Press Releases

    GA/DIS/3304
    18 October 2005

    World Community Has "Blind Spot" on Grave Threat from Global Trade in Conventional Weapons, Disarmament Committee Told

    Draft Texts Address Humanitarian Impact of Small Arms, Controlling National Arms Transfers, Among Other Issues

    NEW YORK, 14 October (UN Headquarters) -- With the preponderant focus on the weapons of mass destruction threat, conventional weapons and the global trade in them were becoming something of a "blind spot", the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) was told, as it concluded its thematic debate today on conventional weapons and heard the introduction of seven related draft texts. 

    While world attention was rightly focused on the need to control mass destruction weapons, Pakistan's representative stressed that the trade in conventional weapons flourished in a legal and moral vacuum.  Developing countries were the favoured destination for arms sales, accounting for more than 60 per cent of all global arms deliveries from 2001 and 2004.  Arms sellers, seeing a conflict as "a unique selling opportunity" often encouraged both sides in a conflict to buy more weapons.  Officials marketed their weapons, even as they sought to mediate peace.  The result had been a series of regional arms races, mostly in volatile parts of the world, while the grave humanitarian, political and strategic consequences of conventional weapons proliferation were virtually ignored. 

    Similarly, Nigeria's speaker said that nuclear weapons had mass destructive capacity, but it was conventional weapons, especially small arms, that were killing people worldwide.  His country understood the real negative impact of that class of weapons, and it had remained steadfast in its commitment to fight the illicit small-arms trade.  Nigeria had spent more than $12 billion in the past 15 years to stem the tide of recurrent conflicts, fuelled by the illicit circulation in the subregion of an estimated eight million small arms.

    In addition, thousands of Nigerian soldiers and civilians had lost their lives in those peacekeeping endeavours in affected countries.  The lack of common global standards in regulating the activities of arms brokers must be remedied, he warned. 

    Drawing the Committee's attention to the suffering caused by landmines, the representative of the Republic of the Congo said that, despite some successes in demining activities and victims' assistance, challenges still remained, stemming from the non-adherence to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention).  Moreover, large numbers of the mines were still stockpiled, and some States continued to use those weapons.  Mine stockpiles were destroyed in his country in 2003.  Demining was ongoing, especially in the southern part of the country bordering Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for which he issued a fresh appeal for technical and financial assistance.

    Related draft resolutions were introduced today on:  assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons and collecting them (Mali); the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (Sweden); the humanitarian impact of small arms and light weapons (Netherlands); controlling national arms transfers (Netherlands); excessive stockpiles of ammunition (France); and the illicit transfer of and unauthorized access to man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) (Australia).  A draft decision was introduced on establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia (Uzbekistan). 

    Introducing the new draft resolution on the humanitarian impact of small arms and light weapons, the representative of the Netherlands said that the text, a one-time-only resolution, was intended to reflect consensus on that issue of world leaders, who had not agreed on much recently in the disarmament and security arena.  It should be seen as a balanced attempt to distil from the major recent United Nations reform meeting those issues relevant to the small arms agenda.   The text had taken a broad approach, reflecting the inter-connectedness of issues.  He was taking care to address the concern of some delegations that the draft could pre-empt the upcoming small arms Conference in 2006, so the text was still open to suggestions and would not be finalized until next week. 

    Following statements in the thematic debate, a discussion ensued about a new draft resolution on the illicit small arms trade, which focused on, among other issues, the illicit brokering of those weapons.  Some participants in the discussion today expressed support for a more ambitious text, but others felt that stronger language was the purview of the preparatory process leading to the review of the 2001 United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms, which would be held in 2006.  Further consultations on the text, whose main sponsors were Colombia, Japan, and South Africa would be held. 

    Additional statements in today's thematic debate were made by the representatives of:  Uruguay, on behalf of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR); Albania; and the Russian Federation.  

    The representatives of South Africa, Japan, Colombia, Italy, Norway, Australia, Egypt, France, and the United Kingdom participated in the discussion of the new draft resolution on the illicit small arms trade.

    The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 17 October, to begin a thematic debate on regional disarmament and security, and other disarmament measures, and to hear the further introduce of draft resolutions and decisions.

    Background

    The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon to conclude its thematic debate on conventional weapons and hear the introduction of several related draft texts.

