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First Committee concludes; views diverge over what progress on disarmament really means

The 72nd session of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security wrapped up on 2 November following five weeks of debate that at times descended into bitter arguments between member states. Real world tensions such as those between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States, the Ukraine and Russia, or Russia and the United States, led to noticeably more antagonistic statements, rights of reply, and influenced voting patterns, particularly on resolutions relating to nuclear and chemical weapons. 

Most troubling were the clear indications from the nuclear-armed states that they are more committed than ever to retaining their nuclear arms; France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States in particular all described their need for these weapons for the indefinite future. However, the positive energy from the success of the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was palpable. Many countries celebrated the instrument as the first progress on nuclear disarmament in more than two decades and as being symbolic of positive collaboration between states, civil society, and the United Nations.

One interesting new development is that the First Committee has established a new panel on science and technology that will look at the intersection of these issues with international security. No plan forward was agreed, however, for continuing talks on cyber issues, following the conclusion of the most recent Group of Governmental Experts earlier this year. In general, states seem to fumble at how best to deal with many of the issues relating to emerging technology, as several of the tried and tested fora through which more traditional disarmament issues are addressed do not seem to be the right fit for these new challenges.

Positively, there was a marked increase in support for better addressing the gender dimensions of weapons and international security, including women’s participation in disarmament fora. Canada delivered a statement on behalf of over 40 other delegations supporting women’s participation in disarmament machinery, an objective supported also in multiple national statements from all regions.

Further coverage and analysis of these and all issues is available in the 2017 First Committee Monitor, which was published weekly by Reaching Critical Will.

Also see statements, resolutions and voting results, and more on the RCW website.