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United Nations First Committee 2009

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NGOs call for Words to be put into action

From Carol Naughton in New York, 23 October 2009

The first part of today's session was a continuation of 'Disarmament Machinery'. Though interesting and obviously a necessary part of the whole picture it seemed at one point to get lost in talking about meetings that talk about meetings to talk about a meeting. 

The second part was the session allocated to NGOs to deliver statements and to take questions.  It was good to see that the majority of delegations stayed for this session and, indeed, the room was quieter than at any time during First Committee so far, with delegates actually listening to the speakers.

Ray Acheson, of Reaching Critical Will, gave a very clear and strong message on behalf of 10 NGO's who had been part of the drafting process, Acronym being one of them. The statement was entitled 'Operationalising the vision of a nuclear weapon free world.' Ray began, 'For more than sixty years, civil society has been calling on governments to take action to prohibit and eliminate all nuclear weapons. US President Obama’s pledge in Prague to seek “a world free of nuclear weapons” brought the hope of billions of people to the highest levels of international responsibility.'

She went on to show how nuclear disarmament interconnects with security, peace, human rights, gender equality, general disarmament and development. Ray said that one element 'underscoring all of these issues' is military spending and told of how this had risen by 45% in the last ten years. It is not simply that nuclear weapons are not part of the solution to these interconnected issues but that they act as a barrier to finding equitable solutions. As Ray told us, 'They support establishments and institutions that see their interests as being well served by a mode of military dominance ultimately underwritten by nuclear weapons. They do not provide security for the citizens of the world.'

Ray also set out why the de-valuing of nuclear weapons is so vital both for disarmament and for non-proliferation and gave a series of steps that should be taken by nuclear weapons possessors to marginalise the role of nuclear weapons.  She also set out the role for non-nuclear weapon states within NATO to remove nuclear sharing from the Strategic Concept and to remove nuclear weapons from Europe that would be 'an important confidence building measure' that could lead to much deeper cuts in Russian and US nuclear arsenals. With the recent statements from the new government in Germany that it is committed to work toward withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany this takes on a new impetus.

The statement also set out six actions points for states interested in serious nuclear disarmament including committing to the objective of a Nuclear Weapons Convention. For the full statements from NGOs see:

The final paragraph of the statement reads,  'Victor Hugo wrote that:“More powerful than the march of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.”  The idea whose time has come is that the abolition of nuclear weapons is not only desirable, but possible, achievable, practical, and urgently necessary.'

Zia Mian delivered a statement on 'Making Progress on Nuclear Disarmament'.  Zia is part of the International Panel on fissile Materials but made it clear that he was making the statement in a personal capacity. He welcomed the recognition in President Obama's Prague speech of the “moral responsibility” of the US to abolish nuclear weapons but reminded us that both President Reagan and President Kennedy had made strong statements and proposals when in power. Zia asked, 'What we can expect this time round?'
He told us of the huge stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and of plutonium in the world, so much so that the US, Russia, UK, France and China have all stopped weapons production of these materials but emphasized the need for codifying these moratoria in a verifiable fissile material treaty.

Zia told us that it was over 50 years since the demand to end all production of fissile material and stressed the urgency of beginning negotiations on this in the CD saying, 'The talks have still not started. Pakistan is holding up the progress. It is also building new facilities to make fissile materials for nuclear weapons. The longer the delay in starting talks and reaching an agreement, the larger will be its stockpile of nuclear weapons materials. Stockpiles also will grow in India and Israel and North Korea.'

We then heard a series of three minute statements from many and very varied organisations  in relation to conventional weapons.

Stephen Goose, of Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, reminded us the 2009 marks ten years since the Entry into Force of the Mine Ban Treaty and said it had proven to be, 'a stellar example of the concrete benefits of humanitarian disarmament ad of citizen diplomacy'. He told us that antipersonnel mines have been so thoroughly stigmatized that only 39 states remain outside the Treaty and of those on Myanmar has laid significant numbers of these mines in recent years.

He told us of how successful the Mine Ban Treaty had been with, 'Use, production and trade of the weapon have almost stopped completely, more than 44 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines have been destroyed, large tracts of land have been cleared with many states declaring themselves mine free, and the number of new victims each year has dropped dramatically.' 

The statement from those who had worked to bring about the Convention on Cluster Munitions was equally positive with their representative urging states not to wait until entry into force but to begin now to implement the provisions of the treaty. She paid tribute to the, 'continuous partnership between States, international organisations and civil society --' that had played such a crucial role in bringing about the Oslo Process.

At the end of the session there was a statement from the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities that appeared to be based on the premise that 'hunters – lawful civilian firearms owners – are a significant part of the solution to end crime and conflict.' A statement so at odds with the harrowing testimony of so many other speakers with direct experience of the brutal realities that they had encountered throughout the world. These speakers talked of the shattered lives, whether through the rape of women and children held at gunpoint, or the death of the breadwinner and the suffering of that family – it was difficult to hear a great deal of this, but I am afraid I found this last speaker even harder to stomach.

New Zealand's representative thanked civil society for the continuing part they play to bring us nearer to disarmament.

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© 2009 The Acronym Institute.s