On 4 October 2001, as delegates of the First Committee assembled for their second meeting of the session, they knew that their agenda, though formally similar to last year's, had changed. Negotiations on conventional and nuclear disarmament now had to move faster and take into account non-State terrorist actors. The Committee Chairman, Ambassador Andre Erdos of Hungary, later told the UN Chronicle that the Committee had "started to speak of non-State actors in earnest after 11 September, when we realized that these extremist, fanatic people would certainly have no scruples to get hold of weapons of mass destruction".
A month before the Committee sat, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his annual report on the work of the Organization, noted a "disappointingly low" level of cooperation in multilateral disarmament diplomacy.
However, that October morning, as the Committee was observing a minute of silence for the 11 September victims, the question most on delegates' minds was the challenge posed by terrorism.
"It was this unconventional threat posed to mankind that we talked of first addressing", said Ambassador Sun Suon of Cambodia to the Chronicle. "I think all Member States concurred in unity with this programme."
Angelica Arce de jeannet who has been a member of the delegation of Mexico on the First Committee for the last five years, speaking for herself, said: "We were aware that we had to loin efforts in order to tackle activities carried out by terrorist groups, in particular for the possible use of weapons of mass destruction".
In his remarks to the Committee delegates, Ambassador Erdos underlined the fact that the scale of destruction on 11 September was achieved without the use of the weapons figuring on the Committee's agenda. And this was expected to influence the Committee's general debate in the weeks to come.
Ninety speakers debated nuclear and small arms issues, biological and chemical weapons conventions, the disarmament regime of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty), and disparities in global economy, among others. In 24 meetings over one month, the Committee submitted to the General Assembly 50 texts--25 of which were adopted without a vote.
The three new texts introduced were: a Mexican initiative on a UN conference on eliminating nuclear dangers; the Chairman's text on multilateral cooperation in disarmament, non-proliferation and terrorism; and an Iraqi proposal on depleted uranium armaments. Others ranged from space-based weapons to landmines; the CTBT; the NPT; the ABM Treaty; Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone; ban on fissile material production; ban on dumping radioactive waste; and treaties on nuclear-weapon-free zones in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. The UN conference proposal by Mexico was converted into a procedural decision, placing it on the agenda of the fifty-seventh session of the Assembly, and finally adopted by a vote of 115 to 7, with 37 abstentions.
Mexico had also sponsored a text on convening a UN Conference to identify ways of eliminating nuclear dangers in the context of nuclear disarmament, when it later decided not to take action on their initiative. According to Ms. Arce de Jeanett, they had wanted to ensure the broadest possible support. "In the last session of the First Committee, we had had a very good amount of support by Member States", she told the Chronicle. "Some delegations feel that they are not quite sure regarding the objective to be achieved, so it is better to continue consultations with those delegations."
Ms. Arce de Jeanett had other reasons to be pleased. The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco)--establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region--was in force in 32 nations. Tlatelolco had been at Mexico's initiative. "We are very proud that the Tlatelolco example was followed by other regions", she said, referring to similar treaties in Africa (Pelindaba), in the South Pacific (Rarotonga), and in Southeast Asia (Bangkok).
In his annual report, Secretary-General Annan said he was concerned that plans to deploy national missile defences threaten not only current bilateral and multilateral arms control arrangements, but also future disarmament and non-proliferation treaties".
Though the delegates' comments on nuclear disarmament reflected a desire for a world without nuclear weapons, that desire for action meant reconciling many national, regional and sub-regional interests, said Ambassador Erdos. "What happened was that we saw the playing out of well-known customary traditional patterns of behaviour in the First Committee. When it came to issues like the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, questions related to biological weapons and various items related to the nuclear area, and the issue of the fourth special session on disarmament, etc. we didn't see that much of a movement, and I am saying all this clearly with regret."
Ambassador Erdos also told the Chronicle that the voting patterns in the Committee and in the plenary had not changed over the years. "If someone would, years from now, compare the voting patterns of the 56th session with, let's say, those of the 50th session, which took place well before 11 September, he would not find much difference", he said. "And judging by the language of the resolutions and the distribution of votes, he would not necessarily perceive that something happened in between."
Nevertheless, a consensus was reached on the resolution on multilateral cooperation. The Committee adopted without a vote the Chairman's text on multilateralism, which underlined multilateral cooperation as a core principle in disarmament and nonproliferation negotiations and against terrorism. The General Assembly, on the Committee's recommendation, adopted the text without a vote.
