23 October 2009
General Assembly
GA/DIS/3398

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

First Committee

18th Meeting (PM)


Barriers Blocking Disarmament Negotiations Beginning to Yield, First Committee


Told, Examining Strength of Disarmament Machinery Following Years of Paralysis


No Country Should Be Allowed to Single-Handedly Bring Work to Standstill,

Say Speakers, Sounding Note of Caution About Conference’s Ability to Deliver


The barriers blocking disarmament negotiations were beginning to come down, a clear sign of which had been the agreement last May in the Geneva Conference on Disarmament of a programme of work, after a decade-long impasse, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) heard today.


As the Committee concluded its thematic debate, begun yesterday, on the disarmament machinery and heard the introduction of four draft resolutions, the representative of Brazil said that the positive events in the Conference this year were especially important in revealing that the immobility of several years had been embedded in that body’s own rules of procedures.  It was the political opening and flexibility, combined with diplomatic skill, which had removed fears and led to consensus.  In other words, it was political will and negotiations that could put machinery into motion, and not the other way around. 


Political will did not appear spontaneously, but was necessarily the expression by States of their participation in the international community and the obligations of each State to its citizens and to humanity, he said.  However, the main responsibility lay with the United Nations.  The fluid and neutral succession of presidents of the Conference on Disarmament in alphabetical order had proved to be a positive feature, allowing cooperation among them during each session.


Also highlighting that the adoption of a work programme by the Conference after a 12-year paralysis, the representative of Venezuela said that, unlike its previous sessions, the Conference’s deliberations were taking place amid new developments.  That stalemate had been the result of positions maintained by some countries.  Venezuela hoped that the implementation of the full programme of work of the Conference would begin without further delay.


It would be a critical year for the Conference, said Norway’s representative.  Sounding a note of caution, she said that if it continued not to deliver, the international community should ask itself whether, in its present format, that institution served its interest.  The time had come to look into the working methods of the Conference to ensure that it became more inclusive.  Any credible and relevant multilateral negotiating body should be open to any country. Further, working methods should be implemented in a way that did not allow countries to single-handedly bring work to a standstill, which ultimately led to the body’s marginalization and irrelevance. 


She said that those same questions should be asked of the United Nations Disarmament Commission.  That body, which was intended to be a deliberative forum, had had great difficulties in delivering substantial deliberations and recommendations to the disarmament work.  If it was to be preserved, it must be made more practical, more focused and more relevant.  Norway continued to believe that the Commission’s regular sessions should be much shorter and should focus on one or two topics, decided by the First Committee.  Given its deliberative mandate, the Commission’s should produce a chair’s summary at the end of each session, which could reflect areas where consensus might be emerging.


Echoing support for the Conference’s expanded membership was Sweden’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union.  He profoundly regretted that the Conference’s work programme had not been implemented before the end of the 2009 session.  Given present security challenges and today’s international relations, it was important to effectively use and improve the disarmament machinery.  “What is essential for any machinery of this kind to function effectively is political will, good faith, trust and the willingness of States to fully comply with obligations and commitments agreed”.  The existing disarmament machinery had produced significant obligations, and while there was room for improvements, it continued to have the potential to fulfil its functions. 


Turkey’s speaker, however, felt that the time was not ripe to consider expanding the Conference’s membership.  “At a time when the Conference had not yet overcome the existing stalemate, we should all strive to work towards ensuring the effective functioning of the CD rather than dedicating our precious time and energy on other matters of less urgency,” he said.  That should in no way be construed as Turkey’s categorical opposition to the Conference’s enlargement, he added, suggesting that the matter be addressed on a case-by-case basis, with due consideration to the contributions of candidates to international peace and security. 


Several other delegates stressed the need to strengthen institutional support for the disarmament machinery.  The representative of India called for the current optimism in the disarmament arena to be backed by concrete steps to strengthen the Office for Disarmament Affairs.  In that regard, India would like the Geneva branch of the Office strengthened to facilitate implementation of permanent United Nations treaty bodies, such as those of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions.  The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research also deserved greater support from the United Nations regular budget. 


Similarly, Canada’s representative said that, preparing for the 2010 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), States parties should reflect on the importance of that Treaty, alongside the comparatively modest level of support it currently received for its “machinery” from the United Nations and States parties.  The NPT relied on the less than full-time engagement of one person at the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.  That minimalist structure made it a daunting task for any State to take on the job of chairing a Treaty meeting, let alone enhance the effectiveness of the Treaty regime.


