27 September 2002


Press Release

Background Release



The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) begins its general debate on Monday amid concern over stalled global disarmament efforts and heightened fears of terrorist use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, prompted by the 11 September 2001 attack on the United States.

In his report this year on implementation of the Millennium Declaration, Secretary-General Kofi Annan states that the importance of eliminating weapons of mass destruction was clearer than ever, following the crisis in May and June during which the world “held its breath” as tensions rose between India and Pakistan, combined with compelling evidence of the possibility of nuclear, chemical or biological terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

Perversely, he says, the trends are not encouraging.  Global military spending now exceeds $800 billion a year and the pace towards eliminating such weapons, in particular nuclear weapons, is slow.  More than 30,000 such weapons remain in existence.  Similarly, in his annual report to the General Assembly, he points out that the trend is the same in multilateral disarmament forums, where negotiations on nuclear disarmament and a treaty on fissile materials, as well as efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space, remain deadlocked.

The Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, described the same dynamic in a speech to the Monterrey Institute of International Studies this year, pointing out that, following the 11 September attacks, many countries had called for strengthening the international disarmament regime, which is made up of more than 15 treaties.  But, not only had those calls gone unheeded, global military spending had increased sharply, thousands of nuclear weapons remained on hair-trigger alert, and nuclear deterrence remains deeply rooted in the security strategies of a number of States.

“It now appears that a crusading zeal against terrorism has been converted into a fresh rationale not only for the retention of nuclear weapons, but also of new uses for them and the need for research and development on new types of such weapons”, he said.  Treaty regimes, he added, were based on the premise that the world was better off getting rid of all weapons of mass destruction, and rejected the alternative of gambling on management techniques to limit their effects or contain their geographic spread.

The lack of progress in multilateral disarmament also included the non-implementation of the 13 key steps agreed upon in 2000 by the States parties to the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  The United

States has repudiated two of those steps –- support for the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty), which it withdrew from in June 2002, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which it signed in 1996, but its Senate failed to ratify in 1999.

Also, United States’ refusal to complete the ratification process of the Second Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms

(START II), which would have eliminated all land-based multiple-warhead missiles, had led the Russian Federation to announce this year on 14 June that it would no longer regard itself as bound by that Treaty.

The START II, signed in 1993, committed both parties to reducing their strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 3,000 to 3,500 each.  Only START I, signed in 1991 and committing the parties to a reduction to 6,000 strategic nuclear weapons each, has entered into force.  The START process was linked to the ABM Treaty, which, for many years, had been widely regarded as the cornerstone of international stability and security.

In positive developments, the United States indicated that it would continue to maintain its moratorium on nuclear testing and was not developing new nuclear weapons.  In addition, the Presidents of the United States and Russian Federation on 24 May signed the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT), or the Moscow Treaty, by which both sides would reduce the number of their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,700-2,200 by 31 December 2012.  It is significant because it commits two former adversaries with the world's largest nuclear arsenals to reductions of deployed weapons.

The Treaty expires in 2012 and contains an unconditional three-month withdrawal clause.  It does not contain any details about verification, except through a non-binding declaration to apply the verification provisions of the START I, nor does it have a timetable for reducing numbers of deployed weapons and a provision for their subsequent disposition.

In addition to multilateral treaty concerns, the Committee’s debate will address the “strategic calculus” of terrorist groups aiming to inflict mass fatalities, as described by the Secretary-General’s Disarmament Advisory Board, a group of eminent persons and scholars from all regions of the world who meet twice a year.  The Board states that the threat is real and the materials and technologies to build weapons of mass destruction are "generally accessible".

The Board also warned of terrorist attacks on nuclear, biological and chemical facilities leading to the release of radioactivity, deadly biological agents, or toxic chemicals.  It defined two fields in which arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation instruments could be used to help combat weapons of mass destruction terrorism:  prevention and enforcement; and mutual cooperation for emergency response.

