Urging Sustained Momentum in Long-Stalled Effort to Achieve Disarmament, Security, Secretary-General, in Assembly Debate, Calls for Explosive Fissile Material Ban

19 April 2010
GA/10934

Urging Sustained Momentum in Long-Stalled Effort to Achieve Disarmament, Security, Secretary-General, in Assembly Debate, Calls for Explosive Fissile Material Ban

19 April 2010
General Assembly
GA/10934
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Thematic Debate on Disarmament

AM & PM Meetings

Urging Sustained Momentum in Long-Stalled Effort to Achieve Disarmament, Security,

Secretary-General, in Assembly Debate, Calls for Explosive Fissile Material Ban

Assembly President Says Russian-United States Nuclear Arms Accord Charts Path

For Nuclear-Weapons Possessors; Panels Discuss ‘Confidence Deficit’, Arms Scourge

Following recent international action aimed at reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, participants in a special General Assembly debate today looked towards further progress in long-stalled efforts to bolster the control regimes for weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms.

“Now is the moment to build on the momentum,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as he helped to open the thematic debate entitled “Disarmament and world security: Challenges for the international community and the role of the United Nations”.

Mr. Ban, along with most other speakers during the day, hailed the 8 April agreement between the United States and the Russian Federation on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty as a follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), as well as the positive atmosphere, pledges and proposals made last week during the Washington, D.C., Summit on Nuclear Security.

Particularly promising in Washington, Mr. Ban said, had been pledges to secure vulnerable nuclear material within four years, proposals to prevent illicit trafficking in such materials and expressions of strong support for United Nations conventions.  He reiterated his proposals today for the banning of the production of explosive fissile materials and more frequent high-level meetings of the Security Council on the issue.

He expressed hope that the new political momentum would contribute to a successful outcome of next month’s Review Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and other upcoming international arms control meetings.

In his opening statement, Ali Abdussalam Treki, President of the General Assembly, said that it had been 10 years without any tangible progress in disarmament.  He hoped the agreements reached between the United States and the Russian Federation would pave the way for all those that possessed nuclear weapons to follow suit, eventually leading to a world free of such arms.

Getting rid of nuclear weapons already in existence was the most important way of enforcing non-proliferation, he stressed.  Pending that, he advocated the creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones in many regions, including the Middle East, and assuring peaceful nuclear energy use for development.  He highlighted also the importance of reducing the threat of chemical and biological weapons, as well as of conventional weapons, which he said led to enormous numbers of casualties each year and fanned the flames of conflict.

Also speaking at the opening was the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, Alberto G. Romulo, who said that the 2010 NPT Review Conference, which would be chaired by his country, would present the international community with a new and unprecedented opportunity to make genuine progress on nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy -- the three pillars of the Treaty.

At the upcoming Review Conference, realistic and clearly defined benchmarks for nuclear disarmament could be determined and mechanisms could be strengthened to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of heretofore non-nuclear-weapon countries or non-State actors.  For those purposes, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should be given the necessary tools and funding.

In recognition of their 8 April agreement made in Prague, the representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States were also given a seat at the debate’s opening.  Both underlined the significance of the agreed cuts, saying that they could be made while maintaining a strong security stance, and of the accord’s impetus towards fulfilling NPT obligations.  They hoped that further progress would now be made in the non-proliferation regime.

The representative of the Russian Federation pointed out that, while the previous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty had been concluded in an atmosphere of confrontation, the new agreement laid the foundation for qualitatively new relations between the two countries in the military strategic area.  The United States representative stressed the agreement was a first step towards her President’s stated goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, and underlined the importance of preventing impunity for violators of the non-proliferation regime.

Following the opening presentations, two interactive panel discussions were held, featuring policy experts as well as diplomatic officials.  The morning panel, moderated by the representative of Norway, discussed the current challenges and opportunities in making progress in the three pillars of the NPT.

