Stagnation and Redundancy: Report on the 2007 UN First Committee

1 May 2008

Michael Spies

See also: 2007 First Committee Resolutions, Summary and Explanations, compiled by Michael Spies

The 62nd session of the UN General Assembly First Committee, chaired by Ambassador Paul Badji of Senegal, breezed through all items on its agenda within its allocated four weeks (October 8 to November 2), approving 49 draft resolutions and 3 draft decisions. All but one of these were subsequently adopted by the General Assembly on 5 December 2007.

Ambassador Badji in his closing remarks extolled the "spirit of openness and collaboration" that he said prevailed during the session, and pointed to the fact that 142 delegations spoke and more than 315 statements were delivered. However, Ambassador Badji pointed to persistent and entrenched differences among states and tellingly declined to answer his own question as to whether or not the 2007 session of the Committee had advanced the cause of disarmament and international security.

Ray Acheson, who coordinated the publication of the NGO First Committee Monitor and worked closely with the author in preparation of this Disarmament Diplomacy report, summed the Committee's work up as "underwhelming". [See for the Monitor and texts of most resolutions and statements.] The vast bulk of the Committee's work - the positions of governments, the contents of resolutions, the breakdown of votes - remained largely unchanged from previous years. Three new resolutions were introduced, of which two - on nuclear de-alerting and depleted uranium munitions - sparked useful and challenging debates. Characterized by some as the "consensus-building" body of the UN disarmament machinery, the First Committee in 2007 adopted only 24 texts by consensus, meaning that disagreements among members forced it to vote on more than half of the items on its agenda.

Nuclear weapons issues continued to be the most divisive issue; only two out of fourteen resolutions were adopted by consensus, and five of the other texts that received large nonaligned majorities were opposed by significant blocs of other governments. One notable exception this year was a new resolution, introduced by New Zealand on behalf of a selective coalition of states, calling for a reduction in the operational readiness of nuclear weapons. This controversial resolution was adopted by a clear majority that included six members of NATO, and most importantly, it generated considerable debate, discussion and attention both inside the Committee and in the real world outside.

Progress on other nuclear weapons priorities, as manifested by action in the First Committee, was thwarted as the outcome of nearly all other issues remained unchanged or regressed from last year. On the issue of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, the Canadian delegation again found itself unable to garner consensus on a simple draft decision to put the issue on the agenda for next year. As for the resolution on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the three 'omnibus' nuclear disarmament resolutions from Japan, the New Agenda Coalition and Myanmar (Burma), little has changed from last year. Usually less contentious than resolutions focusing on the disarmament obligations of nuclear weapon states, half of the six resolutions dealing with nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) required votes to be taken.

The work of the Committee occurred against the backdrop of, and was affected by, two political challenges that bear on issues related to non-proliferation and so-called strategic stability: Iran's nuclear programme, and the US/NATO-Russian dispute over missile defences and NATO expansion in Europe, which has imperilled the treaties on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) and Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). Action in the Committee on these issues was largely limited to discussion in the general and themed debates.

In contrast to nuclear weapons issues, the three resolutions dealing with other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and preventing terrorist acquisition of WMD - were all adopted by consensus. Other areas of the Committee's work also continued to be less contentious than nuclear weapons, with only isolated states or groups of states blocking consensus. In this context, the United States resumed its now established role of Main Spoiler, casting the solitary vote against eleven resolutions, including both resolutions on outer space security. It also voted against eight other resolutions and decisions in a minority bloc of six states or less.

On conventional weapons issues, what progress took place often occurred outside the First Committee session and was otherwise not reflected in action taken by the Committee. One example of this was the ongoing process to take action against cluster munitions. The Committee avoided dealing with this issue because delegations were still debating which venue would be most appropriate for negotiating an instrument to deal with these pernicious weapons. Another example was the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which proceeded through the mechanism of states submitting their views about its potential scope to the Secretary-General. Although many delegations addressed the pros and cons of an ATT in the general and themed debates, no further action was taken in the First Committee, pending the report of a Group of Government Experts to be convened in 2008. Action in the First Committee on small arms and light weapons (SALW) failed to achieve the expectations of states that would like to see the biennial meetings create a formal, effective instrument to review the implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action.

