Reports from the DC 2008

Plenary Meeting Report 
Final Report

Plenary Meeting Report
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will
11 April 2008

On 7 April, the United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC) began the final session of its three year cycle of deliberations on its two current agenda items: recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons; and practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons. Reaching Critical Will is monitoring and reporting on the process and posting all governmental statements and papers on the RCW website. The Commission can make recommendations, but this opportunity should be seized to cooperate and compromise at a time when multilateral disarmament negotiations (and even deliberations) are at such an impasse. As the results of the Commission are not legally-binding, this is the time for delegations to demonstrate flexibility and sincerity, attitudes which could carry forward to the upcoming nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee and the second part of the Conference on Disarmament's 2008 session. As the Chair of the UNDC, Ambassador Piet de Klerk of the Netherlands, said, no one is exempt from the call to find common ground.

Plenary meetings were held for the first two days of the UNDC's current session, at which a number of delegations delivered general statements conveying their governments' policies and their views on the work of the UNDC. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moonaddressed the opening meeting, renewing his call for delegations "to move forward in a spirit of compromise and accommodation." He argued that the "solemn duty" of pursuing disarmament and non-proliferation

cannot be fulfilled through confrontation, condemnation or the adoption of intractable policy positions.... There is little doubt that we will not go far if each delegation proceeds expecting to achieve—here and now—nothing less than 100 per cent of their desired objectives. The pursuit of maximalist goals by some will yield only minimal results for all. Worse, we could see this institution itself decline under a cloud of pessimism and despair. It is not a defeat to move forward today on those issues where progress is possible, and to pursue other goals tomorrow. There is no shame or loss of pride in acting according to the laws of reason.

Participation and representation during the plenary phase, however, did not reflect the urgency and importance that was stressed by the Secretary-General, the Chair of the Commission, and many of the delegates who spoke—most of whom were Permanent Representative of UN Missions. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States did not deliver statements to the plenary or have any representatives of their delegations attend the meetings. During the final plenary meeting, on the afternoon of 8 April, the conference room felt deserted. Only about half of UN member states sent representatives.

Agenda Item I: Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation
The majority of delegations who spoke focused on the first agenda item in their statements. Most delegations expressed support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)—Iraq's representative announced that Iraqi Parliament is now processing its ratification of the CTBT—nuclear weapon free zones, the negotiation of a fissile material treaty, and the complete, verifiable, irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons. Most representatives also emphasized the need for balance between nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, arguing that one cannot be pursued without the other with any hope of success. Egypt's Permanent Representative, Ambassador Maged Abdel Aziz, said it is regrettable that "efforts aimed at granting priority to non-proliferation without achieving parallel progress in nuclear disarmament" are still ongoing, arguing, "the efforts of the five nuclear-weapon-States in the multilateral context remain extremely limited, especially when compared to the commitments undertaken by those [non-nuclear weapon] States in the [NPT]."

Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
Many delegations reiterated their support for the 1995 and 2000 NPT outcomes, particularly the resolution on a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East and the 13 practical steps toward nuclear disarmament. Egypt's Ambassador Aziz argued that the "lack of resolve [toward implementing the Middle East resolution] has become a threat to the very principle of Treaty universality at the core." He urged the UNDC to push toward the implementation of the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conference outcomes "as a plan of action that enhances the credibility of the Treaty and its review process."

Ambassador Aziz also argued that the possible amendment of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines likewise threatens "to do away with the principles and objectives of the NPT," as the US-India deal, which the NSG amendments might be made for, "categorically contradicts the letter and spirit of the NPT and the 'Decision on Principles and Objectives of Nuclear Non-Proliferation' adopted as part of the NPT indefinite extension package." He said, "Such a development will forever eliminate the opportunity to destroy nuclear weapons developed outside the NPT regime and the opportunity for non-NPT member States to join it as non-nuclear-weapon-States in order to realize its universality."

Most delegations underscored the vital importance of the NPT's full implementation. Many urged those outside of the NPT who possess nuclear weapons to join as non-nuclear weapon states, and for nuclear weapon states to fulfill their obligations under Article VI of the Treaty. The Permanent Representative of Cuba emphasized that nuclear weapon states "have the legal obligation to, not only pursue, but also to bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control." Others stressed the importance of respecting all three pillars of the NPT—disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Proposals and recommendations
Some delegations made concrete proposals or requests. Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Dr. R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa of Indonesia called for an international conference to establish a phased programme for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework, to eliminate all existing nuclear weapons and prohibit their development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.

