The 43rd General Assembly

By Maxime Faille | 1989-02-01 12:00:00

The 43rd General Assembly was an eventful session, and it is worth reviewing its outcomes. Most General Assembly work is done by seven committees, which deal with different special concerns. The First Committee handles political and security items, which includes disarmament and international security.

The Canadians are among the hardest working and most devoted of the delegations. Canada is among the handful of Western bloc countries that occasionally departs from NATO policy, and its work on certain issues is extremely constructive. On other issues, however, Canada's voting is abysmal, and should be squarely denounced.

Comprehensive Test Ban

While still claiming to favor a comprehensive test ban (CTB), Canada does not support resolutions that call for the negotiation of such a treaty. Three resolutions were adopted on a CTB. Canada once against abstained on the General Assembly resolution on the effort to amend a Partial Test Ban Treaty into a comprehensive test ban. This resolution prompted more debate than virtually any other. Western states who abstained or, in the case of the three Western nuclear powers, voted against it, outlined their opposition to this approach to a test ban. Many states expressed concern that an amendment conference would detract from the work of the Geneva Conference on Disarmament (C.D.) - the sole multilateral negotiating body. Ironically, most of these states (including Canada) also abstained on a resolution calling for negotiations to begin in the C.D.

Instead, Canada co-sponsored resolution A/43/64, calling on the C.D. to "intensify" its work on cessation of all nuclear test explosions. While this resolution attracted wide support, it still did not enlist support from the three Western nuclear powers whom its watered-down tone was presumably designed to please. Canada is downplaying the importance of a CTB, and endorses the so-called "stage-by-stage" negotiations that are leading nowhere.

Nuclear Arms Freeze/ Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race

Canada once again voted against the Mexico-Sweden resolution calling for a bilateral nuclear arms freeze that would halt the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles, and stop the production of fissile material for weapons purposes. This is one of the few resolutions where Canada finds itself to the right of other NATO members. Both Denmark and Norway voted in favor, while Iceland and Spain abstained.

Canada's reasons for its negative vote are unclear. It officially endorses most of the measures being proposed through the freeze: a test ban, a flight test ban, and a halt to the production of fissile material (indeed, Canada sponsored a resolution calling for this last summer).

The central argument used in Canadian government position papers is that negotiating a freeze would be just as daunting as negotiating reductions. A freeze would maintain too many nuclear weapons, while reductions would actually cut the numbers of weapons.

The problem with this argument is that, throughout the negotiations on reductions, more weapons are produced than are eliminated. A freeze, on the other hand, would halt the arms race, which would make reductions meaningful. For example, more weapons have been produced while negotiating the INF treaty than the treaty actually eliminates.

The INF Treaty makes the freeze idea even more reasonable. One argument against the freeze was that it would leave the Soviet SS-20 missiles in Europe. These have now been eliminated. Furthermore, verifying a freeze is shown to be entirely possible, since the INF treaty not only eliminates the weapons, but prevents their testing, production, and deployment.

No First Use

Canada abstained on Argentina's resolution entitled "prevention of nuclear war," and voted against a resolution introduced by the GDR on the "non-use of nuclear weapons and prevention of nuclear war." Both resolutions seek the negotiation, through the C.D., of legally binding instruments laying down the obligation not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. Such an instrument would, of course, negate NATO's policy of reserving the right to be the first to use nuclear weapons, as part of NATO's strategy of deterrence.

Bilateral Nuclear Arms Negotiations

Canada voted in favor of a Non-Aligned Nations' resolution calling upon the U.S. and the USSR to achieve a 50 percent cut in strategic arms and to intensify their work on other arms control measures, including a test ban. It should come as no surprise that Canada cast a positive vote for this timid resolution. However, most other NATO countries abstained on it because they felt the wording did not reflect the progress being made between the superpowers.

Prohibition of the Production of Fissionable Material

Canada introduced a resolution on the "prohibition of the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes." The resolution received wide support, except from France (against); and Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Luxembourg, the U.K. and the U.S. (abstaining). All of these countries except Luxembourg produce fissionable materials without international safeguards.

The resolution is timid and ambiguous, however, and calls for nothing concrete, except for the C.D. to "pursue its consideration" of the question "at an appropriate stage in its work."

