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United Nations First Committee 2009

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'Real Action is Needed'

From Carol Naughton in New York, 15 October 2009

Today's session was a continuation of the Thematic Debate on Nuclear Weapons. 

The buzz in the room was even more intense today as the draft resolutions for voting in the final week become available and nations begin to set out their positions. Even with an earpiece it is hard to hear sometimes for the, oft heated and usually loud, discussions going on around us towards the back of the room where we NGOs are seated.

17 countries read out their statements today (see www.reachingcriticalwill.org for all statements and resolutions).  Most nations were very positive about the prospect for 'ending the decade-long dormancy in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation' as the Republic of Korea put it. Many cited the positive steps taken over the last year including the US/Russia commitment to a follow on to START that will be transparent, verifiable and legally binding.

Many, but not all, were warm in welcoming the UNSC Resolution 1887 on 24th September 2009. The NAM statement -- representing over 110 countries, more than half of the UN -- only noted it,  reflecting perhaps the concerns of some nations that it was rather light on concrete disarmament steps and that the 2010 RevCom needs to produce a more substantial 'action plan'. 

The importance of Entry into Force of the CTBT and an early start to negotiations on a FM(C)T in the Conference on Disarmament were stressed many times as key steps on non-proliferation and disarmament. New Zealand 'noted with pleasure' the commitment by the US to the CTBT and the 'recent welcome expressions of support for ratification by China and Indonesia'. On the FM(C)T negotiations the Netherlands said that a lot of the ground work had already been done and 'we should not waste any more time and get to work.'

On the theme of 'getting on with it' the UK's statement was a strong call to action and laid down a challenge to the First Committee to 'focus on what binds us rather than what divides us', to move away from engaging in zero sum debates and show willingness to compromise. Ambassador Duncan said the UK will be 'seeking action plans for all 3 pillars'.

China's statement called for the nuclear weapons states to publicly undertake not to seek permanent ownership of nuclear weapons and for a viable plan for the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons.

France on the other hand felt it was already leading the way and said it was 'gratified' that others were following France's example of 'strict efficiency' in  their nuclear arsenals.

By yesterday five draft resolutions had already been submitted with many more expected by the deadline today.  The resolution on the 'Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East' put forward by Egypt, 'The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East' by the Group of Arab states and 'Assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons and collecting them' are all very similar past years.

There are two new ones, both from Canada, 'Verification in all its aspects, including the role of the United Nations in the field of verification'  and 'Treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices'. While the majority clearly want this to go through by consensus, they are concerned that this won't be possible due to opposition from one or two delegations that are part of the problem blocking the CD's attempts to move forward and negotiate.

Chile, New Zealand and Switzerland all took time in their statements to explain why the “de-alerting group” will not be presenting the draft resolution on operation readiness of nuclear weapons, as they have in 2007 and 2008 and that received broad support. They explained the decision was not taken lightly but 'reflects our recognition of the very positive momentum that exists currently and the genuine willingness of many states to explore concrete steps to achieve the 'Prague vision'. Our group's decision is intended to allow space for the various review processes underway to reach a positive outcome.'  They did stress however that they will be continuing to work on this issue and will be bringing it back to the RevCon and to First Committee in 2010. I hope their goodwill on this will be rewarded.

The atmosphere is of expectation and hope for the 2010 RevCom across all three pillars and on the Middle East resolution of 1995 but, to quote Switzerland who, I felt, summed up the will of the majority of nations, 'Real action is needed'.

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