To the dismay of some delegations, the role of civil society was limited to a single one-hour session spread amongst five NGO speakers, who addressed a wide range of subjects including: the nature of the good faith obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament; creation of a high-level panel to discuss space security; and creation of a review process for the small arms Programme of Action. Two presentations addressed the issue of the Arms Trade Treaty: an emotional appeal from an African delegate from the International Action Network Against Small Arms (IANSA), followed by an opposing view from the arms industry, represented by the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities.

Nuclear Weapons

With the notable exception of the New Zealand-led resolution on operational readiness, governments appeared to take a reserved approach on nuclear weapons issues, possibly attributable to anticipated changes of administration in key nuclear weapon states Russia and the United States, or from a desire not to upset any precarious chances progress in other disarmament fora. Reflecting perhaps a 'wait and see' approach, the co-sponsors of the three annual nuclear disarmament resolutions decided not to pursue any new strategies or ideas.

Japan's resolution, "Renewed determination toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons", continued to receive the most support, including from nuclear weapon states Russia and the United Kingdom. The resolution was largely unchanged from 2006, focusing on implementation of some of the steps agreed to at the 2000 NPT Review Conference and with particular emphasis on the entry into force of the CTBT and negotiation of a fissile materials cut-off treaty. The vote in the General Assembly was comparable to last year with 170 states in favour, three against (India, North Korea and the United States) and nine abstaining.

After voting in favour of Japan's resolution for the past two years, France abstained, complaining that the text of the resolution had remained unchanged despite their strong reservations on the issues of further reductions in strategic arsenals and the role of nuclear weapons in security policies. Although the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) was unable to support this resolution as a bloc in the First Committee, as it had in 2005, Japan gained the support of NAC member Brazil. However, the last NAC hold-out, Egypt, switched its abstaining vote in the First Committee to a vote in favour in the General Assembly.

The content of the annual NAC resolution, "Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments", also remained largely unchanged. Like Japan's resolution it focused primarily on implementation of the NPT decisions and agreements made in 1995 and 2000, but was less congratulatory towards the nuclear weapon states for past progress. The NAC resolution was adopted in the General Assembly with 156 votes in favour, five against, and 14 abstentions. Notably this year, the United Kingdom, which had previously voted against the resolution en bloc with France and the United States, switched its vote to an abstention. In an expression of its more positive approach to nuclear weapons, the UK pointed to many elements in the resolution with which it agreed, but still faulted some of its basic premises.

By contrast, though the annual nuclear disarmament resolution of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) now lists the 'Thirteen Steps' from the 2000 NPT Review Conference, it still appears as an omnibus full of NAM positions, including a time-bound framework for achieving nuclear disarmament. Therefore, support for the resolution remained largely unchanged, with 117 mostly NAM-affiliated states voting in favour in the General Assembly, and with 47 NATO-aligned and European states opposing and 13 others abstaining.

The Bush administration remains firmly entrenched in its opposition to the CTBT, even as the US Congress debates the merits of moving forward with developing a new class of nuclear warheads intended inter alia to preclude additional nuclear testing. The annual resolution supporting the CTBT was adopted again by an overwhelming margin, with 176 votes in the General Assembly. North Korea maintained a diplomatic absence by not participating in the vote, leaving the United States alone to cast the single vote against. India, Colombia, Mauritius, and Syria abstained.

Nuclear Proliferation and the Iran Factor

The nuclear programme of Iran dominated First Committee discussions on proliferation. However, given the active engagement in the issue by major powers that are also permanent members of the Security Council, the role of the General Assembly was limited. Many reasserted their national positions during the general and themed debates, revealing substantial differences of view, notably among the P5, despite the September 28, 2007 statement from the P-5 plus Germany, and contrary to exhortations for unity by the international community.

