United Nations First Committee

October 2002

From: Dave Knight


The First Committee of the UN works on disarmament and international security issues. It meets in New York at this time every year for 6-8 weeks. All the member states of the UN can send delegates who are usually disarmament diplomats based in Geneva or in their home countries. Geneva is the second ‘home’ of the UN.

Resolutions passed by the Committee then go to the General Assembly for consideration. Very often the resolutions are almost identical to those passed in many previous years. However these updates serve to keep on the UN agenda issues which have not yet been successfully dealt with. Therefore the First Committee sets the international disarmament agenda for the coming year, which may include the setting up of Expert Panels by the UN. For instance, a UN Panel of Governmental Experts on ballistic missiles was set up last year following a resolution introduced by Iran.

The resolutions submitted cover the whole range of disarmament issues: weapons of mass destruction, missiles, space, conventional weapons, depleted uranium, etc. There are often a number of related resolutions particularly on nuclear weapons. In addition some resolutions cover a wide area of disarmament work.

This year

Of particular interest to the Global Network are the resolutions on:

*  Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS)

*  Missiles

*  Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: the need for a new agenda, which also contains sections on missile defence and on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

 What we can do

In fact it is more a case of what we need to do! For all the fine resolutions that are passed very little progress is being made in the international disarmament process. For instance, last year the resolution of the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space was passed with no votes against and only 3 abstentions (USA, Micronesia and Israel) yet nothing has been achieved in any disarmament forum to put the words into action.

The only encouraging signs are that some states are still willing to try to carry the disarmament agenda forward, despite considerable opposition, particularly from the United States.

In addition the work of Non-Governmental Organisations is supported by many states. For instance, Ambassador Christopher Westdal of Canada has said, "I want to pay tribute to the contribution to our deliberations of civil society. NGOs play a vital role …”.

As a grassroots campaign the Global Network needs to take its message to the UN directly but also to our Governments directly. Too many NGOs who are close to the governments of the Nuclear Weapon States and their supporters wish to operate as 'gatekeepers' and are not being anywhere near radical enough. This appears to be particularly true in Washington where too much compromise is going on in order to accommodate the Democratic Party.

I shall be in New York for a week to attend an NGO Strategy Summit and to lobby Delegates at the First Committee on behalf of the Global Network, focussing on the militarisation and weaponisation of space and missile defence.

But lobbying of their own governments by members of the Global Network will greatly enhance the chances of keeping our issues on the disarmament agenda.

So please write, fax, email or phone your Foreign Ministry/State Department and urge them to vote for resolutions at the First Committee and in the General Assembly calling for a treaty on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space and "universal, comprehensive and non-discriminatory agreements" on ballistic missiles. Also, as difficult as it is, please try to raise media interest in the process. A media spotlight might encourage more action!

Only the involvement of radical campaigns will lead to radical treaties.

(See: Report from the UN First Committee - October 22 2002)


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