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General Assembly First Committee

represented by Florian Lewerenz and Kristina Werner

The First Committee of the General Assembly (GA 1st) deals with issues concerning disarmament and international peace. It resembles the General Assembly (GA), as it follows the same set of operating procedures. Hence, the Committee passes resolutions with a simple majority, or on important matters with a two-thirds majority and with each State having just one vote. The agenda items of the GA 1st are set by the General Assembly, the Committee cannot introduce them by itself. After debating substantive topics, the GA 1st can recommend resolutions for adoption by the GA. These resolutions are considered suggestions, which are to be further discussed in the GA. The non-binding resolutions of the GA 1st do not become official documents until passed by the GA. However, they can indicate the establishment of customs (and eventually be part in establishing customary international law), standards and guidelines for appropriate behaviour. Furthermore, they demonstrate the range of opinions within the international community, indicating which governments support peace and security, and which choose to remain outside of or even impede the development of international co-operative security.

Our agenda issues for the First Committee during the conference were:

  1. Upholding the Status of Prisoners of War According to the Third Geneva Convention;
  2. Fighting Illicit Trade and Trafficking of Nuclear Material; and
  3. Preventing an Arms Race in Outer Space.

All three topics were very interesting, and during our research in Berlin we were pleased to discover that Australia was active in all of them. Nevertheless, we came to the conclusion that the topic of ‘Fighting the Illicit Trade and Trafficking of Nuclear Material’ was of the highest priority for Australia, as non-proliferation of nuclear material had proved to be a field of strong activism and engagement in the Australian foreign policy.

The conference started with the agenda setting, and after a short lobbying phase, it became clear that many states shared Australia’s priority to discuss Fighting Illicit Trade and Trafficking of Nuclear Material’ first. Thus, soon after lobbying, the Committee adopted the agenda with the second topic to be discussed first.

After the successful adoption of the agenda, the first substantial debate started, and the different delegations lobbied and presented their positions. Our priority with regard to the topic was to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in order to prevent illicit nuclear material proliferation. In this context we wanted to refer especially to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, an initiative put forward by Australia together with Japan to strengthen the NPT by the 2010 NPT Review Conference. As Australia is the biggest uranium exporter worldwide, another point for our strategy was to enhance technical nuclear co-operation for peaceful purposes in order to improve our export chances of uranium. Finally, we were generally open for all efforts made to strengthen the prevention of a spread of illicitly traded nuclear material.

Together with some of Australia’s partners from the European Union, for example the United Kingdom, France and others, we began to work on a very comprehensive draft paper. It proposed several measures to strengthen the NPT and the IAEA, e.g. the establishment of regional nuclear fuel banks in order to provide fairer access to nuclear material for all states for peaceful purposes, the creation of confidence building measures and the supervision of nuclear waste facilities by the IAEA. It also referred to the before mentioned International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament as a measure to strengthen the NPT by 2010, which was a crucial point to us. We later merged our paper with another draft from mostly African states to prevent interference and to gain stronger support for the draft. The working paper was later drafted and after some amendments it became a resolution after having passed voting procedure. Finally, it was also adopted as a resolution during voting procedure in the General Assembly on the last day of the conference.

With mostly African states, we simultaneously elaborated a working paper establishing an Organisation of the Nuclear Material-Producing Countries (ONMPC) to oversee the mining, processing, transporting, and storing of nuclear material from exporting countries, under the IAEA mandate. After the working paper was formulated, we lobbied and negotiated for it throughout the Committee in order to get the necessary signatories and guarantee a majority during voting procedure. After the working paper became the first draft resolution on the floor, we had some tough negotiations over some amendments proposed by Greece and others, but we were finally successful in coming to a consensus and so the draft was then adopted by a vast majority of the Committee during voting procedure.

There were ten other draft resolutions on the floor, focusing on diverse aspects of non proliferation of nuclear material, e.g. the creation of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones or an increased funding of the IAEA. Except one, all of them finally passed as resolutions, most of them with Australian support.

Overall, the results of the session were quite satisfying for Australia, with our crucial points included in our drafts and finally adopted as resolutions. On the personal level, it was a very unique and rewarding experience for us, learning a lot about international negotiations, group dynamics and the functioning of the United Nations system. We are grateful that we had the opportunity to be part of the National Model United Nations 2009 and will surely cherish this experience for a long time.