6 April 1998


6 April 1998

Press Release


19980406 Also, Chairman Announces Ratification Today By United Kingdom, France, of Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban

The European Union was currently considering proposals for a European code of conduct on arms exports for its member States, and encouraged other major arms exporters to adopt a similar code, the representative of the United Kingdom said this morning, as the Disarmament Commission began the work of its current session.

Speaking for the Union and associated States, he cited the horrific problems caused by the accumulation and illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and encouraged all States to provide complete information to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. He also stressed the importance which the Union attached to the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones.

At the outset of the meeting, Commission Chairman Sergey Martynov (Belarus) announced that the United Kingdom and France had today ratified the Comprehensive-Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). He also stressed the unique role the Commission could play during the current session to bring the international community a step closer to building a secure world.

During the session, the Commission will be focusing on three issues: the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones; the development of guidelines on conventional arms control, limitation and disarmament; and preparations for a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.

The representative of Bangladesh said that developing countries, which were emerging as the major users and victims of conventional weapons, should limit their acquisition to a level commensurate with legitimate national security needs. The weapon-exporting countries should also exercise restraint in selling them.

The representative of Japan said that a fourth special session on disarmament would catalyse further developments in the disarmament sphere if the international community could reach a common understanding as to its timing, purpose and agenda. To achieve such an understanding, an agreement must be forged between the nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States.

Disarmament Commission - 1a - Press Release DC/2600 Resumed 218th Meeting (AM) 6 April 1998

Also this morning, the Commission elected Aguirre de Carcer (Spain) as Chairman of its working group on the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones. It has yet to elect Chairmen for its working groups on the special session and on conventional arms control.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Colombia and Indonesia.

The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. this afternoon to continue its general exchange of views.

Commission Work Programme

The Disarmament Commission met this morning to begin its 1998 substantive session. During the session, which concludes on 28 April, the Commission will consider the following key issues: the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones; the forthcoming special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament; and guidelines on conventional arms control, limitation and disarmament. As in the past, it will establish three working groups to address those questions.

The General Assembly last year reaffirmed the Commission's role as the specialized, deliberative body within the United Nations multilateral machinery that allows for in-depth deliberations on specific disarmament issues, leading to the submission of concrete recommendations. In other words, the Commission prepares an issue, but does not negotiate it. Items deliberated in the Commission subsequently tend to turn up on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament, the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament.

Over the years, the Commission has developed a number of confidence- and security-building measures, including the 1993 United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. It has also promoted guidelines and recommendations regarding objective information on military matters and regional approaches to disarmament.

Report of Disarmament Commission

With no new items on the Commission's agenda, its 1997 report will form the basis for the current deliberations (document A/52/42).

In its consideration of nuclear-weapon-free zones, the Commission is to consider such related subjects as the role of such zones in enhancing peace, security and stability; the characteristics of the region, including geographical definition; and the relationship between nuclear-weapon-free zones and existing nuclear-non-proliferation and disarmament treaties. The Commission hopes to elaborate the principles for the establishment of such zones, as well as the institutional role played by the United Nations in that process. However, specific recommendations are not expected to emerge until next year.

The Commission's discussions are likely to touch on further consolidation of existing zones, as established by the Treaties of Tlatelolco, for Latin America and the Caribbean; Rarotonga, for the South Pacific; Bangkok, for South- East Asia; and Pelindaba, for Africa. Resumed debate over the establishment of similar zones in the Middle East and Central and South Asia is also anticipated.

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With respect to the Assembly's fourth special session on disarmament, the Commission generally agreed last year that the session could be convened, subject to the emergence of a consensus on its objectives and agenda. Although no consensus was reached, some progress was made. It was also generally agreed that the decision to convene the special session should follow the procedure set forth in previous ones. Agreement on the date and the elements of a provisional agenda was anticipated at the current session. Conclusion of this item in the Commission would create an opening for a new agenda item at its next substantive session, a matter the Commission was likely to review.

Current discussions will likely revisit the disagreement over the convening of the special session, which reflects the division over how to proceed on nuclear disarmament. The previous special session on disarmament was held 10 years ago, and many countries believe that in view of the changed security situation -- arising from the end of the cold war and the emergence of new conflicts fuelled by conventional arms -- a special session would provide an opportunity to reassess disarmament. Other countries, notably the nuclear- weapon States, have expressed concern that the proposed special session would be one more way to focus multilateral debate on nuclear disarmament at a time when bilateral negotiations were under way.

Following the working group's consideration last year of guidelines on conventional arms control, limitation and disarmament, it agreed that a comprehensive approach and further initiatives were needed. The illicit arms trade, in particular, continued to disproportionately affect the internal security and socio-economic development of many States. The group felt that conventional weapons guidelines should emphasize the consolidation of peace in post-conflict situations. They should not be mandatory or prescriptive, and should be adopted by consensus. A list of further actions on the illicit arms trade was developed, including measures on arms collection and disposal; turn-in/buy-back programmes; post-conflict moratoriums on the import and manufacture of small arms; and voluntary, global codes of conduct for arms transfers.

