Because of fears that this conference would compete with the NPT, it lacked general support, and the resolution was withdrawn. An alternative resolution was put forward and, through a procedural vote, the item was retained for 2002, when Mexico plans to reintroduce the draft text.

Decision: Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty – New Zealand (161-1-0) Canada Yes

New Zealand tabled a procedural resolution to retain the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty as an agenda item for discussion in 2002. Although this decision would not normally require a vote, in an unusual move, the US requested one. Of the 141 countries who voted in the first committee and the 162 who voted in the General Assembly, the US was the only one to vote ‘no’ twice, clearly stressing the Bush administration’s lack of support for the CTBT.

Analysts have described the tone of the first committee meetings as non-confrontational, but that is not to say that the dividing walls have fallen. Despite the past year’s failed multilateral arms control discussions and considering the recent outbreak of international violence, the decisions of the First Committee showed little progress towards consensus. The disarmament issues that have divided nations in the past continue to divide along traditional lines.

The General Assembly voting patterns reflect the perennial factionalism in international negotiations: the Non-Aligned Movement on one side and, on the other, NATO and the EU with their various allies. On nuclear disarmament questions these lines can be blurred by the nuclear-weapon states. However, the patterns remain: China and the US in direct opposition; France and the UK in alignment with the US; and Russia alternating sides. Since their nuclear tests in the late 1990s, India and Pakistan have also become key players in nuclear negotiations, generally speaking on behalf of the NAM.

Canada tended to vote with the western block of countries. The resolutions Canada, together with the US and NATO, opposed were all seen as NAM resolutions: Myanmar’s “Nuclear Disarmament” resolution and the two resolutions presented by India – “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons” and “Reducing Nuclear Danger.” On issues the US found particularly contentious, including the ABM Treaty, Negative Security Assurances, and “Risk of Middle East Nuclear Proliferation,” Canada abstained.

Canada showed firm resolve in supporting the Japanese resolution on a “Path to the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” the NPT Resolution, and the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. Additionally, Canada presented the resolution supporting the CD’s negotiations of a fissile material ban. With these votes, Canada has expressed its belief that multilateral agreements, and particularly progress in the Conference on Disarmament, are essential for creating security standards. Addressing the First Committee, Ambassador Chris Westdal said, “Vital to the protection of modern civilization, multilateral security institutions matter, now more than ever before.” But beyond creating multilateral agreements, Westdal also noted the necessity for “universal adherence to and full implementation of multilateral security treaties.”

1.  The format of the General Assembly resolutions can be explained as follows:
a) The number, such as A/56/24A, is the resolution number.
b) The following title names the resolution.
c) The country name which comes next indicates the country which brought forward the resolution.
d) The numbers in brackets represent votes for, votes against, and abstentions.
e) Finally, Canada’s vote is shown.

2.  The Missile Technology Regime countries are: Argentina, Australia, (Austria), Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, (Finland), France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, (Ireland), Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, (Sweden), Switzerland, UK, US, Russia.

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