31 October 2005 - Final Edition

Jennifer Nordstrom | Reaching Critical Will

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The 60th session of the General Assembly's First Committee, mandated to address disarmament, peace and security, has concluded in a year of symbolism-laden expectations that, to date, have been unfulfilled. The First Committee faced a frustrating, polarized situation and in some small ways, stood up and insisted on making progress in disarmament, even if that progress was often contested.

For our readers' easy reference, this Final Edition of The First Committee Monitor includes action taken in the final two days of the First Committee Session, as well as summaries of the rest of the month. We are also including articles from prior editions of the Monitor so every issue the First Committee addressed this year can be found here.

Not unlike other international disarmament fora, definitive and substantive progress was impeded in the First Committee this year. During the first week of the First Committee, the United States reminded the world that it does not support linking negotiations of a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) to "unrelated issues", meaning it does not support the near consensus program of work in theConference on Disarmament (CD). (See Disarmament Machinery Report and Fissile Materials Report)

Moreover, the US hardened its position against the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS); changing its abstention on the PAROS resolution to a loud and lonely no vote, while Israel was the only abstainer. (See PAROS Report)

The US also introduced a significantly tougher version of the biannual resolution on verification and compliance, which downplayed the role of international law and promoted US-led plurilateral initiatives instead. Iran, not to be outdone, introduced a new draft resolutioncalling for the Nuclear Weapon States to fulfill their disarmament obligations agreed at the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences. (See Verification and Nuclear Disarmament Reports) The US had quantitatively more no votes than any other Member State, including the Nuclear Weapon States, with 24 no votes out of 61 possible votes and 36 votes taken. (See Introduction Week 4)

However, the First Committee also took some risks this year, though many more are merited. In dealing with weapons systems, the First Committee had three new small arms resolutions, including one that linked small arms with development along the lines of the mandate provided by the World Summit. A vote was called for on the small arms omnibus resolution because it was not progressive enough. (SeeSALW Report) China voted for the annual resolution in support of the Mine Ban Treaty for the first time, though it is still not party to the Treaty. (See Landmines Report)

The New Agenda Coalition (NAC) decided to vote for the Japanese nuclear disarmament resolution in solidarity, despite having reservations. Both the NAC and Japan reworked their resolutions this year in light of the failed Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. (See New Agenda and Renewed Determination Report)

In dealing with the dysfunctional disarmament machinery tasked with addressing these weapons systems, the First Committee delved into issues of consensus and unilateralism. The conversation on the purpose of consensus and its abuse will continue as various international disarmament fora struggle to adapt to a changed, and changing, geopolitical context. (See Introduction Week 3 and Disarmament Machinery Weeks 1 and 2) On the last day of the First Committee, Mexico insisted the Disarmament Commission adopt an agenda by the beginning of its 2006 session, by vote if necessary. A new alliance of six countries, Brazil, Canada, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden, presented a creative proposal to the First Committee to establish four open-ended ad-hoc committees under the General Assembly consistent with the Five Ambassadors' (A5) proposal for a Conference on Disarmament (CD) programme of work. Although a draft resolution was not tabled, it caused a stir and demonstrated creative problem solving to address the deadlock in the CD. If there is no progress in the world's sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum, the resolution will hopefully be tabled next year with broader support. (See Disarmament Machinery Report)

The First Committee also assessed its own procedures and made suggestions for continued reform and revitalization. (See First Committee Revitalization Report) The First Committee formalized its positive collaboration with civil society and held a precedent-setting interactive discussion with NGO experts on disarmament education at the final session of thematic debate. (See Disarmament Education Report)

All these inches of movement count because they are cumulative, but we still have miles to go, both inside and outside the UN. We can all win a sustainable democratic world based on human security, or we can all tragically lose and animate our worst nightmares, and we have to make that choice every day. To win, we have to make the decision to cooperate and build a world that works for all of us, which means working through our fears and suspicions, "trusting but verifying", and using our tools as we develop and build a cooperative security framework together.

-Jennifer Nordstrom, Reaching Critical Will

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