Current events have advanced momentum on this item. Its consideration also flows, in part, from the Secretary-General's report on the recommendations unanimously approved by the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms (document A/52/298). In the report, he notes that small arms and light weapons have been the primary or sole tools of violence in almost every recent conflict addressed by the United Nations. As such, those weapons have become a priority concern in efforts to rid the world of the scourge of war and the burden of armaments. Some of the most protracted armed conflicts present in the world deprive a State of its authority to cope with either the causes or the consequences of an excessive accumulation, proliferation and use of small arms. Effective measures against small arms would address both ends of that spectrum, he states.

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SERGEY MARTYNOV (Belarus), Chairman, said that the presence at today's meeting of the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, and the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament once again underlined the Commission's importance and the high expectations Member States had for it. The eve of the third millennium was marked by considerable achievements in the disarmament and security spheres. Upon the opening today of the current session, the United Kingdom and France deposited their ratification instruments to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The Commission had before it a number of topical disarmament issues, he said. With the thirtieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Partial Test-Ban Treaty, the creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones grew increasingly relevant. Recent progress in developing and observing such agreements vividly demonstrated the desire by the international community to establish and strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Six related resolutions were adopted by the General Assembly at its fifty-second session, and new regional initiatives were emerging.

Although there were certain differences in approach to the objectives, agenda and timing of the fourth special session of the Assembly on disarmament, the session offered an opportunity to assess achievements and failures and devise future recommendations, he said. The importance of elaborating guidelines on conventional arms could not be over-emphasized. The acute problems relating to conventional arms were omnipresent and clearly affected international security and disarmament. In providing guidelines, the Commission would substantively increase its contribution to the development of guidelines on confidence-building measures and arms transfers.

The Commission's activities were of great significance at the present decisive juncture, he said. It had a unique and undiminished role to play as a universal international body which allowed an in-depth search for solutions in the area of disarmament, while relying on the widest possible participation by States and their synergetic wisdom. At the same time, it had before it a challenge to revitalize, rationalize and streamline its work. Overall, the Commission's work this year would bring the international community a step closer to building the secure world it deserved.

HISAO YAMAGUCHI (Japan) welcomed the international conference on "Sustainable disarmament for sustainable development", to be held in Brussels this October within the framework of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Japan placed the highest priority on the importance of developing guidelines for United Nations peacekeeping operations in their activities for post-conflict

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demobilization, with particular emphasis on the collection and disposal of small arms and light weapons.

The development of an effective nuclear-weapon-free-zone should be supported by all the countries concerned, including the nuclear-weapon States, he said. It should in no way jeopardize the peace and safety of the region concerned or the world as a whole. Appropriate safeguard measures, including inspection and verification, should be established in the zone. Also, it should be established in conformity with the principles of international law, including that of free navigation on the high seas.

He said the idea of having a special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament appealed to many delegations. Remarkable progress was under way in the reduction of nuclear weapons, and a special session would catalyse further disarmament developments if the international community could reach a common understanding as to its timing, purpose and agenda. In trying to establish such a common understanding, it was imperative to forge an agreement between the nuclear-weapon States and the non-nuclear-weapon States. It must also be taken into consideration the fact that holding the session had huge financial implications.

He welcomed the initiative taken by the new Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, to take a fresh look at the role of the Disarmament Commission. Without prejudging the outcome of that review, Japan would prefer a shorter period for the Commission's substantive meetings. That view was shared by many disciples of the disarmament cause, whose possible creative contributions were being somewhat hampered by the burden of attending a series of almost uninterrupted meetings in various disarmament forums.

IAN SOUTER (United Kingdom), spoke on behalf of the European Union as well as for Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Iceland and Norway. He said the Union was concerned that none of the Commission's three working groups had been able to adopt more than a procedural report last year. The Union was concerned about that development and urged all delegations to approach this year's session in a more constructive and flexible spirit.

He said the Union continued to attach importance to the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free-zones, freely arrived at among States of the region concerned, which strengthened regional and international peace and security. The advances in recent years in that area and the support given by nuclear- weapon States must be applauded. The names Tlatelolco, Rarotonga and Pelindaba were now well ensconced in the lexicon of disarmament and arms control. In addition, the nuclear-weapon States continued to engage in a constructive dialogue with the countries of south-east Asia on the Treaty of

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Bangkok. The ball was also beginning to roll on the establishment of a Central Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone.

The Union continued to believe that the fourth Special Session on Disarmament should look at disarmament and non-proliferation issues in the context of the current and future security environment, he said. The need for a revised, realistic and up-to-date disarmament agenda was well known. If the special session was to fulfil its true potential and not to go the way as its predecessors, there should be a consensus on its objectives. The international community should agree on what it wanted to get out of the session. It should not be convened without such consensus. Its agenda should strike a balance between issues relating to weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons.