Nonetheless, Iran's programme had some impact on the Committee's work, particularly on votes on two resolutions. The more contentious of the annual resolutions on the Middle East, titled "The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East", has always attracted some reservations because of its singling out of Israel in the context of demands for universalization of the NPT. More recently, Western delegations such as Canada and the EU countries have stepped up their concerns, questioning the resolution's balance since it does not address concerns over Iran's nuclear programme.

Iran's rather recent - and apparently now biennial - resolution "Follow-up to nuclear disarmament obligations agreed to at the 1995 and 2000 Review Conferences of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons", obtained 109 positive votes in the General Assembly, with 55 opposed and 15 abstentions. This contrasted with its first appearance in 2005, when it was only narrowly adopted. Despite agreeing with much of the actual text, many delegations refuse to vote in favour because they see this as essentially a political smokescreen and finger-pointing exercise that duplicates more earnest existing approaches.

In light of progress being made in dismantling North Korea's nuclear arsenal and production capacity, resolutions that dealt with the issue tended to note these developments in a positive light, contrasting with last year's widespread condemnation of the October 9, 2006 nuclear test.

Operational Status of Nuclear Weapons

As noted above, New Zealand, on behalf of Chile, Nigeria, Sweden, and Switzerland, introduced a new resolution which called on states to take "further practical steps to decrease the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems, with a view to ensuring that all nuclear weapons are removed from high alert status". This new resolution is essentially a call for nuclear weapons to be de-alerted. It was intended to spark discussion and seek common ground on moving this issue forward, with careful drafting to attract support from NATO states. It was resoundingly adopted with 139 GA votes in favour, three against (France, the United States and the United Kingdom), with 36 - mostly other nuclear weapon states and members of NATO - abstaining.

The co-sponsors succeeded in splitting NATO, with six states breaking ranks to vote in favour, including two that host US nuclear weapons, Germany and Italy. The other four NATO votes in favour came from Iceland, Norway, Portugal, and Spain. Reportedly due to indecision within the Russian government, Russia did not participate in the vote in either the First Committee or General Assembly. China abstained, noting that different views exist on the issue - a diplomatic non-answer. De facto nuclear weapon possessors India, which sponsors the other draft resolution on de-alerting, and Pakistan voted in favour.

Despite its careful wording, the resolution attracted controversy in the form of a largely semantic debate that avoided the real issues of concern. Responding to the draft resolution on October 9, US Ambassador Christina Rocca stated, "the US forces are not, and never have been, on hair-trigger alert... In order to comply with this request we would have to first put our forces on hair-trigger alert so that we could then de-alert them". As noted by the Washington Post on November 1, this statement caused a stir within the arms control and disarmament community, provoking rebuttals by prominent experts Bruce Blair of the World Security Institute and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.

Ambassador Rocca partially backed off from her earlier position in a brief statement before the vote, admitting that some US ballistic missile submarines are always on alert. She disagreed, however, with the resolution's implication that the US level of readiness increases the risks of accidental or unintentional use of nuclear weapons, and asserted "As long as nuclear weapons exist and are part of the US deterrent, it is necessary for us to keep some portion of our forces at some level of alert".

The other resolution dealing with alert status, India's draft "Reducing nuclear danger", was adopted by a vote similar to recent years: with 117-52-12.

Fissile Materials

The long-awaited start of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear explosives appeared closer than for many years. At the end of its 2007 session, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) came close to agreement on a package deal that would made it possible to begin negotiations on a fissile materials treaty in 2008. In the First Committee, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and several other delegations explicitly expressed support for the package deal. The European Union called for negotiations to commence without preconditions. Although the US delegation stated its preference to proceed with a fissile materials cut-off treaty (FMCT) without linkage with other issues, representatives explained that a decision had been made this year not to block consensus on the package proposal in the CD.

