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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

Disarmament Commission 1998 Session

'Disarmament Commission Concludes Session Without Agreement on Assembly Special Session on Disarmament,' United Nations Press Release DC/2606, 28 April 1998


"The Disarmament Commission this morning concluded its 1998 session without reaching agreement on the objectives and agenda of a proposed fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament. In accordance with its working methods, by which it considers individual items for three years, the Commission has thus concluded its work relating to the special session, which may now be considered by the Assembly.

Acting without a vote, the Commission today approved its draft annual report to the Assembly, including the reports of its three working groups. Those groups were considering the proposed special session, the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones and guidelines on conventional arms control, limitation and disarmament. Its work on the latter two items, currently in their second year of consideration, will conclude in 1999.

While many expressed concern that the Commission had been unable to produce a recommendation regarding the proposed special session, several speakers felt that its deliberations had laid a solid foundation for future endeavours. Commission Chairman Sergey Martynov (Belarus) said that great strides had been made in expanding areas of convergence, which augured well for further action on the item by the Assembly.

The Chairman of the working group on the special session, Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat (Indonesia), said that differences had persisted on such questions as a programme of action for the special session, strengthening the United Nations role in disarmament and non-proliferation in all its aspects. It was now up to Member States to decide whether the process of reconciling views should continue and, if so, through what mechanism. The failure to agree on the objectives and agenda of the special session had brought the Commission into disrepute and had undermined the aim of strengthening the role of multilateralism in disarmament, the representative of Australia said. Similarly, the representative of Canada said the Commission could only succeed in its efforts if there was a collective willingness to consider new perspectives, rather than cling to immovable national positions.

The Chairman of the working group on nuclear-weapon-free zones, Miguel Aguirre de Carcer (Spain), said that fundamental issues had emerged during the group's long debate, giving rise to deep reflection on all aspects of the zones' creation. The discussions had illuminated problem areas, including the most controversial.

The Chairman of the working group on conventional arms control, Matia Mulumba Semakula Kiwanuka (Uganda), said the group had expanded the core of its work to enumerate practical, post-conflict disarmament measures for the consolidation of peace. It had also addressed the long-term needs for reconstruction and development of the affected societies. He expressed the hope that the guidelines would be completed in 1999. ...

Commission Work Programme

... The draft report of the Committee of the Whole (document A/CN.10/19989/CRP.3) contains the Chairman's proposal for revitalizing, rationalizing and streamlining the Commission's work. It states that, as of the 1999 session, the Commission's agenda should be comprised of two items per year, including one on nuclear disarmament. The possibility of a third agenda item would be retained if there was consensus to adopt such an item while maintaining overall balance of the agenda.

The proposal also states that the complementarity of efforts between the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission in the consideration of substantive issues could be an asset for all those disarmament forums. The report of the working group on nuclear-weapon-free zones (document A/CN.10/1998/CRP.4) is based on a wide range of working papers which will be forwarded to the 1999 substantive session of the Commission for further analysis. Annexed to the report is a working paper by the Chairman which highlights the successes of existing nuclear-weapon-free zones. It also defines the scope of the related agenda item, which is intended to assist in global efforts towards the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, particularly through the establishment and effective implementation of such nuclear-weapon-free zones. However, the purposes, principles and guidelines for such zones, as outlined in the report, should be regarded only as 'generally accepted conditions' at this stage.

The text further states that such zones could be a crucial instrument in promoting the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The zones significantly reinforced and expanded on the obligations of non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) not to acquire nuclear weapons and to develop and use nuclear energy only under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. In addition, the zones might serve as a framework for international cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in a region, so as to promote States parties' economic, scientific and technological development.

The initiative for the creation of such zones should come from the States in the region, the paper states. The zones should effectively prohibit the development or possession of any nuclear device for any purpose and should provide for effective verification measures. The nuclear-weapon States would be called upon to undertake obligations towards those zones, including to strictly respect their status and to enter into legally binding commitments not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against parties to them.

In a section outlining 'the way ahead', the paper promotes the entry into force as soon as possible of all existing nuclear-weapon-free zones, and reviews regional initiatives aimed at their establishment. In the Middle East, for example, such a zone would greatly enhance regional and international peace and security. However, the prerequisites necessary for meaningful arms control discussions in that region were still missing. While the establishment of a zone in South Asia had been under consideration by the General Assembly for many years, the proposal was not unanimously supported by the States of the region. The five Central Asian States had advanced their goal in that regard, and the international community was considering Mongolia's initiative for the establishment of a single-State nuclear-weapon- free zone.

The report of the working group on a proposed fourth special session of the General Assembly on disarmament (document A/CN.10/1998/CRP.5) states that it did not prove possible to reach consensus on the objectives and agenda of the special session. However, it considered that the Chairman's paper represented an earnest and constructive attempt to bridge the gap in the positions on those questions and to reach a consensus. It is annexed to the report for possible consideration by the General Assembly when it takes up the issue.

The Chairman's paper identifies objectives for a fourth special session. Those included setting the future course of action in order to strengthen international peace and security; assessing the implementation of the Final Document of the first special session on disarmament; and establishing an agreed programme of action in the disarmament sphere that would strengthen the central role of the United Nations and promote multilateralism in disarmament.

By that paper, the session's agenda should include implementation of the Final Document of the first special session; developments in the international situation, including global, regional and subregional trends; nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation; other weapons of mass destruction; conventional weapons issues; regional disarmament; and confidence- and security-building measures and transparency. Questions pertaining to the universality of existing agreements, verification and compliance, and the relationship between disarmament and development were among the other issues to be included.

The report of the working group on guidelines on conventional arms control, limitation and disarmament summarizes the group's exchange of views and elaborates the scope and framework for future guidelines. The group decided to focus its work on two elements of the Chairman's paper of 1997: practical disarmament measures; and other conventional arms control, limitation and disarmament measures. The paper enjoyed support as a contribution to the elaboration of the guidelines, although some of its elements required further elaboration and refinement.

The Chairman's paper, annexed to the group's report, states that the guidelines, which are neither mandatory nor prescriptive and are to be adopted by consensus, should emphasize the consolidation of peace in post-conflict situations while promoting peace and stability generally. They could draw on the relevant lessons learned by the United Nations and other relevant regional and international organizations in the consolidation of peace. They should emphasize the importance of a coordinated approach between practical disarmament measures and the broader economic, political, social and humanitarian aspects of post-conflict rehabilitation, which fall outside the competence of the Disarmament Commission.

Also according to the paper, guidelines should encompass practical disarmament measures relevant to a conflict about to be resolved or recently ended, and aim at preventing its re-emergence. Such measures could include arms collection and destruction, demining and demobilization. They should also encompass other conventional arms control, limitation and disarmament measures, such as arms control and confidence-building measures, transparency in armaments and combating the illicit arms trade, particularly with respect to small arms and light weapons.

The working group also developed a list of further measures which might be undertaken. They include arms collection, control, disposal and destruction, especially of small arms and light weapons; demining; demobilization; reintegration of former combatants; conversion of military facilities for civilian use in post-conflict situations; confidence-building in post-conflict situations; and regional and international cooperation and transparency. Other measures include encouraging the participation of all States in the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms; the establishment of voluntary, global and non-discriminatory codes of conduct for conventional arms transfers; the development of national arms laws and regulations; and border controls. ..."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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