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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 15, May 1997

Disarmament Commission: 1997 Session

'Disarmament Commission concludes 1997 Session at Headquarters, 21 April - 13 May,' UN Disarmament Commission Press Release, DC/2586, 13 May 1997


"Concluding its 1997 substantive session, the Disarmament Commission this morning 'generally' agreed that a fourth General Assembly special session devoted to disarmament could be convened, subject to the emergence of a consensus on its objectives and agenda.

The Commission took that action by adopting, without a vote, its report to the fifty-second session of the General Assembly, along with the reports of its working groups on the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, on the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament and on guidelines on conventional arms control/limitation and disarmament. The working groups on the nuclear-weapon-free zones and on arms control/limitation were convened for the first time at this session.

According to the Chairman of Working Group I, Abdelkadar Mesdoua (Algeria), the group's work resulted in the establishment of a promising beginning for tangible results in the future. The Chairman had proposed to structure discussions during the first year around four elements: general overview; scope; principles and objectives; and recommendations. The wide range of the topics under consideration by the working group was demonstrated by the large number of working papers and other written submissions introduced by delegations.

In introducing the group's report, Mr. Mesdoua said that if positive results were obtained by the working group, it was due to the hard work and dedication of all the delegations involved. To help prepare the ground for subsequent in-depth deliberations at next year's session, a Chairman's paper had been presented that contained reflections on the issues involved, which was annexed to the working group's report.

The Chairman of working group II, Sudjadnan Parnohadiningraj (Indonesia), said the first three of the working group's 12 meetings had been devoted to a general exchange of views. In addition, throughout the session he had held informal consultations with individual delegations. The working group took as a basis for its work a non-paper submitted by the Chairman, which had been prepared in consultation with delegations. The paper organized issues around four elements: elements for understanding, elements for objectives of the special session, issues to be taken up at special session, and the preparatory process. Revisions were made to the non-paper which drew upon suggestions by the delegations.

Unfortunately, there were fundamental differences of approach among delegations regarding the convening of the special session, he said. In spite of strenuous efforts on everyone's part, it was impossible to bridge the gap, but there was a general feeling that progress had been made. The working group had recommended that the Commission continue its consideration of an item on the special session at its next session.

Michael Hoey (Ireland), Chairman of Working Group III, said that during the working group's deliberations, seven working papers had been submitted by delegations. The Chairman also submitted a non-paper for consideration. The working group completed its consideration of the Chairman's non-paper, which had enjoyed support as a contribution for the consideration of future guidelines. It was agreed, however, that some elements of the non-paper required further elaboration and refinement. Debates in the working group were particularly enriched by the contribution of delegations that had recently experienced post-conflict situations and practical disarmament measures that were undertaken to help consolidate peace. Their views served to remind the working group of the very real problems it was addressing.

When the working group focused its attention on the regional and global aspects of arms control, it was reminded of the enormous importance of reinforcing efforts to combat the illicit arms trade, which continued to have disproportionately large effects on the internal security and socio-economic development of affected States. It was hoped that the valuable papers submitted by individual delegations could serve as a source of ideas and principles and provide a constructive and balanced basis to continue work at next year's session. ...

Commission Reports

Working group I considered the item entitled 'Establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the region concerned' based on a wide range of working papers and written submissions which will be forwarded to the 1998 substantive session of the Disarmament Commission for further analysis. ...

At its 1998 session, the working group recommended, the Commission might consider the following topics: nuclear-weapon-free zones as means for enhancing peace, security and stability, regionally and globally; characteristics of the region concerned, including the geographical definition of the zone; elements conducive to the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, taking into account characteristics of existing treaties or agreements establishing the zones; the role of verification mechanisms and of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards; consultation and negotiating processes leading to the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones; and relationships between nuclear-weapon-free zones and other existing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament treaties.

To facilitate discussion of the issues at hand, the Chairman prepared a paper which is contained in the annex to the report. The paper states that nuclear-weapon-free zones should be established on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the zone concerned and the full compliance with those agreements. Such arrangements should ensure that the zones are genuinely free from nuclear weapons. Also, respect for such zones by nuclear-weapon States constitutes an important disarmament measure.

