12 April 1999


12 April 1999

Press Release


19990412 Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Says Commission Can Promote 'Sustainable Disarmament' by Highlighting Common Objectives

"Sustainable disarmament" had lagged far behind sustainable development, but the Disarmament Commission had an opportunity to contribute to the former by shedding light on common objectives, as well as on the differences that divided States, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, told the Commission this morning, as its began its 1999 substantive session.

He said that the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones -- one of three issues before the Commission at the current -- challenged international diplomacy. Yet, the nightmare of a world full of "nuclear-weapon-full zones" should be a motivation to continue the efforts. As for the possible convening of a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, he said there was an urgent need to weave the epochal international changes into the multilateral disarmament order, but to seek end results when the Commission's charge was to promote agreement on the agenda and timing would be putting the cart before the horse. On the issue of formulating conventional arms control guidelines, he said advocacy on practical disarmament measures need not compromise the right to self-defence nor draw attention from nuclear disarmament.

Also on the conventional arms control question, the South African representative highlighted his Government's landmark decision to destroy all surplus, redundant, obsolete and confiscated arms and light weapons by the end of 1999, rather than sell them on the open market. The new structure for arms transfers was based on a number of political, technical, social, humanitarian and economic factors, and sought to ensure that due restraint was exercised in the transfer of arms and related technologies.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, the representative of Germany warned that the Commission's future role depended on the success of its current endeavours and the conclusion of the three items

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before it. To complete consideration of those issues required hard work, but only substantive outcomes could justify the time, effort and resources provided the Commission.

Similarly, the Commission Chairman, Maged Abdelaziz (Egypt), said that failure to reach agreement in the wake of accelerated negative disarmament developments would damage the credibility of the United Nations in the field of disarmament. The absence of consensus last year on the convening of a fourth special session was particularly troubling and required an infusion of political will. On the other hand, the existence of a high level of agreement among members on an integrated approach to certain practical disarmament measures in the conventional weapons field, as well as the resolve to complete that subject, should enable members to adopt the necessary guidelines.

The Algerian representative noted that the current political climate, particularly the situation in South Asia and the absence of concrete results in the second preparatory committee of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), had reinforced the need for determined work in the disarmament and security arenas.

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

Commission Work Programme

The Disarmament Commission met this morning to begin its annual substantive session, for which it will consider the following three topics: establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones; a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament; and conventional arms control guidelines.

The current session marks the final year of the Commission's consideration of all three items. Thus, it will attempt to adopt consensus documents on each. If it is unable to do so, the Commission will either extend or suspend its consideration of the items, for the time being.

Two issues -- conventional arms control and the creation of nuclear- weapon-free zones -- are in their third year of discussion, as part of the Commission's usual three-year cycle of agenda items. In an effort to reach agreement on the objectives and agenda for a fourth special session, the Commission has extended consideration of that issue for a fourth year.

As in the past, the Commission has established three working groups to address the agenda items. Working group I, on nuclear-weapon-free zones, will attempt to elaborate the principles and recommendations for the zones' establishment and define the United Nations role in that process. Reaching agreement on the fourth special session will be the task of the second working group, while the third is expected to formulate guidelines for controlling and limiting conventional arms.

Background on Commission

The Commission is 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. Thus, 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 1992 United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, which contains data and information by governments on the imports and exports of seven categories of conventional weapons. It has also promoted guidelines and recommendations regarding objective information on military matters and regional approaches to disarmament.

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Report of Disarmament Commission

With no new items on the Commission's agenda, its 1998 report will form the basis for the current deliberations (document A/53/42). It contains the reports of the three working groups.

The report of working group I on nuclear-weapon-free zones is based on a wide range of working papers which were forwarded to the current session for further analysis. It contains a working paper from the group's Chairman which highlights the successes of existing zones and defines the prerequisites for their creation -- namely that they should derive from arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the region concerned and originate solely from those States, and take into account all relevant specific characteristics of the region. It also reviews regional initiatives aimed at establishment of such zone in the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia, as well as Mongolia.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones could be a crucial instrument in promoting the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the text states. The zones significantly reinforced and expanded on the obligations of non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) not to acquire nuclear weapons and to develop and use nuclear energy only under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. In addition, the zones might serve as a framework for international cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in a region, so as to promote States parties' economic, scientific and technological development.