    Thematic Debate

    ENRIQUE LOEDEL (Uruguay), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said his subregion knew firsthand the damage caused by anti-personnel mines, measured both in human destruction, and diminished development. 

    He advocated the universalization of the Ottawa Convention, and MERCOSUR had established its subregion as a zone of peace.  He also supported the declaration of the Western hemisphere as free from anti-personnel mines.  Respectful of the provisions established in the Convention, the countries of MERCOSUR had carried out the destruction of the arsenals within their jurisdiction and, according to their available resources, participated in the activities of demining complementary to peacekeeping operations in other regions of the world.

    The MERCOSUR was committed to the elimination of those weapons, he said, and actively participated in the first review conference of the Convention.  The plan of action adopted reflected the huge task ahead for the world community and, although it was ambitious, it was also realistic.  The sixth meeting of the States parties would prove useful.  He called upon all States for the adoption in Zagreb of Form D, which would facilitate the publishing of information on the use of anti-personnel mines with the purpose of training and developing technology.

    It was important to recall that such measures promoted the increase of transparency with regards to activities undertaken by the States parties.  Millions of anti-personnel mines had already been destroyed or removed, he said, but that was still not enough.  There were areas of the world where removing such weapons would take a lot of time and resources, before the affected communities could restart the development process.

    BONIFACE LEZONA (Republic of the Congo) said that reducing suffering around the world was at the heart of the international anti-mine struggle.  The Congolese Government was satisfied at the global dimension of efforts to triumph over that struggle, and the Nairobi Action Plan (2005 to 2009) would promote progress in that regard.  The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention) and the destruction of landmine stockpiles and the clean-up of mined areas, were cardinal points in the Nairobi Plan.  The sixth assembly of States parties to the Convention, to be held in Croatia, was another occasion for Member States to evaluate progress since the Nairobi Summit.  In the inter-sessional period, some progress could be made towards universal adherence to the Convention. 

    He was pleased that all members of the Central African Economic Community were party to the Mine Ban Convention.  Demining activities had been satisfying and had reduced the number of accidents.  Assistance to victims was another important part of anti-mine work, as that enabled individuals to find their place in society again.  Challenges still remained, however, as certain States had still not adhered to the Convention.  Large numbers of the mines were still stockpiled, and some States continued to use those weapons.  In his country, mine stockpiles were destroyed in September 2003 and the demining of mined areas was ongoing.

    He issued a fresh appeal for technical and financial assistance to demine the southern part of the country bordering Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to restart agricultural activities in that area.  He exhorted all States to support the draft resolution on implementation of the Ottawa Convention.

    ELVINA JUSUFAJ (Albania) said, through its active preventative diplomacy and enhanced cooperation with the neighbouring and regional countries, her country aspired to ensure basic security interests and to meet its international obligations.  Albania had taken strong measures at the national level to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms.  It welcomed the politically binding international instrument agreed upon by the working group to negotiate an international instrument to enable States to identify and trace small arms.

    It provided States with an important tool to enhance cooperation in tracing the sources for the illicit small arms trade.  However, she was regretful that there was no international legal instrument in the field.

    She said her country had taken due measures in order to successfully and fully implement the Programme of Action, through continuous commitments and through the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other donors.  She was committed to the plan of action to combat the illicit trade in small arms and was also committed to applying the European Union arms brokering legislation.  An international instrument on arms brokering would be a new positive development.  Albania was active in the operation that aimed to improve inter-agency and intergovernmental cooperation on anti-small-arms trafficking across the region.

    MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan) said that out of the darkest cloud of the devastating earthquake in his country and region, the world had seen the most shining incidences of solidarity and sincerity, as Governments worldwide provided generous humanitarian assistance.  Rescue and relief efforts continued, but as the harsh winters set in, continued international support was essential.

    At the start of the session, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Nobuyasu Abe, had cautioned that the preponderant focus on the weapons of mass destruction threat should not lessen attention to the matters relating to regulation and reduction of conventional arms and armed forces.  He agreed, but that was precisely what was happening.  Conventional weapons and armaments and the global trade in them were becoming something of a "blind spot".  While international attention was rightly focused on the need to control mass destruction weapons, the trade in conventional weapons continued to flourish in a legal and moral vacuum.  After an initial decline in outlays for conventional weapons in the immediate aftermath of the cold war, there had been a surge in expenditures and a build-up of conventional armaments and armed forces.

