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First Committee Challenges Nuclear Powers

By Jim Wurst, Disarmament Times, 22 November 1994

The First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly adopted a series of draft resolutions in November that has the cumulative effect of attempting to delegitimize the possession and use of nuclear weapons, with the obvious goal of hastening their complete elimination.

The 1994 session of the First Committee, which completed its work on disarmament and international security resolutions on 18 November, adopted 45 resolutions and decisions, 24 of them without a vote. With the two most important nuclear disarmament initiatives -- the comprehensive test ban and the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- being dealt with in other forums, this session was notable for several new initiatives by non-nuclear weapon states to quicken the pace of nuclear disarmament, usually over the strong objections of the nuclear weapon states. This is obvious from the three new drafts adopted by the Committee: a step-by-step approach for nuclear disarmament; a request for the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons (see article on page two), and a proposal for intensifying efforts on negotiations leading to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.


One of the new approaches to nuclear disarmament presented in the First Committee was a proposal for a step-by-step plan for reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. The draft identifies three broad areas aimed at the "step-by-step reduction of the nuclear threat": preventing escalation; facilitating the de- escalation of the threat; and conversion of the nuclear arsenals' infrastructure. Among the steps proposed are a comprehensive test ban, ending the production of nuclear warheads and fissile materials, standing down weapons from alert, placing warheads and their delivery vehicles in secure storage and converting or closing facilities involved in nuclear weapons production. The draft also suggests a five to ten year agenda to implement the plan.

The draft resolution was submitted by nine non-aligned countries (Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria and Zimbabwe). Mexico, in introducing the draft, said "It is a very modest proposal on an issue of capital importance. [The draft] is merely an attempt to offer the international community a mechanism that will allow all of us, but especially the nuclear weapon states, to begin, in an orderly and rational manner, the road towards the gradual reduction of the nuclear threat... No one is trying to impose on anyone a preconceived nuclear disarmament program." The role proposed for the C.D. "does not go beyond the work capabilities of the C.D. What is more, we consider that we are contributing to the good functioning of that sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum in offering a path which... will lead to the step- by-step reduction of the nuclear threat and, thus, to the goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons."

The draft was adopted 91 in favor, 24 opposed, and 30 abstaining. The United States, United Kingdom and France voted against the draft; Russia abstained; and China did not vote. The western nuclear weapon states were firm in their opposition to any hint of a timetable for disarmament. The U.S. said a timetable could not be set "by academic design;" that the draft is "unnecessary and redundant at best," at worst could actually slow negotiations, and "ignores, perhaps intentionally, [disarmament] actions already under way." France said the draft "only serves the objectives of countries that cannot accept the new realities" and seeks to place all the burden on nuclear weapon states.

Non-Proliferation Treaty

Since the review and extension process for the NPT is independent of the First Committee, the Treaty was the focus of only one draft, but it was on the subject of one of the most divisive issues before the NPT member states. The draft resolution requests states' to provide their "legal interpretations... and their views on the different options and actions available" concerning the NPT's extension and asks the Secretary-General to compile the reports as a background document for the 1995 Review Conference.

In introducing the draft, Nigeria said, "We fear that these (various) interpretations can derail the process of extending the Treaty in 1995 if care is not taken." The G.A. "must forestall this confusion in order to prevent interminable and lengthy legal arguments during" the 1995 Conference.

In one of the most divided votes of the session, the draft was adopted 77:39:32. China was the only nuclear weapon state voting yes, the other four voted no, as did the bulk of the northern states. Germany, speaking for the E.U., said the draft "was not appropriate" since interpretation of the Treaty is "a matter solely for the states parties," not the General Assembly.

Test Ban

The Committee once again adopted a consensus resolution on a CTBT which welcomed the progress made in the C.D. negotiations and urged the Conference to re-establish its negotiating committee in 1995 and to "negotiate intensively, as a high priority task, and to conclude a universal and multilaterally and effectively verifiable comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty." A paragraph declaring the G.A.'s willingness to resume consideration of the issue before its fiftieth session next year "in order to endorse a text" of a CTBT was dropped from an earlier version of the draft in order to achieve consensus.

The draft resolution on the Amendment Conference for the Partial Test Ban Treaty noted the work of the Conference and asked the President of the Conference "to examine the feasibility of resuming the work of the Amendment Conference." The draft was adopted by a vote of 94:4: 44, with the U.S., U.K., Russia and Israel voting against and a North-South split with the South voting yes and the North abstaining. The U.S. said the proposal "implies a lack of faith in the C.D."

Nuclear Weapons

Japan submitted a draft on "nuclear disarmament with a view to the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons" that called on nuclear weapon states to "pursue negotiations on progressive and balanced reductions of nuclear weapons in light of Article VI of [the NPT] with a view to the ultimate objectives of the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery as part of international efforts for general and complete disarmament." The text was revised to eliminate references to Article VI and specific disarmament steps. It was adopted 140:0:8. The eight abstainers included countries that do not usually find themselves on the same side: the U.S., U.K. and France, along with Cuba and North Korea (Brazil, India and Israel were the others). China and Russia voted yes.

There were two drafts dealing with restricting the use of nuclear weapons. A draft calling for "an early agreement on effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons" was adopted 142:0:3 (the U.S., U.K. and France) and a draft proposing a convention on the prohibition of the use or threat of use nuclear weapons was adopted 98:23:31.

Other resolutions relating to nuclear weapons from previous years were not tabled this year. After its ground-breaking consensus resolution on the fissile materials cut-off last year, in 1994 the First Committee did not even have a draft on the subject on the table. In 1993, the Committee requested that the Conference on Disarmament begin negotiations on a cut-off convention, but the C.D. has yet to agree on a mandate. Nor was there a draft calling for a nuclear freeze, a proposal that had been losing support over the last few years.

Bilateral Negotiations

In a step back from the trend of adopting a single resolution on the same issue, the Committee was faced with two drafts on bilateral nuclear arms negotiations. The texts -- one introduced by Indonesia on behalf of the non-aligned states, the other by the United States -- were virtually identical except for a reference to the NPT in the context of welcoming the progress being made by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to accede to the Treaty. The Non- Aligned draft was adopted without a vote while the Western draft was adopted 122:0:2 (India and Namibia). India said the draft was a duplication of the Non-Aligned text and could not support it because of the "laudatory" language in it concerning the NPT.

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