The second working group reported that, despite its third year of consideration of the proposed fourth special session of the Assembly devoted to disarmament, it had not been possible to reach consensus on the objectives and agenda of such a session. However, the Commission considered that the chairman's paper, which is annexed to the report, represented an earnest and constructive attempt to bridge the gap in positions on those questions and to reach a consensus.

The chairman's paper identifies objectives for a fourth special session. Those included: setting the future course of action in order to strengthen international peace and security; assessing the implementation of the Final Document of the first special session on disarmament; and establishing an agreed programme of action in the disarmament sphere that would strengthen the central role of the United Nations and promote multilateralism in disarmament.

By that paper, the session's agenda should include implementation of the Final Document of the first special session; developments in the international situation, including global, regional and subregional trends; nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation; other weapons of mass destruction; conventional weapons issues; regional disarmament; and confidence- and

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security-building measures and transparency. Questions pertaining to the universality of existing agreements, verification and compliance, and the relationship between disarmament and development were among the other issues to be included.

The report of the working group on guidelines on conventional arms control, limitation and disarmament expresses the group's hope that it will be able to complete the guidelines in 1999, when it considers that issue for the third time. The group Chairman's paper states that the conventional arms control guidelines -- which are neither mandatory nor prescriptive and are to be adopted by consensus -- should emphasize the consolidation of peace in post-conflict situations, while promoting peace and stability generally. In addition, they should emphasize the importance of a coordinated approach between practical disarmament measures and the broader economic, political, social and humanitarian aspects of post-conflict rehabilitation.

Also according to the paper, guidelines should encompass practical disarmament measures relevant to a conflict about to be resolved or recently ended, and aim at preventing its re-emergence. Such measures could include arms collection and destruction, demining and demobilization. They should also encompass other conventional arms control and confidence-building measures, transparency in armaments and combating the illicit arms trade, particularly with respect to small arms and light weapons.

Commission Membership

The Commission completed the composition of its Bureau at two organizational meetings held on 2 December 1998 and 22 March with the election of a Chairman, 8 Vice-Chairmen and a Rapporteur, as follows: Maged Abdelaziz (Egypt), Chairman; Maria Angelica Arce de Jeannet (Mexico), Moctar Ouane (Mali), Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan (Mongolia), Felipe Mabilangan (Philippines), Vice Skracic (Croatia), Milos Koterec (Slovakia), Pier Benedetto Francese (Italy), Rui Vinhas (Portugal), Vice-Chairmen; and Gaile Ann Ramoutar (Trinidad and Tobago), Rapporteur.

The Chairmen of the working groups are: Emilio Izquierdo (Ecuador), on the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones; Michael Hoey (Ireland), on guidelines on conventional arms control/limitation and disarmament; and Arizal Effendi (Indonesia) on the fourth special session of the Assembly on disarmament.

Chairman's Statement

MAGED ABDELAZIZ (Egypt), Commission Chairman, said the Commission must take stock of changing international realities and face diverse challenges, in order to enhance the role of the United Nations in achieving lofty goals on all disarmament issues. The last year of the millennium should serve as an

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incentive for widening the scope of agreement on disarmament policies and actions for the new millennium, including reaching agreement on all the issues before the Commission in the current session, thus allowing a better start for a new phase of the Commission's work.

