6 October 2008 - Preview Edition

Editorial: Opportunities for the 2008 UNGA First Committee
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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As we begin the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, we should reflect on our current challenges and potential future successes. We cannot allow our frustration with past failures to impede our progress. The challenges we face present delegates, UN staff, and civil society with another opportunity to press for a breakthrough in disarmament at this year’s First Committee.

Nuclear Weapons
In nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, another year has passed without substantial, positive developments:

  • The nine states that possess nuclear explosive devices continue to do so.
  • North Korea recently removed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seals and banned inspectors from its weapons-related plutonium reprocessing plant.
  • The IAEA recently expressed frustration with its investigation into allegations that Iran had previously engaged in studies to build a nuclear weapon. The IAEA noted, however, that Iran has not appeared to use nuclear material in relation to these studies, nor has it seemed to attempt to design or manufacture a nuclear weapon. The Agency also continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.
  • The International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament announced its Commissioners and gave a brief overview of its intentions. Unfortunately, disarmament seems to be only a minor concern in the Commission’s agenda, relegated to the sixth point of the six concerns that will guide its work.
  • On 6 September, the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group unanimously approved a exemption from its nuclear cooperation guidelines for India, in a move that violates the spirit of the NPT and undermines efforts to halt the spread of sensitive nuclear materials, to prevent nuclear arms races, and to abolish nuclear weapons.

Conventional Weapons 
Our colleagues campaigning against conventional weapons have seen more success:

  • On 30 May, 111 states adopted a landmark draft treaty, the Cluster Munitions Convention, which will outlaw the use, production, and sale of cluster munitions as well as require the destruction of stockpiles within eight years. Participating states are expected to sign the pact in Oslo in December.
  • The Third Biennial Meeting of States on Small Arms met in July to review the implementation of the UN Programme of Action and the International Tracing Instrument. It voted to adopt its final report with 134 states in favour, none opposed, and with Iran and Zimbabwe abstaining.
  • The Group of Governmental Experts on the Arms Trade Treaty released its report, though it contains no conclusions on the feasibility, scope, or parameters of a possible treaty. Instead, it recommends that the UN hold “further consideration of efforts to address the international trade” in conventional weapons.

Disarmament Machinery 
Our current disarmament machinery continues to flounder:

  • The 2008 session of the Conference on Disarmament did not, for the ninth year in a row, adopt a programme of work.
  • The UN Disarmament Commission failed to adopt recommendations in either of its working groups—ending its three year cycle in failure.
  • At the second Preparatory Committee of the current nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review cycle, the Chair was once again compelled to submit his factual summary of the session as a working paper, instead of appending it to the final report, due to disagreement over its contents and balance.

The Way Forward 
This session of the UNGA First Committee has an opportunity to build consensus, bridge gaps, and support the development international norms that can lead to effective disarmament and non-proliferation. In his opening statement on 16 September, General Assembly President H.E. Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, M.M. of Nicaragua noted, “The General Assembly has a clear mandate to consider principles regarding disarmament and the regulation of armaments, as well as to make recommendations. Each year this body adopts over 50 resolutions and decisions on these issues. Yet something is missing from our deliberations—namely, the effective implementation of our decisions by constructive action.” He thus called upon member states during this sixty-third session “to adopt a results-based approach both to disarmament and to the regulation of armaments, an approach that measures progress by deeds—and not words or numbers of resolutions alone.” Reaching Critical Will supports this call and urges all delegations to commit themselves to actions that will increase real peace, security, and justice. This preview edition of the First Committee Monitor highlights just a few of the areas where concerted action is necessary and possible, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, cluster munitions, and depleted uranium weapons.

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