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United Nations First Committee 2009

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Trust Building

From Carol Naughton in New York, 22 October 2009

Today First Committee is discussing regional disarmament and security. Many states made strong and emotive statements on the need for regional initiatives to reduce violence and strengthen security and stability both regionally and globally. It does strike me here that there is a noticeable difference between the language of statements that are purely related to nuclear issues and those related to disarmament in the wider sense. The former are much more clinical.

However, as in the general session and the sessions on nuclear disarmament, the issue of the Middle East WMD Free Zone came up repeatedly. This is an issue that has a deep resonance for so many nations attending both the UN First Committee and the coming Review Conference of the NPT in May 2010.

At the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the NPT the package of decisions included the resolution on the Middle East that:

Calls upon all States in the Middle East to take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at making progress towards, inter alia, the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems, and to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of this objective;

The adoption of this resolution was one of the keys that unlocked resistance to extending the NPT and led to success at the 1995 Review Conference. The expectation from states in the region was that Israel would join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. Regional states, Egypt in particular because of the compromises they made in 1995 and efforts they put into persuading all remaining states in the region to join the NPT, feel betrayed.  It is now 15 years nearly since this resolution was passed with no progress towards implementation and yet, with concerns over Israel's nuclear weapons and Iran's nuclear facilities raising the temperature in the Middle East further, some steps towards implementation are now more urgent than ever.

We hear repeated calls for 'action plans' on all three pillars of the NPT to strengthen the regime and create success for 2010. However if there is no concrete action plan adopted on the Middle East resolution I do fear for the prospect of a successful outcome at the Review Conference.

Throughout the First Committee we have heard many nations give support to the creation of a WMDFZ in the Middle East and calls for, as the EU phrased this, 'All States in the region that have not yet done so, should accede to the NPT and to the conventions banning biological and chemical weapons, and conclude with the IAEA a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol.'.

 In introducing two draft resolutions today, on establishing a NWFZ in the Middle East and on the risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East, Egypt drew attention, as they saw it, to the test that the international community will face at the RevCom on nuclear disarmament and on non-proliferation, and on the prominence that the 1995 Middle East resolution will have.

We already have the beginning of an action plan as set out during the 2009 PrepCom of the NPT by Russia and supported by the UK, two of the depository states of the original resolution, and in the draft recommendations as described in Blog 2.  However there is still a great deal of groundwork that needs to be done to explore these recommendations, to overcome hesitancy based on lack of information, understanding and mis-perception, and to find concrete ways forward towards implementation of the Middle East resolution.

Often states' positions based on pre-formed perceptions of an issue get in the way of reality. If we are to establish any kind if trust between the different parties in this then real dialogue and transparency is crucial. For example, one of the proposals is for the RevCon to consider appointing a special coordinator on this issue. Immediately questions arise about who this should be, the remit of this coordinator, whether it should be someone from inside or outside the region and so on. These are not questions that need answered immediately but they certainly need to be explored well before the RevCon to ensure that false barriers are not established.

Various institutions and some of the finest minds have been applied to this issue in different parts of the world for many years, both within and from outside the region. Dialogue is happening and first steps have been taken. It is always quoted that 'the journey of 1,000 miles starts with 1 step', but as one representative here put it,'That step needs to be in the right direction'. My concern is that without meaningful and productive dialogue between the regional states and the P5 in particular, then we will end up in the wrong place in 2010. 

UN Fellowship Programme on Disarmament

On a much more positive note. First Committee today honored the latest group of 24 young diplomats from around the world who had just competed their 8 week United Nations Programme of Fellowship on Disarmament 2009.

I had met the young diplomats last week when I had been invited to talk to them as part of their course so was delighted to be part of their celebrations. The course is organised by the Office of Disarmament Affairs and has run now for nearly 30 years. It is a highly sought after course and these really are the future leaders in this field.

I can think of no better way to establish understanding and trust between nations than to take such a diverse group of exceptional people to the key institutions and nations around the world linked to disarmament. I asked them which section of the programme they had found most helpful and although many said that visiting Geneva and learning about the machinery of disarmament institutions was helpful, visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki was so powerful.

They had obviously had the most incredible experience that has left them determined to make an impact on nuclear disarmament. They have a much deeper understanding of the issue and of each others views, having spent 8 weeks together and, if my session was anything to go by, having  truly thoughtful and constructive discussions.  I left last night feeling more hopeful than in my entire time here and hugely grateful to the UNODA for organising this programme and inviting Acronym to be part of it.

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