Turning to the work being done in the three working groups, he said that the work in the first group on the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones had reached an advanced state. That was a positive development, which should enable members to finalize that subject by the end of the session and adopt the guidelines and, if possible, specific recommendations on the establishment of such zones. Such an accomplishment would complement the increasing support of the General Assembly for resolutions on the establishment of a nuclear- weapon-free southern hemisphere, and for the creation of zones in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Concerning the work of the second working group, he noted that the General Assembly had adopted the resolution on the special session without a vote, for the second year. Hopefully, the Commission would reach the desired consensus on the objectives and agenda, as well as on the date for convening that important and long-awaited session. The work of the Commission in that context was not intended to substitute for a preparatory committee. Rather, the Commission should seek to agree on the "broad parameters, concepts and topics" that compose the broad lines of the objectives and agenda and leave the details to the preparatory committee.

The absence of agreement last year was of concern, he said. One or two issues remained, requiring much more political will. Failure to reach agreement on the eve of the new millennium and in the wake of accelerated negative developments in disarmament would damage the credibility of the United Nations in the field of disarmament. On the other hand, a high level of agreement existed on the importance of an integrated approach towards certain practical disarmament measures in the conventional weapons field, including small arms and light weapons, confidence-building, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, and demining and conversion. The resolve of members to complete that subject should enable it to adopt the necessary guidelines by the end of the session.

Statement by Under-Secretary-General

JAYANTHA DHANAPALA, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, said global norms, especially disarmament norms, were not created overnight, but emerged from painstaking deliberation, consensus building and negotiation. The Commission played an important role in their evolutionary process, by identifying general principles and suggesting concrete measures to achieve them. Its deliberations were most significant for the light they shed on common objectives, and the differences that arose underscored the need for this deliberative forum. There was a symbiotic relationship between the

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various parts of the United Nations architecture for disarmament; each was part of the grand design laid down in the Final Declaration of the first special session.

The first issue before it was establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, he said. The Assembly had been discussing the issue since 1956, and the right to establish them was recognized explicitly in the NPT. According to the working paper now before the Commission, such zones represented more than half the world's land mass. The Department of Disarmament Affairs was currently assisting with a treaty text for a Central Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone under discussion in the region. More deliberation was needed on specifics of such zones, and their establishment in the Middle East, South Asia and Central Europe remained a challenge for international diplomacy. But, the nightmare of a world of many "nuclear-weapon-full zones" should be sufficient inducement for progress.

On the second issue -- a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament -- agreement had proven elusive, but the persistence and depth of support for such a session was clear, he said. The Assembly's decision to hold it subject to consensus on objectives and agenda, made at its fifty-third session, showed that body considered disarmament a high priority. It was still considered a public good with profound implications.

Twenty-one years had passed since the production of the Final Document of the first special session, he continued, and that document remained the high watermark of multilateral consensus on disarmament. There was an urgent need to weave the epochal changes, the fresh challenges and the new forces into a multilateral disarmament order. When the proposal for the fourth special session was considered, it might be necessary to be modest and confine discussion to the terms of the resolution. To attempt to negotiate end results when the Commission was charged to "promote agreement on the agenda and timing" would put the cart before the horse.

On the third issue -- guidelines on control, limitation and disarmament for conventional arms -- the underlying approach had given the Secretary- General a broad mandate to respond to requests from Member States for assistance in post-conflict situations. Small arms raised a number of difficult problems for international peace and security, aggravated by a lack of reliable data on their production and sale and coupled with their growing lethality and easy black market availability. The two decisions of the Assembly's last session -- resolutions 53/77 M and T -- constituted evidence of the world community's concern with the issue. Advocacy on practical disarmament measures need not compromise the right to self-defence nor distract attention from nuclear disarmament. It was highly appropriate that the Commission should seek consensus around further initiatives for practical disarmament measures.

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Achievements for disarmament had lagged far behind the progress that had come with the advent of sustainable development, he said. Like development, disarmament was also a process, and one that must be sustained over many years, pursued through many venues and opened to contributions from many entities. The Commission's considerations contributed to "sustainable disarmament" -- the natural complement to sustainable development. Disarmament without development would be ephemeral.

