30 October 2006 - Final Edition

Jennifer Nordstrom | Reaching Critical Will

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The 2006 First Committee made several major substantive contributions to disarmament and non-proliferation. Most significantly, it voted to begin a process moving “Towards an Arms Trade Treaty” (L.55) that would regulate trade in all conventional weapons—from tanks to guns—for the first time. (See ATT report) It also voted to continue the small arms and light weapons (SALW) follow-up process, which the 2006 Review Conference on the illicit trade in SALW was unable to do. (See SALW report) The First Committee also voted to provide support to the upcoming nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review cycle, starting with a 2007 Preparatory Committee meeting in Vienna from April 30-May 11. The First Committee vote on the traditionally consensual Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zoneresolution gave the first comprehensive picture of where the world stands since the controversial treaty was signed on September 8 of this year. The First Committee also condemned the North Korean nuclear test, in three different adopted resolutions, and in statements from across the regional groupings.

Behind the scenes, governments consulted to prepare for the 2007 Conference on Disarmament (CD) session. The annual report from the world’s sole multilateral treaty negotiating body was adopted by the First Committee without a vote, so the most interesting and significant exchanges on the future of the CD happened during the thematic debate on disarmament machinery. (See disarmament machinery report)

The First Committee also made progress in process. Process continues to be vital to disarmament and non-proliferation, as it significantly affects substantive outcomes. There was a more cooperative and optimistic spirit in the room this year, which, according to the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, helps negotiations. Governments also participated more in the general and thematic debates, as well as the inter-active informal sessions. States that are often quiet during the First Committee spoke, and states were generally more willing to engage in extemporaneous debate. A range of experts gave valuable presentations to the First Committee, including the Chair of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, Dr. Hans Blix, and the Chair of a committee created by the First Committee. Non-governmental organizations also addressed the Committee on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and the Arms Trade Treaty. (See Introduction, Week 3) Overall, thanks to the able and efficient Chair, Ambassador Mona Juul, and the Committee’s cooperation, procedures went remarkably smoothly, enabling substantive work instead of impeding it, as it should be.

Unfortunately, there were several negative signals as well, both in the Committee and in the backdrop of its meetings. North Korea shocked the world when it conducted a nuclear test on October 9, and possibly changed the disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme broke down, and the Security Council began considering sanctions. The United States released its new space policy on October 13, continued its sole opposition vote to the annual “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” resolution, and moved to more unilateral positions on other First Committee issues. (See Introduction, Week 4) 

However, as Dr. Blix remarked, the challenges to the disarmament and non-proliferation regime, though significant, are the exception. The overwhelming majority of states agree on where to go and on the first steps to get there. (See nuclear disarmament report) As the international community prepares for the 2007 CD session and NPT Preparatory Committee, it should keep this vast agreement, the cooperative spirit of the First Committee, and the success of the conventional and SALW processes in mind. Progress is far from impossible. Good faith is not created by a few, let alone a single state; it is the responsibility of the entire international community. We must continue inching forward, reinforcing existing norms on disarmament and non-proliferation, and negotiating new ones. We are the ones we have been waiting for—it is time to just do it.

-Jennifer Nordstrom, Reaching Critical Will

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