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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Disarmament Commission has 'considerable potential' to produce solid results – senior UN official

4 April 2016 – Despite a "deepening paralysis and divisions within multilateral disarmament bodies," and the fact that many are looking outside traditional United Nations forums for progress, the top official on the issue stressed today that the UN Disarmament Commission has considerable potential to demonstrate that the existing disarmament machinery can produce results.

Citing "well-known disappointments" – the 2015 NPT Review Conference, the inability to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force and the lack of any further negotiations within the Conference on Disarmament – Mr. Kim Won-soo, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said the Disarmament Commission is entering the middle phase of its current cycle at a time of uncertainty.

Yet against this backdrop "in recent cycles, the Commission has made important progress toward consensus on its conventional weapons item. This has come as the international community has made important strides forward on this part of the disarmament agenda," he told the opening of the Commission's 2016 session in New York.

Highlighting such steps as the first ever legally-binding regulations governing the international arms trade; greater success at combatting the illicit trade in small arms; dealing with the problems posed by excess and poorly maintained stocks of ammunition; as well as in agreeing to tackle new challenges like the threat posed by improvised explosive devices, he also cited continuous progress in the improvement of its confidence-building mechanisms in the field of conventional arms control.

"I hope the continued deliberations by the Commission on its conventional arms item builds upon and consolidates these gains. The time has come for the Commission to start finally bringing its consideration of this item to a successful conclusion," stressed Mr. Kim.

At the same time, he noted that on the matter of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, the gap remains wide. Over the past 11 months, views on the way forward have grown increasingly polarized and entrenched.

"Work will resume next month in Geneva on the elaboration of effective legal measures for nuclear disarmament. Even as that process continues, the Disarmament Commission still maintains a unique and distinct role, especially in light of its history of consensus-building," he said, encouraging delegations to make use of the Commission's unique nature as a deliberative and consensus-based body that continues to enjoy universal participation.

Mr. Kim went on the stress that the need for simultaneous progress on multiple questions of disarmament has never been more apparent. "We are faced by the rapid emergence of new trends and technologies that are complicating strategic relationships and stability. This includes the development of advanced new types of strategic weapons. It also includes a growing nexus between terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and cyber threats," he explained.

The Disarmament Commission has clear authority to adopt a third agenda item at any point during its cycle, provided there is consensus. Furthermore, it has a mandate to consider such an item during its present cycle, and he appreciated the efforts made by the Commission's Chair to explore common ground so that agreement on a third agenda item, possibly addressing outer space, can be achieved. Deliberations by the Commission on this issue may help to consolidate and carrying forward various proposals to ensure space remains free from conflict and unsustainable practices.

Taking up a third agenda item would not detract from the Commission's work on its two existing items. "Rather, it would bring the Commission back to greater productivity, thus restoring its credibility as an essential component of the United Nations disarmament machinery," said Mr. Kim.

The Commission, whose membership is universal, is a deliberative body mandated to make recommendations in the field of disarmament and to follow up the decisions and recommendations of the General Assembly's first special session devoted to disarmament, in 1978. Between 1979 and 1999, the Commission was able to reach consensus at least 16 times to adopt guidelines or recommendations on disarmament subjects.

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