Many delegations that spoke about a fissban in the general and thematic debates restated their national positions, revealing that substantial differences remain. The Chinese and Indian delegations repeated language from the 1995 Shannon Report when they reiterated their support for a "multilateral, non-discriminatory, and effectively verifiable" treaty. While Pakistan's delegation agreed that any issue may of course be raised in negotiations, they insisted that specific reference to matters such as verification needed to be explicitly contained in the negotiation mandate, because when entering negotiations "one has to be sure what is sacrosanct and what is not". Pakistan continues to be a principal player blocking consensus in the CD on a package deal that would allow negotiations to commence.

Because of these continuing divisions and clear indications in preliminary consultations that consensus would be lacking, the Canadian delegation withdrew what Ambassador Grinius described as "a strictly procedural draft decision that would have added the issue of the prohibition of the production of fissile material to next year's First Committee agenda". Seeing such a procedural decision blocked is even more disappointing than in 2006, when the Canadian delegation withdrew its "minimalist" draft resolution that had called on the CD "to commence immediately negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons", without prejudice to any issue any delegation might want to raise in the course of negotiations.


Statements made in the General Debate demonstrated continuing divergence on how to address the issue of missiles - whether in the context of nuclear disarmament delivery systems or a broader, holistic mandate under general and complete disarmament, and in what setting - in a treaty regime or through voluntary measures; on a case by case basis or in a comprehensive and universal manner. States showed little interest or will to bridge the chasm, and there were few if any signs of a multilateral missile treaty emerging anytime soon, as was pointed out by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio Duarte. One of the few delegations that spoke on the issue, Russia again called for a legally-binding treaty establishing a global missile non-proliferation regime.

Because the third UN Panel of Government Experts on missiles, established by General Assembly resolution 59/67 (2004), will have two additional sessions in 2008, Iran introduced only a draft decision that recalled past resolutions and included the item of missiles on the provisional agenda of the 63rd (2008) session of the General Assembly. This was adopted by 123-7-51, with Russia and China as well as most of the NAM in favour, while 51 mainly Western states abstained. The opposing votes came from Denmark, France, Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and US dependent Palau.

Internationalizing the INF Treaty

On October 25, the United States and Russia presented a joint statement to the First Committee, noting the twentieth anniversary of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and calling for interested countries to discuss the possibility of internationalizing the Treaty, "through the renunciation of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, leading to the destruction of any such missiles, and the cessation of associated programmes". The statement, delivered by Russia, also described the INF Treaty as an important and practical step toward fulfilment of Article VI of the NPT and expressed concern about the proliferation of missiles in this range to an ever greater number of countries.

The US/Russian Joint Statement was welcomed by several European delegations, including Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy, which acknowledged the Treaty's role in reducing tensions in Europe. The Netherlands expressed its readiness to participate in discussions on internationalizing the Treaty as called for by the statement. It remains to be seen how the United States and Russia intend to follow through with this proposal.

Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

The First Committee took action on six resolutions dealing with NWFZ. Although there is widespread consensus among governments on the value and utility of NWFZ, from a non-proliferation and a disarmament perspective, implementation of new zones continues to stall for a variety of reasons, including regional issues and the concerns of nuclear weapon states over questions such as security assurances, transit rights and conflicts with pre-existing agreements. Only one NWFZ resolution managed to avoid some form of controversy - that dealing with consolidation of the regime established by the Tlatelolco Treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Of the two other NWFZ resolutions adopted by consensus - those dealing with a prospective NWFZ in the Middle East and entry into force of the Pelindaba Treaty covering Africa - governments continued to express well-known reservations. On the Middle East NWFZ resolution, more moderate and balanced than the other Middle East resolution, discussed above, Israel did not impede consensus but again reiterated its longstanding view that it would only accede to a NWFZ treaty as part of a comprehensive peace process. On the resolution dealing with the Pelindaba Treaty, Spain did not follow through with its 2005 threat to block consensus, despite the fact that no changes had been made to meet its concerns about the Canary Islands (legally part of Spain) being included in the map of the African NWFZ. However, Spain announced it had decided not to sign Protocol 3 of the Treaty, explaining that it contains no provision that Spain has not already signed on to in other instruments.