With many participants speaking of the need to build trust for that purpose, Abdul Samad Minty, of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, pointed to a huge “confidence deficit”.  To help overcome that obstacle, Joan Rohlfing, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, proposed, as a first step, a “global transparency initiative”, in which all States would declare publicly the number of nuclear weapons and other nuclear materials they possessed.

The Chairperson of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Rolf Ekéus, also participated in the morning panel.

The afternoon panel, moderated by Uruguay’s representative, discussed the enhancement of security through arms regulation.  In that regard, Jayantha Dhanapala, President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and former Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, emphasized the progress that could be made in reducing extreme poverty -– with accompanying security benefits -– if some of the nearly $1.5 trillion being spent annually on arms was used for development.

Also on that panel, Camilo Reyes Rodríguez, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia and former Chair of the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, stressed that conflict could be reduced -– and security strengthened -- by a prohibition on the transfer of conventional weapons to non-State actors, and by controls on the possession, transfer and use of those weapons by civilians.

Background

The General Assembly today held a day-long thematic debate entitled “Disarmament and world security: Challenges for the international community and the role of the United Nations”, following the Washington, D.C., Summit on Nuclear Security and the three-week session of the Disarmament Commission, and ahead of next month’s Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and other important arms control meetings.

Opening Statements

ALI ABDUSSALAM TREKI, President of the General Assembly, welcomed delegates, other officials and experts to today’s thematic debate, saying that, after more than 10 years without any tangible progress in disarmament, positive developments were taking place that provided a good opportunity to discuss ideas on the reduction of weapons of mass destruction, ahead of the important international conferences planned for the coming months.

He thanked Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation for providing leadership in arsenal reduction, hoping that the agreements they had recently reached would be implemented and that they would pave the way for all those that possessed nuclear weapons to follow suit, eventually leading to a world free of those weapons.  In other positive developments, the renunciation of nuclear programmes by Libya and South Africa had been followed by efforts to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Africa.  He called for such zones in other areas, including in the Middle East, and on Israel to abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. 

Nuclear energy was an important component of development, but all countries exercising their rights in that area should comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  Getting rid of nuclear weapons in existence, however, was the most important way of enforcing non-proliferation.  It was also important to reduce the threat of chemical and biological weapons, as well as of small arms and light weapons, which led to enormous numbers of casualties each year and fanned the flames of conflict daily.  Important meetings on conventional weapons would also be held this year. He expressed confidence that discussants today would help stimulate ideas for progress in all those areas.

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, agreed that today’s meeting was very timely because concrete actions were being taken by Governments, and there was greater mobilization from civil society and a strong call for progress from the General Assembly.  “Now is the moment to build on that momentum,” he said, noting that disarmament was among the founding goals of the United Nations.

He said it was important to see the linkages between disarmament and other major challenges, such as climate change and poverty, noting that the world was spending well over $1 trillion on weapons each year, while funding for development was constricted.  “The world is overarmed and development is underfunded,” he stated.  In addition, progress in disarmament would greatly benefit international security, as it would renew multilateralism and reinforce cooperation, trust and mutual reliance.  In addition to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, the control of other weapons of mass destruction and small arms and light weapons would help in all those areas.

Last week’s summit on nuclear security in Washington, D.C, was a milestone, he said.  The positive atmosphere there and the conclusion of the new Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START) on 8 April exemplified a new engagement in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, which he hoped would be followed by a successful outcome to the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  He urged States parties to agree to practical measures to achieve the full implementation of the three pillars of the Treaty, as well as its universal application, and to implement the 1995 resolution on the Middle East.

“Now, more than ever, a concerted effort on all fronts is needed to achieve this long-standing goal of the United Nations,” he concluded.

ALBERTO G. ROMULO, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, said the international community continued to face many challenges in the field of disarmament, from the continued existence of nuclear weapons and the threat of their proliferation to the spread of small arms and light weapons.  The presence of non-State actors added a new dimension to the nuclear dilemma.  It was the responsibility of the international community to deal with all those challenges in a unified and concerted manner, with the United Nations as a central player.

