Background Release

8 October 2001


NEW YORK, 5 October (UN Headquarters) -- The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) begins its general debate on Monday, 8 October, facing an unfinished disarmament agenda described by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as "alarmingly long" and continuing to grow, with a "disappointingly low" level of multilateral cooperation on many key issues.

In his annual report on the work of the Organization, issued 6 September, the Secretary-General states that uncertainties about the status of the strategic relationship between the leading nuclear-weapon Powers and a continuing divergence of views among States on priorities and perspectives continue to inform the disarmament debate and block further movement on global security and disarmament.

The 11 September terrorist attack on the United States is also likely to inform the disarmament debate. On the first day of the General Assembly’s week-long debate on terrorism, the Secretary-General told the Assembly that it was hard to imagine how the tragedy of 11 September could have been worse, "yet the truth is that a single attack involving a nuclear or biological weapon could have killed millions". While the world had been unable to prevent the 11 September attacks, there was much that could be done to help prevent future terrorist acts carried out with weapons of mass destruction.

The greatest immediate danger arises from a non-State group or individual acquiring and using a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon, which could be delivered without a missile or other sophisticated delivery system, he warned. Global norms against the use or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction must be strengthened by, among other means, redoubling efforts to ensure the universality, verification and full implementation of key treaties relating to weapons of mass destruction, including those outlawing chemical and biological weapons and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Recently, however, strengthening global norms against the use or proliferation of the world's most destructive weapons and redoubling efforts to ensure adherence to the relevant treaties faced what Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, called "a crisis of multilateral disarmament diplomacy".

As evidence of this low level of international cooperation, the Secretary-General cites the continuing failure of the Conference on Disarmament -- the only world forum for negotiating disarmament treaties -- to reach agreement on future work in the field of nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. This impasse has also prevented negotiation of a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons.

He also notes that several multilateral agreements aimed at nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament or nuclear reductions still await either entry into force or effective implementation. Among them is the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear tests in all environments. Forty years of negotiations culminated in the Treaty's opening for signature on 24 September 1996, but under an unusual provision it requires ratification by 44 particular States. Of those 44 States, 31 have ratified it. The remainder include several countries that have not yet signed it -- the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India and Pakistan.

The future of another arms control Treaty -- the 1972 Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty) -- has been called into question, in particular by the United States, which has declared its intention to build a national missile defence. The bilateral agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States -- considered a cornerstone of strategic stability -- limits the development and deployment of anti-ballistic missiles.

In his annual report, the Secretary-General warns that plans to deploy national missile defences threaten not only bilateral and multilateral arms control agreements, but also ongoing and future disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. In order to avert a new arms race, the Secretary-General encourages continuing consultation on these issues, adding that multilateral negotiations towards legally binding, irreversible and verifiable disarmament agreements are essential.

A note before the Committee entitled "Nuclear disarmament" recalls the commitment made by world leaders at the Millennium Summit to "strive for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons" and the agreements reached by the States parties to the NPT in May 2000 on the "practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts" on nuclear disarmament, as well as the unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament. Yet, the Secretary-General reports that the pace of implementation of these declarations remains "disappointingly slow".

In a related matter, talks collapsed in July on a verification protocol to strengthen the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention). It is expected that further work to strengthen the Convention will be taken up at the Fifth Review Conference of the Parties, set to begin on 19 November.

Apart from these developments, the following additional trends were highlighted by the Secretary-General in his address to his Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters on 2 February: global defence spending is rising; weapons are becoming more lethal and accurate; there has been no progress in reaching agreement to exclude weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East; India and Pakistan have yet to sign the test-ban Treaty, and nuclear dangers remain high in that region; and efforts to negotiate a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia have still not been brought to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Dhanapala said in April that, although the last decade was not a time of nuclear war, it was indeed a time of devastating bloodshed involving the use of an ever-expanding variety of conventional arms. Under growing pressure to address the problem, the United Nations took up the issue at the level of a first-ever global conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, held in New York from 9 to 20 July.

The outcome was the consensus adoption of a programme of action heralded by the Secretary-General as a "significant first step" towards the goal of preventing, combating and eradicating the illicit trade. It included guidelines for practical action at the national, regional and international levels. At the same time, disappointment was expressed by the Conference President about the failure of delegations to reach agreement on controlling private ownership of small arms specifically designed for military purposes, and their transfer to non-State actors. The Committee will serve as another venue for consolidating the gains made at the Conference.

Reports before Committee

The Committee will have before it the annual report of the Conference on Disarmament (document A/56/27), the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament. [Not yet issued.]

