6 October 2003 - First Edition

Susi Snyder and Rhianna Tyson | WILPF

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The 2003 session of the General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security comes at the end of a year in which counter-proliferation has begun to take the place of nonproliferation. States have gone to war over the suspicion of weapons of mass destruction. The withdrawal of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has led many states to urge for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and for the strengthening of the multilateral disarmament and nonproliferation regime. 

Malaysia defined the tone of the 2003 First Committee meeting well when it stated on the opening day of the Committee:

The year 2003 is a significant as well as a dismal year for disarmament. On 23 May 2003, we commemorated the 25th anniversary of the First Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament (SSOD-I). It is worth recapitulating here that the Final Document of the SSOD-I underscores that general and complete disarmament under effective international control is the ultimate goal of multilateral disarmament efforts. Yet after 25 years the goal is far from being achieved. Hence there was nothing to celebrate in May.

Despite this disheartening environment, many States have come to the Committee with a slew of ideas for strengthening the international disarmament and nonproliferation regime.

Japan will once again submit a draft resolution entitled "Path to the Total-Elimination of Nuclear Weapons". The New Agenda Coalition will again submit two resolutions entitled "Towards a nuclear weapons free world: a new agenda" and "Reductions of non- strategic nuclear weapons", with notable changes to the text. (See "New Agenda" report)

Many States highlighted the need for the Conference on Disarmament to adopt a program of work. Noting the progress made toward adopting the A5 proposal in that body, many are hopeful that negotiations can begin on a Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) early next year (see "Fissile Material" report). 

The First Committee Chair has called again for a special meeting to discuss the strengthening and perhaps modifying multilateral disarmament negotiating bodies- including the Conference on Disarmament, the First Committee and the Disarmament Commission. (See "Disarmament Machinery" report)

In both the General Assembly General Debate, as well as this past week of statements in the First Committee, many states emphasized the need for multilateralism and UN reform, in order to preserve and strengthen international security.

At the opening of the meeting, Chairman Ambassador Jarmo Sareva of Finland said: "You may recall the conundrum about whether if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound. I think we should ask ourselves whether if a statement is made, however valuable, in the General Assembly, and no one in the outside listens or cares, does the statement make a sound. If the answer is negative, we all together- big and small alike- have a problem." (See "First Committee Reform" report)

In the current debate between nonproliferation and counter-proliferation, many States raised concerns about both vertical and horizontal proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. (See "Proliferation" report). The shift from nonproliferation to counter-proliferation- and away from general and complete disarmament- should be remedied through multilateral confidence building measures and strengthening of existent treaties. As the Honourable Godfrey Smith, Attorney-General of Belize said "Multilateralism or Chaos!"

The problems facing this 58th General Assembly are indeed numerous. The NGO community hopes that this year, all states will renew their commitment to multilateralism and international law, and that the recommendations that come from this committee are implemented throughout the course of the next year.

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