What history and logic said about the prerequisites for a more peaceful and prosperous world must be heeded, he said. Much that had happened recently might lead to despair about the future of disarmament. Yet, its future might not be so dim, since it appealed directly to both the self-interest and the ideals of all peoples of the United Nations. It had weathered worse storms, and civil society's efforts continued unabated. The stakes were so large, that the Commission's work must also continue unabated, despite the obstacles.


GUNTHER SEIBERT (Germany), speaking on behalf of the European Union, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Iceland and Norway, said it was an important year for the Commission, as two items were in their third year and one was extended into its fourth. To complete those items would require hard work, and the future role of the Commission would depend on the success of its endeavours. The time, effort and resources put into the Commission's session would only be justified by substantive outcomes.

The Union believed nuclear-weapon-free zones were an important building block of the global, nuclear non-proliferation regime, he said. The constructive dialogue with nuclear-weapon States on the South-East Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Bangkok Treaty) should be brought to an early successful conclusion, and efforts to create a Central Asian zone were welcome. The Commission could make a useful contribution to the establishment of zones by formulating general principles and recommendations, although regional diversity might require innovative and different solutions. Initiatives for zones should come from States within the region and be supported by all States within it. Last year's efforts, resulting in a range of important elements elaborated for zones, should provide a sound basis for the current year's successful conclusion of the item.

As the conflicts of today were fought with conventional weapons, the Union believed that the Commission should give careful consideration to conventional weapons, he said. Regional efforts, such as the small arms moratorium adopted by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), were very welcome. The Union supported the Assembly's decision to hold an international conference on the illicit arms trade no later than 2001. The conference should deal with relevant causes and implications of the small arms

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problem and take due account of the United Nations Panel of Governmental Experts. Addressing conventional weapon problems was crucial to conflict resolution and post-conflict rehabilitation. The Union would contribute to efforts to adopt a practical set of guidelines to address conventional weapon problems this session.

The Union had supported the proposed special session of the Assembly, he said, but the fact that no special session since 1978 had achieved consensus was a warning about the need for careful preparation. The progress made last year meant consensus was within reach, and the Union would work actively for the conclusion of the item this year. As the Commission's agenda was "very charged" in the current year, it must build on work already done, and it should concentrate on the fundamental problem that stood in the way of consensus on the special session at the last session.

Reform and rationalization of the United Nations disarmament machinery should be ongoing, he said. Work should be organized in such a way as to lead to results. As the Commission was a deliberative, not negotiating, body its results were non-binding recommendations or guidelines. If that was kept in mind, it should be able to demonstrate its continued relevance and produce results.

DUMISANI S. KUMALO (South Africa) said since the Commission met last, the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons had exacerbated conflict around the globe. The continued cycle of violence and armed conflict in many parts of the world had made the Commission's work on the formulation of guidelines all the more important. While the threat to human security posed by weapons of mass destruction remained of critical concern, the unrestrained build-up of conventional weapons beyond a legitimate level for self-defence threatened the physical safety of people worldwide. The devastating effects of the excessive proliferation and misuse of conventional weapons on the social, economic and political progress of nations, especially in such conflict-affected areas as Africa, were well known.

He said his Government had established a procedure and structure for arms transfers. In a landmark decision to implement the Secretary-General's recommendation on small arms, the South African Government recently announced its intention to destroy all surplus, redundant, obsolete and confiscated arms and light weapons by the end of 1999, rather than sell those weapons on the open market. That policy was based on a number of political, technical, social, humanitarian and economic factors, which sought to ensure that due restraint was exercised in the transfer of arms and related technologies. It had been circulated as an official United Nations document (document A/53/169/Add.3).

The creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones was a clear demonstration of the continued commitment of non-nuclear-weapon States to the goal of ridding

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the world of nuclear weapons, he said. Nuclear-weapon States should, in turn, undertake unconditional obligations towards nuclear-weapon-free zones, including strictly respecting the status of such zones. They should also enter into legally binding commitments -- by signing relevant protocols to treaties establishing such zones -- not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any nuclear-weapon-free zone party. Moreover, such zones strengthened the international non-proliferation regime and encouraged the establishment of additional zones in other parts of the world.