The Committee will also have before it the annual report of the Disarmament Commission (document A/56/42). The Commission is a specialized deliberative body of the General Assembly. During its 2001 substantive session, held in New York from 9 to 27 April, the Commission considered

two agenda items: ways and means to achieve nuclear disarmament; and practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms.

The current report contains the reports of the subsidiary bodies of the Commission (the two working groups entrusted with considering those items), as well as the Commission's conclusions and recommendations, which included the consensus adoption of those reports and the agreement to submit them to the General Assembly. Annexed to the Commission's report is a Chairman's Paper entitled "Ways and means to achieve nuclear disarmament", as well as a non-Paper submitted by the Chairperson, entitled "Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms".

The report of the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters (document A/56/418) covers the work of the Board's sessions in New York from 31 January to 2 February, and in Geneva from 25 to 27 July, respectively. The Board is a group of eminent persons and scholars from all regions of the world who meet annually to advise the Secretary-General on disarmament matters. It was established in 1978 by the General Assembly at its tenth special session.

At the year's first session, the Board focused on four key issues: the "Revolution in Military Affairs"; the illicit trade in small arms; reducing nuclear dangers; and non-proliferation regimes. At its second 2001 session, the Board continued its deliberations on the revolution in military affairs and reducing nuclear dangers and also addressed nuclear-weapon-free zones as instruments of disarmament.

Members agreed that there exists "a crisis of multilateral disarmament diplomacy" -- a development noted by the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs in his remarks to the Board at its thirty-seventh session -- and that the United Nations had an important role to play in addressing it, including through public education, especially with respect to nuclear disarmament. It also agreed on a number of other points, including that the revolution in military affairs had profound implications -– both positive and negative -– for the future of global non-proliferation and disarmament regimes and would require the Board's further attention.

In other areas of agreement, members felt that the Secretary-General's proposal of a major international conference on eliminating nuclear dangers would best be pursued through an incremental process, given the current lack of a global consensus to convene such a conference. They also agreed that disarmament and non-proliferation regimes were inseparable and mutually dependent upon their wider international strategic environment, and that disarmament education offered a valuable means of combating public apathy and complacency about disarmament issues.

The Board agreed on three recommendations to address the "crisis of multilateral disarmament diplomacy"; four proposals on nuclear-weapon-free zones; seven measures to reduce nuclear dangers; and three recommendations concerning civil society. In response to General Assembly resolution 55/33 N, the Board forwarded to the Secretary-General "inputs … on information with regard to specific measures that could significantly reduce the risk of nuclear war", suggesting specific measures to reduce nuclear danger. A summary of that discussion is contained in a separate report.

At both of its 2001 sessions, the Board focused closely on a number of issues concerning threats from weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological) and their implications for the disarmament activities of the United Nations and existing multilateral regimes. Three specific issues appeared on the agendas for these sessions: reducing nuclear dangers; non-proliferation regimes; and nuclear-weapon-free zones.

A note of the Secretary-General on reducing nuclear danger (document A/56/400) transmits the summary of the discussion held on the subject by the Advisory Board at its 2001 sessions. Appended to the document are five background papers prepared by Board members for that discussion.

All members agreed that nuclear danger would only be eliminated once nuclear weapons were eliminated. There was broad agreement on the following seven recommendations, by which the Board: urges the Secretary-General to promote a dialogue on cooperative security on a regional and global level; recommends that he may wish to urge Member States to undertake certain preliminary political and technical preparations for an international conference on eliminating nuclear dangers, to be convened after the emergence of an international consensus to hold such an event (consideration of the proposed conference was recommended in the Millenium Declaration); encourages him to promote the de-alerting of nuclear weapons; and urges him to encourage and promote, through his consultations with Member States, the review of nuclear doctrines.

The Board also urges him to encourage Member States to pursue the elimination of all tactical nuclear weapons of the two major nuclear-weapon States while, as a first step towards their total elimination, drastically reducing and removing such weapons to central storage; suggests that he should work with Member States to promote transparency at the global and regional levels, particularly with respect to weapons and weapons facilities, and postures and doctrines; reaffirms that programmes of education and training on the dangers would foster an informed world public opinion that would be able to exercise a positive influence on the political will to eliminate nuclear weapons and create a climate conducive to nuclear disarmament measures.

Also before the Committee will be a report entitled "Missiles" (document A/56/136/Add 1 and Add 2). It contains replies from the following Member States on the issue of missiles in all its aspects: Belarus; Bolivia; El Salvador; Mexico; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia; and Sweden, on behalf of the European Union. A first addendum to the report contains a reply from China; a second from Pakistan.

