2 October 2006 - First Edition

Jennifer Nordstrom | Reaching Critical Will

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We begin again. In 2006, the world's disarmament consensus-building body is meeting after another international disarmament failure—this time in small arms and light weapons (SALW), previously the only area of progress. While most of the first week's general debate speeches, much as they did last year, have chronicled the international disarmament failures—the 2005 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, the World Summit, the Conference on Disarmament (CD),the Disarmament Commission, and now the 2006 SALW Review Conference— this year governments have suggestions about what to do about it, and they have some hope that these will work. There is also a woman (Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway) chairing the Committee for the first time, as well as an increase in substantive formal civil society involvement, both of which bode well for progress.

Most of the energy of the First Committee is swirling around developing an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a treaty which would, for the first time, regulate trade in all conventional weapons. A group of governments has introduced a draft resolution calling for the UN to set up a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) to examine the feasibility of a treaty to establish common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms. (See ATT report) The First Committee is also busy working on SALW. Governments have suggested using the First Committee to create a follow-up mechanism for the Programme of Action on SALW.

The work to control conventional and small arms and light weapons is greatly needed, both in terms of lives lost daily and in terms of resources misspent. Not only do these weapons kill, they also cost. Last year, the world spent over 1 trillion dollars on the military. We must decide to spend our resources on improving the human condition instead of destroying it. The Department for Disarmament Affairs' new Under-Secretary General is right, there are powerful economic interests making a profit from selling these weapons, but billions more people stand to profit from their control. Governments must act in their interest. (See Disarmament and Development report)

On the nuclear side, people are focusing their efforts on the upcoming NPT review process and on the Conference on Disarmament (CD). There will be a resolution in the First Committee asking the UN to service the 2007 NPT Preparatory Committee. Governments have not yet agreed, however, on whether they prefer to hold it New York, keeping with tradition, or move it to Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency and Comprehensive Teat Ban Treaty Organization are located. The most important thing will be to set a tone of cooperation and agreement early on.

Although there is not going to be a controversial resolution about the CD this year, crucial negotiations for the 2007 session are taking place on the sidelines of the First Committee. The 2007 presidents of the CD, particularly South Africa which will be the first president, are determining how to build on the year long substantive discussions set up by the 2006 presidents. With momentum, precedent, and the support of governments and civil society behind them, we believe they will be able to live up to the world's expectations and bring the CD back to a working mode. (See Disarmament Machinery report)

Canada will also be re-introducing its Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) resolution, which is particularly important given the possibility of the CD getting back to work. The original mandate for an FMCT grew out of a consensus First Committee resolution in 1993. Negotiations on this year's resolution are likely to be difficult, as the US is resisting the previously agreed verification of an FMCT, and because controversy over how to address stockpiles of fissile materials continues.

All of this work is taking place against the backdrop of increasing international tensions and confrontation over Iran and North Korea's nuclear programmes. On October 3, North Korea announced its intention to conduct a nuclear weapons test, which could seriously damage the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime. It looks as though the Security Council will again address Iran's nuclear programme, after waiting for a month for more diplomatic efforts. These situations are of course very different; North Korea is declaring a nuclear weapons capability while Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and that it is being unjustly targeted with accusations. They are both being dealt with in the Security Council, and share the common characteristics of increasing escalation, threats and confrontation. The cooperative multilateral work in the First Committee stands in stark contrast to the coercive escalation of conflict taking place outside Conference Room IV. (See North Korea report and Iran report)

The First Committee should be motivated to prove that its work in a cooperative multilateral mode is more effective than coercion and escalation. It is time to move disarmament and nonproliferation progress back into multilateral frameworks by showing they are more effective. We provide the tools for the arguments that cooperation, multilateralism, and international law work. We not only create the atmosphere, we also create the reality. We have to build a foundation together so as to be in a position to seize political opportunities when they arise; we cannot just wait for them to come.

-Jennifer Nordstrom, Reaching Critical Will

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