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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 51, October 2000

Low-Key First Committee Debates Missiles, the NPT Outcome and Small Arms

By Jenni Rissanen


On October 2, Ambassador U Mya Than of Myanmar (Burma) declared the First Committee of the 55th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) open. The Committee began its five-week deliberations with a two-week general debate of more than a hundred statements, in which countries presented their views on the state of disarmament and international security affairs today. By the end of the deadline for submissions, forty-nine draft resolutions and one draft decision had been tabled. Voting began on October 25. This report, written before the voting commenced, takes a preliminary look at the most-discussed draft resolutions tabled this year, outlining their contents and the major issues of the debate.

The mood in the Committee has been characterised as flat, despite both the positive and negative developments this year. Many have observed that this year' Committee seemed even less exciting than last year, which saw the introduction of the ABM and Missile resolutions in the UN for the first time. While the majority of the resolutions are expected to pass without any problems, a few have sparked more debate and led to behind-the-scenes negotiations. Most of the attention in the Committee so far has centred on the nuclear disarmament resolutions of the New Agenda and Japan, Egypt' resolution on the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, Canada' fissile material production ban resolution, the ABM resolution sponsored by Belarus, China and Russia, Iran' resolution on missiles and Japan' draft decision on small arms.

Nuclear Arms Control and Disarmament

The success of the NPT Review Conference is a key consideration in the nuclear disarmament resolutions this year. An overwhelming majority of the general debate statements recognised and welcomed the outcome and NPT states are seeking to have the UNGA welcome and reaffirm the Conference' Final Document. Thus, drafters of the nuclear resolutions have updated their resolutions by incorporating language from the Final Document. The New Agenda countries (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden and South Africa) stuck closely to the Final Document language, and particularly its thirteen practical steps to implement Article VI of the NPT. Japan drew on the Final Document more loosely and less comprehensively and included some additional elements it would have liked to have seen adopted at the Review Conference, including target dates.

Introducing the New Agenda resolution, Ambassador Henrik Salander of Sweden, acting as the group' coordinator, said that it reflected "the results of the engagement both between non-nuclear-weapon states, and between them and the five nuclear-weapon states over the past three years" and that it was "imperative that what was agreed [at the NPT Review Conference]...be brought before the General Assembly of the United Nations with a view to it being adopted by the United Nations as a whole."1

Japan, which has since 1994 tabled its resolution on "Nuclear Disarmament with a view to the Ultimate Elimination of Nuclear Weapons", introduced this time a resolution called "A Path to the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons", signalling a change in tone. Going beyond the NPT language, the text calls for negotiations on a ban on fissile material production (fissban) to be concluded by the year 2005 (as opposed to "within five years", as in the Final Document and the New Agenda resolution) and sets out a target date of 2003 for the CTBT' entry into force. It also calls for a moratorium on fissile material production. Introducing the resolution, Japan' Ambassador Seiichiro Noboru said some additional values in the resolution had been included, but that there was no intention to deviate from or contradict the language of the Final Document.2

The fact that both the New Agenda and Japan came with new texts this year, and that both incorporated elements from the Final Document, have led many to compare the two resolutions. Overall, the New Agenda resolution is generally regarded as more '' and '', whereas the Japanese resolution is viewed as more '' Some countries are seeking to add a note of caution. Britain, for instance, said that the Final Document was the product of "laborious" negotiations and that it would therefore assess each resolution on the basis of how faithfully it reflected the spirit of the Final Document.3 The United States stressed that that the outcome was "a product of delicately balanced compromises. Taking individual disarmament measures out of their context...or attempting to expand the undertakings...can only endanger the Conference' hard-won consensus".4

Since the Committee session opened, some delegations have reasoned that, because it follows so closely the consensus NPT Final Document, the New Agenda resolution is virtually impossible for countries that participated in that consensus to oppose. This applies even to the nuclear-weapon states. However, though China has indicated that it will vote in favour of the resolution, the other NWS have expressed some doubts. The word in the corridors is that Britain, France and the United States are engaged in consultations with the New Agenda and that they have each submitted a list of proposed changes to the text. Russia is said not be as engaged and likely to abstain. Of the three, Britain is the most likely to support the resolution, but is also concerned to maintain some alliance cohesion with France and the US.

Other delegations argue that the New Agenda resolution has lost some it its edge compared to last year. Indonesia and Malaysia, which co-sponsored the 1999 resolution, are absent from this year' list but are nevertheless expected to vote in favour. There are questions whether getting the NWS onboard means losing support among some of the more hard-line Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries. The New Agenda will need to perform a delicate balancing act in order to get as many countries to support the resolution as possible.

Japan may also face difficulties getting some of its traditional supporters - "moderates" and the NWS - onboard. The additional elements in the "NPT+" draft are evidently meeting a mixed reception. For instance, some states worry that the 2003 target date for the CTBT' entry into force is unrealistic and question its utility. The NWS are likely to be split on this resolution. Regardless of the fact that Britain and the United States have indicated that they wish to follow closely the letter and spirit of the NPT outcome, it is expected that they will support the resolution as they have done in the past. China, on the other hand, is likely to dislike setting a deadline for FMCT negotiations and to resist the call for a fissile material production moratorium. France and Russia are likely to be careful about going any further than the NPT outcome.

Despite, or because of, ongoing difficulties in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Canada (which will take over the CD Presidency in January 2001) has submitted its draft resolution encouraging negotiations on the ban on fissile material production. Many had predicted that this attempt would be doomed, as was the case last year when Canada withdrew the resolution upon learning that China would no longer go along with the text it had supported in 1998. However, the Canadians have decided to use the consensus language from the NPT Final Document that places the negotiations in the context of the CD programme of work, i.e. that the CD must first agree on the work programme before starting the negotiations. It is understood that China is content with this formulation but that Pakistan, as a non-NPT state, has trouble accepting the NPT-formulation. Ambassador Munir Akram stated on October 23 that Pakistan "will not find it possible to support any draft resolution in the First Committee which welcomes the results of the NPT Conference or incorporates the discriminatory and unacceptable elements of its decisions".5 How this translates in voting - not only in the case of the fissban resolution - is still unclear.

The recent escalation of hostilities in the Middle East may have also increased tensions in the First Committee. Arguing against "double standards", Egypt said its resolution on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, which it has tabled since 1994, was of particular importance and urgency this year given the ongoing, sharp deterioration in the region.6 Israel called the text "contentious, divisive and one-sided," and more aggressive than last year. The draft has been updated with references from the Final Document of the NPT, which Israel says do not reflect the balance of the whole document.7 The draft also names Israel in the operative part, which it did not do last year. The resolution has traditionally enjoyed wide support, including the European Union', but this year the EU is understood to have had problems accepting the initial draft. At the time of writing, the EU is engaged in consultations with Egypt, and it seems likely that the draft will be revised somewhat.

President Clinton' decision to leave the decision on the deployment of a national missile defence system to the next administration has not alleviated Chinese, Russian and Belarussian concerns about the ABM Treaty. Russia said it was necessary to continue with efforts to promote support for the treaty because the President' decision, though welcome, "principally did not change" the fact that "preparation of the US NMD deployment is still underway".8 China also expressed concern about US plans and called on the international community to "always follow these developments closely and continue to urge" strict compliance with the treaty. China also rejected the notion of a limited NMD system, saying that "it will inevitably be expanded, eventually evolving into a '' NMD."9 The three countries have tabled the ABM resolution for a second time, hoping to attract more support this year. However, one of the resolution' supporters in the West, France, is rethinking its position. France is pressing for the draft to include a positive reference to President Clinton' decision.


Iran has tabled, for the second consecutive year, its resolution entitled simply "Missiles". The resolution proposes that a panel of governmental experts be established next year for a two-year study "on the issue of missiles in all its aspects". Similar language was initially included in 1999, but dropped after objections. The proposal now for a study follows from the 1999 call for the Secretary-General to seek member states' views on the matter. Arguing that the issue of missiles needed to be dealt with globally, Ambassador Mohammad Hassan Fadaifard said that "dialogue is lacking in this very important field" and that a "study group in the UN would be the best forum...to structure such a constructive dialogue".10

The proposal to set up a panel appears to be more acceptable this year, although there are still suspicions surrounding Iran' political motives in championing the issue. Nevertheless, there is dialogue on the resolution and a revised draft is expected. The negotiations on the resolution take place against the backdrop of the Missile Technology Control Regime' (MTCR) meeting in Helsinki on October 10-13. A press release issued after the meeting stated that the Regime' 32 members had "decided to approach countries outside the MTCR in order to engage them in a broader common effort to agree a multilateral instrument open to all states".11 Given this development, there may be greater openness on both the part of Iran and MTCR countries to find language acceptable to both. In addition, the issue of NMD has contributed to the acuteness of the issue and lead to growing demands to address the question of missile proliferation.

Small Arms

Japan' traditional resolution on small arms was introduced this year as a draft decision on the date and venue of the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons. So far, there has been no agreement on exactly when and where the Conference should take place. The draft decision also envisages a third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) from March 19-30 next year.

Delegations gathered for informal consultations on these matters, held in parallel with the First Committee, led by Ambassador Dos Santos of Mozambique, the Chair of the 2001 PrepCom. Countries disagree on whether the Conference should take place in New York or Geneva, with smaller NAM countries in particular arguing for New York due to their limited representation in Geneva. In order to alleviate the financial concerns of these states, the Swiss government offered to pay the difference if the Conference were to be held in Geneva, together with financial help to enable the poorer countries to bring diplomats from capitals and their New York missions, if necessary. However, progress in solving these questions proved slow, even to the extent that there was talk about postponing the Conference. With growing acrimony, some states are expressing frustration that procedural issues are being focussed on to avoid dealing with substance.

Two other questions were also under discussion, although their agreement was not necessary for the draft decision to be finalised: the chairing of the Conference and NGO participation. Three names have been put forward as possible chairs: Ambassadors Sir Michael Weston (Britain), Mitsuro Donowaki (Japan) and Camilo Reyes (Colombia). While Donowaki has been most closely involved with the Panel of Governmental Experts, Weston is said to have the backing of the West, with Reyes supported by the NAM. The question of NGO participation is far from being adequately resolved, with Algeria, in particular, backing very restricted access.


The First Committee is expected to end its session early this year, reflecting diminished controversy around the resolutions. This could be a signal that political energies have been placed, and continue to be invested, in other fora, such as this year' NPT Review Conference and, in the field of conventional weapons, the upcoming 2001 United Nations Conference.

Notes and References

1. Henrik Salander, Ambassador of Sweden to the CD, First Committee, October 23, 2000.

2. Seiichiro Noboru, Ambassador of Japan to the CD, First Committee, October 18, 2000.

3. Ian Soutar, Ambassador of Britain to the CD, First Committee, October 25, 2000.

4. Robert Grey, Ambassador of the United States to the CD, First Committee, October 23, 2000.

5. Munir Akram, Ambassador of Pakistan to the CD, First Committee, October 23, 2000.

6. Alaa Issa, Director of Disarmament Affairs, First Committee, October 23, 2000.

7. Meir Itzchaki, First Committee, October 23, 2000.

8. Anatoly Antonov, representative of Russia to the First Committee, First Committee, October 18, 2000.

9. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador of China to the CD, First Committee, October 18, 2000.

10. Ambassador Mohammad Hassan Fadaifard, Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, First Committee, October 20, 2000.

11. Press release of the "Plenary Meeting of the Missile Technology Control Regime 2000"

Jenni Rissanen is the Acronym Institute' Geneva analyst, and has attended the whole of the 55th First Committee in New York.

Editor' Postscript

First Committee votes on the main resolutions featured in Jenni Rissanen' Interim Report were as follows:

New Agenda resolution on nuclear disarmament (L.4/Rev.1, November 1) - 146 in favour (including China, UK, US and all non-nuclear NATO countries), 3 against (India, Israel, Pakistan), 8 abstentions (France, Russia and then Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Monaco, Mauritius, Uzbekistan);

Japan resolution on nuclear disarmament (L.39/Rev.1, November 1); 144-1(India)-12 (including China, France, Russia, Pakistan, Cuba, Egypt);

Belarus/China/Russia resolution on ABM Treaty (L.2/Rev.1, November 1) - 78 (including China, France, Russia)-3 (Israel, Micronesia, US)-65 (including UK and remainder of NATO);

Egypt resolution on Middle East (L.29/Rev.2, November 1) - 139-3(Israel, Micronesia, US)-7 (including Australia, Canada, India);

Canada resolution on Fissban (L.49/Rev.1), November 1) - approved without a vote;

Iran resolution on Missiles (L.1/Rev.1, October 31); 90 (including China, Russia) -0-60 (including most MTCR).

In addition, the 2001 conference on small arms and light weapons has now been scheduled to take place in New York from 9 - 20 July.

The November issue of Disarmament Diplomacy will be published after the General Assembly has voted on the draft resolutions and will carry a comprehensive analysis of all resolutions with both First Committee and General Assembly voting results.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.