He called on the remaining State in the territory of the African nuclear-weapon-free zone to sign and ratify the Protocol to the Africa Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba) as soon as possible, and for all others to ratify the Treaty and its protocols as soon as possible. The nuclear test explosions carried out in South Asia in 1998 had made the achievement of a nuclear-weapon-free zone there more challenging. The countries of that region should be encouraged to consider the real national security benefits derived from "drawing back from the nuclear abyss" and establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Similarly, a key element of the Middle East peace process was a comprehensive approach to issues related to weapons of mass destruction, and nuclear weapons, in particular.

Following a General Assembly decision, the Commission would give an unprecedented fourth year of consideration to the issue of a fourth special session on disarmament, he noted. Only through the strong political will of Member States, however, would it be possible to convene the special session, which would enable the world community to effectively review the most critical aspects of the disarmament process and advance the goal of eliminating nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and control and reduce conventional weapons. The international disarmament agenda, as defined by the first special session, remained the only consensus document on those issues. It was now more than 20 years old, and the world had moved on to another dimension from the one that had existed in 1978.

He said the much vaunted peace dividend, which was to have been a product of the end of the cold war, had proven to be a "rather fallow field" in which peace and security had failed to take root. In fact, today's world faced renewed and more numerous threats to international peace and security. The renewal and updating of its disarmament agenda must, therefore, be a priority. His country would continue to play a constructive role in that regard, as it was convinced that consensus on the objectives of a special session was essential to its convening.

ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said today's political climate, particularly the situation in South Asia and the absence of results at the second preparatory Committee of the NPT, represented a serious concern for many countries, and reinforced the need for determination in work for disarmament and international peace and security. It was with cautious optimism that

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Algeria approached the current session of the Commission. But, it also had an open mind and a sincere wish to bring about general and complete disarmament. The Commission was the only body that allowed room for thinking about guidelines on crucial disarmament problems.

Algeria, like the other Non-Aligned Movement countries, believed that the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament should give thought to the most crucial aspects of disarmament, and give prominence to the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and the control of other weapons, he said. Consideration in the Commission at the current session should be on the basis of the document produced last year, on which agreement seemed close. It was balanced and included elements that should bring Member States closer to consensus, particularly regarding the goals and the agenda of the session. The Commission working group should have the objective of setting a date for the session and discussing organizational questions related to it. Algeria would have no great difficulties agreeing on a date, provided it was not too early, as it wished to avoid undue haste.

Regarding the Commission's second issue, nuclear-weapon-free zones, Algeria had always worked to promote such zones, he said. It had recently demonstrated its strong commitment to zones by ratifying the Pelindaba Treaty, becoming the third State party. It was a source of legitimate concern to all Arab countries that Israel was outside the NPT and refused to allow application of IAEA safeguards. Consensus existed on the zones -- 104 countries were now included in them -- and they were a viable means to strengthen international peace and security. From the standpoint of completing the item, the draft document proposed by the working group chairman warranted attention.

The Commission should complete the item on conventional weapons guidelines this year, he said. As much as other weapons, conventional weapons must be dealt with by the international community, particularly because their control often fell outside the control of States and were in the hands of criminal networks. It was clear that the principles adopted should be confined to strengthening peace in post-conflict situations, should be freely negotiated and should enjoy the consensus of States concerned, as without their support guidelines might be a dead letter.

The Commission occupied an important place in the disarmament process and its reputation would be further enhanced if it adopted recommendations on the three items in the current year, he said. Since its 1991 reforms, it had developed ideas and proposals that had even had a salutary affect on bilateral and Disarmament Conference efforts. Since 1978, the Commission's overall results were positive, with more than 12 documents adopted and an average of one item concluded every two years. The new reforms to commence in the year 2000 would rationalize the Commission's work and allow a more balanced consideration, keeping nuclear issues on the agenda and also continuing the three-year consideration cycle, which allowed issues to be developed.

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For information media. Not an official record.