By contrast, he said, the Biological Weapons Convention, with its three-person implementation unit, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, with its much larger Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), out-staffed the Treaty. 


The representative of Austria introduced a draft resolution on the Conference on Disarmament (document A/C.1/64/L.41), which would have the General Assembly reaffirm the role of the Conference as the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community and request that all States members cooperate with current and successive Presidents in their efforts to guide the Conference to the early commencement of substantive work, including negotiations, in its 2010 session. 


Also today, the representative of Peru introduced a draft resolution on the Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin American and the Caribbean(document A/C.1/64/L.22).  Malaysia’s representative introduced a draft text on follow-up to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality and threat or use of nuclear weapons (document A/C.1/64/L.51), while Myanmar’s representative introduced a draft text on nuclear disarmament (document A/C.1/64/L.48).


Statements in the thematic debate on disarmament machinery were also made by the representatives of Uruguay (on behalf of Southern Common Market), Qatar, Cuba and Mexico. 


The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 27 October, to begin action on all draft resolutions and decisions.


Background


The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon to continue its thematic debate on disarmament machinery and to hear the introduction of related draft resolutions.


Statements


MAGNUS HELLGREN (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that a multilateral approach to security, disarmament and non-proliferation was the best way of maintaining international peace, and that the General Assembly, its First Committee, the Conference on Disarmament, the Disarmament Commission and various international treaties were mutually reinforcing.  In view of new security threats, the disarmament machinery had an increasingly important role to play.  This Committee was one of the most important forums for discussing and passing resolutions on the issues, and should foster a common understanding concerning the present threats to peace, and enable the international community to address them effectively in all other relevant bodies.


He said that the European Union profoundly regretted that the Conference on Disarmament’s work programme had not been implemented before the end of its 2009 session.  It reiterated its desire to see the Conference membership expanded.  The existing disarmament machinery had produced significant obligations, and while there was room for improvements, it still had the potential to fulfil its functions.  Given present security challenges and today’s international relations, it was important to effectively use and improve the disarmament machinery.  “What is essential for any machinery of this kind to function effectively is political will, good faith, trust and the willingness of States to fully comply with obligations and commitments agreed,” he said.


FEDERICO PERAZZA (Uruguay), on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said multilateral diplomacy was the basic approach to disarmament issues and the one that would guarantee results.  He highlighted the value of global and regional approaches, which, applied together, would promote peace and security across the board.  The United Nations central role was essential in bringing about nuclear disarmament.  Elements of a draft declaration for a fourth disarmament decade expressed those sentiments. 


Noting the agreement this year in the Conference on Disarmament, following more than a decade of stagnation, he appealed to all of its members to keep moving forward.  He commended the work of the Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, noting that the centre’s mandate included, unlike the other two regional centres, issues of development.  As a result, activities aimed to see that peace and disarmament were tightly linked to sustainable development. 


ALEXIS AQUINO ( Peru) said that the Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean had been an important force for countries in the area.  Armed violence, especially in urban areas, had jeopardized peace and security.  In that vein, the centre’s activities addressed issues relating to regulating small arms and light weapons, offered technical assistance, created mechanisms for implementing international disarmament instruments and other related topics of concern.  However, those efforts were undertaken with limited funding, and he hoped support would be given to further the centre’s work.


He then introduced the draft resolution on the Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin American and the Caribbean (document A/C.1/64/L.22), which would have the Assembly, expressing its satisfaction for the centre’s activities carried out this year, appeal to Member States and international Governmental and non-governmental organizations and foundations to make and to increase voluntary contributions to strengthen the centre, its activities programme and their implementation.


HILDE JANNE SKORPEN ( Norway) said that 2010 would be a critical year for the Conference on Disarmament.  If that body continued not to deliver, the international community should ask itself whether, in its present format, that institution served its interest.  The time had come to look into the Conference’s working methods to ensure that it became more inclusive.  Any credible and relevant multilateral negotiating body should be open to all countries.  Further, working methods should be implemented in a way that did not allow countries to single-handedly bring work to a standstill, which ultimately led to the body’s marginalization and irrelevance.


