24 October 2005 - Fourth Edition


Jennifer Nordstrom | Reaching Critical Will

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The First Committee took action on 52 draft resolutions this week, with just 10 left for its final days. Of these, roughly half, 25, were adopted by consensus, 26 were adopted with one or more delegations voting against or abstaining, and one was rejected. The vast majority of the resolutions are reiterations of resolutions from years prior, with a few notable new additions and substantive updates. Even as reform discussions on merging duplicitous resolutions and bi- and tri- annualizing repetitive resolutions take place, “the support for these texts has remained indefatigable”, in the words of John Burroughs and Michael Spies, and this “is an annual testament to the will of the international community, despite the appearance of hopeless deadlock.” (See Nuclear Disarmament Report)

The First Committee this year has witnessed attempts to break out of this deadlock and to make progress on disarmament in all its issue areas. The Committee adopted a new resolution on the humanitarian and development impact of small arms and light weapons (SALW), and a new international instrument on marking and tracing (See SALW Report). The Committee also adopted a new resolution on radiological terrorism (See Terrorism Report). With more votes than ever, the Committee adopted the substantially updated nuclear disarmament resolutions (See Renewed Determination and a New Agenda Report).

Moreover, some delegations challenged the Committee to use its voting process to show where the international community stands on theses issues. In the area of small arms and light weapons, two delegations, Jamaica and Mexico, abstained from a vote because the resolution was not progressive enough. (See SALW Report) Usually, consensus is broken from objections to progress, resulting in a slew of lowest common denominator resolutions. This is a challenge to the First Committee to use its voting process to give direction on disarmament, and pressure for progress, to the international community.

Votes can serve as snapshots of where the international community stands on the issues, while consensus adoptions indicate areas of agreement. Looking at the 27 voted resolutions can illuminate the divisions on issues and in alliances. The European Union and NATO voted against five draft resolutions dealing with nuclear weapons (L.5, L.36, L.52, L.54 and L.53) and abstained from those on nuclear weapons and their mobility, negative security assurances, and multilateralism (L.11, L.45, L.19 and L.14). India and Pakistan voted against references to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and resolutions urging them to join it as Non-Nuclear Weapon States. France, Israel, the UK and the US voted together on many nuclear weapon issues, sometimes joined by Russia, but rarely by China. MERCOSUR and CARICOM, with several other Latin American countries, abstained from the draft decision on the international instrument on marking and tracing small arms and light weapons because it was not legally binding.

However, one Member State voted against far more draft resolutions than any other Member State or block, with France, Israel and the United Kingdom trailing behind. The United States cast 24 no votes out of 61 possible votes and 36 votes taken, was the only no vote on eight draft resolutions and one of only a handful of no votes on eight more. Of the eight for which the US was the sole no vote, three were on nuclear weapons issues (PAROS and the CTBT) the US has made clear it is nearly alone in actively opposing, and three dealt with the way arms and disarmament interact with other issues areas (development, human rights and the environment) that the US does not believe should be connected with the First Committee, despite the mandate given by Heads of State at the World Summit that these issues are fundamentally interconnected.

Regardless of each individual reason for voting no, the sheer quantity of the US’s no votes in comparison to the rest of the General Assembly, even in comparison to the rest of the Nuclear Weapon States, is unsettling. Much like its behavior at the World Summit, when two weeks before negotiations were scheduled to conclude the US made 750 edits to the draft Outcome Document, the US is exhibiting unilateral and inflexible behavior in the First Committee. The UN is based on the sovereign right of every state to look after its national security interests, but does that give a single state, or a small group of states, the right to hold the human security interests of the world, including those states’ own people, hostage? Total global nuclear disarmament is the democratic will of the majority of the world’s people and governments. The votes in the First Committee give a snapshot of who is standing in the way of the realization of that goal, and its connections to the well being of the world.

-Jennifer Nordstrom, Reaching Critical Will

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