Finding Common Ground; First Committee: Disarmament and International Security
As the world stands in the midst of dangers brought on by the nuclear proliferation of ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, arising environmental concerns (see box on page 13) and thriving illicit small-arms businesses plaguing all corners of the world, the First Committee convened its session during the fifty-ninth General Assembly to seek out resolutions to the challenges in international security regime.
"The agenda that the First Committee is dealing with is a very rich one", Committee Chairman Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico told the UN Chronicle. "It is also an agenda that has not moved according to the means of our time." Referring to the inability of the Disarmament Commission in the last seven years to agree on a programme of work, Ambassador de Alba said that multilateralism was in a state of crisis, and it was important to identify specific practical methods to move forward and engage the international community in implementation of reforms.
During the session, reform of the Committee emerged as one of the most visible initiatives. The draft resolution, "Improving the effectiveness of the methods of work of the First Committee", was adopted without a vote. This entails Member States to approach texts in a more concise, focused and action-oriented manner, and also involves planning the agenda items for a two- to three-year period. "This will reduce the number of draft resolutions to be taken automatically each year", Desra Percaya of Indonesia told the Chronicle. "So each delegation will realize that some draft resolutions do not have to appear year by year and that there will be no reoccurrence of agenda items."
In addressing the Committee's working methods, texts that are similar in substance were merged. This initiative was especially relevant in light of the fact that there had been originally two draft resolutions on improving working methods: one submitted by the United States, and the other by Malaysia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. After weeks of negotiations, the two co-sponsors managed to unite their divergent draft texts, tabled by Indonesia, and present a single unified call for Committee reform. "It was one of the best compromises made between the Non-Aligned Movement countries and the United States", Mr. Percaya said. "There was no rivalry, just a consensual marriage", referring to the merger.
Allocating a lot of time to the decision-making process in the general debate, Mr. de Alba said that very little time was being given to "thematic discussions", which focus on common concerns. "This needed to be changed. And by improving the programme of work for next year, we will be consolidating what has been possible to achieve during this session without limiting the time given to any delegation to take part in the debate", he added.
During the session, the General Assembly adopted 52 draft resolutions, 31 of which were without a vote, 7 with less than five States against, and 12 received more than 10 votes cast against them. Some 14 resolutions pertaining to nuclear disarmament were passed.
The resolution, "A path to the total elimination of nuclear weapons", introduced by Japan, was adopted by a vote of 165 to 3 (India, Palau, United States), with 16 abstentions. In its explanation of vote, India maintained that the principles of non-proliferation, as enshrined in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), were discriminatory. In addition, operative paragraph 1, which called on his country to join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon State, was "unrealistic and unacceptable". Sanjiv Ranjan of India told the Chronicle that "disarmament and nuclear proliferation must be controlled, but there are specific issues of concern that prevent countries, which are even willing to start and implement a process of disarmament, to do so".
The New Agenda Coalition (NAC), which includes Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden, introduced the resolution, "Accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments", which was adopted by a vote of 151 to 6 (France, Israel, Latvia, Palau, United Kingdom, United States), with 24 abstentions. Five States that abstained or voted against the resolution last year (Bhutan, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Moldova and Switzerland) voted in favour this session. India shifted its no vote to an abstention, while Japan voted in favour for the first time in recent years, mentioning that the resolution had been improved and "offers effective approaches toward nuclear disarmament".
Lucia Maria Maiera of Brazil told the Chronicle that negotiations within NAC were all done in Geneva, and specific issues were considered, keeping in mind the upcoming NPT conference in May. "Therefore, the main focus has been on nuclear threat, much more than ever before", she said. "We had more support this year within the Committee and we saw more approval and participation from other States and delegations." For instance, a fissile material cut off-treaty, long believed to be the next step in the disarmament and non-proliferation regime, recently suffered a setback when the United States declared that it no longer supported negotiations on it. For the first time in years, the draft resolution on the treaty was put to a vote, receiving an overwhelming support, with 179 in favour to 2 against (Palau, United States), with 2 abstentions (Israel, United Kingdom). "We have a commitment to take serious exercise on negotiations to stop the production of fissile material. And just today we had to vote on a resolution that used to be approved by consensus, as there is no agreement on what the scope of that treaty will be", Chairman de Alba said. "It is not a very positive scenario." In explaining its vote, the United States stated that a fissile material treaty would not be effectively verifiable. However, it supports the Conference on Disarmament's negotiations "on a treaty banning fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosives devices", noting that "such a treaty would contribute to disarmament".
As in many arenas of arms control and disarmament, the international community continues to grapple with the issue of missiles. The new resolution, "The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation", aims to prevent and curb the proliferation of ballistic missile systems by inviting States not party to the Hague Code to join. It was adopted in its original form despite three amendment efforts by a recorded vote.
A resolution on "Missiles" requested the UN Secretary-General for the first time, with the assistance of a panel of governmental experts to be established in 2007, to explore ways and means to address within the United Nations the issue of missiles, including identifying areas where consensus could be reached, and later submit a report for consideration by the General Assembly at its sixty-third session. The text was adopted by a vote of 119 to 4, with 60 abstentions.
The resolution, "Promotion of multilateralism in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation", which was first tabled in 2002 by the Non-Aligned Movement, was adopted by 125 to 9, with 49 abstentions. During the First Committee session, the European Union, reiterating a position voiced last year, remained dissatisfied with the failure of the text to "give sufficient credit" to unilateral and bilateral actions. Andy Rachmianto of Indonesia told the Chronicle that the issue of disarmament could be best addressed by making multilateralism the focal point. "The main idea of this resolution is to put multilateralism in the core for dealing with issues of disarmament and nuclear proliferation." However, "some delegations still insist to put the idea that multilateralism is not the only one and that regional efforts are equally important in moving forward the issue of disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation", he said.