He said that in less than a month, United Nations Headquarters in New York would hold one of “the most important conferences in the field of disarmament”.  The 2010 NPT Review Conference would present the international community with a new and unprecedented opportunity to make genuine progress on nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  His country would take on the responsibility to lead that critical gathering in the belief that international peace and security was the concern of all, and that among the gravest threats facing humanity was the existence of nuclear weapons.

The only guarantee that those weapons would never be used was through their total elimination in a verifiable and irreversible manner, he said.  But, until that day arrived, States parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty must work together to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Furthermore, the development needs of countries must not be curtailed or hampered.  Access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy must be made available without preconditions.

He said the Review Conference presented a timely opportunity to determine realistic and clearly defined benchmarks for nuclear disarmament and specific timelines for nuclear-weapon States to accomplish what they had promised.  There could never be general and complete disarmament if nuclear weapons fell into the hands of heretofore non-nuclear countries or non-State actors.  IAEA should therefore be given the necessary tools and funding to effectively do its work.  Also, the Review Conference must pursue the implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, in order to establish there a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that the signing of the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms on 8 April in Prague had been a “milestone” in the history of disarmament.  The balanced document that fully met national security interests of the Russian Federation and the United States heralded the transition to a higher level of cooperation between the two countries in disarmament and non-proliferation, and would lay the foundation for qualitatively new relations in the military strategic area.  It would succeed the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START) of 1991, which had played a most important role in providing international peace, strategic stability and security.

He said that, although much from the previous START had been incorporated in the new Treaty, the document was nevertheless based on a fundamentally different philosophy.  While START 1 had been created in the environment of direct confrontations between the former Soviet Union and the United States, the Prague Treaty had been concluded between two countries which were partners in seeking solutions to common challenges in the area of disarmament, non-proliferation and the strengthening of strategic stability.  The Russian Federation and the United States had agreed to reduce the aggregate number of their warheads by one third and the number of strategic delivery means by more than half.

The signing of the Treaty in the run-up to the forthcoming NPT Review Conference proved the commitment of the two countries to implement their obligations under article VI of the NPT.  Last week, during the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., Russia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and the United States Secretary of State had signed the Protocol to the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement of Plutonium Designated as No Longer Required for Defence Purposes and Related Cooperation, which provided for the disposition by each part of 34 metric tons of plutonium.  During that Summit, the Russian side had also announced that it would shut down its Zheleznogorsk reactor that produced weapons-grade plutonium, which had been done on 15 April.

He hoped that the conclusion of the United States-Russian Federation Treaty to reduce strategic offensive arms would facilitate the strengthening of the weapons of mass destruction non-proliferation regimes and the expansion of the nuclear disarmament process, and he called on all States, without exception, and first and foremost those with nuclear arsenals, to join the Russian and United States effort to contribute actively to the disarmament process.

SUSAN RICE (United States) said that this month’s signing of a new START Treaty with the Russian Federation was a major milestone for nuclear disarmament the first concrete step towards the realization of President Obama’s goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.  It was also a large step towards establishing candour, cooperation and mutual respect in the area of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Underlining the significance of the agreement, she said that, together, the United States and the Russian Federation accounted for some 90 per cent of all the nuclear weapons in the world.  The agreement therefore represented a major step towards the implementation of article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which called for the reduction of existing arsenals.

Such reductions would better allow for meeting today’s security threats, she said, even as they reduced the role of nuclear weapons in defence strategies.  The pledge not to use weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States that were not in violation of the non-proliferation regime would also result in a more secure world.  However, all nations must recognize that the non-proliferation regime was undermined if violators were allowed to act with impunity, she stressed.

She pledged that her country would be constructive and flexible in efforts towards further reducing the threat of nuclear weapons and she encouraged all delegations to put aside dated arguments, in favour of a new era of partnership and progress.