France, the UK and US continued to oppose the resolution on a nuclear-weapon-free Southern Hemisphere, citing their familiar concerns about the law of the sea. Despite explicit assurances in the resolution to the contrary, the three states remain concerned that the resolution is really an attempt to ban nuclear weapons from the high seas. The three nuclear powers did, however, express willingness to continue consultations with the co-sponsors over the content of the resolution.

A new resolution dealing with the Southeast Asian NWFZ (Bangkok Treaty) ran into controversy and resistance from some nuclear weapons states over outstanding issues relating to the Treaty's Protocol. The resolution, co-sponsored by ASEAN, was intended to support a resumption of consultations between states in the zone and nuclear weapon states that have so far refused to sign the Treaty's Protocol. Despite concessions that led to the text being revised in a number of areas to avoid opposition from Britain, France and the United States, the US delegation cast a lone vote against.

Other Weapons of Mass Destruction

The First Committee adopted by consensus its three annual resolutions dealing with other weapons of mass destruction. As reflected in the annual resolution on the BWC, most governments consider the Convention's Sixth Review Conference in 2006 to have been a success and they lauded the establishment of an Implementation Support Unit. Many governments, however, continued to call for an international verification regime to strengthen the BWC.

At the time of the 2007 session of First Committee, states parties to the CWC were preparing for two meetings, the Twelfth Session of the Conference of States in November 2007 and the Second Review Conference in April 2008. The annual resolution on the CWC was adopted again by consensus and, among other things, emphasized the need for universal adherence to and full implementation of the Treaty. It referred to the need for states to meet their respective deadlines for destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles - with concern about this aimed primarily at Russia and the United States, which are not expected to complete destruction of their stockpiles within the maximum time allowable under the Convention. The CWC Conference of States also urged states that have not yet fulfilled their disarmament obligations to make known any requirements for assistance they might need.

The First Committee also adopted by consensus India's annual resolution on "Measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction". This is one of several broadly-worded resolutions introduced annually by either India or Pakistan that are animated by bilateral regional tensions rather than interest in multilateral arms control, and yet have subsequently come to be supported by other states as vehicles to push broader agendas. In the case of India's resolution, in reflection of the fact that it has become a medium for promoting Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) and further developments in international law related to terrorism, this year the United States joined as a co-sponsor. As in previous years, after the resolution was adopted, Pakistan expressed reservations, calling for language to address its understanding that terrorists are more likely to seek biological and chemical arms, and calling for relevant issues relating to non-state actors to be dealt with in more inclusive fora than Security Council resolution 1540

Outer Space Security

In the First Committee, many delegations supported the idea of developing "best practices" for safe and responsible space operations. Most agreed that transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBM) are immediately necessary and that they could complement future international legal instruments regarding space security. The Swedish delegation presented some outcomes of discussions on prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) in the CD, and made suggestions for ways to avoid or escape the "linguistic and philosophical debate" associated with the term PAROS, including support for consideration of "a treaty to prevent the placement of weapons in outer space" (PPWT), the name given by Russia to its draft treaty text.

The overwhelming majority of delegations voted in favour of the traditional resolution on PAROS, sponsored this year by Sri Lanka. The resolution, opposed solely by the United States - Israel abstained - emphasized the inadequacy of the current legal regime on outer space and called for the establishment of an ad hoc committee in the CD to develop an international agreement on PAROS.

The Russian-sponsored resolution on TCBMs in outer space was also overwhelmingly supported, with only the United States voting against and Israel abstaining. This resolution, first tabled in 2005, is now a regular fixture. It noted the proposals submitted by states to the Secretary-General on possible outer space TCBMs, pursuant to the 2006 resolution, and invited states to continue submitting proposals. The US delegation agreed that TCBMs in outer space are valuable, but voted against the resolution because it was unable to persuade Russia to eliminate "what the United States believes is a false and unacceptable linkage between expert assessments of TCBMs and efforts to begin pointless negotiations on unverifiable space arms control agreements".

