Initiatives against Disarmament. (GA 56 - First Committee (Disarmament and International Security))

Article excerpt

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. …