Lamenting the "alarming rate" of increase of global military expenditures, which "is in itself a factor that raises distrust and legitimate international concern," Ambassador Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz of Cuba reiterated his country's proposal to create a UN-managed fund, "to which at least half of the current military spending would be devoted, in order to address the economic and social development of the countries in need." He argued that this initiative, in addition to its "evident benefit," would "bear the added value of being a confidence-building measure."

Dr. T. Hamid Al-Bayati, the Permanent Representative of Iraq, called "upon the nuclear-weapon-states to refrain from nuclear sharing for military purposes under any kind of security arrangements in conformity with their obligations."

Ambassador Igor N. Shcherbak of the Russian Federation called for "strict implementation of existing international legal documents and development of new ones." He expressed his government's concern about the "looming prospect of expiration of the treaty limitations on strategic offensive arms" between the United States and Russia while the United States increases its efforts to deploy its global anti-ballistic missile system. He said his government "offered the idea of developing and concluding a new full-fledged agreement on further and verifiable reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms" three years ago. Ambassador Shcherbak also announced that during the upcoming NPT Preparatory Committee, the US and Russia will hold "an informal briefing highlighting accomplishments of either Party in eliminating intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, as well as their positive impact on the European and global security," and to set forth their approaches related to the unofficial paper distributed to the Conference on Disarmament on 12 February 2008, "Basic elements of an international legally-binding arrangement on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range (ground-launched) missiles, open for broad international accession." The briefing will be held at the UN in Geneva on Tuesday, 29 April 2008, 1:15-2:45pm and is open to all delegates, UN staff, and civil society representatives.

India's Permanent Representative, Ambassador Nirupam Sen, called attention to the working paper his delegation submitted to the UNDC last year, on "Recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons," which outlines several steps towards achieving nuclear disarmament. He repeated these points in his statement, as did India's representative to the Conference on Disarmament, Ambassador Rao, during his statement on 28 February 2008. Ambassador Sen also emphasized the importance of the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan delivered to the UN General Assembly in June 1988, which called for a binding commitment by all nations to eliminate nuclear weapons in stages by 2010; for all states to participate in the process of nuclear disarmament; the importance of tangible progress at each stage in order to demonstrate good faith and to build confidence; and for governments to change doctrines, policies, and institutions in order to sustain a world free of nuclear weapons and to undertake negotiations for the establishment of a comprehensive global security system under the aegis of the UN. Ambassador Rao also highlighted the Action Plan during his statement to the CD on 28 February.

Arguing that nuclear technology "is no clean and safe energy source" due to security and environmental risks, Austria's Ambassador Alexander Marschik said that as long as some states rely on nuclear energy to even partially cover their energy needs, enrichment and reprocessing must be restricted exclusively to facilities under multilateral control. He outlined Austria's proposal for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to serve as a "virtual broker for all transactions in the civilian nuclear fuel cycle." Under this plan, every buyer would purchase their nuclear fuel through the IAEA, gradually giving the IAEA control rights over the enrichment and reprocessing facilities, transforming all such facilities from national to "essentially multilateral operations under the auspices of the IAEA." He argued this proposal would not undermine developing countries' access to nuclear energy or Article IV of the NPT, saying, "having a right also gives the owner the possibility to decide to use it exclusively together with other states or through an international organisation. By entrusting the IAEA to control and monitor the facilities, we are in fact, making joint use of our right and benefiting from the peaceful use of nuclear technology together in a fair and equal manner." He also argued that though this proposal sounds ambitious, it has been done before on a regional level, pointing to the European Union as an example, where coal, steel, and nuclear industries have been put under the control of multilateral institutions.

Ambassador Marschik also called for the establishment of a multilateral missile control arrangement, perhaps using the joint statementmade by Russia and the United States on 25 October 2007 during the UNGA First Committee on multilateralizing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty as a basis for this. He also called for the US and Russia to demonstrate leadership in fully complying with the obligations of the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.

