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Disarmament Forum Stalemate May End
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Scarlet Kim

On March 15, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution approving Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's proposed reform of the UN disarmament bureaucracy.

Ban's original plan for restructuring the bodies, which proposed incorporating the Department of Disarmament Affairs (DDA) into the Department of Political Affairs, had been harshly criticized by a significant number of member states and civil society organizations. Many governments were upset with Ban's decision to unveil a reform plan without prior consultation. (See ACT, March 2007. )

Ban's original DDA proposal amounted to a bureaucratic demotion, stripping the department of its political and budgetary autonomy. Critics, particularly representatives of developing and European states, argued the move would lower the profile of disarmament and nonproliferation.

Responding to this criticism, Ban formulated a new plan to replace the DDA with a new office headed by a high representative whose rank would equal that of the current undersecretary-general for disarmament affairs. Though tasked with many of the same responsibilities of the existing undersecretary, Ban said he hoped by granting the high representative direct access to him the move would “revitalize the disarmament and nonproliferation agenda.”

The high representative, according to the new proposal, would focus on four core areas: policy development and coordination functions in support of the secretary-general, advocacy of disarmament and nonproliferation issues with member states and civil society groups, promotion and support of multilateral efforts in disarmament and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and promotion and support of conventional arms disarmament efforts.

The new resolution expresses General Assembly support for the establishment of an office for disarmament affairs and grants permission to the secretary-general to select a high representative. It also requests that the secretary-general submit a report, following his appointment of a high representative, outlining financial, administrative, and budgetary implications, as well as implementation of mandates assigned to the new office.

In recent years, the United States has often clashed with other General Assembly members on international disarmament initiatives. However, in a press release following the adoption of the resolutions, the U.S. mission welcomed the vote.