It further stated that cooperative measures for emergency response were "particularly urgent" in the biological weapons field.  Those should include preparation of societies, notably their public health systems, for early detection of and rapid response to the outbreak of diseases caused by bioterrorist attacks (vaccination, stockpiles of medicine for effective disease treatment), and creation of a global vaccine bank able to make an immediate impact at the point of attack.

With respect to nuclear weapons terrorism, the Board identified four types of threats:  attack on or sabotage of nuclear power installations; matching  highly radioactive materials with conventional explosives to create radiological dispersal devices ("dirty bombs"); theft or purchase of fissile material for building and using a nuclear-explosive device; and seizure and use of operational nuclear weapons.

Given the diversity of the threat and the multiple instruments to prevent it, the Board recommended that the fifty-seventh session of the General Assembly establish a governmental expert group to develop a comprehensive action plan to deal with nuclear terrorism.  The Board saw a compelling need to assess the full range of nuclear-terrorist threats and to invest limited financial and political resources where they could have the greatest impact.

The comprehensive action plan envisaged by the Board should comprise a systematic comparison and assessment of different nuclear threats, an analysis of their probable occurrence and consequences, and knowledge of their susceptibility to preventive and remedial action.  It should include preventive measures, such  as tightened personal screening at nuclear-power plants and protection of high- consequence nuclear facilities from truck bomb attacks, which can be realized as "quick fixes" to deal with significant vulnerabilities while a longer-term action plan was under development.

Delivery systems for those and other weapons of mass destruction will also be discussed, through the first-ever United Nations study on missiles. The several areas of concern include increasing numbers, ranges, technological sophistication and geographic spread of missiles, and their capability for delivering both unconventional weapons, in particular nuclear weapons, as well as conventional weapons.

It will also have before it a United Nations/General Assembly-mandated study on disarmament and non-proliferation education by a group of governmental experts established last year on the recommendation of the Advisory Board.  The study contains several practical recommendations to promote disarmament and non-proliferation.  Those include encouraging the Department for Disarmament Affairs and its regional centres to set up a virtual library of reports of "lessons learned" on disarmament-related aspects of peace operations to be made available to both governments and non-governmental organizations on an online education resource site.

According to the Secretary-General in his Millennium Declaration report, another vital area of action was the control and disposal of surplus and illicit small arms and light weapons.  He set up a group of governmental experts to discuss the feasibility of developing a global instrument for identifying and tracing illegal small arms, in accordance with the 2001 Programme of Action of the Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

Last week at a meeting of States parties in Geneva, more than 130 countries agreed to step up action to ensure the success of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention).  So far, among the 128 States parties, more than 27 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines have been destroyed.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, an initiative that requests Member States to annually provide data on imports and exports of conventional arms, as well as background information on their military holdings.  Presently, 119 States are participating in the Register.  Once again, debate was expected on the question of expanding the scope of the Register to include weapons of mass destruction.

The question of Antarctica, last considered by the Committee in 1999, will be the subject of three meetings during this session.  While the Antarctic Treaty system generally exemplifies international cooperation, certain issues, such as unregulated fishing, environmental damage and growing tourism, remain problematic.

Report Summaries

Before the Committee is the annual report of the Conference on Disarmament (document A/56/27), the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament.  The Conference in Geneva met from 21 January to 29 March, 13 May to 28 June, and

29 July to 13 September.  No specific actions were taken on the substantive portion of the Conference's agenda, which included prevention of nuclear war, but the Conference decided that the dates for its 2003 session would be:  20 January to 28 March; 12 May to 27 June; and 28 July to 10 September.

The report of the Disarmament Commission for 2002 (document A/57/42) recalls that during a resumed second organizational meeting on 17 April, the Commission, due to extraordinary circumstances, decided to continue its consideration of two agenda items -- practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms, and ways and means to achieve nuclear disarmament -- at its next substantive session in 2003, from 31 March to 17 April. 