Session 1

Following the opening statements this morning, the Assembly held an interactive panel discussion entitled “Strengthening multilateral commitments regarding weapons of mass destruction: The challenges and opportunities of disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.

Panellists included Rolf Ekéus, Chairperson of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute; Joan Rohlfing, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative; and Abdul Samad Minty, Deputy Director-General, Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa.  The discussion was moderated by Mona Juul of Norway, former Chair of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security).

Ms. JUUL said the discussion was timely because the world was at a critical juncture regarding disarmament and non-proliferation issues.  It was necessary to promote a comprehensive approach and to acknowledge that disarmament and arms reduction were at the core of both security and development policy.  The Non-Proliferation Treaty was critically important because it was the main multilateral framework for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  For too long, however, the disarmament pillar of the Treaty had been neglected; although today, the tide might be changing, as nuclear disarmament was again heeding the global agenda.  It was necessary to have a legally binding test ban and to deal with the vast existing stocks of nuclear weapons.  It was also important to accelerate the process of destroying nuclear weapons, as that would be the best way to ensure that they did not end up in the wrong hands.  Stressing that the issue was a matter for all of humanity, she said that all States had a responsibility to create the conditions for eliminating nuclear weapons, as they all had a stake in securing the planet for future generations.

Mr. EKÉUS said that the use of nuclear weapons could only have one purpose: to cause massive destruction, unspeakable human suffering and environmental degradation.  While recent scientific findings showed that climate change could cause the death of many millions of people, the massive use of existing nuclear weapons would destroy all life on earth.  The International Court of Justice in 1986 had held that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law, and in particular rules of humanitarian law.  The launch of a nuclear attack was thus a question of law and or of morality and a threat to survival or mankind.  Despite that, nine States in possession of nuclear weapons claimed the right to use those weapons against others.  As a rule, all of those States insisted that they needed to retain nuclear weapons to threaten other States, nuclear or non-nuclear.  Not all non-nuclear-weapon States were equal, however, and it was a diplomatic and political necessity to keep that distinction in mind when addressing the issue of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

He stressed that deterrence doctrines should be subjected to serious philosophical, intellectual and political scrutiny, so that there could be common understanding or agreement between all possessor States.  After nearly 20 years since the first Treaty on the Reduction of Strategic Weapons between the United States and the former Soviet Union, a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty had been signed between the two nations.  While some might be sceptical, the new accord contained systems for future control and verification.  The bilateral Treaty was a welcome step in the fulfilment of their NPT obligations.  The Treaty’s political significance was that it improved mutual confidence between the two signatories.

Indeed, that new agreement between the United States and Russian Federation should not prevent China, the United Kingdom and France from thinking about what they could do in regard to disarmament, he said.  At the very least, they should stop adding to their nuclear arsenals.  In addition, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) still required ratification by the United States and China, among others.  Turning to the Middle East, he said that a nuclear-weapon-free zone in that region would provide an indispensable framework for simultaneously addressing concerns about possible nuclear ambitions, as well as the suspected nuclear arsenals possessed by Israel.  The political complexity of the question required a fast approach.  Regarding South Asia, the area was a scene of aggressive proliferation, where regional tensions were growing in multiple directions.  The actors must be encouraged seriously to quickly move towards dismantling their arsenals, starting with ratification of the CTBT.

In Ms. ROHLFING’s view, the most important action towards advancing all three pillars of the NPT was to work on a most essential level on changing attitudes towards nuclear weapons.  She said that only through shifts in attitudes could States create new patterns of behaviour and norms that would guide the way they acted as nations.  The disarmament challenges were well known and many-fold. One of the key challenges was that the nations that had nuclear weapons continued to underscore their value in their security policies.  As long as that remained the case, those weapons would be considered relevant and desirable by others.  In addition, there was a continuing lack of political will among the international community, which was tied to the perceived value of nuclear weapons.  That was also tied to the legitimate security of States, which was a broader challenge for States to resolve.  In addition, there was a pervasive mistrust of the motives of States -– both nuclear and non-nuclear -– which impeded progress on the disarmament and non-proliferation front, she said.