A report entitled "Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: the need for a new agenda" (document A/56/309) reprints in full the resolution by the same title adopted last year (55/33 C). In its observations following the text, the report states that on at least two important occasions last year, the international community had underlined that efforts towards the elimination of nuclear weapons remain an important priority. In the Millennium Declaration, world leaders resolved to strive for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, and to keep all options open for achieving this aim, including the possibility of convening a global conference on identifying ways of eliminating nuclear dangers.

The report recalls that in May 2000, at the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT, the States parties agreed, among other things, on certain "practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts" on nuclear disarmament, which constitute concrete benchmarks for evaluating progress in this field. Furthermore, the States parties unanimously agreed that the elimination of nuclear weapons is "the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use" of such weapons. The challenge ahead for the international community is to see these steps through to their earliest and full implementation at all levels. Despite the political commitments made, the level of international cooperation in disarmament remains "lower than it should be".

The report notes that several multilateral agreements still await either their entry-into-force or their effective implementation and their universality, and concern is expressed about the future of some other important arms control and disarmament agreements. Progress can only be made if measures taken at the unilateral and bilateral levels towards nuclear disarmament are aimed at strengthening the global security environment. It also notes the Joint Statement made by the Russian Federation and the United States on 22 July regarding upcoming consultations on strategic issues, in which the two countries expressed their intention to commence intensive consultations on the interrelated subjects of offensive and defensive systems.

Concerning the CTBT, the report finds that prospects for near-term entry into force remain uncertain, despite the impressive fact that 161 States have signed the Treaty and 79 have ratified it, including 31 of the 44 States whose ratification is specifically required for the Treaty to become effective. The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Treaty without delay and without conditions. Pending the Treaty's entry into force, it is essential that a moratorium on nuclear-weapon-test explosions or any other nuclear explosions be upheld.

A note of the Secretary-General on nuclear disarmament (document A/56/404) was submitted in response to a request made to him in resolution 55/33 T to report on implementation of that text at the current session. He recalls the commitment made by world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit and the agreements reached by the States parties to the NPT in May 2000. He says that the pace of implementations of these declarations remains "disapppointingly slow", and he presses the international community to take the necessary steps to achieve progress in the area of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

The Secretary-General's report on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East (document A/56/187) asserts that the issue remains high on the international agenda. In that context, measures with regard to the Middle East, especially the implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, were included in the consensus Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT. The agreements also reaffirmed the broad measure of support for the establishment of such a zone in the region. Regrettably, no further progress has been achieved since. The report contains replies from Belgium, on behalf of the European Union; Egypt; Mexico and Syria.

A report on verification in all its aspects, including the role of the United Nations in that field (document A/56/347) responds to a General Assembly resolution adopted at the fifty-fourth session requesting the Secretary-General to report to the Assembly's current session on further views received from Member States on the subject. The report contains a reply from Qatar.

In his report on the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or Have Indiscriminate Effects (document A/56/163), the Secretary-General informs the General Assembly that 85 States are party to the Convention and at least two of its Protocols as at 31 May 2001. By that same date, 58 States had indicated their consent to be bound by amended Protocol II (on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-traps and Other Devices) and 56 States had notified of their consent to be bound by Protocol IV (on blinding laser weapons).

The report entitled assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and collecting them (document A/56/182) provides an update on events and activities at the subregional, regional and international levels relating to the assistance provided to States to address the issue. Activities covered in the report include the Preparatory Committee for the 2001 United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects and actions taken through the United Nations Trust Fund for the Consolidation of Peace through Practical Disarmament Measures.

The Secretary-General, in his report on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (document A/56/296), provides an overview of his broad-based consultations on the matter following adoption of General Assembly resolution 55/33 Q. The report presents results of meetings on the issue convened under the auspices of the United Nations, regional and subregional organizations, and States and groups of States. Annexed to it is data from Member States on types and quantities of surplus, confiscated, and destroyed small arms and light weapons, in response to a note verbale from the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs.

A report on activities of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa (document A/56/285) reviews the activities of the Committee since the last report. It states that the Committee convened two ministerial meetings and organized the Conference on the Question of Refugees and Displaced Persons in Central Africa. The Conference had not been able to develop a plan of action to assist these vulnerable groups, owing to divergent views between representatives of governments and civil society from the Member States.

In the report strengthening of security and cooperation in the Mediterranean region (document A/56/153), the Secretary-General transmits information received from Member States on means to strengthen security and cooperation in the region. The submissions of Algeria, Mexico and Sweden are contained in the report.

