20 July 2005

Disarmament Commission Reaches Agreement, in Principle, Regarding Agenda Item on Conventional Weapons, Issue of Revitalization

Accord Follows Agreement, also in Principle, on Nuclear Disarmament

NEW YORK, 19 July (UN Headquarters) -- In the wake of yesterday’s agreement, in principle, on an agenda item relating to nuclear disarmament, the Disarmament Commission agreed today, also in principle, on a second agenda item, relating to conventional weapons, and to discuss a written proposal by the Chairman on how to treat revitalization of the Commission.

The first agenda item, agreed yesterday “ad referendum” or in principle, pending the formulation of the whole agenda, was as follows:  “Recommendations for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in all its aspects, in particular for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament”.  The second item, agreed today as amended, reads as follows:  “Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons”.

Tentative agreement on the second item came after the Chairman deleted the phrase “including verification mechanisms” from consideration of confidence-building measures.  That had followed a lengthy discussion in which the United States delegate had expressed concern that the Commission had already handled confidence-building measures for three years without success and that the matter would now be addressed by a group of governmental experts, according to a 2004 resolution of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security).  That speaker asked the Commission to focus instead on the following item:  “Responding to contemporary threats to international peace and security”.

The Disarmament Commission is a specialized United Nations body that allows for in-depth deliberations on specific disarmament issues, leading to the submission of concrete recommendations.  Last year it was unable to agree on an agenda, which was to have included an item on nuclear disarmament and to have begun a normal three-year cycle of deliberations on two items.

Now, in an organizational meeting resumed from last December, the Commission was striving to conclude a draft provisional agenda.  “Little drops of water, little grains of sand made a mighty ocean and a beauteous land”, Chairman Sylvester Rowe (Sierra Leone) told members this morning, as they began considering further elements of the provisional agenda.

He said that, to everyone’s surprise, some progress had been made yesterday, a signal that the Commission was not a “dead duck”, but was prepared to fulfil its responsibility and make its own contribution, however small, to the cause of disarmament and the maintenance of international peace and security.

Most delegations, however, including those of China, Russian Federation, United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Union) and Indonesia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), felt that a second agenda item should concern conventional weapons.  The Union’s representative questioned the inclusion of the verification issue, describing it as “a rather tricky idea to consider” and explaining that confidence-building measures, by their very nature, were voluntary and could not be imposed.  Given that they were voluntary, why would they require verification and who would carry that out? she asked.

The United States delegate expressed support for deleting verification entirely from the proposal, saying that verification mechanisms were established and attached to treaties.  He did not have instructions from Washington to support a “redo” of dealing with practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms since, in the last Commission cycle, agreement had broken down at the last moment and a new working group might also face the same problem.  Without the verification aspect, however, he thought he could “sell” the formulation at home.

He also rejected the Chairman’s proposal that the Commission defer discussion of other issues relating to the agenda, as well as the work programme, for a new organizational meeting sometime in November or December, explaining that his country’s support in principle for the two agenda items had been contingent on how the Commission dealt the important issue of its revitalization.  He circulated his proposal for a third agenda, as follows:  “Measures for improving the effectiveness of the methods of work of the Disarmament Commission”.

Following a discussion that revolved largely around whether the Commission’s virtual impasse since 1999 had resulted from lack of political will or lack of effective working methods, the Chairman attempted to assess the flexibility of the United States delegation with respect to whether or not it was willing to forego consideration of the Commission’s reform as a third agenda item, while still affording that issue “equitable treatment”.  The Chairman agreed to put a proposal in writing for discussion at another organizational meeting tomorrow.

The representatives of Belarus, South Africa, Cuba, India, Grenada, Brazil and Chile also spoke.

In other business today, two more delegates were elected as Vice-Chairpersons, as follows:  María-Alicia Terrazas-Ontiveros (Bolivia); and Janice Miller (Jamaica).  With four vacancies still remaining, the Chairman, nevertheless, called a meeting of the Bureau for at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The Disarmament Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to continue its consideration of a draft provisional agenda.

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