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Disarmament and the General Assembly’s high-level plenary session: who said what?

30 Sep

As usual, Reaching Critical Will has done a fabulous jobs of monitoring and tracking mentions of disarmament at the General Assembly’s 66th opening high-level plenary session. RCW’s index highlights the issues to be detailed during the Assembly’s First Committee, starting on 3 October.

SG Ban Ki-Moon‘s opening address spoke of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, for the international community “to keep pushing on disarmament and non-proliferation … [and to fulfill the dream of] a world free of nuclear weapons.”

1. Consequences of nuclear testing and conflict

It was saddening to hear from a few countries whose citizens had suffered greatly from nuclear testing and weaponry used on their territories. Laos and Lebanon still suffer from the impact of cluster munitions and explosives contamination – and urged the international community to do more. The Marshall Islands made it clear that fallout from nuclear testing on its territory is ongoing and that justice has been limited.

2. Nuclear Non-Proliferation and other treaties / conventions

Many states expressed a commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the ultimate goal to eliminate nuclear weapons. A number of states expressed alarm over nuclear weapons programs in DPR Korea, Iran and Israel. Support was also shown for a number of other treaties and conventions: the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. General opposition to Weapons of Mass Destruction and concern for nuclear terrorism was also expressed by many states. While Uruguay urged the international community to make the most of recent progress on nuclear disarmament talks and the Mauritius called the current political environment as ‘the best ever’, the Central African Republic suggested that the nuclear powers need to assume full responsibility. Key statements of action came from: Kazakhstan – as chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – will use the opportunity to focus on international and regional security, building Islamic-West relations and enhancing the regimes of non-proliferation of WMD; and Ireland who “will continue to push for the UN’s disarmament machinery to become more responsive to 21st century imperatives”. Australia, Poland and Austria expressed reservation about the lack of progress in the Conference on Disarmament (with the latter suggesting the need for a new body).

3. Nuclear weapons-free zones (NWFZ) 

Brazil, Iraq and Palau made it clear that their constitutions disallow nuclear weapons, which in Iraq’s words is a ‘clear position’ and a demonstrates a ‘commitment’. CambodiaUkraine, Kygristan, Papua New GuineaUruguay and Kazakhstan all spoke about major achievements at their respective regional level nuclear-free status’s; Mongolia was adamant that its nuclear free status could serve as an “impetus” for expanding NWFZs. Egypt, Syria, Oman and the UAE expressed commitment to a Middle East NWFZ. More generally, Cambodia, Nepal and Vietnam mentioned positive (Asia-Pacific and ASEAN) regional efforts aimed at disarmament and confidence building; and Taijkistan spoke about their efforts towards establishing a Landmine Free Central Asia.

4. Small arms and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

A number of Latin American and Caribbean countries highlighted the importance of combatting the small arms trade in the region where ‘criminal groups’: traffickers, narcotic gangs and others operate, making it “one of the most violent areas on earth” – in the words of Nicaragua‘s delegate. Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Peru, the Bahamas and Barbados spoke of the importance of the ATT, and backed up by Jamaica who is “committed to ensuring that the 2012 Diplomatic Conference on the ATT results in a legally binding, comprehensive, objective and transparent Treaty.” Others, notably Antigua and Barbuda, mentioned the significance of the CARICOM Declaration in the context of regional progress on combatting small arms. A number of African delegates were equally vocal concerning the small arms trade and the urgent need for ATT progress. Mali and Nigeria spoke of serious arms issues in their sub-regions; Niger suggested that further sub-regional efforts were required; Burundi spoke of national-led progress on disarming criminals; and Ghana considered the ATT as an “indispensable step [to prevent] the flow of conventional arms to destinations where they are likely to wreak havoc and mayhem by either fueling conflict and undermining both national and regional peace, security and development or exacerbating tensions.”

5. Militarization and Military Spending

Iran‘s leader spoke of other countries’ high military budgets, stockpiling of nuclear warheads, supporting chemical weaponry, and role in arms sales, bombing and occupation. In similar rhetoric Venezuela spoke about US militarization but also called for a “broad peace-based alliance against war: with the supreme aim of avoiding war at all costs.”  Many other states also raised the issue of high military spending, with some contrasting to a lack of human development spending: Montenegro called it ‘unjust’; Poland expressed concern over a new ‘arms race’, while Kazakhstan reiterated its initiative to redirect spending to a peacekeeping fund.

Many words were used to describe alternatives to militarism –  cooperation, dialogue, war prevention, mediation, diplomacy, multilateralism – which came from many different states. The Republic of Korea and China for example spoke for need for ongoing dialogue with DPR Korea; St. Vincent and the Grenadines suggested that the role of mediation should be a ‘firm resolution’ of the General Assembly.

Be sure to follow our work, and that of Reaching Critical Will,as these issues will be detailed in the General Assembly’s First Committee, starting on 3 October, 2011.

– Kees Keizer