UN Sets Ground for Future Disarmament Battles

By Wurst, Jim | Arms Control Today, December 2008 | Go to article overview
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UN Sets Ground for Future Disarmament Battles


Wurst, Jim, Arms Control Today


The UN General Assembly committee dealing with nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament issues ran a wait-and-see session in October 2008, with progress perhaps stymied by the upcoming presidential transition in the United States. The session, which ended four days before the U.S. election, debated and voted on 58 resolutions. Under the umbrella of nuclear disarmament, the committee usually considers numerous drafts on specific issues-such as operational status, security assurances, and nuclear-weapon-free zones-and three comprehensive, omnibus drafts each year.

Each session, countries or groups of countries present draft resolutions on a broad range of disarmament issues, including nuclear, biological, chemical, and space issues; conventional arms such as land mines and cluster munitions (see page 49); as well as on the machinery by which the United Nations debates these issues, such as the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD). After three weeks of debate on the issues and the drafts, each draft is considered with the goal, usually unrealized, of adopting resolutions by consensus. The majority of drafts on nuclear issues usually pass with large majorities.

Three omnibus drafts on nuclear disarmament were introduced in the Disarmament and International Security Committee, also known as the First Committee, by the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), and Japan. There were slight changes in the language of previous years; nearly all of the additional phrases focused on the nuclear-weapon states' responsibility to eliminate their arsenals under the Article VI disarmament provisions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The NAC, comprised of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden, continued its annual practice of presenting a draft reaffirming the international community's commitments to the NPT and the decisions taken by its nearly 190 states-parties at its once-every-five-years review conferences. In introducing the draft, Ambassador Leslie Gumbi of South Africa said, "The NAC continues to view these issues of nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation as being inextricably linked, and wishes to stress that both therefore require continuous and irreversible progress."

The text entitled "Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Accelerating the Implementation of Nuclear Disarmament Commitments" had the most changes of the three omnibus drafts. Paragraphs were added elaborating on the responsibilities of statesparties to the NPT and the preferred outcome for the remainder of the current NPT review process. For the last two years, states-parties have been preparing for the next treaty review conference in 2010 and will hold their final preparatory session in April.

One addition, for example, calls on the nuclear-weapon states to "accelerate the implementation of the practical steps towards nuclear disarmament" agreed to at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference and the 2000 Review Conference. These measures, in particular the 13 practical steps agreed to in 2000 and a 1995 resolution calling for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, have for the most part stalled. The 13 steps include negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which is stuck in the deadlocked CD, and cuts in strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. More broadly, the United States and France have been walking back from the 2000 commitments, calling them out of date and "suggestions" rather than commitments. Another addition called on the 2009 preparatory committee meeting to "identify and address specific aspects where urgent progress is required" to reach a nuclear-weapon-free world.

The resolution spearheaded by Japan and a range of co-sponsors from developed (Canada, Germany, Switzerland) and developing (Chile, Paraguay) countries was entitled "Renewed Determination Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

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