Press Releases

          1 October 2004

    Disarmament Committee Holds Organizational Meeting; Debate Will Begin 4 October

    NEW YORK, 30 September (UN Headquarters) -- The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), this afternoon in an organizational meeting, adopted its programme of work and agenda for the fifty-ninth session.

    The work programme is divided into three phases.  The first, from 4 October to 15 October, will be a general debate on all disarmament and international security agenda items. Those include, among others, improving the effectiveness of the methods of work of the Committee, measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and reducing nuclear danger.

    The second phase, to be held from 18 to 22 October, will be a thematic discussion on all items, as well as the introduction and consideration of all draft resolutions and decisions. The final phase, from 25 October to 5 November, involves action on the texts.

    Committee Chairperson Luis Alfonso De Alba (Mexico) presided over the meeting and welcomed the new bureau, which had been elected in June. The bureau is made up of: Vice-Chairpersons Dziunik Aghajanian (Armenia), Alon Bar (Israel), and Sylvester Ekundayo Rowe (Sierra Leone); and Rapporteur Mohamed Ali Saleh Alnajar (Yemen).

    The Committee debate gets under way Monday against a background of events that have challenged existing disarmament and arms limitation regimes, among them: the confession of a Pakistani scientist to selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, revealing a clandestine network that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei called “the most dangerous thing we have seen in proliferation in many years”; Iran’s rejection of the IAEA’s recent calls for it to suspend all uranium enrichment activities; and the Republic of Korea’s admission to secretly conducting nuclear tests in 1982 and 2000, which have led to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s refusal to discuss its own nuclear programme until its southern neighbour is thoroughly investigated.

    The Secretary-General, in his most recent report on the work of the Organisation (document A/59/1), said the clandestine network and violations of non-proliferation commitments -- along with the slow pace of disarmament and the threat of terrorism -- “jeopardize international peace and security and may increase the risk of new instances of unilateral or pre-emptive use of force”. In light of those dangers, he told the General Assembly on 21 September that “it is by strengthening and implementing disarmament treaties, including their verification provisions, that we can best defend ourselves against the proliferation -- and potential use -- of weapons of mass destruction”.

    The cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, with 188 States parties, is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The 1968 Treaty classifies States into two categories -- non-nuclear-weapon States and nuclear-weapon States -- and assigns different obligations to each, respectively, to not acquire and to eliminate nuclear weapons. However, the slow pace of nuclear disarmament has heightened concerns that the Treaty has solidified an imbalance between non-nuclear-weapon States and nuclear-weapon States, allowing some nuclear-weapon States -- such as the United States, Russian Federation and China -- to freely engage in “vertical proliferation”, that is, increasing, developing or relaxing restraints on the use of their nuclear arsenals, rather than taking steps towards nuclear disarmament.  India, Israel, and Pakistan -- all known to possess or suspected of having nuclear weapons -- remain outside of the NPT, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea declared its withdrawal in 2003.

    “The goal of a nuclear weapons free world is still a long way off”, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Nobuyasu Abe said in Hiroshima on 6 August. “While there has been progress in disarmament, especially since the end of the cold war, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons remain in arsenals around the world, and there have been worrying indications that efforts are under way to develop new types of nuclear weapons. The continued existence of nuclear stockpiles leaves the shadow of nuclear war hanging over our world -- particularly given the existence of clandestine networks dealing in nuclear materials and the prospect of terrorists with extreme ambitions gaining access to these materials”, he added.

    Proliferation concerns also informed the discussion of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. For example, it recommended that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction be rendered punishable under international law and that perpetrators, whether acting privately or on behalf of States, be held personally accountable. Highlighting the importance of export controls, the Board recommended that the role of the United Nations be strengthened, through the fostering of cooperation and coordination among Member States. In addition, it recommended that negotiations be revived on a mechanism to monitor and verify compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention. The Board also referred to Security Council resolution 1540 (2004), adopted on 28 April, by which the Council decided that all States shall refrain from supporting non-State actors that attempt to acquire, use or transfer nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems.

    Another pressing concern of the Committee is the delayed entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which opened for signature in 1996.  Of the 44 “Annex 2” States, whose ratification is needed for its entry into force, only 32 have complied. Two nuclear Powers -- United States and China -- have signed but not ratified the Treaty, and the United States no longer supports it. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India and Pakistan, also Annex 2 States, have not even signed it.

    On 7 September, the Conference on Disarmament, the world’s sole multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations, concluded its 2004 session. Just as in 2003, it was unable to agree on a programme of work and did not establish or re-establish any mechanism on any of its specific agenda items.  The United States reaffirmed its commitment to negotiation of a legally binding treaty banning the production of fissile material at the Conference. It also stressed, however, that effective verification of such an instrument was not achievable.

    Regarding missiles, in accordance with resolution 58/37, the Secretary-General appointed a panel of governmental experts to discuss the issue and submit a report for consideration by the General Assembly. However, although the experts had an in-depth exchange of views in New York, they were unable to reach consensus on the preparation of a final report, given the complexity of the issues at hand.

    On conventional weapons, the Committee is expected to set the dates of the next biennial meeting to consider implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. There is currently no legally binding global treaty governing small arms and light weapons.  Nevertheless, efforts are under way to create an international instrument to regulate the marking and tracing of such arms, from the source to the point at which they were diverted into the black market. Consultations on the illicit brokering in such weapons are also being held.

    The United Nations Register of Conventional Arms -- an initiative that requests Member States to annually provide data on imports and exports of conventional arms, as well as background information on their military holdings -- now includes Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS). The threshold for reporting transfers of artillery systems has also been lowered from 100 to 75 millimetres, making the Register more relevant to many contemporary conflicts. Since its inception, 164 States have participated in the Register at least once, and 110 have submitted reports for 2003. Nevertheless, a number of States have boycotted the instrument, since it does not address weapons of mass destruction.

    Meanwhile, the first Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (also known as the Ottawa Convention) will be held in Nairobi from 29 November to 3 December. On 27 February, the United States announced that it would not join the Convention, but would work towards ending its use of landmines that were not designed to self-destruct and self-deactivate within a specified period of time.

    The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 4 October, to begin its general debate.

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