2012 Disarmament Commission Opens as Deliberations on the Agenda Continue

3 Apr

The President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, and the new High Representative for Disarmament Affairs addressed the opening of the 2012 substantive session of the Disarmament Commission (DC), all of whom expressed concerns over the lack of progress made in formulating and adopting consensus recommendations, guidelines, and proposals in the DC over the past twelve years. While there was affirmation that the DC plays an important role in the overall UN disarmament machinery as it provides a forum for deliberating on specific disarmament-related agenda items, the current impasse has contributed to growing frustrations related to a lack of political will, inadequate working methods, and a general and growing resistance to compromise. With each year that concludes without any consensus recommendations, progress will become more challenging and delegations will become even less engaged as frustration will grow over the lack of concrete results.

High Representative Angela Kane noted in her opening remarks that “fresh thinking and new ideas are needed.” She referred specifically to the Chairman’s proposal from the 2008 session on procedural and organizational changes, such as the possible participation of experts in the work of the DC. The Chairman of this year’s session, Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey of Peru, has agreed to submit a Chairman’s summary documenting the exchange of views from the general debate, including discussion related to working methods. He has made clear that he does not intend to include working methods as a stand-alone agenda item. In whichever form, such discussions on working methods must be taken seriously as the workings of the DC over the last decade have been at best lackluster and at worse irrelevant.

The Chair has made clear in various forums that “business as usual” will not suffice. Inclusion of expert panels would surely contribute to more robust discussions on the substantive agenda items. Additional technical and conceptual expertise could buttress the formulation of recommendations for adoption by consensus. Injection of new perspectives and information by experts would be a welcome addition to the often generic statements delivered by delegations on the same agenda items carried over from year to year. For example, there is little argument among member states that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is an international security priority. As recommendations for achieving this goal do not enjoy the same consensus, the DC should be used as a forum for deliberating on (not negotiating) specific proposals and recommendations for consideration by the General Assembly on precisely this issue. The DC should not serve as just another forum for reaffirming general support for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Ambassador Roman-Morey has argued that the argument of “lack of political will” is not valid for the DC given its deliberative nature, as opposed to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) that functions as the negotiating body for disarmament matters. Ambassador Roman-Morey has concluded that the role of this DC is in part to break the current deadlock by identifying recommendations that may contribute to solving the CD stalemate. It would be wise to use the DC as a means forward in helping to lay the conceptual groundwork for future multilateral agreements to be considered in the CD and related fora. Nonetheless, if the obstacle to progress in the DC is not, in fact, the lack of political will as expressed by the Chair, it would follow then that flaws in working methods of the DC must be responsible, to some degree, for its lack of consensus outcomes and be one of the primary factors contributing to its failures over the last twelve years. If this argument is correct, and the problem is primarily structural rather than political, then clearly the operative methods of deliberating in the DC are not lending themselves to adequate consensus building and, therefore, must be altered, reinvigorated, or otherwise addressed.

In moving towards an adopted Programme of Work, the Chairman has offered his suggestions for two substantive agenda items. He has recommended, in addition to the item on nuclear disarmament that is required, to include one on conventional weapons rather than on the disarmament decade or a fourth Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD IV). Ambassador Roman-Morey has indicated that the decade and SSOD IV are not likely to garner the same consensus as nuclear or conventional weapons and, for the sake of much needed progress in the DC this year, delegations should adopt items that are more likely to find consensus. The Chair’s intention is to create two working groups focused on the two primary agenda items with a third open-ended group to discuss agenda items for the next cycle.

Chair’s recommendations:

1)     Nuclear disarmament

  1. Recommendations for establishing the necessary framework to achieve a world without nuclear weapons
  2. Recommendations on lessons learned and the legacy of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  3. Recommendations on the role of the DC in addressing security challenges of the 21st century and reducing nuclear risks

2)     Conventional weapons

  1. Recommendations on strengthening and improving the effectiveness of the UN regional disarmament centers
  2. Recommendations on effective confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons

Arguably even more important than the individual agenda items, the DC must find a way to achieve consensus on recommendations this year as it begins a new cycle of work and also celebrates its 60th anniversary. In the absence of clear recommendations, the DC’s path towards irrelevance will become harder and harder to divert.  And while the DC’s role has been obscured by years of inaction, diplomats still understand the value added of the DC is its ability to put forth general guidelines and recommendations on points of agreement among member states that can lay the groundwork for fruitful resolutions in the General Assembly and even negotiations in the CD.  In order for progress to ensue, it is essential to maintain a clear perspective on the function of the DC.  It is intended as a forum for introducing new proposals and suggested pathways forward, not a formal negotiating body – a flexible mandate that makes it possible for the DC to exceed expectations, not only disappoint them.


–Katherine Prizeman

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