Conventional Weapons

The energetic work of the Committee on conventional weapons revolved around a smaller number of resolutions than in previous years, all either adopted by consensus or by large margins. Indeed, so many delegations made remarks during the thematic discussion - nearly 50, compared to less than 30 for nuclear weapons - that the Chair was compelled to delay the start of voting to accommodate the speaker's list.

Small Arms and Light Weapons

There was considerable activism around strengthening the review process for the 2001 UN Programme of Action (PoA) on small arms. The annual omnibus resolution on combating the illicit trade in small arms ultimately fell short of the hopes of delegations that would like a standing mechanism to review the implementation of the PoA. The resolution did, however, continue to provide for consideration of implementation of the PoA in the biannual meetings of states. The United States again cast the sole vote against resolution, objecting to additional meetings of states.

The second annual resolution on small arms, sponsored by the Economic Council of West African States and highlighting the difficulties facing the sub-region attributable to illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, was adopted again by consensus.

Cluster Munitions

There was substantial debate about how to deal with cluster munitions, with delegations differing on whether to address these inhumane weapons through the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) or through the so-called Oslo Process being taken forward by a group of like-minded states. The annual resolution on the CCW did not reflect these controversies, however. Adopted by consensus, it emphasized the need to universalize the Convention and supported various meetings in relation to this.

Although the next meeting of the Oslo Process will take place in Dublin, the European Union pushed to keep cluster munitions within the purview of the CCW and, this year, submitted a draft Protocol and negotiating mandate to the Convention's Group of Governmental Experts. The United States announced its willingness to discuss the issue within the CCW. Japan and Switzerland also expressed support for keeping cluster munitions inside the CCW. Other states, many of whom are part of the Oslo Process, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, said that they were flexible on the question of venue, but wanted an instrument on cluster munitions to be negotiated without delay.


There was little progress to note on the issue of anti-personnel landmines, although the strong norm against their use and transfer continues to grow. This was evidenced in the First Committee by the number of states that still explain and justify their non-adherence to the Ottawa Convention. Such responses tends to indicate cognizance of the norm, as these delegations provide rationalizations for why their "unique" security situations takes precedence rather than denouncing the Convention. The annual landmines resolution, sponsored this year by Australia, was adopted by a similar margin as last year in the General Assembly, with 164 votes in favour, none against and 18 abstentions.

Man-Portable Air Defence Systems

The role of the First Committee in dealing with man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) remained limited. Australia reintroduced its biennial resolution, which did little more than encourage states, on their own initiative, to ban the transfer of MANPADS to non-state actors. Not really arms control in its traditional sense - placing limitations on the arms holdings of states in the interest of common security - the drafters of the resolution this year actually strengthened its language acknowledging the right of states to develop, possess, and transfer MANPADS. The resolution was adopted by consensus, as in previous years, although language had to be removed regarding the completion of airport vulnerability assessments in order to appease Egypt and other Arab states.

Depleted Uranium

The Non-Aligned Movement introduced a new resolution on the effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium (DU). Less controversial than a failed attempt in 2002 by Iraq to push through a resolution on the use of DU armaments, the present resolution, led by Cuba, simply requested the views of member states and relevant health and environmental organizations on the harmful affects of DU armaments. In order to appease some NATO states that might not have otherwise voted in favour of the resolution, the final version of the resolution omitted a call for states to refrain from using DU armaments and ammunitions until studies to determine their effects on human health and the environment are completed.

