27 October 2008


27 October 2008
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

First Committee

18th Meeting (PM)



Disarmament Machinery ‘Seized Up’ in Nuclear Weapons Area; Notion of Consensus

Interpreted in Fundamentalist Way Equivalent to Veto Power, Another Speaker Says

Just imagine, Canada’s representative asked members of the Disarmament Committee to do today, as she conjured a utopian picture of the international disarmament machinery before returning to the realities of a system in need of more efficiency and alternative approaches to perennial problems.

She asked members to imagine a revitalized and optimally-performing international disarmament regime.  First, there would be agreement in the Conference on Disarmament on a programme of work, facilitated by having abolished the consensus rule for procedural matters.  In the Conference, there would be the resumption of promising fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations and discussions on a strategy to prevent an arms race in outer space.

Previously agreed commitments would be implemented, such as the Principles and Objectives of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the 13 practical disarmament steps agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference.  The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) would have entered force and its international monitoring system would be fully operational, with its verification network complete.

“Regrettably, this picture I have painted here does not mirror reality,” she said as the Committee continued its discussion on the disarmament machinery.  “We must seriously consider both how to make better use of our existing disarmament regime, and explore alternative solutions, where progress in the traditional machinery has stagnated.”

She pointed to the Ottawa and Oslo processes as alternative approaches that could, and did, succeed, especially regarding conventional weapons, “where the traditional machinery has not served us well”.  However, she said it would be wrong to imply that the disarmament machine was irretrievably broken, even if the results so far had not lived up to Canada’s expectations.

Progress had been made since 2004 to make the First Committee a more effective forum for deliberation, she noted, and while the 2005 NPT Review Conference had been disappointing, there was optimism about possible achievements in 2010.  The NPT could achieve permanence and accountability with the necessary support and infrastructure to leverage political will and to maintain momentum between Review Conferences.

“Together, all States have collective ownership of our disarmament machinery,” she said.  “It is up to us to work to repair elements of the machinery that are not functioning, and add on features to address new challenges, in order to operate a system in which our differences can be reconciled, and our common goals achieved.”

But for now, Chile’s representative asserted, the disarmament machinery had largely “seized up” in terms of progress in the area of nuclear weapons, the most important chapter of disarmament.  Consensus was a problem, but in that case, the notion of consensus had been interpreted by a fundamentalist angle and made equivalent to veto power.  It was one thing to safeguard security interests, but it was another thing all together to introduce obstacles to launching the negotiation process or to establishing the subsidiary body to do so.

The perverse dynamic that had paralyzed the Conference on Disarmament for a decade was, frankly, an abuse, he said.  Besides, the subsidiary bodies of the United Nations system were not an end unto themselves.  As with the Human Rights Commission of yesteryear, the Conference on Disarmament could be reformed to gain legitimacy and transparency.  The political will of a majority of States could lead to forward movement.  He pointed to open diplomatic processes such as Oslo as “shining examples”.

Cuba’s speaker was similarly concerned about the stalemate in talks in the disarmament sphere, pointing to the Conference on Disarmament as being “virtually paralyzed”.  Stressing the importance of the Conference as the sole negotiating body on disarmament, she reiterated the Non-Aligned Movement’s call for that body to agree on a work programme by establishing an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament, a topic that must remain the highest priority.

He had also regretted the Disarmament Commission’s inability to have reached agreement on its two agenda items, despite the Movement’s concrete proposals.  In addition, the First Committee continued to adopt resolutions that were not observed or implemented on many occasions, especially those referring to nuclear disarmament, owing to the lack of appropriate follow-up mechanisms.  A fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament could no longer be postponed.  An open-ended working group on the matter had not carried out its mandate, with the only country voting against the resolution on that item last year making clear its opposition to the convening of that meeting and, by so doing, eliminating any possibility of consensus.

Noting the United Nations central role in disarmament, India’s speaker said global challenges were best addressed through collective efforts, which, when backed by political will, could enable the global disarmament machinery to yield desired results.  There was a heavy burden on the Conference on Disarmament to make progress, and efforts would bear fruit when backed by an international consensus on the way forward.  India was committed to those efforts, and also attached high importance to the Disarmament Commission as the universal deliberative forum.

Drawing attention to the Commission’s 2008 substantive session, he said that while there had been no consensus on its recommendations, deliberations had shown a willingness to examine common approaches and “bring back coherence” in today’s security challenges, a testament to the Commission’s value.  India also attached importance to the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, and hoped it would provide support to the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.  The Office of Disarmament Affairs under the High Representative Sergio Duarte also deserved the Committee’s full support.  India had again co-sponsored the draft resolution on encouraging disarmament and non-proliferation education, and had welcomed the opening in August of the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific.

Malaysia’s representative said that the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons constituted a significant milestone in international efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation by lending a powerful moral argument to their total elimination.

Noting that Malaysia, since 1997, had tabled a resolution to follow-up that advisory opinion, that country’s representative did so again today (document A/C.1/63/L.19).  He noted that the text was aimed at achieving the broadest possible support, adding that the advisory opinion remained a significant contribution in the field of nuclear disarmament and lent much weight to the moral argument calling for the total elimination of such heinous weapons.

Nigeria, on behalf of the African Union, introduced two draft resolutions.  The first, revised, was on the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (document A/C.1/63/L.50/Rev.1).  The second was on the United Nations disarmament fellowship, training and advisory services (document A/C.1/63/L.49).

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 28 October to begin action on all draft resolutions and decisions on disarmament and security issues.

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