First Committee at the United Nations, New York

Vanessa Canola

Project Assistant, SCRAP Weapons

Breaking the impasse in the disarmament apparatus (through SSOD-IV) is needed now more than ever.

From October 3rd to 13th, SCRAP Weapons was in New York to participate in the First Committee of the United Nations- one of the six main bodies of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security. During their time in New York, Zahraa Kapasi, Consultant, Martin Butcher, Policy Advisor on Arms, Conflict and International Humanitarian Law for Oxfam UK and SCRAP Weapons, and Vanessa Canola, Project Assistant, engaged in constructive discussions not only with representatives of the Permanent Missions in the room but also with members of civil society, academia and faith-based groups, with the ultimate goal of promoting general and complete disarmament and advocating for the reactivation of the UN General Assembly’s Special Sessions on Disarmament.

Although several statements from delegations were dominated by their disappointment in the lack of progress in the field, mentioning for instance, the failures of last year’s NPT Review Conference and the First Session of the Preparatory Committee held in August, certain exchanges proved to be rather constructive, despite the arduous international dynamics. Whilst the omnipresent clashes, such as the breakpoints related to the Russian illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, DPRK’s missile buildup, Iran’s nuclear program, and, most recently, the terrible bloodshed in Palestine and Israel, contributed to the stagnation of the discussions, significant yet still not all-encompassing convergencies could be identified. A number of delegates, in addition to pushing for the universalization of some debated instruments, including the TPNW or the CTBT, indicated their preparedness to address new threats, such as the potential use of AI in the military domain, the dangers related to the weaponization of outer space, the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons (SALW), and the need to regulate information and communications technology (ICTs), which may represent a serious ever-growing risk to global security.

Notwithstanding the desire to make tangible progress and forward the discussions, it was more than clear how the impasse in the disarmament apparatus revealed to be the so-called ‘elephant in the room’; briefly mentioned by many, addressed concretely by a few. Even Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, used the following words during the opening session of the First Committee to urge the international community to take concrete steps in breaking the deadlock in the disarmament field, a recurring issue creating disappointment and dissatisfaction in international fora and beyond:

“Lamenting the persistent deadlock in parts of the disarmament machinery has become a common refrain in the First Committee. But the time for lamentation must end.”

In order to end ‘the time for lamentation’ and achieve tangible results, SCRAP Weapons supported Brazil’s call on states issued on 27 October 2022 to initiate a process of informal consultations on the convening of the Preparatory Committee of the IV Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSOD-IV), a mechanism of the UN General Assembly convened only three times in history, namely in 1978, 1982, and 1988. Given its value, Secretary-General António Guterres, with regards to the Disarmament Commission and the Conference on Disarmament, has also effectively called for such a process to center on “reform of the disarmament machinery” in his New Agenda for Peace policy brief.

During the First Committee, more delegations stressed the need to create momentum for this mechanism to be reactivated. In particular, the Non-Aligned Movement emphasized the significance of convening SSOD-IV, since it would provide the international community with the chance to review the current disarmament machinery, which would be analyzed from a perspective more in line with the current state of international affairs. In addition to the NAM group, SSOD-IV was also touched upon by the Bangladeshi delegation, which stressed its potential role in giving impetus to the disarmament apparatus, and Italy restated its support for its convening at a suitable moment and with yet-to-be-determined modalities.

In brief, SSOD-IV would provide the international community with a framework to advance the debate in the direction of general and complete disarmament in a more comprehensive and global manner. Indeed, it would guarantee a wider representation in comparison with existing fora, such as the CD, whose membership amounts to 65 countries, therefore excluding the voices of many other delegations that may be interested in cooperating to end the impasse. In addition, it would be the perfect instrument to reform the machinery not only through the discussion of its possible reform but also by integrating into a single, comprehensive agenda, numerous emerging issues, such as the threats related to AI, cyber, outer space, and the implications of arms for women, Indigenous or marginalized peoples, in a catch-all format.

In order to achieve some tangible steps forward, SCRAP Weapons, in collaboration with Paul Meyer, Former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament and a Director of the Canadian Pugwash Group, has published an Open Letter to cease the damaging procrastination and support a resolution that would initiate, by 2025, a committee to oversee preparations for the UN’s Fourth Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSOD-IV). This has received considerable support from numerous organisations and members of civil society, academia, and faith-based groups, denoting a growing interest in the matter.

Considering the deadlock in the disarmament fora and the current international dynamics, which intensify tensions and mistrust, it is now more urgent than ever the need to reframe the debate around general and complete disarmament, not only to safeguard the ‘spirit of consensus’ but also to achieve the oldest goal of the United Nations: saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war though disarmament, peace, and security.

Vanessa Canola

Project Assistant, SCRAP Weapons