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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 37, May 1999

Disarmament Commission

'Disarmament Commission adopts guidelines on nuclear-weapon-free zones, conventional arms, as it concludes three-week session,' United Nations Press Release DC/2641, 30 April 1999

"The Disarmament Commission concluded its long-term consideration of three disarmament issues on Friday evening by reaching agreement on guidelines for two of them: the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones; and conventional arms control. The Commission could not reach consensus, however, on the objectives and agenda for a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.

According to the guidelines adopted by the Commission, developed by its first working group, the initiative to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone should emanate exclusively from States within the region concerned and be pursued by all the States of that region. Further, any such proposal should be considered only after consensus on the objective has been achieved in broad consultations within the States of the region concerned. In addition, the nuclear-weapon States, as well as any States with territory or internationally responsible for territories within the zone, should be consulted during the negotiations. Finally, a zone must conform with international law, and its status should be respected by all States parties to the treaty establishing it, including the nuclear-weapon States.

The conventional arms control guidelines, which are designed for consolidating peace in post-conflict situations, state that the excessive accumulation of small arms and light weapons can best be averted by a combination of reduction and prevention measures. They cover: practical disarmament measures in post-conflict situations; confidence-building in post-conflict situations; regional and international financial and technical assistance; other conventional arms control/limitation and disarmament measures; and the role of the United Nations.

Many of the 28 speakers addressing the closing meeting said the two consensus texts, which are contained in the Commission's draft annual report to the Assembly, reaffirmed their belief in the value of the Commission as a specialized deliberative forum capable of identifying disarmament- and security-related principles and guidelines. When measured against its inability to reach consensus in past years, speakers said, the successful conclusion of two disarmament items was remarkable. Also at the current session, the first positive effects of reforming the Commission had been felt, which had allowed for earlier and more careful preparation of its work.

The guidelines for establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones were described by several speakers as a significant achievement for the international community. The text had thoroughly elaborated the core principle that arrangements should be arrived at freely among States and draw important conclusions from past experience. The guidelines would provide further impetus to ongoing disarmament efforts by all States searching for tools to promote nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and regional security.

As for the conventional arms control guidelines, many speakers said they were a major step forward in an area that directly affected the security and stability of States. The text represented a substantial conceptual contribution to consolidating peace in post-conflict situations and combating the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of weapons, particularly small arms and light weapons. It was a tool upon which the international community could draw to prevent the emergence and re-emergence of conflicts.

Delegations disagreed about the reasons for the Commission's failure to reach consensus on the essential components of a fourth special session on disarmament. The representative of India said agreement had not been reached because some States refused to allow the critical issue of the retention of nuclear weapons to be brought to the table. Even while the current session of the Commission was taking place, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had recently stated that its security and the preservation of peace depended on nuclear weapons, he said.

The United States representative said her country had accepted the notion of another special session because a forward-looking meeting to elaborate an agenda for multilateral disarmament and arms control in the post-cold-war world was useful, assuming that States displayed a willingness to compromise and limit their aspirations to the attainable. Unfortunately, such a willingness had not emerged in spite of four years of painstaking work.

Given the sincere commitment expressed by many delegations to convene a fourth special session, some speakers suggested the impasse be resolved at the next session of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security). The draft document produced by the Commission was a valid basis for consensus, they said.

In closing remarks, the Chairman of the Commission, Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt, expressed his regret at the failure to reach consensus on the fourth special session. At the same time, the successful formulation of conventional arms control guidelines was proof that hard work and serious effort, combined with political will, could realize objectives. The Commission must not be used to achieve national interests at the expense of common goals. Indeed, its continuation as a deliberative body required a rethinking of the way in which national interests could be preserved in the wider context of collective interests. ... "

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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