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United Nations First Committee 2009

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Curious wording or clever diplomacy?

From Carol Naughton in New York, 21 October 2009

There are more than 50 draft resolutions being put forward in First Committee. So far 36 of these are available to read. Of these the majority have been presented in previous years and are substantially unchanged, however some of these are creating a stir. One is the resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty, presented by the UK, and another the resolution, 'Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons' presented by Japan and co-sponsored by 43 other states at present, one of whom this year is the US.

The draft resolution, 'Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons' is again presented by Japan. Last year 163 nations voted for this resolution, including all the New Agenda Coalition members, with only DPRK, India, Israel and the US voting against. This year the US is one of the co-sponsors, reflected perhaps in some of the changes in wording both in the preamble and operative paragraphs.

The resolution calls for all NWS to reduce their nuclear arsenals in a transparent manner, for immediate commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty at the 2010 session of the CD, and its early conclusion, with a continuing moratorium on the production, and for all states to redouble efforts to prevent and curb the proliferation of nuclear and other WMD and their means of delivery. There is an extra paragraph this year stressing the importance of preventing nuclear terrorism.

The paragraph from last year calling for  'nuclear-weapon States to further reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems in ways that promote international stability and security' is replaced by a call for NWS to 'take measures to reduce the risk of  accidental or unauthorized launch of nuclear weapons and to also consider further reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons systems in ways that promote international stability and security.' (emphasis added)

Other changes in the resolution reflect the renewed 'global momentum of nuclear disarmament towards a world without nuclear weapons' and the concrete proposals from the US and Russia particularly.

However the paragraph of last year reaffirmingthe crucial importance of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has a changed emphasis with the NPT described last year as the 'cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime,---'  which now reads as 'as the cornerstone of the international nuclear Non-Proliferation regime and an essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, ---' .
This is a curious formulation of wording and it remains to be seen what future ramifications this may have for how the NPT bargain is interpreted. 

The resolution stresses the importance of success at the 2010 NPT Review Conference and calls for all states to work together to strengthen the regime and establish 'effective and practical measures in all three pillars of the Treaty;' (emphasis added)

There are a few new resolutions this year one of which presented by Canada on a 'Treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices'. This continues to face opposition as described in my post on 15 October but, I understand, that the prospects for adoption of this resolution  without a vote are improving.

Arms Trade Treaty

Last year the draft resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was co-sponsored by 114 states, demonstrating the growing momentum behind this initiative. Many of the statements in the thematic debate on conventional weapons reflect this momentum, with support for the work of the Open Ended Working Group set up to enable all states to put forward their views on an ATT. The chair of the group described the meetings of the group as having had a 'frank, broad and open exchange' of views and of having 'built a climate of trust and understanding of the different positions' enabling better dialogue on the scope of the treaty and the principles and parameters.   Many side events and a great deal of literature from NGOs focus on achieving an ATT that would be, as the Netherlands put it, 'a strong Treaty, that sets the parameters derived from the highest possible standards, including on human rights, and not the lowest common denominator.'.
To view the many statements on conventional weapons see: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/1com/1com09/statements.html

This year, in a complete policy reversal, the US has said that it will support the draft resolution on the ATT. This is seen as a major breakthrough and raised expectations that negotiations on a robust ATT are not far off. However some have raised strong concerns that the 'price' for US support, the inclusion in the resolution that decision making will be under the rule of consensus, could lead to a weaker, and therefore ineffective, treaty. It is seen as vital that the elements recommended by preparatory committees held over the next two years, that will not be under the consensus rule, lead to a treaty that is effective in controlling the abuse of exports and imports of arms and munitions that fuels poverty, conflict and violations of human rights across the world.
For other views on this see: www.conflictvoice.org

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