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General Assembly First Committee (Disarmament and International Security)

The General Assembly First Committee addresses the disarmament of conventional weapons, weapons of mass destruction and related international security questions. The First Committee makes recommendations on the regulation of these weapons as they relate to international peace and security. The First Committee does not consider legal issues surrounding weapons possession nor does it address complex peace and security issues addressed by the Security Council. The First Committee also adheres to the purview guidelines of the General Assembly as a whole. 

The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects

According to the 2018 Small Arms Survey, over one billion small arms are in circulation around the globe. They make their way around the globe through both the licit (legal) arms trade transfers from authorized arms manufacturers, and illicit (illegal) arms transfers. The economic impact is estimated at 7 billion USD annually, but the humanitarian toll of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons is staggering. Firearms from armed conflict exacerbate violence around the globe when they end up in the hands of criminal and terrorist organizations. States recovering from conflict or that have weak government oversight often lack the resources to prevent the flow of firearms across borders. The United Nations has been committed to aiding states in stemming the flow of firearms in and out of conflict zones. 

The United Nations General Assembly recognized the need to be able to trace the global flow of firearms. In 1991, the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms was the first attempt to trace legal arms sales. By registering legal firearms, Member States believed it would be more difficult for them to be sold on the black market without alerting the international community. Additionally, governments and international organizations would be able to monitor large build ups of light arms. The major issue with the Register is that compliance is voluntary. Without consistent compliance by Member States, tracking light weapons as intended proved difficult. 

Renewed efforts to address illicit arms trade came in 2001 with the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Traffic in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. This conference led to the adoption of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. The Program of Action outlined two action steps for Member States to take to coordinate international efforts. First, Member States were encouraged to actively police unlicensed firearms production within their borders, as this production accounts for a large number of firearms entering the black market. Second, governments were called upon to require serial numbers and country of origin be printed on all legal firearms. These records along with improved international and regional information sharing would facilitate tracing the flow of firearms across the globe.

To build upon the Program of Action’s call for better traceability, the United Nations General Assembly created the International Tracing Instrument in 2005. This Instrument called for Member States to create and monitor records of legal ownership of firearms, starting with manufacturer markings and tracing all changes of ownership. These records were to be maintained over 30 years. In 2013 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution that created additional provisions for the International Tracing Instrument to encourage greater compliance among Member States. This resolution. titled The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects, called upon all Member States to submit their implementation progress, including contact information of national points of contact and marking policies for firearms. 

In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which entered into force in December 2014. The ATT echoes previous work of the body including stricter marking and tracking practices for firearms. This treaty also recognizes: “sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system.” Even so, the General Assembly also called upon Member States to consider the effects that exported firearms have on international peace and stability. Currently, the ATT has 130 signatories and has been ratified by 104 parties. Many States that are major exporters of firearms have not ratified the ATT, limiting its effectiveness in addressing illicit arms trade and how licit firearms end up in illegal markets. 

The United Nations continues to review the progress of international efforts. In 2016, the General Assembly recognized that one of the biggest roadblocks to addressing the illicit small arms trade is States’ lack of resources to track firearms. Many of these States are rocked by conflicts or political strife. The resolution called for regional partnerships to fill gaps in Member States’ abilities to track firearms being transported across borders, particularly out of conflict zones. In 2018, Member States at the Third United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action (RevCon3) conducted a review of the International Tracing Instrument, the Program of Action on Small Arms, and how they relate to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The review laid out the shortcomings of past efforts, and where international efforts are needed going forward. 

At RevCon3, Member States stated that “implementation remains uneven and that challenges and obstacles still stand in the way of the full and effective implementation […], including a lack of resources and differing capacities in many States, and underlined the need for enhanced and effective international cooperation and assistance.” Additionally, efforts need to be made to address ammunition. The illicit trade of ammunition goes hand and hand with firearms, and ensures that the problem will continue if not addressed. States will also need to address new materials such as polymers and 3D printing that have created new firearms that are increasingly hard to trace. Finally, decommissioned firearms are being illicitly traded and reassembled as a means for terrorist organizations to acquire weapons. All of these shortcomings need to be addressed to better manage illicit firearms trade around the globe. 

Questions to consider:

  • How can Member States address the use of new materials and technology being used to create untraceable firearms? 
  • In what ways can ammunition be better tacked and managed?
  • What can Member States do to close the gap of implementation of the International Tracing Instrument and the Program of Action on Small Arms? 
  • Is there more that Member States can do to limit the flow of firearms in and out of conflict zones? How can firearms from conflict zones be kept out of the illicit market?