On the economic front, Mr. Rachmianto expressed concern that an increasing global military expenditure was holding back some States from spending more on development and poverty eradication, particularly in the developing countries. The resolution, "Relationship between disarmament and development", which seeks the incorporation of disarmament into the strategies on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, was adopted by a vote of 180 to 2, with 2 abstentions. "So far, in the area of disarmament there is a huge amount of money allocated to armament", Mr. Rachmianto told the Chronicle. While trying to push this issue not only in the First Committee but also in other disarmament forums, certain delegations nevertheless had problems agreeing on the resolution, he said, as they do not see any relationship between disarmament and development.
Both adopted without a vote, "The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects" and "Prevention of the illicit transfer and unauthorized access to and use of man-portable air defense systems" (MANPADS) were among the resolutions that enjoyed consensus. The Assembly urged Member States to support all efforts related to the prevention of the illicit transfer of and unauthorized access to MANPADS. It also stressed the importance of effective and comprehensive national controls on the production, transfer and brokering of such weapons.
The resolution on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs) in all its aspects set specific dates for the review conference of the Programme of Action (26 June to 7 July 2006), the Preparatory Committee session (9 to 20 January 2006), and the second biennial meeting of States (11 to 15 July 2005). It also expressed appreciation for the work of the open-ended working group to negotiate an international instrument to enable States to identify and trace, in a timely and reliable manner, illicit SALWs. It further requests the Secretary-General to hold consultations on international cooperation to prevent, combat and eradicate illicit brokering in SALWs.
Although most States supported an administrative role of the United Nations in the implementation of such an international instrument, there was some degree of disagreement over markings and tracing exercise. "The main debate was between those countries like Mexico that wanted alpha numeric codes and those countries that use symbols like triangles and other symbols for markings", Chairman de Alba said. "It becomes very difficult to put this information into a database of computers, as many countries will identify the symbol differently", making it problematic for countries dealing with this issue, he added, referring to the use of symbols.
Brazil--on behalf of the Southern Common Market nations--France, Senegal, the European Union and Nigeria were among those which requested that the international instrument be legally binding. B. O. Owseni of Nigeria stated to the First Committee that it was estimated that there were 650 million small arms in the world. About 500,000 people die each year from their use. During the 1990s, of the 4 million war-related deaths, 90 per cent of civilians died because of the misuse of small arms and light weapons. "In Africa, one of the greatest difficulties in controlling illicit proliferation of small arms is the fact of their easy accessibility to non-States actors", Ambassador Owseni said, stressing that the proposed instrument should be "legally binding for effective implementation".
The resolution, "Prevention of an arms race in outer space", was adopted by a vote of 178 to none, with 4 abstentions. This reflects last year's vote of 161 to none, with 3 abstentions. The Conference on Disarmament, the main body for negotiating the arms race in outer space, established in 1985 a subsidiary ad hoc committee to deal with this topic. However, a lack of consensus on certain mandates within the Conference has not been able to push the issue ahead.
"It is not that easy to find a way out", Chairman de Alba said on the work of the First Committee. "Yet the only possibility is that we should try to be more open to proposals, so that we can identify windows of opportunity." By engaging everyone, "especially the countries in the middle that are non-nuclear-weapon States or chemical-weapon possessors, we can influence countries that need to make specific steps towards disarmament", he said. "At the same time, we can also advance the agenda by taking initiatives."
Disarmament: Can It Be Environmentally Sound?
Environmental protection is a social and political issue. However, in the First Committee, its relationship with disarmament and arms control has long been taken into account. For the first time, the General Assembly at its fiftieth session in 1995 asked the Conference on Disarmament to include environmental concerns in the disarmament agenda. Each year since then, the Assembly has approved a resolution on the subject, which calls for the importance of environmental protection while dealing with disarmament.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his 2001 report on the "Observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control", cited several violations of United Nations resolutions on environmental protection. On the aggression in Iraq and Kosovo in the 1990s, the report noted that excess of munitions containing depleted uranium were used. It was then that the Secretary-General invited some Member States to respect their obligations and stop deliberately violating international agreements and UN resolutions.
The 1995 resolution received 149 votes to 4 (France, Israel, United Kingdom, United States), with 4 abstentions (Canada, Estonia, Japan, Republic of Korea). In explanation of vote, the United States representative said that he did not understand the purpose of the resolution, and its potential effect was diverting attention away from productive work and refocusing efforts on vague environmental norms.
In 2003, after a recorded vote of 156 to 1 (United States), with 4 abstentions (France, Federal Republic of Micronesia, Israel, United Kingdom), the United States representative said there was no connection between environmental standards and multilateral disarmament agreements, and that concern for the environment should not overburden the crucial crafting phase of the agreement. At the fifty-ninth Assembly session, the resolution was adopted by 175 to 2 (Palau, United States), with 3 abstentions (France, Israel, United Kingdom).
"We have no problems at all with environmental norms as such", Ranjiv Sanjan of India told the UN Chronicle. "However, there seems to be a general belief that environmental norms should not be seen, for the moment, as a top priority in relation to disarmament". It is very difficult to achieve arms reduction and effective disarmament, and the introduction of environmental norms in relation to these issues makes the picture more complicated.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Finding Common Ground; First Committee: Disarmament and International Security. Contributors: Not available. Magazine title: UN Chronicle. Volume: 42. Issue: 1 Publication date: March-May 2005. Page number: 10+. © 1998 United Nations Publications. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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