She said that those same questions should be asked of the United Nations Disarmament Commission.  That body, which was intended to be a deliberative forum, had had great difficulties in delivering substantial deliberations and recommendations to the disarmament work.  If it was to be preserved, it must be made more practical, more focused and more relevant.  Norway continued to believe that the Commission’s regular sessions should be much shorter and should focus on one or two topics, decided by the First Committee.  Given its deliberative mandate, the Commission’s should produce a chair’s summary at the end of each session, which could reflect areas where consensus might be emerging.


Norway considered the First Committee to be fundamental in advancing the work on disarmament and non-proliferation, she went on.  For several years, Norway had advocated an improvement in the Committee’s working methods, in order to make that body more relevant in addressing security challenges.  While there had been some progress, much remained to be done.  Each year, huge efforts were undertaken to mobilize the highest number of co-sponsors to resolutions.  One had to wonder whether that approach was the best use of members’ time and energy.  Agreeing to limit the habit of seeking co-sponsorships to only newly-introduced resolutions would improve the Committee’s efficiency.  Further, Norway was of the view that once a resolution was adopted, it should stand, unless otherwise decided.  That would enable the Committee to reduce the number of repetitive resolutions and make more time available for substantive and focused discussions.  Also, many drafts were nearly identical to the previous year’s resolutions and did not take into account emerging new political opportunities to move the disarmament agenda forward.


She said that the present Committee session should seek to build consensus on the need for the multilateral disarmament machinery to produce results and to foster common understanding of how existing and new security threats should be addressed.  That would give immense weight to the upcoming 2010 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  The Committee had clearly not succeeded in that task.  If the Committee did not undergo a renewal, then other institutions, such as the Security Council, would have to assume increased responsibility for disarmament and non-proliferation.  To advance the work of the Committee in disarmament and non-proliferation, there was wisdom in convening a fourth special session of the General Assembly.


CHRISTIAN STROHAL ( Austria) introduced a draft resolution on the Conference on Disarmament (document A/C.1/64/L.41), noting that this year had opened a new chapter in the life of that body.  The text differed from previous years in its recognition of the Conference’s adoption of a programme of work, after more than a decade, although success on its substantive work remained elusive.  The draft text was largely based on the resolutions of past years, with some adaptations to reflect this year’s developments.


He said that some delegations would have preferred a stronger approach in the draft, while others preferred the more traditional approach.  For the sponsors, however, the most important element was for the General Assembly to maintain its high interest in the work of the Conference and to encourage it to proceed with its work in order to achieve results.  The text spoke for itself.  It referred to the discussions on implementation of the programme of work and to intersessional work.  The sponsors were currently finalizing the text and were confident of being able to present a consolidated version early next week.  The draft resolution had always been adopted without a vote.


LISETH ANCIDEY ( Venezuela) said that the priorities of the General Assembly’s first special session in disarmament remained fully relevant, particularly with regard to the bodies that work in the area of disarmament. Venezuela recognized the Disarmament Commission as the sole specialized deliberative body in disarmament, and it had had the honour of being a representative from Latin America and the Caribbean on that body, and it noted its virtues as a deliberative body.


Turning to the Conference on Disarmament, she said that, unlike its previous sessions, deliberations were now taking place under new developments, as a result of the approval of a programme of work, following a 12-year paralysis, she said.  That impasse had been the result inflexible positions by some countries.  Venezuela hoped that the implementation of the full work programme would begin without further delay.  She expressed her country’s support for the many disarmament initiatives at the regional and subregional levels, in particular, the work of the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America, headquartered in Lima.


GEOFF GARTSHORE (Canada) said political will was the driving force behind the disarmament machinery’s achievement of results, as was seen in the Security Council’s recent passage of resolution 1887 (2009), which had provided a much-needed impetus for efforts in this Committee and beyond to advance the work of disarmament.  In preparing the 2010 NPT Review Conference, Canada encouraged all States parties to reflect on the importance of the Treaty, alongside the comparatively modest level of support it currently received for its “machinery” from the United Nations and States parties.  The NPT relied on the less than full-time engagement of one person at the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.  That minimalist structure made it a daunting task for any State to take on the job of chairing a Treaty meeting, let alone enhance the effectiveness of the Treaty regime.


By contrast, he said, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention), with its three-person implementation unit, and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention), with its much larger Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), out-staffed the Treaty. 


