These historical insights on the treatment in the CD of agenda item 7, Transparency in Armaments, were offered by UNIDIR as background to the debate on that issue in the Conference on 14 August 2012 under the presidency of Ambassador Jean-Hughes Simon-Michel (France).
During the 1991 session of UNGA the EU and Japan sponsored a resolution on transparency (46/36L). Recalling the 1990 Gulf War, the resolution asserted that no single state especially in areas of tension should be able to strive for levels of armaments that did not bear any relationship to its self-defence needs. The CD was requested to address the question of the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of arms and to elaborate universal and non-discriminatory practical means to increase openness and transparency in this field.
Initially, there was no consensus in the CD on inscribing this issue as an agenda item. However, agreement was eventually reached to hold informal meetings chaired by a Special Coordinator. In 1993 the CD established an Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency in Armaments. Disagreement soon emerged over whether resolution 46/36L did or did not limit the mandate just to the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Some members took the view that the subsidiary body should focus on the gradual expansion of the Register to include all categories and types of arms including WMD. Other states, however, opposed inclusion of WMD in the Register because to do so would imply international acceptance of transfers of such weapons.
Work in the Ad Hoc Committee came to an end in 1995 when members were unable to reach agreement on its re-establishment. Since then, CD delegations, as with agenda items 5 and 6, have not envisaged re-convening a subsidiary body, preferring instead the appointment of a Special Coordinator to seek the views of members on the most appropriate way to deal with this issue. The item has become a place of convenience for raising issues about conventional weapons rather than for seeking new agenda items to cover those issues.
This posting was published for UNIDIR by Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow