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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 52, November 2000

Low-Key First Committee Seeks to Maximise Common Ground

By Jenni Rissanen and Rebecca Johnson


The Disarmament and International Security Committee (First Committee) of the 55th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) closed its session on November 1 after five weeks of deliberations on forty-nine draft resolutions and one decision. In concluding the Committee' work, its Chair, Ambassador U Mya Than of Myanmar (Burma), described the session as one where there was a less "heated and acrimonious" and a more "cordial and constructive" atmosphere. Indeed, there appeared to be more willingness to negotiate on the texts: as one country pointed out, seventeen drafts were revised as a result of consultations, as opposed to six last year.

The First Committee took place against the backdrop of the Sixth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), held this spring in New York, as well as the September 1 decision by President Clinton to postpone the US decision on the deployment of a national missile defence (NMD) system. The Final Document of the NPT Review Conference was the basis of many of the nuclear disarmament resolutions and many countries were wary about departing either from its letter or spirit. The general debate showed that Clinton' postponement decision, although welcomed, had not managed to ease the concerns of a growing number of countries about the consequences for arms control, disarmament and international security if the United States deploys NMD. The difficult on-the-side consultations on the upcoming international conference on small arms dominated the discussions on conventional weapons.

This report consists of a short analysis of some of this year' politically more difficult resolutions at the First Committee, followed by a summary of all the resolutions, which highlights their main points and gives both First Committee and UNGA voting results as well as the explanations of vote.

Nuclear Disarmament

The NPT Review Conference underpinned many of the nuclear disarmament resolutions this year. Countries welcomed the positive outcome of the conference in their statements and many called for the prompt implementation of its decisions.

Algeria tabled a short procedural resolution 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation Treaty of Nuclear Weapons that welcomed the adoption of the Final Document.1 Ambassador Abdallah Baali, who chaired the conference, called this outcome "a hard-won success" that exceeded expectations, considering the background against which it was taking place, and expressed his hope that the draft be adopted by consensus.2 A vote was called by the non-NPT Parties in which India voted against the resolution. Cuba, Israel and Pakistan abstained.

Japan, the New Agenda Coalition and Myanmar (Burma) all welcomed the results of the conference in their respective nuclear disarmament resolutions, with both Japan and the New Agenda Coalition incorporating significant parts of the Final Document in their texts.

The New Agenda Coalition (Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden), which played an important role in the Review Conference, came to the First Committee with a newly worded text on Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free-World: The Need for a New Agenda. Having demonstrated majority support for its approach through adoption by the NPT review conference of a substantial part of the programme put forward in their past two years' resolution, the sponsors decided this year to aim their resolution at consolidating and reaffirming the decisions of the Review Conference. Consequently, the resolution' operative section reproduced the thirteen major practical steps agreed at the conference. Ambassador Henrik Salander (Sweden), who coordinated the New Agenda Coalition in the First Committee, said the resolution reflected "the results of the engagement both between non-nuclear-weapon states, and between them and the five nuclear weapon-weapon states [NWS] over the past three years", adding that the sponsors were "fully conscious that in a number of instances the common ground on a future approach is more generalised than we would have wished". However, real progress had been made and the resolution set out a comprehensive programme of action to be taken by the NWS and their allies as well as everybody else. Salander said there was "an imperative built into this approach that requires results in each of the segments of action" and that the co-sponsors were determined to monitor the achievement of these results in light of the unequivocal commitment made by the NWS.3 The NAC resolution attracted a lot of attention because the sponsors had stuck so close to the consensus agreement of the Review Conference, while at the same time including some text that went beyond. This meant that the NWS, most of whom have not supported the New Agenda resolutions in the past, needed to reconsider their position. It is understood that Britain, France and the United States, in particular, proposed changes to the text, some of which were incorporated into a revised draft. Some the New Agenda resolution' traditional supporters such as Indonesia and Malaysia however, withdrew their co-sponsorship. Though they may have feared that the resolution had lost some of its edge, they voted in favour nevertheless. This posed the New Agenda an interesting challenge: how to keep moving forward and attracting new supporters while keeping the old supporters on board?

China made it clear from the outset that it would support the draft. France and the United States submitted a list of proposed changes to Sweden for consideration. Britain was understood to be positive from the beginning, but engaged in consultations with the New Agenda, probably more for reasons of alliance cohesion with the United States and France than for any necessity to get changes to the text. Russia was less engaged than the others. Although Russia was understood to have problems with the draft, particularly concerning irreversibility and tactical nuclear weapons, it appeared that Russia' tactic was to bargain its vote in favour in return for the positive votes of all members of the New Agenda coalition for its ABM resolution.

In the end, a revised draft with rather minor changes of tone was produced: the reference to '' nuclear arms reductions was changed to ' actively under way' the Millennium Declaration, which proposes that a conference on nuclear dangers be held, was '' instead of '' and the word '' was removed from the reference underlining the need for action to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world. Furthermore, instead of ' the fundamental significance' of the unequivocal commitment by the NWS to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, the text took ' consideration' this core commitment from the 2000 review conference. Following these changes, the United States joined Britain (and China) in voting for the resolution, though it expressed a reservation over a paragraph referring to the requirements of a nuclear weapon free world. France and Russia abstained. Explaining it abstention, France objected that the references to the unequivocal undertaking on nuclear disarmament and the ultimate objective of general and complete disarmament had been placed out of context.

Japan had also modified its traditional nuclear disarmament resolution to take into account the NPT Review Conference. Its redrafted resolution was given a more ambitious title than in previous years: A Path to the Total Elimination of Nuclear Disarmament. Japan' resolution drew heavily from the Final Document of the Review Conference but also added some additional elements, such as target dates for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty' (CTBT) entry-into-force and the conclusion of a fissile material treaty, as well as a call for a fissile material production moratorium, which Japan and others had sought unsuccessfully to have included in the outcome of the Review Conference. It also called for efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as well as their delivery vehicles by confirming and strengthening transfer policies. Ambassador Seiichiro Noboru defended the draft saying that he had no intention to deviate from or contradict the NPT outcome but rather to put in some additional value.4

The fact that the Japanese resolution went beyond the NPT outcome posed a dilemma for a number of Japan' allies, some of whom were uneasy with the text, but felt that they could not be seen to vote in favour of the New Agenda draft and abstain on Japan' In the end, after much to-ing and fro-ing, the draft received broad support. However, only two NWS, Britain and the United States, voted for it, with the three others abstaining.

After careful consideration and consultations, Canada decided to introduce its resolution calling for the negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material. Last year, it withdrew the resolution after learning that China would no longer support the earlier consensus text. The consultations by Canada, which is due to assume the presidency of the Conference of Disarmament (CD) when it begins its annual session in January, served as useful preparation for the tasks ahead, while indicating that the possibility of getting down to work, at least in the context of fissban negotiations, remains bleak.

Like many other sponsors of the nuclear disarmament resolutions, Canada also leaned towards emphasising the Final Document of the NPT Review Conference. It used the consensus language on the negotiations as the basis of the operative part of the resolution, first proposing that the CD be urged to "agree on a programme of work that includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on such a treaty with a view to their conclusion within five years". China was prepared to approve this NPT formulation, but Pakistan made a critical statement on the NPT Review Conference and stated that it would "not find it possible to support any draft resolution...which welcomes...or incorporates the discriminatory and unacceptable elements of its decisions". Following this logic, Pakistan refused to go along with Canada' proposal.5 Finally, after further negotiations, Pakistan succeeded in getting the co-sponsors to drop language referring to the objective of concluding fissban negotiations within five years. The resolution was then passed by consensus.

While there was some disappointment that the text was weaker than the 1998 resolution, most recognised the constraining political problems, both in Geneva and in relation to the ambitions of the newer nuclear possessors and US-China relations over NMD. While supporting it, some argued that the resolution would in any case have little impact on whether the CD can agree on a programme of work and begin the negotiations next year.

Belarus introduced a new resolution on Regional Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, attempting to secure recognition for its controversial proposal, put forward a number of years ago, for a Central and Eastern European nuclear-weapon-free '' Vociferously opposed by many countries in the region, particularly the new NATO states, the resolution was never likely to get the consensus that Belarus was seeking. Belarus thus entered into consultations with concerned countries led by Hungary and took on board their suggestions, redrafting the resolution into a more general and a less controversial text welcoming efforts and proposals "in various parts of the world" on the establishment of further nuclear-weapon-free zones. It is understood that the new text was more to the liking of most of the concerned countries, but Poland remained suspicious of the resolution' motivation. With consensus thus dashed from its grasp, Belarus made a bitter statement and withdrew the draft.

Egypt' traditionally controversial resolution on Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East was the last text to be voted on and provided the most suspense of all the resolutions this year. The draft was updated to include references to and from the Final Document of the NPT Review Conference. Most contentiously, the initial draft named Israel, seeking to reaffirm the importance of its accession to the NPT and placement of its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. Introducing the resolution, Alaa Issa, Egypt' Director of Disarmament Affairs, said the draft was of particular importance given current tensions and developments in the region, and that not supporting it would make a mockery of the Final Document, since it reflected the consensus reached at the NPT Review Conference.6

Nevertheless, the draft was considered too aggressive for some of its traditional supporters, especially EU members Germany and The Netherlands. Not wanting to lose European support for the resolution, the Egyptians engaged in heavy lobbying and negotiations. A new paragraph was added prior to the direct call on Israel to accede to the NPT, welcoming the Review Conference' conclusions on the Middle East (operative paragraph 1), thus making the text more acceptable to some EU delegations. However, there was still one sticking point in the preambular paragraphs: it is understood that Germany, in particular, wanted to include, in preambular paragraph 6, a reference to compliance recognising the conference' determination to secure the Treaty' universality and calling upon the remaining non-NPT states to accede. Egypt secured complete EU support at the last minute when it agreed to add a reference underlining the necessity of universal adherence and strict compliance at the end of the paragraph.

As expected, the Israelis were disappointed by the level of support achieved by the resolution, as was the United States. Iraq also objected, apparently feeling betrayed by the new formulation on compliance, and distanced itself from that part of the draft.

ABM Treaty and Missiles

For the second year, Belarus, China and Russia tabled their resolution on Preservation and Compliance with the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, hoping to receive increased support. Underlining that it was "not of confrontational character" or "targetted against any country", Anatoly Antonov (Russia) said the co-sponsors only sought to "secure the continuity of the position of the international community in support of the ABM Treaty, not allow its revision or destruction, to prevent the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles systems...to ensure preservation of the Treaty as it currently stands and full implementation of the obligations therein."7

The initial draft was unchanged from last year, but was revised when France, which was one of the very few Western countries to vote for the resolution in 1999, wanted to include a reference welcoming Clinton' decision to postpone the NMD deployment decision as a positive step for the preservation of strategic stability and security. This proved somewhat difficult for the sponsors to accept, as they had underlined in their introductory statement that the deferral decision had not changed the situation and that preparations for deployment were still underway. It is understood that without the reference, France would have abstained. Not wanting to lose French support, the sponsors in the end agreed to include France' text. As last year, the resolution was adopted with a large number of abstentions both from Western and NAM countries.


was quick to submit its draft resolution on Missiles to the Secretariat. The draft proposed that the UN establish a group of governmental experts to conduct a two-year study "on the issue of missiles in all its aspects". The proposal for a study, first made last year but dropped after objections, was this time received more favourably. However, the motives behind Iran' resolution were questioned by western states, some of whom regarded the text' scope, "missiles in all its aspects" to be too ambiguous, worrying that it was intended to undermine the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), while others privately pointed out that its sponsor stands accused of missile proliferation. The consultations on the draft took place against the backdrop of the MTCR meeting in Helsinki (October 10-13) in which the MTCR countries attempted to formulate a more open, multilateral approach on the issue of missile technology transfers and reach out to countries outside the regime.

Arguing that the draft should be seen as a means to build upon the minimum common denominator among different approaches, Ambassador Mohammed Reza Alborzi said Iran was aware of the sensitivities and "complex nature of the issue of missiles". Last year' consultations had shown that several important states, in particular those with access to technology and those which possessed missiles and had a role for them in their military strategies, showed little flexibility. This year, in view of the opposing views, where some had wished to further highlight the principle of non-discrimination and others viewed the panel proposed by the resolution as a multilateral measure to address the issue, Iran had sought "a basic minimum": the draft provided a general framework to open multilateral dialogue on the issue through the establishment of the panel.8 In the end, the preambular paragraphs stayed unchanged and Iran took on board the suggestion that it was more financially and organisationally feasible to conduct the report over two years rather than one; hence the Secretary-General was asked to continue to request the member states' views on the issue, and the report was to be submitted to the 57th UNGA in 2002, rather than the 56th Assembly next year. As last year, the draft received support from most NAM countries and China, with NATO, EU and most (but not all) MTCR countries abstaining.

