18 April 2006

Problems of Global Disarmament Machinery Located Not in Process, but in Politics, Disarmament Commission Told

NEW YORK, 13 April (UN Headquarters) -- The problems of the global disarmament machinery, including those of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, were located, not in process, but in politics, that Commission heard today as it began its consideration of ways to improve its effectiveness.

The Commission agreed at its organizational session in December, after a two-year impasse over its agenda, to begin a three-year cycle of consideration on two items:  nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation; and confidence-building measures in the area of conventional weapons.  It also agreed to allocate equitable time in 2006 in plenary meetings to the consideration of improving its working methods.  Today was the first of eight such scheduled meetings.

India's representative said that the Commission reflected the interests of all Member States, and as the deliberative organ in the disarmament arena, its work had special value.  As part of a triad on disarmament, its intrinsic strengths must be preserved.  He was prepared to consider "housekeeping improvements", which even the best of institutions had to do from time to time, but the present exercise should not weaken, but strengthen the Commission's role and enable it, once again, to contribute to global disarmament efforts.

Pleased that the Commission had decided to allocate equitable time to the discussion in keeping with efforts to achieve a "lasting revolution of reform" at the United Nations, the United States' representative said everyone was painfully aware of the difficulties that it had had to overcome to agree on an agenda.  If there were ways to make it more useful and relevant, they should be examined and embraced.  He looked forward to a full airing of the options and to making the Commission "smarter and better".  Only then could it be a truly valuable tool.

The Non-Aligned Movement sought a strengthened Disarmament Commission within the context of a revitalized General Assembly, Indonesia's speaker said, reaffirming that the Assembly should remain the principal United Nations organ in the disarmament field.  As such, the Commission should function under the Assembly's rules of procedure and make every effort to ensure that decisions on substantive issues were adopted by consensus.  The main difficulties confronting the Commission were not caused by ineffective working methods, however, but by the lack of political will of some States to move forward on nuclear disarmament.

Saying he agreed with the Non-Aligned Movement's "diagnosis", Mexico's representative said the paralysis of the disarmament machinery was due to a lack of political will.  The Commission was caught in a trap -- some States wanted to discuss certain subjects, but did not wish to make progress on others.  The fact was that all States were to blame:  there was no will and no willingness to codify practices when it came to the use of time, nor any desire to change the agenda items.  The question of revitalization had become "hollow rhetoric" and it was "not going to get us anywhere".  He said that maybe he sounded harsh, but he thought he was being realistic.

Brazil's speaker agreed that the main difficulties were not ineffective working methods, but a strategic stalemate in disarmament forums and a lack of political will to move forward.  The root causes of the political decline of the disarmament machinery must be addressed.  Proposals abounded; what was needed was sufficient political will to adopt and implement them.  The Commission did not negotiate legally binding agreements and, thus, it did not have certain constraints.  Plus, its "location" within the purview of the General Assembly meant it was the right place to hold discussions on disarmament issues.

Sierra Leone's representative, who had steered the Commission to an agreed agenda for the 2006 session, cautioned against talking about improving the Commission's effectiveness for the next three years without identifying what was wrong with the working methods; if members did not identify the weaknesses, they could not fix them.  The political aspects of reform or revitalization should be separated from the procedural issues.  Working methods were procedural.  He found it very difficult to see the rationale for spending so much time on working methods in terms of procedure, yet questions of consensus and the importance of a dialogue with the Conference on Disarmament were worthy of further consideration.

Iran's representative said that, over the years, the Commission had prepared consensus principles, guidelines and recommendations on many subjects, approved by the General Assembly.  It had gradually focused its work on a limited number of agenda items.  The Commission should try to adopt its agenda at its organizational session to give the Chair enough time to consult informally before the substantive session, and allow Member States to distribute papers on the items.  That would also give working group chairs ample time to prepare their papers in advance, and Member States could receive their instructions from their capitals.

Austria's speaker, on behalf of the European Union, said the Commission, as the sole disarmament forum with universal membership, was an important part of the United Nations disarmament machinery.  It had produced important results, such as the 1996 guidelines for arms transfers and the 1999 guidelines for conventional arms control and limitation, as well as the 1999 guidelines on nuclear-weapon-free zones.  The central question now was what could be done to strengthen the Commission and ensure that it was able to do its work.  There was great merit in looking at possible, practical and pragmatic steps to enhance its functioning.

Summing up today's discussion, the Commission Chairman, Oh Joon (Republic of Korea) said that members had touched on five or six main items:  the role of the Commission; the agenda in the context of whether the current three-year cycle of deliberations and the number of agenda items were appropriate; the modality of meetings and the length of the substantive session, and whether a special session was needed; organizational issues, such as the composition of the bureau and its early formulation and the issuance of documentation; and the rules of procedure, including the question of consensus.  The relationship between the Commission and other disarmament-related bodies, such as the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) and the Conference on Disarmament, was also discussed.

In other business today, the delegation of Benin was elected by acclamation as Vice-Chair.  As scheduled, Working Group II, on practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons, would convene its first meeting this afternoon.  The two previously scheduled meetings of Working Group I, charged with deliberating the agenda item on nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, were cancelled for the week, pending election of a chairperson.  The Chairman today nominated Jean-Francis Regis Zinsou (Benin) to chair Working Group I.  The election would be held at the next plenary meeting.

The Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. on Monday, 17 April to continue its discussion of improving its methods of work.

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