At the Third Review Conference, Canada had circulated a working paper on strengthening the review process, speaking to what Canada identified as the Treaty’s “institutional deficit”, he recalled.  A menu of three options, if adopted together, would be cost-neutral to its members.  Those options were to improve the Treaty’s effectiveness, by modifying the existing schedule to provide shorter, more focused annual general conferences, to establish a more responsive accountable governance structure by creating a standing bureau comprised of previous and current Chairs, and to strengthen the administrative capacity of the Treaty’s review process with a support unit.


On an optimistic note, Canada’s Ambassador, Marius Grinius, had served as the Chair of the 2009 meetings of the Biological Weapons Convention, and Canada was pleased to report that, in no small part due to the able assistance of the three-person implementation support unit, the Convention’s machinery was running well.  “The functioning of the BTWC [Biological and Toxin Weapons Convetion] was just one example of how, with a bit of creative thinking and willingness to try, our disarmament machinery can be made to work towards our common goal of a more secure world, including one free of nuclear weapons,” he said.


HAMIDON ALI (Malaysia) said the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons had been a significant milestone in efforts to achieve disarmament and non-proliferation, by lending a powerful moral argument for the total elimination of those weapons.  Given the multitude of complexities surrounding current international disarmament negotiations, it was imperative to use the required political will and moral courage to achieve the goal of total elimination of nuclear weapons.


In that light, he introduced a draft resolution on follow-up to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality and threat or use of nuclear weapons (document A/C.1/64/L.51).  “In supporting the draft resolution, Member States would also be reaffirming their continued commitment to the multilateral processes,” he said.  “Such expressions of commitment would go a long way towards dispelling the notion that nuclear disarmament could thus be achieved through unilateral or bilateral efforts alone.”


ALI AL-KHATER (Qatar) said that the disarmament machinery, which had been criticized, played an important and indispensable role.  The Conference on Disarmament was the only appropriate forum to deal with all questions relating to disarmament.


He said that Qatar had played an important role at the national level in implementing disarmament instruments in chemical, nuclear and other fields, and had trained officials and educated society to apply those instruments.  Regionally, Qatar had strengthened the disarmament machinery in cooperation with regional organizations.  His country had also taken an active part in related international conferences.  He suggested that informal regular meetings should be organized to allow for greater participation in the disarmament programme and fissile material discussions, in order to reach the common goal.


LUIZ FILIPE DE MACEDO SOARES ( Brazil) said that the Conference on Disarmament, by adopting a programme of work on 29 May, had given a clear signal that the barriers opposing disarmament negotiations were beginning to crumble.  Not all elements for the commencement of actual work had been set this year, but the political momentum could not be lost.  Brazil favoured a resolution on the work of the Conference supporting the quick adoption of a programme of work early next year, followed by the adoption of measures for its implementation.


He said that the positive events in the Conference this year were especially important in revealing that the immobility of several years had been embedded in that body’s own rules of procedures.  It was the political opening and flexibility, combined with diplomatic skill, which had removed fears and led to consensus.  In other words, it was political will and negotiations that could put machinery into motion, and not the other way around.  Political will did not appear spontaneously, but was necessarily the expression by States of their participation in the international community and the obligations of each State to its citizens and to humanity.  However, the main responsibility lay with the United Nations.  The fluid and neutral succession of presidents of the Conference on Disarmament in alphabetical order had proved to be a positive feature, allowing cooperation among them during each session.


The machinery established in the field of disarmament did not exist in a vacuum, he went on.  It must be constantly aware and sensitive to bilateral and regional understanding, and to multilateral forums, such as the strengthened review process of the NPT.  It must also be attentive to civil society, where institutions of great experience and expertise produced invaluable work to support the hard task of negotiating disarmament.


HAMID ALI RAO (India) said that the United Nations had a central role and primary responsibility in the connection with the opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality and threat or use of nuclear weapons.  The Conference on Disarmament had a heavy responsibility to make progress in that regard, and as its decisions had an immediate impact on Member States’ national security, it was logical that the Conference conducted its work and adopt its decisions by consensus.


He said that the United Nations Disarmament Commission could help to bring back coherence and consensus to the currently fragmented international disarmament agenda.  The Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters should be more representative, so that it could reflect on the broadest range of views and opinions.  Its focus should remain the wider vision of global disarmament issues, rather than as a preparatory committee of one treaty or another.