United Nations Role in Verification

Canada should also be commended for its intensive work on verification. That work has paid off tremendously this year, with the almost unanimous endorsement of a resolution that will result in an experts' study on the role of the U.N. in verification. The resolution fell short of the more forward-looking Six-Nation Initiative proposal for a study that would set up an outline of a United Nations multilateral verification agency, but it could very well lead to just that.

A multilateral verification agency is an extremely important concept. Such an agency would allow the international community to verify compliance with specific treaties, and would greatly enhance confidence in such agreements. The vote was 150 in favor, 0 abstentions, and 1 against (the United States).

International Arms Transfers

Canada co-sponsored a resolution calling for greater transparency in arms transfers, and asking the Secretary General to seek ways of promoting such transparency. It falls short of calling for an international arms transfer register, as the peace movement has proposed, but is a step in this direction.

The resolution drew strong support from NATO (with the exception of the United States, who abstained) and the Eastern bloc. There was wide division among Non-Aligned countries, some 35 of which abstained. The final vote was 110 Yes, 38 Abstain, 1 No (Djibouti).

Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space

Canada co-sponsored a compromise resolution merging four resolutions from the West, the East bloc, China, and the Non-Aligned. The resolution, which calls on the C.D. to intensify efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space, and urges the superpowers to pursue their negotiation, won support from the entire world community, except for the United States, who voted against it.

Soviets at UNGA 43

By Maxime Faille

"Enlightened" is the best word to describe the current Soviet attitude towards international affairs. President Gorbachev's dramatic U.N. announcement of unilateral cuts of half a million Soviet troops and 10,000 tanks drew wide attention. However, little notice was taken of the whole range of proposals presented by Gorbachev, and also by Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze and Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Petrovski. The Soviet "Troika" emphasized international law and multilateralism, in an astounding departure from the Soviets' traditional mistrust of the U.N.

As Mr. Shevardnadze said, "radical change in our own house … has made us adopt a new approach to international affairs too." The Soviets' humility, honesty, and lack of pomposity was most refreshing. They made proposals, engaged in very few assaults on other countries, and were self-critical.

Mr. Shevardnadze seemed virtually to appeal for world federation, calling for "voluntarily delegating a portion of national rights in the interest of all … to an international organization."

Demonstrating that the Soviet Union has drawn the right conclusion from its own failed policy in Afghanistan, he said, "War is ceasing to be, indeed it has ceased to be, an instrument of rational policy."

Mr. Shevardnadze touted the U. N. as "the most appropriate place" for negotiations and for solving problems, adding that "if in the past it has not always been that, the Organization is the least to blame.." Instead, he blamed "many of us, including particularly the permanent members of the Security Council."

He supported an "international monitoring and verification agency." Other proposals included greater Soviet support for the World Court, the establishment of a World Space Organization, as well as greater Soviet involvement in the U.N.'s economic institutions. He proposed turning the United Nations Environmental Program into "an Environmental Council capable of taking effective decisions to ensure ecological security," through "a three-event series of emergency meetings" under U.N. auspices. The first step would be a consultive meeting of experts in 1989, followed by a summit meeting of 15-20 states the following year, and a second summit level meeting at the U.N. international conference on the environment, which is already planned for 1992.

Deputy Foreign Minister Petrovski, addressing a committee on peacekeeping, proposed that peacekeeping operations be used, not only to contain, but also to prevent, conflicts. U.N. observer posts could be located in various hot-spots where conflict might flare up. Another change would be to allow the U.N. to send observers along the frontiers within a country wanting protection. Currently, all parties to a conflict must agree to the establishment of a U.N. observer or peacekeeping operation. The combined proposals made by the Soviets eventually would make savings possible: As a multilateral political safeguard of peace, the operations could enable states to decrease their reliance on national military forces and hence avoid costly arms races.

And New Yorkers are responding. One sees blue-collar workers on the subway from Brooklyn reading Gorbachev's entire speech in the New York Times, carefully underlining passages. The New York tabloids blaze "Welcome, Mischa," in cyrillic Russian on the front page. And Times Square is gaudily lit with the red and yellow glare of a neon hammer and sickle. You can't help feeling it - times are changing.

Maxime Faille works with Parliamentarians for Global Action.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1989

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1989, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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