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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 17, July - August 1997

Annan Reform Plans Upgrade Disarmament
By Jim Wurst


When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced his plan for UN reform on 16 July, his proposals for budget and personnel cuts, increased emphasis on development aid, and the creation of the post of Deputy Secretary-General, included the unexpected upgrading of disarmament within the UN system through the creation of a Department for Disarmament and Arms Regulation (DDAR). Currently this brief is handled by the Center for Disarmament Affairs (CDA), an office under the Department of Political Affairs. What are the political and diplomatic implications of this higher disarmament profile within the UN?

Despite the report's definitive statement that "A Department for Disarmament and Arms Regulation, headed by an under-secretary-general, will be established," there are a number of elements that have not been clarified. While the Secretary-General has the authority under Chapter XV of the Charter to shape the secretariat as he or she sees fits, Annan is waiting for comments from governments during the General Assembly (which begins in late September) and the First Committee in October before establishing the department. In addition, it appears that Annan will have to face the discomfort of the United States.

The report, Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform (Document A/51/950), stated: "Disarmament is a central issue of the global agenda. With the end of the superpower rivalry, nations everywhere have come to recognize their stake in the success of multilateral negotiations and the monitoring of weapons developments. As a consequence, the United Nations has taken centre stage in the worldwide effort to limit both weapons and conflict. Within the framework of the Conference on Disarmament and the General Assembly, significant advances have been made in the establishment and consolidation of multilateral legal instruments and nuclear-weapon-free zones. A valuable role has also been played by the Disarmament Commission." Therefore, Annan wrote, "A managerial reorganization of Secretariat capacities will now be effected so that a structure will be in place to respond effectively to the priorities of member States in the disarmament area."

The Changing Bureaucratic Status of Disarmament in the UN

Disarmament was ranked as a department from 1982 (when the General Assembly recommended the upgrade of the Disarmament office to a Department) until 1992 when former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali demoted the department to an office, later to bring it up to the Center for Disarmament Affairs (1). Therefore Annan's move is a return to the previous state of affairs.

Asked why he did this, the Secretary-General, speaking at a news conference following his presentation to the General Assembly, stated, "I think it was a mistake to have downgraded disarmament...and I am correcting that mistake. I think we have in the past sometimes been stampeded into making cuts to demonstrate that we are reforming... It is the importance and the complexity of the issue that should determine whom we bring in at the senior level to do our task. And I think disarmament is one of those issues..."

The New Mandate

At his news conference, Annan elaborated on some of the issues the new DDAR could tackle. He said:

"I think disarmament is one of the crucial issues facing the world today. I am not dealing only with issues of weapons of mass destruction, but we will also be dealing with arms regulation, and we will need to be able to track the movement of lethal weapons, which these days get into hands which most of us would be worried about when we knew who those individuals were. We should also be able to track the movement of the small arms and the kinds of weapons that have really caused havoc in the Great Lakes region of Africa, in Albania and in other places around the world. We should also be able to work with governments to develop the political will for the banning of landmines, for example. I think the United Nations should have a strong focal point that will work with member States and move them in the right direction to tackle some of these disarmament issues. I think the support will be there, I think it should be there, and I would be disappointed if it were not."

Prvoslav Davinic, the Director of the Center for Disarmament Affairs, said in an interview that the upgrading of disarmament should be seen "as a political statement that disarmament in the post-Cold War world plays a greater role," rather than as an organizational move. He said the UN needs to address "the double priorities" of nuclear and conventional disarmament, thus the upgrade can also be seen as a reflection of the growing importance of conventional disarmament in regional, sub-regional and internal conflict resolutions.

Clearly aware that some developing nations fear a broadening of the agenda will mean less attention to nuclear disarmament, Davinic said nuclear (as well as other weapons of mass destruction) disarmament remains "extremely important and the UN should pursue it." He cited in particular the need for continued reduction in nuclear arms, the work needed to maintain the various new arms control treaties and to attain universal membership for those treaties. Two priorities he mentioned in the context of conventional disarmament are destroying anti-personnel landmines and the collection and destruction of light weapons.

Furthermore, Davinic said, this work is leading to the need for greater integration of disarmament with peacekeeping and post-conflict peace-building, thus creating a department for disarmament puts the work on the same organizational level as the Departments of Political Affairs and Peace-Keeping.

As to why "arms regulation" was added to the title, Davinic said it was "more realistic" since many of the activities in the field in which the UN is involved fit this description. He also noted that "regulation of armaments" is Charter language, so the idea is not new. "Regulation" will be particularly important in conventional disarmament.

Besides the issues cited by Annan and Davinic, DDAR will continue to be in charge of compiling the Register of Conventional Arms. There will probably be a new drive for the creation of regional Arms Registers. The yet-to-be-released report by the Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms includes recommendations for UN initiatives in collecting and destroying small arms and light weapons during and after peacekeeping missions, as well as efforts to curb the illicit flow of arms. Clearing landmines, however, will be the responsibility of the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations.

Next Steps

Annan was noncommittal on when the Department would start functioning or who he planned to appoint as Under-Secretary-General, saying only, "There are some very, very good candidates out there and you will hear about them soon." The general view among UN officials in disarmament and those involved in the reform plan is that Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala is the likely front-runner. Sri Lanka's ambassador to Washington until he took early retirement this spring, Dhanapala was the President of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. In addition, he served on the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, represented Sri Lanka on the Conference on Disarmament (1984-87) and is a former Director of the UN's Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).