Small Arms

Instead of tabling its usual resolution on Small Arms, Japan introduced a procedural draft decision on the date and venue of the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, a topic that was highlighted by a large number of countries in the general debate. Though the decision to hold the Small Arms Conference in 2001 had already been taken, the First Committee opened with no common understanding on when and where (Geneva or New York) the Conference should be held. Ambassador Dos Santos (Mozambique), the chair of the third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom), invited delegations to attend consultations on substance while Japan was trying get agreement on the procedural issues. Two other important issues were also discussed: who should chair the meeting and participation and access for non-governmental representatives.

The consultations over the procedural questions were so difficult that there was some talk of postpoining the 2001 Conference. Delegations seemed to be unable to agree on either the venue or date. Some of the smaller NAM delegations were arguing for New York, due to better representation there. Some of those arguing for Geneva felt the city would attract more small arms specialists than New York, where diplomatic rather than issue considerations were more likely to dominate proceedings. Some also pondered about the potential effects of the presence and attention of the US National Rifle Association' (NRA) at a conference held in the United States. Hoping to secure the conference for Geneva, the Swiss offered to assist the smaller or less-resourced states and bear the financial difference between the two cities. In the end, however, Switzerland withdrew its offer, reportedly unhappy about the cost estimates provided by the UN Secretariat. It was then agreed that the Conference would be held in New York from July 9-20, preceded by the third PrepCom, also in New York, from March 19-30.

Three names have been put forward as possible chairs: Camilo Reyes (Colombia), the NAM favourite; Mitsuro Donowaki (Japan), who has been closely involved with the Panel of Governmental Experts on small arms; and Britain' former ambassador to the CD, Sir Michael Weston. While Weston is now thought to have little backing, the possibility of joint chairing by Donowaki and Reyes is being floated, although many delegations feel this would be unworkable. On the question of NGO participation, Canada and Algeria offered different approaches based on NGO participation at the NPT, which many others (including Norway, New Zealand and South Africa) regarded as too restrictive and limiting. In particular, given the growing importance of civil society expertise and involvement in weapons control and disarmament questions, many of the countries closest to the small arms issue are anxious to ensure that NGOs are able to contribute more fully and effectively in the run-up to and during the conference.

Although there was a feeling of relief that at least some of the procedural questions had been resolved, a negative feeling has persisted. Regardless of the hopes and ambitions attached to the 2001 Conference in the speeches, the corridor talk indicated reduced expectations as to the remedies likely to be available in tackling the complex and difficult small arms issue in this way at this time.


This year' First Committee held few surprises and negotiated and voted on its resolutions in a routine-like manner. It was overshadowed by more significant and energy-consuming events in this year' disarmament calendar, particularly the NPT Review Conference. The lack of major bones of contention should not, however, be interpreted as a sign of broad or general agreement. Major challenges lie ahead both in the field of conventional arms and WMD. Chief amongst these are the 2001 conference on small arms, the stagnation in the CD, the conclusion of the BWC Protocol negotiations in Geneva before the Review Conference in 2001, as well as the considerable uncertainties that the likely US deployment of NMD may bring for international relations, particularly nuclear arms control. The contours and stresses of next year' First Committee are hard to foresee, but may prove considerably less tranquil than this year' deliberations.

Notes and References

1. A dispute over the French translation of the Final Document of the NPT Review Conference, concerning the setting up of a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament in the CD (reported in ' Update', Disarmament Diplomacy no.50, p. 12), was resolved on the sidelines of the First Committee when all parties agreed to use the earlier translation from WP.3 (by the New Agenda Coalition) at the NPT Review Conference (in French: "chargé du désarmement nucléaire"). The Arabic and Spanish versions were also corrected accordingly.

2. Abdallah Baali, Ambassador of Algeria to the UN, October 16, 2000.

3. Henrik Salander, Ambassador of Sweden to the CD, October 23, 2000.

4. Seiichiro Noboru, Ambassador of Japan to the CD, October 18, 2000.

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

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

7. Anatoly Antonov, Representative of Russia to the First Committee, October 18, 2000.

8. Mohammed Reza Alborzi, Ambassador of Iran, October 31, 2000.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.