There had been some very important shifts in the international dialogue on disarmament and non-proliferation, which, she said, stemmed from a “pivotal” opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal in January 2007 by four senior American statesmen: George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn.  The op-ed set out a vision for a world free of nuclear weapons and discussed the steps necessary to achieve that vision, and had helped to reshape the United States national security goals.  The world was clearly at a moment in time when there was a real opportunity to effect meaningful and lasting change, as had been witnessed by the important progress made in the relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation.  The stage was also set in Europe, in the context of a revision by Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of its nuclear policy.

She acknowledged that much more work remained to be done, however, particularly in building frameworks, as well as in the area of verification; in building enforcement mechanisms; in securing all nuclear materials; and in developing more effective rules for managing nuclear energy.  It was necessary to move beyond the “have and have not” divide if any progress was to be made.  It was also important to find one area where nations could work together as an international community and achieve some concrete disarmament progress.  One such initiative could be in the area of transparency.  A “global transparent initiative” could start with all States who had nuclear weapons declaring publicly the number of nuclear weapons they each had.  She also urged all States that had nuclear materials to declare their inventories for those materials.  Only through changes in attitudes could States create new norms and begin to make progress in establishing a new reality and a safer world, she concluded.

The third panellist, Mr. MINTY, stressed that the United Nations had a central role and primary responsibility in the sphere of disarmament.  The NPT -– including its three equally important pillars –- remained the most important international nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation legal instrument.  Its purpose and objectives could only be achieved based on the understanding that each of the Treaty’s articles was equally binding on all States parties, at all times and in all circumstances.  None of the States parties could choose to selectively apply outcomes of the Treaty-based system that suited them in particular circumstances, or at a given time.  The Treaty, as well as all of the consensus outcomes of its Review Conferences, constituted a regime that remained as valid as ever and which needed to be reaffirmed.

The lack of meaningful progress in the nuclear disarmament pillar of the Treaty was a cause of great concern and was recognized by the international community as a yardstick in assessing the relevance and usefulness of the Treaty as a contemporary instrument for maintaining international peace and security.  What was required at the 2010 Review Conference was not necessarily any new specific measures, but a recommitment to the full implementation of all existing legal obligations under the Treaty and the commitments agreed by consensus during past Treaty conferences.  While the ongoing process of nuclear arms reduction was important, it also remained important that they be done in a transparent, irreversible and verifiable manner.  Reducing the importance of nuclear weapons in security doctrines was another important step.  Reflecting on the multilateral dimension, he said the established instruments in the fields of non-proliferation and disarmament could effectively address the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.  Universal adherence to, full implementation of and compliance with those international agreements, and the complete and early elimination of those weapons would guarantee that they would never be used.

Furthermore, the long-outstanding entry into force of the Test-Ban Treaty continued to weaken the disarmament and non-proliferation regime.  It also undermined the international community’s quest for a world free of nuclear weapons.  In addition, negotiations banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices were long overdue in the Conference on Disarmament.  A verifiable fissile material cut-off treaty that fulfilled both nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation objectives should be negotiated, without any further delay, he said.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers highlighted the risks of proliferation, the need for further international cooperation, and the role of the United Nations in nuclear disarmament.  Several speakers stressed the problem of mistrust and misunderstanding among nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States, as well as the need for transparency in collective security.  Others stressed that there were no specific timelines or benchmarks to achieve nuclear disarmament objectives, and asked what could be done in that regard, while some questioned the use of nuclear energy for peaceful uses.  One speaker asked about the possibility of narrowing the range of participants in the negotiating process.

In response, Mr. MINTY said that mistrust was not born in a vacuum, but that there was a huge “confidence deficit” that must be addressed before talking about building trust.  It was also necessary to recognize that the NPT was essentially a discriminatory treaty, and that there were those who wished to perpetuate that discrimination.  Furthermore, when States focused on nuclear security, more should be done, but in the context of IAEA.  If the fundamental truths were ignored, then the kind of progress that was possible was not likely to be made.