The report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters (document A/57/335) covers the Board's discussion in two sessions on:  weapons of mass destruction and terrorism; biological weapons and the Biological Weapons Convention; implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects; weaponization of outer space; and disarmament and development. 

The Board, which met in New York from 30 January to 1 February and in Geneva from 17 to 19 July, agreed that, in order to seriously address the threat of terrorism and the danger of possible acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists, it was imperative to strengthen and further develop a multilateral legal framework for arms control.  Among its recommendations on preventing terrorist groups from developing, acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction was the establishment of a governmental expert group to develop a comprehensive action plan to deal with nuclear terrorism.

Two specific issues appeared on the agenda in 2002:  nuclear security and safety; and the preparedness of public health systems to deal with bio-terrorism.  The Board agreed that a multilateral approach was the only effective way of combating weapons of mass destruction terrorism and reiterated the need for respect for international law, including disarmament and arms control agreements on those weapons.

It underscored the important role that existing arms control and disarmament agreements could play in preventing the development and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by non-State groups, as States were obligated not to allow access to those weapons by unauthorized groups or persons.  Promoting the universality of existing agreements, such as the NPT, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Biological Weapons Convention, should be vigorously pursued, it said. 

The Secretary-General's report on reducing nuclear danger (document A/57/401) outlines a number of events that have contributed to the implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Board.  In this connection, the Secretary-General concludes that "the time is not yet ripe" for consideration of interim measures leading up to the convening of an international conference.  He reiterates his call on all Member States to renew their efforts to overcome their differences in the interest of international peace and security, not least in reducing nuclear danger.

A report entitled "the issue of missiles in all its aspects" (document A/57/229) contains a United Nations study prepared by a panel of governmental experts from 23 States.  This first effort by the United Nations to address the issue reflects the concerns of the international community about the accumulation, refinement and spread, threat and use of missiles in both their regional and global dimensions.  It provides an overview of the current situation in the field of missiles and also describes several areas of concern.  Among these, their capability of delivering weapons of mass destruction, in particular, nuclear weapons.

The report finds that there are military-strategic, geopolitical, technical, and economic factors, both global and regional, behind the development, acquisition and use of missiles.  There is no universal norm, treaty or agreement governing the development, testing, production, acquisition, transfer, deployment or use specifically of missiles, but some past and existing treaties and agreements, outlined in the report, refer to particular types or aspects of missiles.

One example is the Missile Technology Control Regime (1987), which is a voluntary, non-treaty regime among 33 States that observes common guidelines for the transfer of a common list of missiles and missile technology.  Its aim is to limit the proliferation of rocket and unmanned air vehicle systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.  Another example is the Russian proposal for a global control system, which would include a regime for transparency in missile launches, as well as security measures for States that renounce ballistic missile programmes.

A report entitled "Missiles" (document A/57/114) transmits views on the issue from Guatemala, Israel, Japan, Lebanon and Qatar.  (Two addendums transmit replies from Cuba, Denmark on behalf of the European Union, Panama, Tunisia and Iraq.)

In his report on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East (document A/57/214), the Secretary-General notes that the issue remains of considerable importance.  States parties to the NPT during the preparatory meetings for the 2005 Review Conference had reiterated their support for the establishment of the zone and reaffirmed the importance of implementing the resolution on the Middle East adopted by the 1995 Review and Extension Conference.  The report transmits replies from:  Egypt, Guatemala, Fiji, Israel, Lebanon, Qatar, and Tunisia.  (Two addendums transmit replies from Denmark, on behalf of the European Union, and Iraq). 

The Committee will also have before it a report of the Secretary-General on the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.  (Not yet issued.)

The report on Mongolia's international security and nuclear-weapon-free status (document A/57/159) says that Member States, including the five nuclear-weapon States, had been invited to continue to cooperate with Mongolia in taking the necessary measures to consolidate and strengthen Mongolia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, the inviolability of its borders, its economic security, its ecological balance and its nuclear-weapon-free status, as well as its independent foreign policy.