    Conventional weapons were used in scores of conflicts raging around the world, he said.  Those weapons included small arms and light weapons and sophisticated conventional weapons and technology being traded in huge quantities around the globe.  The 1978 final document of the first special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament had characterized the global military expenditure in 1978 as a "colossal waste of resources" and called for, not only reduction in such spending, but for the reinvestment of resources into efforts to fight poverty and improve human conditions. 

    By that yardstick, cumulatively, global trends in military expenditures worldwide were both "staggering and alarming", he said.  In 2004, the total military spending rose to $1.035 trillion, at current prices.  The total budget of the United Nations was less than 1.5 per cent of the world's military expenditure.  The total value of arms transfer agreements last year was estimated at $37 billion, a significant increase over 2003.  Also last year, the value of all arms transfer agreements with developing nations was nearly $21.8 billion and the total value of international arms transfer agreements, from 2001 to 2004, was $131.2 billion.  During that period, developing countries accounted for 63.2 per cent of all global arms deliveries.

    He said that "Third World" countries were the favoured destination for arms sales.  New markets were being explored and created.  Globalized arms production and sales ignored the grave humanitarian, political and strategic consequences of conventional weapons proliferation.  Arms sellers often encouraged both sides in a conflict to buy more weapons.  The only question asked was "who has the money?"  The result had been a series of regional arms races, mostly in volatile parts of the world.  In fact, arms vendors from different countries competed for a "bigger slice" of a country's growing defence budget, and propelled it.  Some of them saw conflicts as a "unique selling opportunity".  While trying to ease tensions, senior officials of the selling nations had used such occasions to lobby for sale of sophisticated military equipment produced by their national manufacturers.  Those officials marketed their weapons, even as they sought to mediate peace, he said. 

    On the other hand, the demand for weapons emanated from either insecurity or ambition, he said.  Some States were seeking to build up their national armed forces on land, in the air, and at sea, with the declared objective of emerging as a global power, often with the self-proclaimed intent to dominate their region.  Other States affected by the imbalance were then obliged to acquire weapons to ensure a minimum capability to deter aggression and domination.  The build-up of such massive arms acquisitions not only diverted resources from the desperate requirements of development and poverty alleviation, but also contributed to instability and insecurity at the regional and global levels.

    In view of those disturbing trends, he said it was imperative to pursue conventional arms control at the lowest possible levels of armaments and military forces, in order to promote regional and international peace and security.  The preservation of a balance in the defence capabilities of States at the lowest levels of armaments should be the prime objective of conventional arms control.  Indeed, conventional arms control should be pursued primarily in the regional and subregional contexts, since most threats to peace and security arose mainly in States located in the same region or subregion.  Good practices could be adapted and followed in that regard.  The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, a cornerstone of European security, could not be underestimated.  States with larger military capabilities had a special responsibility to promote such agreements for regional security. 

    He called for stepped up efforts to curb the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of conventional weapons, as well as their uncontrolled transfers.  Conventional arms control must address the root causes of insecurity, emanating from disputes, conflicts and threat perceptions, and seek to promote balance among regional States.  The Department of Disarmament Affairs could analyze the data on arms transfers and help States develop benchmarks for conventional arms control at regional and subregional levels.  And, the Conference on Disarmament could consider formulating principles to serve as a framework for regional agreements on conventional arms control.  A stable balance of conventional forces was necessary to ensure strategic stability, particularly in regions ripe with tensions.  Massive induction of sophisticated weaponry accentuated conventional asymmetries and compelled greater reliance on nuclear and missile deterrence in regions with such capabilities.  In South Asia, a Strategic Restraint Regime was being pursued, he noted.  That had three constituents:  nuclear and missile restraint; conventional balance; and conflict resolution. 