Working group II dealt with the proposed fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament... The group generally agreed to the convening of the special session, subject to the emergence of a consensus on its objectives and agenda. Although no consensus on objectives or the agenda was reached, some progress was made, according to the report. It was also generally agreed that the decision on convening a fourth special session should follow the procedure set for previous special sessions of the Assembly devoted to disarmament. The working group recommended that the item be included on the 1998 agenda of the Commission.

The working group took note of a paper presented by its Chairman, upon which there was no consensus, containing elements for the objectives of the fourth special session. That paper recognized that the special session should emphasize the importance of multilateralism in disarmament, bearing in mind the historic significance of the Final Document of the Tenth Special Session of the General Assembly -- its first devoted to disarmament.

The Chairman of the working group also suggested that the special session should review the international situation in the context of changes after the cold war; identify new challenges and the means for addressing them; establish a new plan of action which would strengthen the central role of the United Nations in disarmament; establish priorities for future disarmament efforts; and build upon past accomplishments in the field of disarmament in order to strengthen international peace and security.

Working group III considered guidelines on conventional arms control/limitation and disarmament, with particular emphasis on consolidation of peace in the context of General Assembly resolution 51/45 N. It undertook a general exchange of views which were consolidated in a Chairman's non-paper. That paper enjoyed general support as a contribution for the elaboration of the guidelines, although the working group agreed that some of its elements would require refinement and elaboration. ...

According to the non-paper, a comprehensive approach was required for disarmament with regard to light weapons. The illicit arms trade, in particular, continued to have disproportionately large effects for the internal security and socio-economic development of many States. Conventional weapons guidelines should be neither mandatory nor prescriptive, and should be adopted by consensus; they should emphasize the consolidation of peace in post-conflict situations and should be used to promote peace and stability.

The non-paper suggests that the guidelines would be of assistance to the United Nations and other multilateral bodies, regional organizations, governments and to conflict parties -- particularly in the context of peace agreements. The guidelines should encompass practical disarmament measures such as arms collection and destruction, demining and demobilization. Those measures should be of particular relevance to conflicts approaching solution, to recently ended conflicts, and to preventing the re-emergence of conflicts. The non-paper also suggests that the guidelines should encompass other conventional arms control and limitation measures, including transparency in armaments and control of the illicit arms trade.

The working group also developed a non-inclusive list of further measures which might be undertaken including: arms collection and disposal, destruction, turn-in/buy-back programmes; demobilization; demining; the reintegration of combatants; conversion; public information campaigns; regional arms control and confidence-building measures; post-conflict moratoria on the import and manufacture of small arms; the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms; and the establishment of voluntary, global and non-discriminatory codes of conduct for arms transfers. Other measures include the development of national laws and regulations of arms, including import and export licensing; border controls; international cooperation in criminal law; and coordination and assistance by the international community. ...

Background on Commission

The Disarmament Commission, a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly with universal membership, was set up to make recommendations on specific disarmament issues and to follow up on the decisions of the Assembly's special sessions on disarmament. The Commission, which resulted from a decision of the first special session in 1978, replaced a limited-membership body which existed from 1952 to 1965.

In recent years, the Commission has streamlined its work under reforms adopted in 1990. Since 1993, it has limited its discussion to three specific items. In recent years, the Commission has negotiated such confidence and security-building measures as the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, and guidelines and recommendations for objective information on military matters and for regional approaches to disarmament.

Commission Officers

The officers of the Commission in 1997 are Andelfo J. Garcia (Colombia), Chairman. Representatives of the following States are Vice-Chairmen: Belarus, Cuba, Gabon, Ghana, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Romania and Viet Nam. Genevieve Hamilton (Australia) is the Rapporteur. Also, Chairman, working group I, Abdelkadar Mesdoua (Algeria); Chairman, working group II, Sudjadnan Parnohadiningraj (Indonesia); and Chairman, working group III, Michael Hoey (Ireland)."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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