The current optimism in the disarmament arena should be backed by concrete steps to strengthen the Office for Disarmament Affairs, and India would like the Geneva branch to also be strengthened to facilitate implementation of permanent United Nations treaty bodies, such as those of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions.  The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research deserved greater support from the United Nations regular budget.  India hoped the institute would retool itself to be on the forefront of nuclear disarmament research.


CAMILO GARCIA LOPEZ-TRIGO ( Cuba) emphasized the need to take concrete steps forward in negotiating and discussing disarmament and arms control.  He noted with optimism the Conference on Disarmament’s adoption of a work programme and hoped that the needed flexibility would prevail at its next session, leading to the adoption of a broad, balanced programme of work.  Cuba reaffirmed the Conference’s importance and appealed for the establishment of an ad-hoc committee on nuclear disarmament.  He also felt that the Disarmament Commission’s work was critical.


He hoped agreement could be reached on declaring a fourth decade of disarmament, and repeated Cuba’s support for holding a fourth special session of the General Assembly on disarmament.  It was important for the Assembly to continue its work in that regard, with the view of reaching an agreement.  A group of experts should be formed to analyse those sensitive subjects.  The establishment of such expert groups should be the rule and not the exception.  Major difficulties confronting disarmament efforts included a lack of political will shown by some States.  He hoped a positive picture would emerge, which would meet the expectations of the international community.


VOLKAN OSKIPER (Turkey) said the Conference on Disarmament had a crucial role in addressing today’s global security challenges.  He hoped it would assume its role as the primary forum on disarmament issues and would move forward in its programme of work at its next session.  He expected that the remaining obstacles blocking implementation of its work programme would be removed, so the Conference could embark on substantive work on fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations, parallel advances on negative security assurances, and preventing an arms race in outer space. 


He said that the question of expanding the Conference’s membership was not a priority at this stage.  “At a time when the Conference has not yet overcome the existing stalemate, we should all strive to work towards ensuring the effective functioning of the CD, rather than dedicating our precious time and energy on other matters of less urgency,” he said, adding that “this in no way should be construed as Turkey’s categorical opposition to the enlargement of the CD”.  However, the matter should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, with due consideration to the contributions of candidates to international peace and security.  Turkey believed that the United Nations Disarmament Commission should assume a more active role in promoting common goals in the disarmament field.


The current machinery had been able to produce important instruments, but it could and should do better, he said.  The unique opportunity presented by the emerging favourable international atmosphere should be seized.


U WUNNA MAUNG LWIN ( Myanmar) introduced a draft resolution on nuclear disarmament (document A/C.1/64/L.48).  He said the draft text took note of the positive signals by the United States and the Russian Federation on their negotiations on the replacement of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which was due to expire at the end of 2009.  It also took note of the recent positive statements by the nuclear-weapon States of their intention to pursue achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons.  It reaffirmed the need for urgent concrete actions by those States to achieve that goal within a specified time frame and urged them to take further measures for progress on nuclear disarmament.


He said that the important development that had taken place in the Conference on Disarmament this year was duly reflected in the text, which urged that body to commence, as soon as possible, its substantive work during the 2010 session, on the basis of a comprehensive and balanced programme of work that took into consideration all the real and existing priorities in the field of disarmament and arms control.  The draft also recalled past efforts and recommendations for non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, in order to convey the message that nuclear disarmament had been the highest priority of the international community for a number of decades.


The draft text again called on nuclear-weapon States to assure non-nuclear- weapon States of the non-use and non-threat of use of nuclear weapons, in a legally binding instrument, he said.  Many States did not enjoy such guarantees in the form of a nuclear-weapon-free zone or military alliance.  The legitimate right of States that had decided to forgo the nuclear option had yet to be recognized, honoured and reciprocated seriously by the nuclear-weapon States.  The draft built on the resolutions of previous years, which contained measures to be taken by various players towards ridding the world of nuclear weapons.  The sponsors invited all States to demonstrate their commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world by supporting the draft resolution.


PABLO ARROCHA (Mexico) decided to hold back a draft decision during the Committee’s present session, which it had traditionally introduced in past years on a United Nations conference to identify appropriate ways of eliminating nuclear dangers in the context of nuclear disarmament.  While the decision had enjoyed strong support during voting in the past, it had not enjoyed general agreement.  In view of the positive atmosphere and the coming 2010 NPT Review Conference, Mexico’s Government decided to hold that draft text, so as not to push Committee members to vote.


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