    CHIKE ANIGBO (Nigeria) said it was commonly known that nuclear weapons had mass destructive capacity, but it was conventional weapons, especially small arms, that were killing people worldwide.  That fact was recognized in the Summit Outcome.  Nigeria understood the real negative impact of that class of weapons.  It had remained steadfast in its commitment to fight against illicit trafficking in small arms and light weapons and to the United Nations Programme of Action.  Apart from being a major motivator for and part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Moratorium on the importation, exportation and manufacturing of small arms in West Africa, Nigeria had also spent more than $12 billion in the last 15 years in different efforts to stem the tide of recurrent conflicts, fuelled by illicit circulation in the subregion of an estimated eight million small arms.  In addition, thousands of Nigerian soldiers and civilians had lost their lives in those peacekeeping endeavours in affected countries.

    He said his Government was one of ten African States participating in the Small Arms Transparency and Control Regime in Africa (STACRA).  That regional pilot project was sponsored by the Governments of Finland and Sweden, by which the ten participating African States had agreed to build a transparency regime on matters pertaining to the illicit flows of small arms.  The overall objective of the project was to build the capacity of the participating States in order to prevent the diversion of licit arms flows into illicit networks.  Nigeria operated a strict firearms regime as further proof of its determination to keep those weapons out of circulation.  Efforts at controlling illicit small arms were extended to the borders.  In a three-phase training programme support provided by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Nigeria had trained over 200 border security personnel in modern methods of interdicting concealments by traffickers and smugglers, and cooperated with police from other West African countries in tracing the movement of illicit arms across borders.

    He said his country viewed as a positive development the June 2005 agreement on an international instrument that would enable States to identify and trace illicit small arms in a timely manner, but that was only a stopgap measure.  Only through a legally-binding international instrument could the transfer of small arms be effectively controlled.  It was imperative that consideration be given to limiting arms transfers to Governments and licensed or authorized arms traders.  Most States recognized the role of brokering illicit small arms trade, including the lack of common international standards in regulating the activities of arms brokers.  An effective process must be initiated in that regard.  His Government wanted to re-emphasize the importance of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration as essential in preventing a relapse into conflict.  Those programmes should become an integral part of the budget and mandate of United Nations peacekeeping operations.

    Following statements in the thematic debate, a discussion ensued, begun at yesterday's meeting, about a new draft resolution on the illicit small arms trade, which focused on, among other issues, the illicit brokering of those weapons.  Some participants in the discussion today expressed support for a more ambitious text, but others felt that stronger language was the purview of the preparatory process leading to the review of the 2001 United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms, which would be held in 2006.

    In particular, the representative of South Africa, one of the three main sponsors of the draft, recalled that arguments had been made yesterday to amend the text to include a number of additional issues.  The small arms "omnibus" draft essentially sought to operationalize the Programme of Action, she said.  Sponsors deemed it important for the text to be adopted by consensus; thus the text was drafted in a way that would attract the support of all delegations.  It had sought to promote the small arms and light weapons agenda by focusing on what was possible in the present circumstances.  To add or subtract language would move the process away from consensus, and that did not appear to be the best approach at present.  The preparatory process for the 2006 review would soon begin.  There, delegations could raise related issues of particular importance to them. 

    She appealed to all delegations to utilize that important event to maximum benefit. 

    Another main sponsor, Japan, said he would consult with the two other main sponsors to see what could be done with respect to the draft and to possible further consultations on it. 

    Additional participants in that discussion were:  Colombia; Italy; Norway; Australia; Egypt; France; and the United Kingdom.

    Introduction of Drafts

    YOUSSOUF KONE (Mali) introduced a draft resolution on assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and collecting them (not yet issued).  The draft took into account West Africa's major concern to bring about disarmament and non-proliferation.  The draft was an updated version of a resolution adopted by the General Assembly last year.  Major changes were dictated by Mali's desire to bring the draft up to date in light of major developments.  The draft was devoted to the world collective becoming aware of West Africa.

    It would highlight the horrors wrought by small arms and light weapons and the damage done to security, stability and development in the African subregion.

    The draft reflected a political determination of countries to gain a grip on the problem.

    ANNIKA THUNBORG (Sweden) on behalf of fifty countries, introduced a draft resolution on the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or Have Indiscriminate Effects (not yet issued).  She hoped many more countries would join in the coming weeks.  The third review conference would take place next year, at that time an important protocol should have entered into force which called upon all States parties to follow the example of the 13 countries that had already done so to adhere to the protocol as soon as possible.  She called on all States to expand the scope of the Convention to include armed conflicts of an international character.