Answering questions regarding her proposal for a transparency initiative, Ms. ROHLFING said a legally binding initiative would not be a “logical” point of departure.  It was necessary to begin with what was politically feasible and achievable in the near term, and she would welcome States voluntarily issuing information in an effort to be transparent about their nuclear weapons.  While she agreed that there was a need for stronger gestures, she believed a voluntary transparency initiative would be a very important first step towards establishing, not only transparency, but also trust and understanding.  She also agreed that States -– including non-nuclear-weapon States -– needed to be able to verify warhead disarmament, and said there were some important processes under way to help develop such procedures.

Mr. EKÉUS said that the panel discussion had demonstrated the sense among participants that there was a deficit meeting the disarmament obligations.  He reminded participants that the doctrines on weapons use must be addressed very seriously in order to move to the next step, namely a convention banning nuclear weapons.  Regarding the Middle East, he stressed that it was necessary to build pressure, as well as to focus and organize.  He also stressed the importance of universality of the NPT.

Participating in the panel discussion were the representatives of Bangladesh, Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Pakistan, Kuwait, Belarus, Algeria and Kazakhstan.

An observer from the Holy See also participated.

Session 2

The second panel discussion was devoted to “Enhancing security through the regulation of arms:  security needs, military expenditures, the arms trade and arms availability”, and was moderated by José Luis Cancela (Uruguay), Chair of the First Committee.

Panellists were Jayantha Dhanapala, President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and former Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs; and Camilo Reyes Rodríguez, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia and former Chair of the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects.

At the outset, an opportunity was given to the representatives of Mexico, Nigeria, United Kingdom, Syria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Mongolia to comment on this morning’s panel discussion.

Opening the second session, the moderator, Mr. CANCELA, said that today’s debate was a basic affirmation of the competence of the Assembly in disarmament issues.  Unfortunately, as result of events, two panellists had not been able to attend.

Mr. DHANAPALA said only modest progress had been made towards achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world, but that did not imply that that the production, trade and use of conventional weapons should continue as before, let alone be accelerated.  At the same time, standing armies and military expenditure commensurate with the security needs of nation States were inevitable, as the right to use force in the case of self-defence had been recognized.

He said that international peace and security, development and human rights were the three pillars of the United Nations; pillars which were interlinked and mutually reinforcing.  The goal of national security of States in defence against external threats must be ensured, but States must also ensure the human security and protection of the individual.  International security, national security and human security must be fused together, and the General Assembly had the ability to coordinate those goals.

The international community had been rather silent on the amount of money spent on arms, he noted.  The integrated concept of security was based on weapons security.  As a consequence, the global military expenditure in 2008 had been $1,464 billion, of which the five permanent members of the Security Council accounted for 60.3 per cent.  That stood in “stark contrast” to the 1.4 billion people who lived in extreme poverty.  “At the very least, we must have security at the lowest possible levels of arms expenditure,” he said, but noted that, despite the current “great recession”, military expenditure remained at “unconscionably high levels”.

It was therefore timely, he said, that the proposal for an arms trade treaty was gaining ground.  Such a treaty should enter into force as soon as possible, he noted, saying that a legally binding norm did not need to be accepted by consensus to enter into force.  “That would be setting a precedent in international law -- providing any nation the right to veto the finalization of a highly desirable treaty in the common interest.”  The two existing mechanisms -– the Register of Conventional Arms and the Standardized Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditure -- remained voluntary and participation was not universal.  The arms trade therefore was one of the least transparent aspects of international trade.  Excessive secrecy in the name of national security allowed corruption to fester.  A robust arms trade treaty must ensure the elimination of corruption.