"New consensus"
Pakistan's Permanent Representative, Ambassador Munir Akram, called for a special conference "to evolve a new consensus [on disarmament and non-proliferation] that is concordant with new realities." He explained this "new consensus" should: regenerate commitments by all states to complete nuclear disarmament; eliminate discrimination; normalize the relationship of the three "ex-NPT nuclear weapon states" with the NPT; help realize the objective of verifiable international disarmament; address new issues like access to WMD by non-state actors and vertical proliferation; help states agree on "universally applicable non-discriminatory rules for ensuring fulfillment of every state's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy"; enshrine legally-binding negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states; address the issue of missiles in its entirety including development and deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems; "strengthen existing international instruments to prevent the militarization of outer space including development of" anti-satellite systems; tackle "the disturbing trend of escalation in armed forces and accumulation and sophistication of conventional weapons"; "arrest the disturbing trend of escalation in the number of sophistication of conventional weapons which as a causal relationship with the continuing reliance on nuclear weapons"; identify the means of implementing the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons; and revitalize the UN disarmament machinery.

The following day, Ambassador Aziz of Egypt said non-NPT states must be made to understand, "they are the ones outside the 'international consensus,' and that the so called 'new consensus' that is talked about by some is both unacceptable and invalid." He argued, "the 'International Consensus' on which the NPT was built still exists and did not and will not change." He insisted that this issue, along with the "false illusion" that those who developed their nuclear programmes outside of the NPT can call themselves nuclear weapon states, must be dealt with within the context of the NPT 2010 Review Conference, "a context that allows no room for destructive ambitions of power or twisted principles."

Iran's nuclear programme
On behalf of the European Union, Ambassador Sanja Štiglic of Slovenia said, "Iran's nuclear programme poses a major challenge to the non-proliferation regime," asserting that Iran has hidden "clandestine nuclear activities," is pursuing uranium enrichment and heavy water related activities, is developing a ballistic missile programme, and "has cooperated with the IAEA only when pressed, and in piecemeal fashion." Iran's representative issued a right of reply to this statement, arguing that the statement did not acknowledge the information the IAEA has given about the non-divergence of Iran's nuclear material to weapon programmes or that Iran's cooperation with the IAEA has been "far beyond its Treaty obligations."

Speaking generally about the issue of proliferation, Ambassador Hu Xiaodi of China called for dialogue and normalization of relations in order to confront the "complex causes" of proliferation of nuclear weapons. He said, "it is necessary to address both the root causes and symptoms in a comprehensive manner," arguing, "Embargo and pressure can hardly offer a fundamental solution to the proliferation concerns." Speaking specifically about Iran, Ambassador Hu said diplomatic negotiation is the best way to solve the issue, and called for all parties to "intensify diplomatic efforts in reaching agreement on possible ways to resume negotiations at an early date, with a view to seeking a long-term, comprehensive and appropriate solution to the Iranian nuclear issue."

Working Paper
A few delegations commented on the working paper submitted by the Chair of Working Group I, "Draft outcome on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons." The paper outlines some general principles for achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and lists recommendations toward this goal. The paper is an expanded version of the Chair's final working paper from the UNDC's 2007 session. Its recommendations are general and appeal to the lowest common denominator. Ambassador Khazaee of Iransaid the working paper "contains elements of a consensus document. However, there is still room for refinement and improvement in order to strike a proper balance." Australia's Ambassador Robert Hill said the working paper is a constructive contribution to the debate.

Agenda Item II: Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons
Most delegations acknowledged the importance and benefits of confidence-building measures (CBMs) as a tool for increasing transparency, building trust, and enhancing stability and security. Nigeria's representative said the ultimate objectives of CBMs are "to strengthen international peace and security, to ameliorate relations among states and promote socio-economic and cultural well-being of peoples of the world and prevent wars." Brazil's Ambassador Piragibe Tarrago expounded on this, saying CBMs

aim to alter inaccurate perceptions and to avoid misunderstandings about military actions and policies that might otherwise provoke violent conflict. Over time they can pave the way for more stable political and diplomatic relations, transform the parties' ideas about their need for security, and even encourage moves to identify shared security interests and highlight the importance of effective disarmament initiatives.

Cautionary arguments
While agreeing that "CBMs do have the potential to create an atmosphere conducive to arms control and disarmament," the representative for the Non-Aligned Movement emphasized that CBMs "are neither a substitute nor a pre-condition for disarmament measures." Cuba's representative stressed that CBMs must not be imposed, arguing that success depends "on the achievement of a true consensus among the States." Iran's Ambassador Khazaee likewise argued that CBMs "are merely 'voluntary measures'" and cannot "be converted to legally binding obligations." Ambassador Sen of India emphasized that CBMs "should take into account the specific political, military and other conditions prevailing in [each] region," arguing that a "prescriptive approach that negates the sovereign right of States to choose CBMs best suited to their interest should be avoided." China's Ambassador Hu similarly argued, "We need to develop CBMs in light of the concrete situation of different regions and time, with an objective and pragmatic attitude, and in a step-by-step and incremental manner."