The report on the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (document A/56/137) provides information on the Centre’s progress from July 2000 to June 2001. The Centre supported efforts for the implementation and realization of peace and security-related activities of African governments, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations. It also provides substantive support to the 11 Governments of the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions that led to the adoption of the Nairobi Declaration on Small Arms in March 2000 and an implementation plan for the Declaration in November 2000. The Centre continued to experience considerable financial difficulties owing to the lack of voluntary funds.

The report on the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (document A/56/154) states that the Centre’s activities were concentrated on firearms, ammunition and explosives; anti-personnel mines; nuclear disarmament issues; and disarmament and development; information and public events.

The report on the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia (document A/56/266) finds that the Centre continued to promote disarmament and security through the three disarmament meetings it had organized. It assisted the five Central Asian States in establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone and continued to strengthen Mongolia’s nuclear-weapon-free status.

A report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean (document A/56/29) recalls that the Ad Hoc Committee held its session on 5 July at United Nations Headquarters. The Chairman was requested to continue informal consultations with members of the Committee and to report through it to the General Assembly at its fifty-eighth session.

In a report concerning developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security (document A/56/164), the Secretary-General transmits replies from governments. States had been asked to inform him of their views concerning the general appreciation of the issues of information security and definitions of basic notions related to information security, including unauthorized interference with or misuse of telecommunications and information resources. Replies were received from Bolivia, Mexico, the Philippines and Sweden.

A report on the observance of environmental norms in the drafting and implementation of disarmament and arms control (document A/56/165) relays responses from States on measures they adopted to promote the objectives envisaged in resolution 55/33 of the same name. The report includes responses from Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Iraq, Lebanon, Mexico and Suriname.

The Secretary-General’s report on convening the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament (document A/56/166) transmits the views of Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Lebanon, Mexico, Qatar, Russian Federation and Syria on the objectives, agenda, and timing for the special session.

A report entitled relationship between disarmament and development (document A/56/183) describes the activities undertaken to promote better understanding of that relationship in the context of international relations, as called for in General Assembly 54/54 T. The resolution had requested the Secretary-General to continue to take action, through appropriate organs and within existing means, on the implementation of the programme of action adopted at the September 1987 International Conference on the Relationship between Disarmament and Development. He invited Member States to communicate their views and proposals on the implementation of the programme of action of the International Conference on the Relationship between Disarmament and Development. One reply was received from Sweden.

In his report on objective information on military matters, including transparency of military expenditures (document A/56/267), the Secretary-General transmits replies from Member States on their military expenditures. The General Assembly called on Member States to report their military expenditures for the latest fiscal year to the Secretary-General annually in its resolution 54/43 of 1 December 1999. The report includes replies from 55 governments.

In issuing his report on the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms (document A/56/257), the Secretary-General transmits data and information supplied for the Register, which he receives from States annually. In the past year, 104 States replied to the request for data, background and/or nil reports, but this was still short of the goal of universal participation. Member States had also been invited to provide additional information on procurement, national production and military holdings, and to provide additional information such as types or models, in a standardized form.

The report recalls the relevant General Assembly resolution reaffirming its decision to keep the scope of and participation in the Register under review and recalled its request to Member States to provide the Secretary-General with their views on the continuing operation of the Register and its further development on transparency measures related to weapons of mass destruction. The Secretary-General was requested to prepare a report on the continuing operation of the Register and its further development, with a view to taking a decision at its fifty-eighth session with the assistance of the group of governmental experts to be convened in 2003.

In his report on further measures in the field of disarmament for the prevention of an arms race on the sea-bed and the ocean floor and subsoil thereof (document A/56/172), the Secretary-General complies with a General Assembly resolution requesting that he report every three years on technical developments relevant to and verification of compliance with the Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof. Replies were received from Côte d’Ivoire, Mexico and Saudi Arabia and nil replies from Portugal and Switzerland.

A note by the Secretary-General transmits the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (document A/56/313), headquartered in Vienna, Austria. Its principal objective is "to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world". The Agency comprises 130 Member States. Fifty-four intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations worldwide have formal agreements and arrangements with the Agency, which has 224 safeguards agreements in force in 140 States (and with Taiwan, China) involving 2,467 safeguards inspections performed in 2000.

Another note by the Secretary-General on the follow-up to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons (document A/56/130) contains information received from Jordan, Mexico, Philippines and Syria.

A further note, on the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) (document A/56/359), transmits the report of the Director on the activities of the Institute for the period from July 2000 to July 2001 and the proposed programme of work, and estimated budget for 2001-2002.

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