There should be parallel processes of arms regulation and disarmament in both weapons of mass destruction and in conventional weapons, he said.  The precision of today’s guided missiles and other advanced weaponry had not reduced the mistakes made on battlefields or the number of civilian deaths.  Yet, many developing countries had been drawn to arms trade fairs.  In the fight against illicit drug trafficking, the emphasis was on the supply side while the demand side was soft-pedalled, but the opposite was true in the arms trade.  The supply-side was generously supported, while conflicts were fuelled by supplies to both State and non-State actors, with terrorist groups exploiting the gaps in export controls.  The proliferation of small arms and light weapons was a post-cold war phenomenon in which the United Nations had taken the lead in trying to arrest and reverse it.

Regarding missiles, he said there was a need for confidence-building measures, such as establishment of missile-free zones, warnings of test launches and other voluntary restraints.  As for outer space, he said that although satellites had military uses, outer space had not yet been weaponized.  Time was running out, however.  The Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space had still not been able to ensure that outer space would be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Drawing attention to disarmament and peace education, he said that peace based solely on the political will of Governments was not enough.  Peace must be founded on the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.  Disarmament must get support of the people at the grass-roots level.  “We have to educate our people to replace a culture of weapons and violence with a new culture of peace and disarmament,” he said, adding that that was where civil society and non-governmental organizations played a role.

Mr. REYES RODRÍGUEZ emphasized the importance of the work done by the United Nations to combat the scourge of the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons, which had led to the adoption in 2001 of the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.  The Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition as an addition to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime should also be acknowledged, as well as the instrument to trace and mark weapons.

He said that two outstanding issues should be addressed: the prohibition on States to transfer small arms and light weapons to non-State actors; and the prohibition, or restriction, of the possession, transfer and use of weapons by civilians.  Two initiatives were important in that regard, namely an arms trade treaty and the launching of a process that would make the Programme of Action a legally binding agreement.  Universalization was also important.

The 2001 Action Programme had been developed on the understanding that its implementation would be carried out in cooperation between civil society, States and the international community.  It had become obvious, however, that there was a need to deal with the manufacture, sale and trafficking of small arms and light weapons and ammunition, since those activities contributed to violence and the impact of those weapons.  He noted in that regard the absence of reliable records for over 80 per cent of the trade in ammunition.

Some of the actions identified in the Action Programme were essential, he said, including increasing and strengthening international cooperation and assistance for the plan’s implementation; increasing South-South cooperation; marking and tracing, both by manufacturing and importing States; a register of arms manufacturers; and developing legislation and regulations on arms brokering.  It was also necessary to strengthen States’ capacity to improve stockpile security.

He suggested an increased participation of regional organizations and the convening of a meeting of regional and international non-governmental organizations.  There was an arms race in Latin America.  The region watched with deep concern the increase in military spending and the lack of information on the disposal of surplus.  The international community should address the transfer of weapons from States to civilians and the indoctrination of children.

Although some progress had been made at the national level, the State could increase human and financial resources to implement the Action Programme, he said.   Work should progress towards education for children and youth.  Non-violent political action must be developed to remove weapons from the interaction between individuals and society.  “We must create the psychological, social and political elements to replace small arms,” he said.  The role of women at home and within their community was vital to ensure the reduction of violence.

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers from the Latin American and Caribbean region commented on the devastating impact the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons had on the fabric of society, and drew attention to the link of that trade with illicit drug trafficking.  A possible arms trade treaty should explicitly prohibit the sale of such weapons to non-State actors, some speakers urged.  They also stressed the need to convert the Action Programme into a legally binding instrument and called on States that had not yet done so to ratify the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol.  Speakers from the African region noted that small arms and light weapons on their continent were the “weapons of mass destabilization”.  Attention was also drawn to the phenomenon of self-made weapons in developing countries.

Addressing the issue of conventional disarmament, some speakers noted that the international community should take into account States’ need to protect their security, stressing that it was up to national Governments to decide on the requirements needed to exercise their right to self-defence.  The right to self-determination and the illegality of foreign occupation should also be taken into account.  The right of States to maintain their territorial integrity had been mostly absent from discussions, which traditionally just addressed the right to self-defence in inter-State conflicts.