The Assembly also adopted resolutions on preventing an arms race in outer space, by a vote of 156 to none, with 4 abstentions; the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, by 153 to 3, with 6 abstentions; and a 2005 Review Conference of the NPT and its Preparatory Committee, by 156 to 1, with 3 abstentions. On the ABM Treaty resolution, which called upon the parties to preserve and comply with it, the Assembly voted 82 to 5, with 62 abstentions. In the Committee, the United States had argued that the ABM Treaty was bilateral in nature and therefore out of the Committee's scope.
While issues dealing with nuclear disarmament could be contentious, the Committee's work on landmines was less so. Even where some differences existed, the Assembly, recognizing the destructive role of anti-personnel mines, adopted without a vote the resolution on implementing the Ottawa Convention against mines.
Ambassador Suon of Cambodia said his country had an estimated "4 to 6 million anti-personnel mines, as well as unexploded ordnance". Still, he was optimistic about the work of the Committee. "We need to understand that there are some concerns to keep landmines in the name of self-defence", he said. "It's logical for security reasons. We understand that and at the same time acknowledge that concern." Such has been Cambodia's experience with landmines that it had even sent a small demining team to Kosovo in 1999 as its contribution to peacekeeping activities.
Another campaigner against anti-personnel mines is Malaysia, which has the distinction of being the first landmine-free country in Asia. In an interview with the Chronicle, its Permanent Representative, Ambassador Hasmy Agam, said that the communist insurgency his country fought was the turning point. "The communists mined the land against our soldiers, but we didn't use landmines except to defend our installations." He said that Malaysia had that experience of losing its soldiers to landmines and, when the time came, it was willing to work internationally to ban mines. Added Roslan Abdul Rahman, the Malaysian representative to the Committee: "Malaysia's campaign was also due to its involvement in the Ottawa process from the beginning when it was in the pipeline."
Ambassador Erdos, referring to some common points in the agenda of the First Committee and the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (see box), noted that to merge the work of the Committee and that of the Conference "would be an unsustainable proposition as the CD is a special body with a special mandate". He added that, in view of the commonality of the subject matter, it was natural that "people in Geneva are looking to New York, and people in New York are looking to Geneva". He said he only hoped the Conference on Disarmament "would start meaningful, substantive work that would, in turn, definitely instil new momentum into the First Committee's proceedings". Until then, the Committee can only "appeal for and encourage concrete results in the CD".
Of the 50 drafts submitted by the Committee to the Assembly, 49 were finally adopted. An Iraqi proposal requesting the UN Secretary-General to ascertain Member States' views on the use of uranium in armaments and to submit a report to the Assembly's next session was defeated by a vote of 45 to 54, with 45 abstentions. Mohammed Mahmoud, Iraq's representative to the Committee, told the Chronicle that his country had expected the resolution to pass. "We were ready for any language", he said.
RELATED ARTICLE: 55 Years of the First Committee Then and Now
... in 1947
* Situation in Spain--The Assembly adopts resolution debarring Franco's Government from membership in UN agencies.
* Treatment of Indians in the Union of South Africa--Assembly resolution states that because of the treatment of Indians in South Africa, friendly relations between the two Member States have been impaired, and it desires satisfactory settlement of issues.
* Situation in Greece--The Assembly establishes a special committee to assist Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece to settle disputes.
* Measures against propaganda and warmongers--Assembly resolution "condemns all forms of propaganda in whatsoever country conducted".
... in 2001
* Prevention of arms race in outer space--The Assembly calls on Member States "to contribute actively to the objective of the peaceful use of outer space and the prevention of an arms race there".
* Biological Weapons Convention--The Assembly asks that the Secretary-General render assistance to the depositary Governments of the Convention for the implementation of the decisions of the Review Conferences and the 1994 Special Conference.
* Follow-up to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons--The Assembly emphasizes the ICJ conclusion that "there exists an obligation to pursue and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament".
Source: UN Yearbook 1947-1948
Conference on Disarmament
The Conference on Disarmament (CD) was established in 1979 as a result of the first special session on Disarmament of the UN General Assembly held the previous year. It currently has 66 member countries and has invited other nations to take part in its work. It sits in Geneva.
The CD has its own rules of procedure and agenda, but considers the recommendations of the Assembly and the proposals of its members. It reports to the Assembly annually or on an "as needed basis" and conducts its work by consensus. The Geneva branch of the Department for Disarmament Affairs services the meetings of the CD, which are held at Palais des Nations.
The jurisdiction of the Conference includes almost all multilateral arms control and disarmament issues. Currently, it focuses on nuclear disarmament and weapons of mass destruction, including biological, toxin and radiological weapons. The CD and its predecessors have negotiated such multilateral arms limitation agreements as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and seabed treaties, to name few…