The United Nations came into existence in 1945 as a response to the unspeakable devastation of the World War II. This is evident in that the very phrase “international peace and security” is mentioned no less than six times in Chapter IV of the Charter of the United Nations. Article 11, paragraph 1 of the Charter further specifies that “disarmament and the regulation of armaments” are within the purview of the General Assembly (UNGA) . In fact, the very first resolution ever passed by the UNGA sought to find a way to eliminate nuclear bombs and weapons of mass destruction. Thus, it is no surprise that the UNGA endowed the First Committee (GA1) – also called the Disarmament and International Security Committee (DISEC) – with a mandate to focus on one of the UN’s earliest and most important missions: disarmament and international security. Importantly, Article 2 (3-4) of the UN Charter states that
3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
Hence, the UN is founded on the notion that the international community can overcome war as a means to solve disputes by “establish[ing] conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.” (Preamble of the UN Charter) Universal disarmament is one of those conditions.
Powers and Functions
Article 10 of the UN Charter provides that the General Assembly and its committees may discuss “any questions or any matters within the scope of the present Charter or relating to the powers and functions of any organs provided for in the present Charter, and, except as provided in Article 12, may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both on any such questions or matters.” However, the First Committee’s resolutions are not legally binding documents. Rather, they represent policy recommendations and action plans that the UNGA as an entity encourages Member States to adhere to in order to foster peace. In other words, they represent important principles that guide Member States as they approach different issues.
One important exception to the circumscribed power of the UNGA comes from the 1950 resolution [A/RES/377 (V) A], which states that the General Assembly Plenary reserves the right to act if the Security Council does not take action despite an apparent threat to international peace. Any of the UNGA committees may pass a resolution recommending that the General Assembly Plenary take such action. Such a recommendation would require a two- thirds majority vote, however, because it is an “important question” according to Article 18 of the UN Charter.
Each UNGA main committee shall work toward promoting “international cooperation in the political field and encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codification.” The General Assembly First Committee in particular considers all matters relating to international security and disarmament, with the goal of providing a framework for all Member States that will promote peace and strengthen stability through lower levels of armaments. In addition to disarmament, DISEC also considers issues relating to missile proliferation, disarmament in outer space, the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), tracking arms in the black market, nuclear- weapons-free zones, the need for international nuclear transparency, the importance of confidence -building measures, the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and the prohibition of anti-personnel mines, inter alia. The First Committee works in close cooperation with the United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC), the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) based in Geneva, Switzerland, and several related non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Global Action to Prevent War.
Over the years, the First Committee has passed several notable resolutions in order to influence global discussion on issues relating to disarmament and security. In 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which builds on the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, was passed. Other notable resolutions include the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction that entered into force in 1975, and recent resolutions on nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East, interalia.
Background guides for HAMUN 43 coming soon!