The resolution was primarily supported by NAM states, but it succeeded in splitting NATO. Of the 26 NATO countries, only five voted against the resolution, while most abstained. Germany and Italy voted in favour. In discussions on the resolution, delegations largely revisited the same points brought up in 2002. The United States cited studies by NATO, the IAEA, the World Health Organization, and the UN Environment Programme that it claimed conclude there is no direct link between DU munitions and negative health or environmental effects. The NAM disagreed, with affiliated delegations asserting that these same studies concluded that more research is needed. In any case, now that the issue is inscribed on the First Committee's agenda, the NAM intends to return with a follow-up, and possibly stronger, resolution next year.

Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe

Through statements made in the general and themed debates, the First Committee dealt with the controversy over the December 12, 2007 announcement by Russia of its suspension of compliance with the CFE Treaty, in retaliation for US plans to deploy ballistic missile defence (BMD) and expand NATO bases in Eastern Europe. The discussion tended to revolve around regional tensions among former Soviet-bloc countries, rather than anything related to resolving the NATO/Russia standoff, with Moldova and Georgia levelling accusations at Russia related to its alleged continued military presence and support for secessionist movements. The representative from Ukraine appeared to support the Russian position by noting, however, that the CFE "does not correspond to the current security situation in Europe". The French delegation announced that France was convening an informal conference on the Treaty for states parties and candidates in Paris on November 4-5 to discuss the future of the regime.

Disarmament Machinery

While the 2007 session of the CD did not result in the adoption of a programme of work, there was close to consensus on a presidential draft decision, L.1, containing a package deal. By the end of the session, however, China, Iran and Pakistan held out against consensus, giving rise to speculation that if one of these dropped its objections, the two others might not continue to block. Throughout the First Committee, most CD delegations expressed support for the comprehensive programme of work outlined in L.1, arguing that a package deal is the best way to get work underway in the Conference. The traditionally bland and procedural annual resolution on the CD noted the increased deliberation that took place during the year, and was again adopted by consensus.

The annual resolution on the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC), also adopted by consensus, called for a substantive report to be submitted to the next session of the General Assembly. However, neither of its two working groups came close to this goal during the 2007 session. While the troubled nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation working group made some headway in discussions, the Chair's working paper was ultimately reduced to a minimalist document deficient in disarmament.

The UNDC working group on practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons is considered to be closer to achieving consensus on substantive matters. Its work in 2007 resulted in three conference room papers submitted by the Chair. Both working groups decided to use their final paper as a basis for discussions at the 2008 session.

As progress on actual disarmament work in the various fora remains stalled, many delegations continued to push for a fourth special session of the General Assembly on disarmament. In particular, the NAM argued that a fourth special session is necessary to revitalize the machinery and make real progress on disarmament. The Open-ended Working Group, established by General Assembly resolution 61/60 (2006), met during the summer of 2007, but no consensus was reached. The final report of the working group decided further discussion and exchange of ideas is needed. As a fitting illustration of the state of multilateral disarmament, the United States cast the lone vote against the resolution to reconvene the working group in 2008.


Answering the First Committee Chair's rhetorical question regarding progress made by the First Committee, Ray Acheson in her final First Committee Monitor editorial, remarked, "If productivity can be measured by volume of paper circulated, then the First Committee was extremely successful". But the 2007 session did little to truly advance the disarmament and international security agenda. Despite the appearance of broad-based agreements in many areas, the lowest-common denominator form of decision-making that typifies multilateral political fora such as the General Assembly means that even when widespread agreement exists, progress can still be agonizingly slow.

This report was written and compiled by Michael Spies, of Lawyers' Committee for Nuclear Policy, with the invaluable assistance of Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will, a project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, who made research and editorial contributions to the article and summary of resolutions. The report also draws heavily on the First Committee Monitor, edited by Ms. Acheson, with particular thanks for the contributions from Waverly de Bruijn (Global Action to Prevent War - GAPW), Mark Marge (IANSA), Kavitha Suthanthiraraj (GAPW), Jim Wurst (Middle Powers Initiative) as well as others, with my grateful thanks.

See also: 2007 First Committee Resolutions, Summary and Explanations, compiled by Michael Spies