In an earlier organizational shuffle, the support staff for the General Assembly's disarmament-related committees - the First Committee and the Disarmament Commission - were transferred to the new Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services. If this staff does not move back to Disarmament (bureaucratically speaking - physically they have never left the Center for Disarmament Affairs), then DDAR will have a staff of twenty professionals and service staff. It will be by far the smallest department in the UN (in contrast, the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations has about 400 staff).

The key budgetary issue is the salary for the Under-Secretary-General (USG). As to the rest of the staff, Davinic said it would depend on what changes are made in the department's mandate. "Maybe you do not need additional posts, maybe you need different people," he said.

The only substantive references to the two General Assembly bodies is a recommendation that the General Assembly "undertake a review of the work of the Disarmament Commission and the First Committee with a view to updating, rationalizing and streamlining their work."

Disarmament in the Overall Scheme of Annan's Reforms

The overall goal of reforming the secretariat is to create a "cabinet-style" administration of Executive Committees where five "conveners" report to the Secretary-General. In addressing the General Assembly, Annan said, "The Senior Management Group will be formed that will function like a cabinet and help lead the process of change" and the four Executive Committees established in January will be continued. He proposed the creation of Deputy Secretary-General who "will spearhead the Organization's efforts to raise financing for development...[and] will also ensure the coherence of the Organization's cross-sectoral activities."

The four committees are Peace and Security, Development, Economic and Social, and Humanitarian Affairs, with Human Rights "an integral dimension of all sectors," according to the report. Disarmament is under the Peace and Security cluster and, as a department, would be equal to the Departments of Political Affairs and Peace-Keeping Operations. The USG for Political Affairs is the convener of that Executive Committee. These five branches report to the Secretary-General and the not-yet-created Deputy Secretary-General. The various administrative offices (Legal Affairs, Public Information, Internal Oversight, et. al.) are under the Secretary-General and the Deputy's offices.

The overall policy aim of the reform is to focus the UN's work more on development assistance. Annan argued that in order "to alleviate poverty, we need to come up with creative means of raising funds, mobilizing additional resources, to help governments and to let the United Nations do what it would like to do and what the member States expect of it. It is for this purpose that we are setting up a Development Finance Office, which will be under the Deputy Secretary-General, to mobilize resources for economic development." Annan also called for a "Development Dividend" emerging from the reform process by reducing administrative costs by 33 percent and applying the savings to development work. He said, "Our projections are that it [the dividend] would reach a level of at least $200 million by the year 2002."

Other features of the plan include: proposing a "negative growth" budget; cutting 1,000 staff positions by the end of 1997; and consolidating all UN field officers in countries into a single "United Nations House." The Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) will be abolished and its operative functions will be distributed to other bodies while an Emergency Relief Coordinator will perform the administrative functions of the old DHA. On the other hand, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be strengthen: all UN functions in this field will be consolidated under the authority of the High Commissioner.

US Reaction to the Disarmament Dimension of the Reforms

Speaking within hours of Annan's address, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the administration was "pleased" with the proposals: "We have not had time to review the proposals in detail, but heartily endorse their focus on improving management and efficiency, cutting costs and emphasizing the UN's core missions."

At a news conference the next day, UN Ambassador Bill Richardson highlight the disarmament initiative as one proposal where the US has "a bit of concern." Elaborating on that, Princeton N. Lyman, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, said the US had "questions to be pursued rather than objections per se." He said, "We had a number of questions about the position and how the two entities, that in Geneva and that in New York, would relate to each other. We wouldn't want to see a recreation of the situation we saw with human rights where you had two epicenters...that didn't relate very well."

Lyman's second concern was why Annan did not leave Disarmament as a Center under the Department of Political Affairs. One in-house reason for the shift, according to several UN officials, is that the USG for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, had no interest in keeping the disarmament brief.

A department devoted to disarmament is also an unusual initiative to present to right-wing critics of the UN in the United States Congress. Not only does this create a new department at a time of contraction (although, since the Department of Humanitarian Affairs is to be abolished, the number of departments remain the same), it elevates an issue despised by conservatives. It could even be read as a challenge to elevate disarmament at the same time the US Senate has voted to abolish the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (in the same bill that sets the benchmarks for payment of US arrears). Davinic is convinced, however, that there is nothing in the plan he thinks Senate conservatives will find objectionable.

New York and Geneva: a Changing Relationship?

Princeton N. Lyman's concern, quoted above, about New York and Geneva epicenters, is not fully addressed in Annan's report. The report states: "Since the Conference on Disarmament meets in Geneva for three to four months every year [sic], it will require continuing support. Therefore, existing staff capacity to support the [CD], the monitoring of multilateral disarmament treaties and conventions, fellowship and training programmes and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) will continue to be maintained in Geneva. The Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva will continue to act a Secretary-General of the [CD] reporting directly to the Secretary-General."

According to Davinic, the elevation of Disarmament in New York would not change the structure in Geneva: the Director-General will continue to report directly to the Secretary-General, not the new USG, and he will continue to serve as Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament. However, the report is not entirely clear about the line of authority for functions other than the CD. For example, if the monitoring of a convention - i.e., a review conference - is held in New York, which official is in charge: the USG, the Director-General, or (for that matter) the USG of Conference Services? These kind of questions will have to be ironed out after the new USG comes on board.


1. In UN terminology, a Department is the highest class of division within the secretariat, usually headed by an Under Secretary-General; a Center is headed by a Director (the rank under Assistant Secretary-General); and Offices, Divisions and Units are further sub-divisions.

Jim Wurst is a journalist based at the UN.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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