Military spending
Many delegations, including the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed their support for "unilateral, bilateral, regional and multilateral measures adopted by some governments aimed at reducing their military expenditures, thereby contributing to the strengthening of regional and international peace and security." The African Group's representative noted that the reduction of military expenditures is an important CBM. Ambassador Kim of the Republic of Korea noted, "Sharing objective information on military expenditures will greatly contribute to the sense of security by all Member States." China's representative reiterated his government's announcement made during the 2007 UNGA First Committee that China has begun to report to the UN Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures.

The Permanent Representative of Tanzania said his country has consistently stressed the linkage between disarmament and development in the context of military expenditures. He argued that spending on military capabilities and armaments "should be curbed by generating political will to implement disarmament measures, credible confidence building measures and disarmament proceeds and by cultivating a culture of peace in present and succeeding generations."

Transparency in armaments
Several delegations spoke favourably about the UN Register of Conventional Arms as "successful in enhancing the level of transparency in military affairs" (Republic of Korea) and "one of the important international systems for promoting confidence-building among States" (Japan). Ambassador Shinyo of Japan, however, cautioned that more than 15 years after the Register was established, there are still grave dangers of "expansion in armaments through distrust among States."

Small arms and light weapons
Many delegates spoke about the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (SALW), looking forward to the upcomingBiennial Meeting of States to be held at UN Headquarters in New York on 14–18 July 2008. Ambassador Shinyo of Japan indicated that the voluntary form for SALW in the UN Register of Conventional Arms, created in 2006, should "have a synergistic effect in the future." Other delegates welcomed the Group of Government Experts on Ammunition and on the Arms Trade Treaty. Ambassador Kim of theRepublic of Korea announced that it will host a UN workshop on the implementation of the International Tracing Instrument in Seoul on 27–28 May 2008 together with Norway and the European Union. Austria's representative explained his government supports "the strengthening of national legal regimes and capacity building as well as practical disarmament measures through financing three projects" in Africa.

Cluster munitions
A few delegations offered their support for the ongoing processes to ban cluster munitions. Austria's representative urged all states to actively participate in the upcoming conference in Dublin, which will seek to develop a legally-binding instrument to prohibit cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. He argued that such a ban "will contribute substantially to save the lives, limbs and livelihoods of many civilians." He also announced that late in 2007, Austrian Parliament adopted a national law that "prohibits the development, production, supply, sale, procurement, import, export, transit, use and possession of cluster munitions and provides for the destruction of national stockpiles by January 2011." The law does not contain exceptions for "smart cluster bombs" or for weapons with a low number of sub-munitions. He argued, "This is disarmament in concrete terms which we believe is best suited to build confidence among states."

Working Paper
Representatives from both Cuba and Australia noted the existence of a working paper by the Chair of Working Group II, which Ambassador Diaz of Cuba described as "an excellent basis for the success of our deliberations on this issue;" however, this paper is not currently available through the UN document system nor was it distributed during the plenary meetings.

Work of the UNDC
All delegations who delivered statements to the plenary session emphasized the importance of the work of the UNDC and the need for flexibility and compromise. Many also insisted on the separation of the two issues on the Commission's agenda, arguing, as Brazil's representative did, that the working groups "are distinct in nature and scope. Advances in one cannot be made contingent upon parallel progress in the other." The Rio Group likewise argued that while progress in all areas is desirable, delegations should not allow advances in one area to be conditioned by equivalent advances in another. He argued, "Taking into account the complexity of the topics, the insistence in a parallel development in negotiations would mean, in practice, preventing the Commission from reaching, at least, partial results in its work."

Civil society participation
In his opening statement, the Chair of the Commission raised the issue of participation by external experts or civil society representatives. This idea was raised during the Commission's 2006 session, studied during 2007, and now the Chair intends to engage in further consultations during the 2008 session. He indicated that several questions would have to be settled, such as would these representatives address the plenary meetings or the working groups; would the Commission forgo its general debate in favour of a structured thematic discussion with experts; etc.

