18 April 2006

Disarmament Commission Continues Discussion of Working Methods

NEW YORK, 17 April (UN Headquarters) -- Divergent views emerged in the Disarmament Commission today, as speakers grappled for a second day with the question of whether their work had been hampered by ineffective, inefficient working methods or a lack of political will.

Saying he had not heard anybody pinpoint specific problems with the Commission's working methods, Iran's representative said the main impediment had been a lack of political will.  The existing working methods, revitalized under General Assembly resolution 52/492, had only been implemented during one Commission cycle, from 2000 to 2003.  That was hardly a basis on which to "jump to a conclusion".  The result had been near consensus on one issue, and the other issue had been discussed thoroughly.  Besides, it was the nature of a global disarmament forum that some issues would not achieve consensus.

Regarding the Commission's agenda items, over the years, their number had been reduced from four to two, with the possibility of discussing a third, he said.  The wisdom had been to keep a balance between issues of conventional and nuclear disarmament, and that had been the result of a long and painstaking negotiation.  He cautioned against changing what had been decided as a result of a long process, adding that it was premature to alter the whole nature of the Commission. 

Also cautioning against prematurely deciding that certain provisions were obsolete or overtaken by current developments, Indonesia's representative, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), agreed that the problem was not one of working methods.  With three agenda items, the Commission had produced some very sound recommendations, such as those on nuclear-weapon-free zones in 1999 and conventional arms control.  That had proved that the problem was not related to the number of agenda items or the duration in which those were considered.  On consensus, the Final Document of the First Special Session on Disarmament clearly stated that the Commission should seek consensus, insofar as possible, on substantive issues, in line with the General Assembly's procedures.

What was wrong with the current methods of work? Egypt's representative asked.  He failed to see the logic with what was wrong with the length of the current cycle, especially in view of the comments made on behalf of the NAM.  A single application of the revised working methods was not enough time from which to draw lessons.  The absence of substantive meetings after 2003 had not been due to the methods of work.  All delegations were quite clear about that and knew exactly where the problem lay -- in the ability to agree on a substantive agenda, and that had not been due to a deficiency in working methods.  Before engaging in this exercise, maybe an informal meeting of the plenary would be useful, he said.

Similarly, Jordan's representative said there was always room for improvement, but if something was functioning well, why tamper with it?  There was always the risk of "breaking what was intact".  At the same time, she was willing to listen to all delegations, but was the discussion about ways to improve the Commission's working methods putting stumbling blocks in the way of restarting it after three years?  She did not want to risk stalling any future positive developments now.  Concurring with the other speakers, she pointed out that the current working methods had only been applied once since 2000.

On behalf of the European Union, the United Kingdom's representative welcomed the general exchange of views on improving the Commission's working methods, which she saw as a vital element of the wider United Nations disarmament machinery.  Reform should be a means to an end, and not an end in itself.  In terms of the length of the cycles, the Union did not have a fixed position.  Perhaps if the Commission met more frequently, it could reach agreement more rapidly.  There was a need for greater dialogue among the Commission, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) and the Conference on Disarmament.  A final document would hopefully reflect other practical measures.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said that achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness was not a matter of choice, but of necessity.  Recent challenges had made United Nations system-wide reform necessary, and the Commission was no exception.  Among his suggestions was:  to maintain consensus; to conduct early elections of the Bureau; and to explore whether three-year cycles of consideration were the most effective way to conduct the work.  That cycle allowed Member States to deliberate in great depth, but that also risked a loss of focus and intensity, especially in the first two years.  One approach might be to put deliberations on a one-year basis, with the possibility of a one-year extension.  More focused issues could be considered and, to avoid delays in formulating agendas, items could be decided for two or three years into the future.

Japan's speaker said that, given the changing nature of the global security environment, it might not be appropriate to discuss the same issue for three years; the Commission should be able to respond in a more timely manner to the urgent needs of peace and security.  He agreed that the Bureau members should be elected early.  Each agenda item could be discussed for two years, making the Commission more responsive to the needs of the international community.  He was open to all proposals, taking into account their financial aspects.  He attached great importance to consensus in the decision-making of the disarmament machinery.

The United States would like the Commission to reaffirm the principle of consensus, its speaker said.  Everyone was mindful of the General Assembly's rule of procedure, but the Commission dealt with international security matters and matters that cut to the heart of national security for all, so embracing consensus was crucial.  He wished to explore the idea of considering one issue at a time, under a renewable one-year mandate.  Until last Thursday, there seemed to be a problem for Member States to commit to a three-year examination of issues in the nuclear-related working group.  So, delegations should consider opening the chairmanship of the working groups to all Governments -- large and small -- and not just those with the manpower necessary to commit to a three-year chairmanship.

Commission Chairman, Oh Joon (Republic of Korea), reiterated his announcement of last week that he was forming a group, "Friends of the Chair", to assist him in guiding discussions in the Commission's revitalization and probably in drafting a non-paper on the issue.  Ambassador Sylvester Rowe (Sierra Leone) had agreed to help in that endeavour, and another person was sought.  The Chairman also noted that, with the assistance of the Secretariat, he would present members with his draft summary of the two formal meetings held thus far on the issue, when it meets informally in plenary on Wednesday to take up the matter again.

He announced that his nomination last week of Jean-Francis Zinsou (Benin) to chair Working Group I on nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation had not been met with any difficulties.  The Commission then elected Mr. Zinsou by acclamation.  Tomorrow morning would be the first meeting of Working Group I, and Working Group II, on conventional arms, would meet for a further round of talks in the afternoon.

Statements in today's discussion were also made by the representatives of Belarus, France, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.

The Commission will meet again at a date and time to be announced.

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