Conventional disarmament and arms control could not be ignored, he said. The proliferation of small arms had now taken centre stage. The horrific effects and problems caused by illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and their accumulation in certain regions were well known. The Union endorsed the recommendations of the Panel of Governmental Experts on small arms and welcomed the forthcoming designation of a new panel of experts to provide the international community with some practical guidelines.

The Union encouraged all States to submit full returns to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, he said. The Union was currently considering proposals for a European code of conduct on arms exports, to set high common standards among all members of the Union. It would encourage other major arms exporters to adopt a similar code.

If the Disarmament Commission was to maintain its value to Member States, it needed to reflect on how to improve itself, he said. Sufficient time should be set aside during the 1998 session for a debate, followed by decisions, on how to make the Commission more effective and more productive. Its working methods must be improved, in order to use the time and resources allotted to the substantive session in the most efficient and economic manner.

ANDELFO J. GARCIA (Colombia) said that the possibility of working on issues in depth and the universality of the Commission were two essential elements and comparative advantages of that body -- as envisaged in the Final Document of the first special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament. The Commission had already identified a list of potential items for future agendas.

At the outset of the Commission's third year of work on a fourth special session, it was clear that, despite a lack of consensus on the session's objectives and agenda, some progress had been made, he said. Colombia supported the position of the Non-Aligned Movement regarding the special session. It was time for a comprehensive review of the disarmament situation

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in light of post-cold-war circumstances, and the special session represented the appropriate forum for that.

The inclusion on the Commission's agenda of an item on nuclear-weapon- free zones reflected their growing importance, he said. The establishment of such zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among regional States strengthened the nuclear non-proliferation regime and promoted international peace and security at both regional and global levels. The working group on that issue should reflect on the practice in existing zones and make recommendations on the establishment of new zones, including in the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as on the consolidation of a nuclear- weapon-free southern hemisphere and adjacent areas.

ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that the Commission's current session assumed a new significance with the upgrading of the Centre for Disarmament Affairs into the Department of Disarmament Affairs. With the end of the cold war, it was time to seize the opportunity and advance disarmament through rational and business-like negotiations among States. There was room in the Commission for harmonious, professional work resulting in end-products that had a definite, positive impact on the global disarmament scenario. However, it remained important to limit the work of the session to a three- item phased agenda, which contributed to the Commission's efficiency.

Bangladesh supported the total elimination of nuclear weapons, and nuclear-weapon-free zones could supplement global efforts towards that objective, he said. The 1997 Almaty Declaration by the Heads of State of five Central Asian countries had laid the foundation for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia. The Commission's work in that arena would advance that positive trend.

Bangladesh called for the early convening of the fourth special session on disarmament, he said. It was time for the international community to review the implementation of the Final Document of the first special session on disarmament (held in 1978), and take stock of the post-cold war international disarmament and security situation. Only through a fourth special session could the disarmament agenda be addressed with the comprehensiveness and thoroughness it deserved. Budgetary constraints notwithstanding, such a session would further the cause of general and complete disarmament. The Commission should overcome divergent positions and pave the way for that session.

While weapons of mass destruction remained one of the greatest menaces to civilization, the heavy toll taken by conventional weapons could not be overlooked, he said. Excessive accumulations of such arms could be a major destabilizing factor, as evidenced by the millions of people affected by regional wars and conflicts since the Second World War. Developing countries, which were emerging as the major users and victims of such weapons, should

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attempt to limit their acquisition to a level commensurate with legitimate security needs. The weapon-exporting countries should also exercise restraint in selling them. The Commission's guidelines regarding such weapons should take final shape during the current session.

He added that without a foolproof and balanced regime of transparency in armaments, all efforts at elaborating treaties or guidelines would be ineffective. Such transparency should apply not only to the acquisition of armaments, but also their production, use, stockpiling and export.

MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia) said the main focus in the disarmament arena should be the pursuit of further deep reductions in current stockpiles with a view to their ultimate elimination, while curbing the vertical and horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons and banning the use of fissile materials for weapons purposes. The effort to establish nuclear weapon-free- zones had demonstrated the success of regional initiatives. In-depth consideration of the ideas and approaches already advanced should lead to progress in the formulation of guidelines and recommendations for the establishment of new nuclear-weapon-free-zones as a viable means of enhancing peace and security, both globally and regionally.

All aspects of nuclear disarmament should be considered at the fourth special session on disarmament, he said. Attention should also be given to such issues as the reduction of armed forces and conventional armaments. There was a need to enhance and strengthen the United Nations role in the disarmament field, and practical measures were needed to increase the effectiveness of the existing disarmament machinery. Disarmament and related issues needed to be clearly and urgently reassessed.

He stressed the need for confidence-building measures and restraint in armaments in order to forestall turmoil and instability in post-conflict situations. Such measures should be undertaken in coordination with a disarmament programme aimed at stemming the proliferation of weapons, preventing illicit arms acquisitions and demobilizing and reintegrating former combatants into unified armed forces. Those measures must be coordinated by the States themselves, as well as by the regional and subregional organizations concerned, with the aim of ensuring security and stability and rebuilding societies towards socio-economic development.

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For information media. Not an official record.