When this issue was raised in 2006, the United States, India, and France objected to inviting NGO representatives and external experts to participate in the Commission's discussions, while Indonesia and Egypt supported it. The issue was not addressed in statements to the plenary meetings this year—nor did the United States or France address the plenary—so it is unclear if these positions have changed at this time. Currently, NGO representatives are not allowed to attend working group meetings, just as they are not allowed to attend the informal meetings of the Conference on Disarmament. Several delegations, most recently Syria, Norway, Algeria, and Australia at the CD, have argued for broader civil society participation in multilateral disarmament fora.

As noted in a recent CD Report, the exclusion of civil society from the CD and the UNDC is contrary to its welcomed participation in other multilateral disarmament processes. Patrick McCarthy of the Geneva Forum gives the example of NGO involvement in the recentWellington conference on cluster munitions, where NGO representatives "intervened at will in the discussions and openly criticized certain States for attempting to weaken the Wellington text." They "provided valuable inputs to the debates based on sound research, interpretation of evidence and testimony of victims. In short, civil society was an integral, dynamic and vital element of the Wellington conference that influenced the outcome of the meeting." While McCarthy explored some possible explanations for this "schizophrenic" behaviour in a subsequent post on Disarmament Insight, overall the question of civil society involvement in the CD appears to be another anachronism in the "'community of practice' to which disarmament diplomats belong" that John Borrie, also writing on Disarmament Insight, referred to in a post about telephone booths.

In 2006, a representative of the Syrian Arab Republic argued in the CD that "the states that objected to [NGO] participation [in the CD] are the same states that daily call on us to step up participation of NGOs in matters related to democracy, human rights, peace and security. These states seem to wish NGOs to be tools of their own policy." As Reaching Critical Will argued then, if states are truly impartially supporting or objecting to NGO access, their positions should be consistent across issues, from human rights to disarmament.

Final Report
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will
11 April 2008

The United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC) failed to adopt recommendations in either of its working groups: nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation; and practical confidence-building measures in conventional weapons. The UNDC has essentially been considering these agenda items for the past 8 years - from 2000-2003, the Commission's agenda was: ways and means to achieve nuclear disarmament; and practical confidence-building measures in conventional weapons. In 2004 and 2005, the UNDC was unable to agree on an agenda and did not hold any substantive sessions.

The final plenary meeting of the 2008 session was cancelled, but closing remarks were delivered at earlier session, where most delegates lamented the UNDC's failure and the continued stagnation of disarmament machinery. Some representatives were critical of the Commission's working methods, arguing that the lack of experts participating in the session impeded the chances of its success. As noted in Reaching Critical Will's first report on this year's UNDC, several governments did not send any representatives; the vast majority of those who did participate did not send their disarmament experts from Geneva, but relied on staff in NY. The United States sent two representatives part way into the informal meetings, reportedly at the European Union's request.

In the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation working group, the Middle East and negative security assurances reportedly continued to be contentious issues. Participants discussed the Chair's working paper but were unable to reach agreement on its content. In the confidence-building measures in conventional arms working group, participants reportedly were able to reach consensus on several points in the Chair's working paper, though the group was unable to agree on recommendations. In the final meeting, Russia's delegation noted that China, Russia, and the United States were able to agree on language related to outer space. In her closing remarks, Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway noted that the working group was not able to state its support for the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention), the Arms Trade Treaty, or the ongoing negotiations to ban cluster munitions causing unacceptable harm to civilians. Weak language on cluster munitions was reportedly agreed to after much discussion.

In the final meeting, the Chair of the UNDC, Ambassador Piet de Klerk of the Netherlands, again raised the issue of inviting experts from specialized agencies, intergovernmental organizations, research institutes, and think-tanks to participate in the UNDC. He proposed that out of the existing four plenary meetings, one meeting (Monday afternoon) be set aside for presentations and panel discussions by invited experts. He suggested that if this was not acceptable, the programme of work could be amended to provide for an additional plenary meeting on Wednesday morning of the first week. He also noted that experts would only be invited for the first and second session of the Commission's three year cycle.

Reportedly, many delegations objected to the proposal of inviting outside experts to address the Commission. Some argued that experts would not be able to help bridge the fundamental differences between government positions and policies. However, other delegations argued that experts could help illuminate and articulate salient arguments and explain technical or legal elements of items under discussion, thus enhancing government participants' understanding of the issues, their contexts, and their implications.

Next year, the UNDC will start a new three year cycle. It will have to adopt a new agenda, providing a good opportunity to modify the Commission's methods of work. The Chair has reportedly requested suggestions to this end by the time of the First Committee in October. In that time, delegations should seriously consider ways to revitalize both the Commission itself and their participation in it.