Bibliography  Bibliography 

  • Small Arms Survey (2019). Small Arms Survey 2013
  • United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (2018). third United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action (RevCon3) Information Bulletin. 
  • Corney, Neil and Nicholas Marsh (2013). Aiming for Control: the need to include ammunition in the Arms Trade Treaty. Oslo, Norway: Omega Research Foundation and Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). 
  • Florquin, Nicolas et al. (2014). Documenting Weapons in Situations of Armed Conflict. Geneva, Switzerland: Small Arms Survey.
  • Malhotra, Aditi (2011). The Illicit Trade of Small Arms. Geopolitical Monitor. 19 January. 
  • Marsh, Nicholas (2007). Taming the Tools of Violence. Journal of Public Health Policy, vol. 28, pp401–409. 

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United Nations Documents  United Nations Documents 

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Nuclear disarmament Nuclear disarmament

Nuclear weapons have been a global threat since World War Two, when the United States dropped two nuclear weapons over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. A nuclear arms race escalated the emerging Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, as both countries built large national stockpiles of nuclear arms. Other states also sought and developed nuclear weapons, so today there are eight declared nuclear powers, including the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Israel is considered an undeclared nuclear power and has signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. These states account for nearly 14,500 nuclear warheads and over 2,000 nuclear tests since the Trinity Test in 1945. Nuclear weapons have remained an important item on the international agenda since 1945, and significant tensions in the contemporary environment mean nuclear weapons remain at the forefront of international concern. 

The United Nations General Assembly first addressed the issue of nuclear weapons in 1946 with the establishment of a Commission to address issues related to atomic energy. This Commission was tasked with two purposes: to establish atomic energy for peaceful purposes and to make proposals to the Security Council for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” Though this Commission had admirable goals, its work was limited due to the growing tensions of the Cold War. Nuclear armed States had adopted a doctrine of mutually assured destruction in the 1960s, which led to a nuclear arms race that saw the rapid growth stockpiles and capabilities in the 1970s. 

Over time, the international community saw how these weapons could destroy the entire planet. Member States identified three pillars of action that would be necessary to protect the planet from the threat of nuclear weapons: nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and enshrined these efforts in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1968. Nonproliferation calls on Member States that have nuclear weapons never t0 transfer nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states and not to encourage non-nuclear weapons states to acquire nuclear arms. Non-nuclear weapons states also agree to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards to verify that all atomic activities are for peaceful purposes. Disarmament calls for Member States to begin negotiations on ceasing the nuclear arms race, and to pursue nuclear disarmament with the goal of complete disarmament. Peaceful use of nuclear energy recognizes the rights of all states to pursue nuclear energy programs. These programs must not be used to develop nuclear arms. Although this treaty as garnered 190 signatures to date, not all nuclear states have signed to the treaty. including India, Pakistan and Israel. Additionally, North Korea’s withdrawal from the treaty in 2003 has raised major concerns on the implementation of the treaty. 

Nuclear weapons testing also created major concerns about environmental contamination and long term damage to the atmosphere. The international community addressed these problems in two major treaties. First, the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water of 1963 aimed to limit nuclear testing where it threatened to spread radiation across the globe. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty of 1996 built upon the earlier Test Ban treaty by requiring Member States to commit to a ban on nuclear weapons testing or aiding in a nuclear weapons test. As of 2019, 168 Member States have ratified the treaty, including five nuclear-capable states. This treaty also created a monitoring system through the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). The CTBTO oversees a series of 337 monitoring facilities around the globe. This system has been instrumental and detected tests carried out by India and Pakistan in 1998 and tests carried out by North Korea between 2006 and 2016. This system is used today to ensure that nuclear tests are declared to the international community. However, the Test Ban Treaty has not deterred testing by some states. 

The latest work by the United Nations came in 2017 with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This Treaty calls for the prohibition of “the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to the prohibited activities.” In addition, Member States party to this Treaty must have a time-bound plan for the elimination and verification of the elimination of their nuclear weapons programs. The treaty outlines the legal and technical framework needed to create a nuclear weapons free world. However, it lacks the support needed for implementation. The Treaty was passed by the United Nations General Assembly with 122 votes in favor and one vote against. However, sixty-nine Member States abstained, including all of the nuclear weapons states. Today, only 23 states have ratified the treaty. 

The international community has a great deal of work ahead to make progress on nuclear disarmament. First, states that are actively developing weapons have created tensions, and have made states hesitant to reduce their own arsinals. Additionally, the lack of support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has made its implementation difficult. Member States will need to consider how to encourage more support for this Treaty in order for it to take effect. Non-nuclear states have also largely lacked a voice on this issue. It has been difficult for them to be involved in the disarmament process outside the work of the Treaties. These States may not have their own nuclear arms, but can be greatly affected if nuclear weapons were to be used in a global conflict. Their interest represents a major portion of the global population. By being more involved in the disarmament process, they can potentially mediate growing tensions around the globe.

Questions to Consider:

  • How can the international community address the resurgence of nuclear weapons development and quel growing international tensions?
  • Are their ways that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons can garner more support internationally? 
  • In what ways can non-nuclear states be more involved in the disarmament process? 

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Bibliography  Bibliography 

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United Nations Documents United Nations Documents

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