The First Committee Votes on NAC Resolutions

Tasneem Jamal

Sarah Estabrooks

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2003 Volume 24 Issue 4

In November, the First Committee of the UN General Assembly completed discussion and voting on 59 arms control and disarmament resolutions. The New Agenda Coalition – Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden – submitted two resolutions: “Reduction of non-strategic nuclear weapons” (A/C.1/58/L.39/ Rev.1) and “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: a new agenda” (A/C.1/58/L.40/Rev.1).

The resolution on non-strategic, also called tactical, nuclear weapons addressed a particular concern of European and NATO countries about the Cold War arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons possessed by the US and Russia. Although bilateral agreements in 1991 and 1992 called for significant reductions of these weapons, these presidential initiatives were not formalized. With no verification mechanism included in the agreements to ensure the weapons were destroyed, there is much speculation that many remain, particularly in the Russian arsenal. Tactical nuclear weapons pose a particular threat as potential tools of terrorism.

The resolution on non-strategic nuclear weapons was approved with 118 votes in favour, four against, and 41 abstentions. Opposition came from the nuclear weapon states, with the exception of China, which did not vote at all. Canada joined the other NATO states in abstaining.

The second New Agenda resolution highlighted major concerns about progress on nuclear disarmament and the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The first draft of the 2003 resolution expressed the “concern that the development of missile defenses could impact negatively on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and lead to a new arms race on earth and in outer space, and stress[ed] that no steps should be taken that would lead to the weaponization of outer space.” This linking of missile defenses with the weaponization of outer space was contentious and resulted in a delay of the voting while compromise language was approved.

The compromise divided the disputed preambular paragraph:

Paragraph 20:  Expressing concern that the development of missile defenses could impact negatively on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and lead to a new arms race on earth and in outer space,

Paragraph 21: Stressing that no actions be taken that would lead to the weaponization of outer space.

For the second year in a row, Canada was the only NATO state to vote in favour of the resolution. The voting results were 121 in favour, six against, and 38 abstentions. The six opposition votes came from the US, UK, and France – all NPT member states in possession of nuclear weapons – and India, Israel, and Pakistan – all non-members of the NPT in possession of nuclear weapons. China voted yes while Russia abstained from the vote. Despite serious lobbying of Norway and Germany, Austria and Finland were the only other western states to vote with Canada in favour of the New Agenda resolution.

Although Canada retained its vote of support for the New Agenda resolution for the second year, it called for a separate vote on the compromise language of preambular paragraph 20, in which it abstained. Cyprus, Finland, Liechtenstein, and Malta joined Canada in switching from a vote in favour of the resolution to an abstention on the missile defence paragraph. Australia and Japan – both with stated interest in participating in missile defences of some kind – voted no in the separate vote, although they had abstained on the full text. Interestingly, Belarus, North Korea, and Russia voted in favour of PP20, expressing opposition to missile defence, although they abstained on the resolution, while France and India changed their no votes on the resolution to an abstention on missile defence.

Canada provided this Explanation of Vote:

Canada is again pleased to support this resolution and shares strongly the attachment of the New Agenda Coalition to the 13 Practical Steps towards nuclear disarmament agreed by all NPT States parties at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. In Canada’s view, undertaking these thirteen practical steps remains an urgent matter for the international community in order to implement Article VI of the NPT.

Canada did however call a vote and abstain on PP20 due to the fact that my Government is of the view that current developments in missile defences do not presume a negative impact on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Given the new threats of the proliferation of missiles and WMD that the international community faces, we believe that cooperation in this area could complement non-proliferation efforts.

As was the case last year, Mr. Chairman, our vote of support for this resolution reflects Canada’s longstanding nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation policies and practices and is consistent with our commitment to the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime whose cornerstone is the near universal norm established under the NPT.

As Canada is engaged in ongoing discussions with the US on BMD, the abstention on PP20 was a worrying move, demonstrating Canadian willingness to consider participation in the US system. Opposing the early version of the text, which linked missile defence and weaponization of space, would have undermined its firmly entrenched position against space weaponization. Separating weaponization of space from the broader missile defence question allowed Canada to maintain this position, while indicating openness to US missile defence.

In a separate resolution, Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, near-universal opposition to the weaponization of space was affirmed in a vote of 161 in favour, 0 against, and 3 abstentions (by Israel, Micronesia, and the US). This resolution was first put on the agenda of the First Committee in 1981 and has always received strong support.

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