    FRANCOIS RIVASSEAU, Permanent Representative of France to the Conference on Disarmament, introduced a new draft resolution, also sponsored by Germany, on problems arising from the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus (not yet issued).  He said that the role played by the excessive ammunition stockpiles in post-conflict areas was underestimated, as the problem could cause a relapse into conflict.  The text sought to universalize regional approaches to that problem.  At the same time, it insisted on national responsibility to determine the amount of a State's excess stockpiles and whether external assistance was needed to eliminate associated risks. 

    He stressed that the new text was not about promoting any form of intrusiveness in the internal security affairs of States.  It was up to States to "make the first move" in acting on the problem by raising awareness among the security personnel and determining the appropriate level of stockpiles that they wished to maintain.  The draft did not seek to define in any restrictive way the notion of "conventional ammunition".  Rather, its sponsors wished to promote a broad-minded approach that would enable maximum flexibility with respect to any actions undertaken.  Nothing would justify a restrictive approach in implementing such a voluntary and cooperative mechanism, he said. 

    CRAIG MACLACHLAN (Australia) introduced a resolution on prevention of the illicit transfer and unauthorized access to and use of man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) (not yet issued).  He said he was very encouraged last year by the consensus adoption of the resolution.  The threat to international security and civil aviation in particular, by terrorists and the use of MANPADS, remained undiminished.  The resolution encouraged Member States to take concrete steps to exercise effective control to prevent MANPADS from falling into the hands of terrorists, although he recognized that MANPADS were a legitimate weapons system in authorized hands.

    JOHANNES LANDMAN (Netherlands) introduced two draft resolutions:  the first, a new text, was on addressing the humanitarian and development impact of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons; the second was on national legislation on transfer of arms, military equipment and dual-use goods and technology (neither has yet been issued).  In the spirit of First Committee reform, the first text was a one-time-only resolution, which addressed that compelling issue at the right moment.  It should be seen as a balanced attempt to distil from the major recent United Nations reform meeting those issues relevant to the small arms agenda.  If a consensus of heads of State and Government had emerged on issues relevant to the Committee's work, then that consensus should be taken into account during the Committee's session.  There had not been much consensus in the area of disarmament and international security.

    He explained that the draft resolution had taken a broad approach to security and disarmament and, like many other drafts -- such as on environmental risks, disarmament education, and the relationship between disarmament and development -- such an approach reflected the inter-connectedness of issues, which the heads of State had underlined.  Some delegations had expressed concern that the draft could pre-empt the upcoming small arms Review Conference.  He was taking care to address some of those concerns, and the draft was still open and would not be finalized until next week, in an effort to gain its consensual support.  The very positive response to the consultations process had already led to the text's cross-regional sponsorship, from Africa, to Asia to Latin America.

    Regarding the text on national legislation on the effective national control of arms transfers, he said that, following many cross-regional requests for

    co-sponsorship in past years, he was now considering opening the draft for that purpose.  Effective national control of arms and equipment was an important tool for enhancing security.  The text had included transfers of items that could contribute to proliferation activities.  Exchange of national legislation and procedures on export controls could serve as a point of reference for States seeking to improve their national legislation in that regard.  He invited those interested in co-sponsoring the draft to approach him in the coming days. 

    VASILIEV ANTON (Russian Federation) said he had something to say of a technical nature.  He listened with interest to the proposals made by Japan on small arms and light weapons (along with Colombia and South Africa).  His country was a sponsor of that resolution.  Even though the introduction of new elements could change consensus, it could also change the number of co-sponsors.  He was happy consultations would be continued on that subject.  He had a request from the representative of the European Union, who had taken the fresh initiative to submit it in written form, so States could then send it back to their Capitals for review.

    ALISHER VOHIDOV (Uzbekistan) on behalf of five States in Central Asia, introduced a draft decision on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia (not yet issued).  He said he was grateful to the United Nations and the Regional Centre on Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific for its significant support and help in transforming Central Asia into a nuclear-weapon-free zone.  It was gratifying that nuclear-free-weapon zones were regarded as one of the most important elements in the strategy for bolstering the process for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. He welcomed the successful holding of the first Conference of States parties and countries that had signed agreements on the creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones that was held in Mexico.

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