A report on convening the fourth special session of the General Assembly on disarmament (document A/57/120), for which the Secretary-General was asked to seek the views of Member States on the objectives, agenda and timing of the special session, transmits replies from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Qatar.

The report on the 1981 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (document A/57/181) gives information on actions taken on the Convention and its Protocols from 1 June 2001 to 31 May 2002. It also contains the text of an amendment to article 1 of the Convention, adopted in December 2001.  The amendment concerns protection of States' sovereignty.

The report on conventional arms control at the regional and subregional levels (document A/57/117) contains the views of Member States to a request by the General Assembly to give urgent consideration to the issues involved:  Bulgaria, El Salvador, Lebanon, Poland, and Qatar.

On small arms, the Committee will have before it the following reports:  on illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (document A/57/160) and on assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and collecting them (document A/57/209).  The first considers actions taken to implement the Programme of Action, which was adopted by the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, held in July 2001.

The second, on assistance to States, asserts that countries should assume primary responsibility when it comes to controlling the traffic of illicit arms within their borders.  It does insist, however, that the international community should provide technical and financial assistance to beleaguered States.

Also before the Committee would be documents on reporting instruments -- the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (document A/57/50) and objective information on military matters, including transparency of military expenditures (document A/57/263) -- as well as a report on transparency in armaments (document A/57/221).

The Study on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education transmitted by the Secretary-General in another report (document A/57/124) was prepared by a group of qualified governmental experts.  A summary foreword states that the need has never been greater for disarmament and non-proliferation education, especially on weapons of mass destruction, but also in the field of small arms and international terrorism.  The study offers practical recommendations for reinforcing ongoing efforts and suggesting new avenues of action.

According to the report on the consolidation of peace through practical disarmament measures (document A/57/210), States and regional and subregional organizations have responded favorably to the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

The report on the relationship between disarmament and development (document A/57/167) finds that the United Nations was unable to play a major role in implementing an action programme adopted at the 1987 International Conference on the Relationship between Disarmament and Development owing to financial constraints and limited support from Member States.  The Secretary-General proposes the establishment of a group of experts to examine that relationship in the current international climate. (An addendum contains replies from Cuba, and Denmark on behalf of the European Union.)

The report on developments in information and telecommunications in the context of international security (documents A/57/166 and Add.1) contains a reply on Guatemala to a request for Member States to submit their views on information security.

The report on observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of agreements on disarmament and arms control (document A/57/121) contains the replies of Bulgaria, Poland, Jordan and Qatar about the measures they have adopted to promote related objectives.  (An addendum contains replies from Cuba and Panama.)

The report on regional confidence-building measures in Central Africa (document A/57/161) highlights the achievements of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa.  Serving as a forum, the Committee continues to play a vital role in promoting peace and security in the region.  It deserves the further support of the international community.

The report on the strengthening of security and cooperation in the Mediterranean region (document A/57/91) offers Member States’ responses to resolution 56/29, which calls for States of the region to cooperate in military matters and in combating terrorism, international crime and illicit arms transfers, and drug production, consumption and trafficking.  Algeria, Qatar and Tunisia respond.

The Committee will also have before it the Secretary-General's reports on: the United Nations Regional Centres for Peace and Disarmament in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Asia and the Pacific, and Africa (respectively, documents

A/57/116, 162 and 260) on their activities and financial constraints; the United Nations Disarmament Information Programme (document A/57/223); and United Nations disarmament fellowship, training and advisory services (document A/57/168).

Notes before the Committee were on: nuclear disarmament (document A/57/383); the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (document A/57/795); measures to uphold the authority of the 1925 Geneva Protocol (document A/57/96); and transmitting the report of the Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) (document A/57/302).

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For information media. Not an official record.