Participants in the discussion stressed that a possible arms trade treaty should not be discriminatory, as was the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Moreover, it should be transparent and verifiable, and should include such issues as marking, tracing and brokering.  Other speakers noted that the arms trade treaty being negotiated was not a disarmament measure, but a measure to regulate trade.  As for the demand for consensus to make a treaty binding, one speaker noted that, although consensus was preferable, it was inappropriate to use it as a tool to obstruct the outcome of negotiations.

Responding to questions and comments, Mr. DHANAPALA turned to the question of whether conventional weapons supplied to non-State actors were justifiable in the exercise of the right to self-determination by liberation movements.  He said that, until now, the international community had not agreed on a definition of terrorism, even though 13 instruments in that regard existed.  There was still a lack of agreement on the distinction between non-State actors, terrorists and liberation movements.  Although some States might therefore justify supply of arms to liberation movements, many terrorist groups had taken on the mantle of a liberation group, as had been the case in Sri Lanka.  Greater clarity and agreement on what was a liberation group and what was a terrorist group was needed.

Stressing that Article 51 of the United Nations Charter guaranteed the right to self-defence, he said that in situations where countries perceived a threat to their territorial integrity or independence, the need for arms was clear.  It was also necessary to integrate national security with international security so that one nation’s security was not achieved at the expense of another’s.  However, confidence-building and transparency measures would make countries less insecure.

As for the question of consensus regarding the arms trade treaty, he said it was unreasonable to stipulate consensus as a benchmark for the acceptance of a norm.  A norm could be established to which States could accede in a later stage, as had been the case with the NPT.  That Treaty had not always had 108 States parties, after all. 

Mr. REYES RODRÍGUEZ, addressing the issue of handmade weapons, said there was a need to develop better legislation in that regard.  In Latin America, legislation had not progressed enough to establish control of production.  At the international level, norms were “scarce, strange and not fully developed”.  Another aspect, however, was the fact that ammunition was not handmade, but produced by companies that could appear in registries.  That could be used to try to stem the problem, he said.

The subject of weapon transfers by States to non-State actors had been an important part of the discussion in the 2001 Conference leading to adoption of the Programme of Action and the subject remained on the agenda.  Although the Action Programme was not yet universal, a large number of States were already complying with it and it was being referred to by many non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations.  Universalization might yet be achieved, but it was important to make the instrument legally binding.  Control of small arms and light weapons, however, should not be seen as a process that weakened the principles of the Charter.

Participating in the discussion were the representatives of Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Colombia, Mexico, Egypt, United Republic of Tanzania, Nigeria, Indonesia, Jamaica, Ecuador, United Kingdom, Australia, Pakistan, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Peru.

Concluding Remarks

Ms. JUUL (Norway) said that what she had heard from speakers in the thematic debate was that, yes, there was still much disagreement on the way to move forward on disarmament, though progress was being made and remaining differences were not widening.  The debate had certainly contributed to deliberations for the May NPT Review Conference and laid the groundwork for further action.  Her Government was very much in favour of pushing forward disarmament in the General Assembly, and for that reason, she had been happy to be able to take part in today’s discussions.

Mr. CANCELA (Uruguay) said he fervently hoped that the current opportunities would bring about a commitment to advance disarmament.  “With realism, pragmatism and resolve we must move forward,” he urged.  It was important to remember that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and control of conventional weapons were parallel processes and both related to fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter.  It was also important to remember that, every day, thousands of people died because of the use of small arms and light weapons.

He also highlighted the importance of the General Assembly in making progress in disarmament and non-proliferation, affirming that, in organizing this debate and facilitating the participation of civil society and regional representatives, the Assembly was demonstrating its competence in disarmament issues.  The ideas discussed today, such as that of turning existing instruments into legally binding ones, represented important contributions to such progress.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.