First Committee Makes Progress on Illicit Small Arms

Two themes pervaded the First Committee’s (Disarmament and International Security) deliberations at its 58th session this fall - the importance of multilateralism and compliance with agreements. Under the chairmanship of Jarmo Sareva of Finland, the Committee recommended 46 draft resolutions and 7 decisions. On 8 December, the General Assembly adopted all but one (dealing with illicit small arms), which was postponed to later in December.

Member States stressed their concerns over the past year's events, particularly the development of pre-emptive and unilateral action against the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); the Iraq war; the DPRK's (North Korea) declared withdrawal from the NPT; and suspicions that Iran had failed to meet its NPT obligations.

In their opening remarks, Mr. Sareva and the USG for Disarmament Affairs, Nobuyasu Abe, both expressed serious concern that some States were turning to unilateralism for self-defence and that collective security was becoming elusive. Both agreed, that the growth, consolidation and development of multilateral tools were the best ways to confront global threats. In closing the session, the Chairman nevertheless pointed to the persistent deep divisions on some important disarmament and non-proliferation issues.

The future of multilateral treaty regimes for WMD and whether they met the security needs of all nations remained a pivotal question for the First Committee. Some States called for the establishment of more verification instruments and support for retaining the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UNMOVIC, to enhance the Security Council's capacity to respond to non-compliance. Canada called on Member States to renew a dialogue on all aspects of verification, including the UN role.

The Assembly reaffirmed multilateralism as the core principle in negotiations on disarmament and non-proliferation norms. The discussion in the First Committee had led to disagreement, as some States placed equal emphasis on the effectiveness of unilateral, bilateral, regional and plurilateral efforts in the field.

In a positive move, the resolution dealing with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty enjoyed a larger vote than last year, both in the First Committee and the Assembly, reflecting growing support for its entry into force.

In his opening speech to the Assembly, the Secretary-General proposed a review of all United Nations mechanisms and subsequently established a high-level commission to examine new threats, challenges and the changes in the Organization needed to meet them. For its part, the Assembly adopted the First Committee’s recommendation that Member States present views on ways to improve the Committee’s work methods and submit a compilation of those views at its next session.

Illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) The draft resolution on this issue recommended measures with significant impact on UN efforts to control and eliminate the illicit trade in such weapons. Still pending Assembly approval of its budget implications, the draft would have the Assembly establish an open-ended working group "to negotiate an international instrument on identifying and tracing illicit SALW”. It is hoped that such a negotiation would enhance cooperation among States in controlling the illegal flow of weapons. The draft would also request the Secretary-General to hold consultations on further steps to prevent illicit brokering, which many experts believe is a prime contributor to the spread of illicit weapons. It would also approve a second biennial meeting of States in 2005 and a five-year review conference to measure progress in implementing the 2001 Programme of Action on eliminating illicit arms trading.