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Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation NGO letter in support of DDA

February 7, 2007

To: All Permanent Representatives to the United Nations
From: New-York based civil society organizations working on disarmament/security issues
Re: The Secretary-General’s Proposal to Make DDA an Office

Dear Ambassador:

The undersigned represent New York-based civil society organizations that work on issues of disarmament and security in the United Nations context and have worked closely with the Department for Disarmament Affairs: Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, Reaching Critical Will/Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Hague Appeal for Peace, Global Action to Prevent War, Peace Boat US, Global Policy Forum, International Action Network on Small Arms, NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, Middle Powers Initiative, Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, World Federation of United Nations Associations, and World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy. We write in support of keeping an independent Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA), with its own mandate and Under-Secretary-General.

We are greatly concerned by the Secretary-General’s proposal that the DDA become an office under the Secretary-General’s direct oversight headed by a special representative or high representative of the Secretary-General who would, at least initially, have the rank of assistant secretary-general. As elaborated below, such a change is a demotion of DDA in appearance, and likely would in fact decrease DDA’s importance, now or in the future, and prevent realization of its potential. The proposal also would cause practical problems by making the Secretary-General the focal point of conflicting demands regarding disarmament and non-proliferation and causing confusion about the authority and mandate of the head of the Disarmament Affairs office.

DDA’s Role Should be Expanded, Not Diminished

Disarmament is one of the central tasks of the United Nations. The first UN General Assembly resolution called for nuclear disarmament, and the UN Charter envisions the “the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources” (Article 26). The UN must live up to its mandate and prioritize disarmament in the Secretariat, maintaining the independent DDA instead of subordinating it to other agendas.

The UN should not be reducing the stature of disarmament at a time when the problems posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as small arms, are escalating. The DDA was established in its current form in 1998 in order to address post-cold war disarmament and non-proliferation issues.[1] It is even more necessary in an era with increased opportunity for, but decreased attention to, disarmament. Moreover, the world's disarmament machinery, norms, and regimes are embattled now, and lowering the profile of the primary global agency responsible for implementation of UN decisions is the wrong course.

In a January 4 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for reassertion of the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world, former high U.S. officials George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, and Henry Kissinger and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn characterized the present situation this way:

[T]he world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era. Most alarmingly, the likelihood that non-state terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weaponry is increasing…. [U]nless urgent new actions are taken, the U.S. soon will be compelled to enter a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically even more costly than was Cold War deterrence. It is far from certain that we can successfully replicate the old Soviet-American ‘mutually assured destruction’ with an increasing number of potential nuclear enemies world-wide without dramatically increasing the risk that nuclear weapons will be used.

Especially in this historical context, it is important for the Department for Disarmament Affairs to remain its own entity with its own mandate and Under-Secretary-General whose primary concern is disarmament. DDA houses years of technical and policy expertise and institutional memory which are invaluable to governments and civil society. It could be quietly lost if the DDA becomes an office under direct oversight of the Secretary-General. When the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency was moved into the State Department, the Agency’s technical expertise and institutional memory was lost, as was internal advocacy for disarmament.

Among its many crucial functions, the Department for Disarmament Affairs:

  • serves states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which does not have its own secretariat;
  • serves the General Assembly during the First Committee on Disarmament and International Security when the world's governments meet and debate the most pressing disarmament and security issues;
  • serves the Conference on Disarmament, the world's sole multilateral disarmament treaty negotiating body;
  • maintains the Register of Conventional Arms and the Instrument for Reporting Military Expenditures;
  • plays a pivotal role in implementing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs, especially in countries in which the UN does not have a peacekeeping mission;
  • implements programs under the “Practical Disarmament Measures” mandate of the General Assembly;
  • monitors the compliance of states parties with the Ottawa Treaty on landmines (the Article 7 mandate);
  • monitors implementation of the Small Arms Program of Action;
  • provides independent assessments to the Secretary-General and Security Council and General Assembly as appropriate; and
  • provides technical assistance to governments regarding ratifying and implementing treaties.

Further, there is potential, and the need, for DDA to do much more. For example, the DDA could house a successor to UNMOVIC, and become a center for addressing space and missile issues. Stripping DDA of its departmental status may undermine its capacity to fulfill its present functions, and almost certainly would prevent it from realizing its potential. A demoted DDA would lack the flexibility, mandate, and resources to play a significant role in emerging issues on the arms control agenda.

We also observe that DDA has a good record on taking action-oriented steps toward the inclusion of gender in all aspects of its work. In March 2001, shortly after the Passage of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the DDA published a series of briefing papers on gender and disarmament in collaboration with OSAGI and DESA. In 2003, DDA continued this work by developing the first departmental Gender Action Plan. Demoting a department that has emerged as a leader in gender mainstreaming and in the promotion of Resolution 1325 sends the wrong message about which achievements are rewarded and which are dismissed.

Practical Problems with the Secretary-General’s Proposal

As an independent department, DDA is shielded to some extent from the intense political pressures that disarmament/non-proliferation issues generate. If Disarmament Affairs is more closely associated with the Secretary-General, inevitably political pressures from all quarters would impede achievement of objectives. Further, the Secretary-General himself could be harmed by failure to meet heightened expectations. The Secretary-General can find other ways to strategically intervene on important matters where his influence could make a difference.

Also, the DDA Under-Secretary-General (USG) already has direct access to the Secretary-General. So nothing is really added by making the head of the Disarmament Affairs office a special or high representative. Since initially at least the head of the office will be an assistant secretary-general (ASG), he or she will not be a peer to clearly-defined USGs. In particular, the head of the Disarmament Affairs office will be junior to many of the principal officers with whom he or she must work: the chief UN official servicing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and the heads of the IAEA and the verification bodies for the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty all are director-generals with the rank of USG.

The Secretary-General’s proposal may also introduce confusion over the Disarmament Affairs mission. DDA’s mandate is based on the directives of the current Secretary-General and his two predecessors as well as numerous resolutions of the General Assembly and Security Council. A special or high representative heading Disarmament Affairs would muddy the waters as to the extent of his or her mandate since the SRSG’s mandate generally is linked to the Secretary-General personally and is time-bound. It would be difficult to pursue new mandates within the field, as the USG can now do. While the Secretary-General’s proposal affirms that the office would continue to implement existing directives, the practice might be different. In short, we do not want DDA's mandate and chief to change from being part of the UN secretariat's institutional framework to being personally linked to changing Secretary-Generals.

We appreciate the Secretary-General’s desire to give the disarmament/non-proliferation agenda a higher profile by associating it more directly with him. However, there are other ways to accomplish this that do not have the weaknesses of the proposal. In addition to taking a personal role, the Secretary-General could, for example, appoint to his staff a special advisor on disarmament/non-proliferation.

If part of the motive for the DDA proposal is to keep the number of USGs constant in view of the proposal to split the Department of Peace-keeping Operations, that aim can be achieved by means that do not downgrade the DDA. There may be offices outside the peace and security field which could be headed by ASGs rather than USGs. Another possibility would be simply to increase the total number of USGs by one. Or the DPKO could have two divisions headed by ASGs, one for peace operations, one for field support.


In sum, the Department for Disarmament Affairs must not lose its unique identity and mandate and its ability to report directly to the Secretary-General through its own Under-Secretary-General. The quantity and technical nature of the Department's work is sufficient to warrant a dedicated department, and the subject the Department covers is sufficiently urgent and complex to justify expansion rather than demotion to an office.


John Burroughs
Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy

Jennifer Nordstrom
Project Manager, Reaching Critical Will
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Cora Weiss
President, Hague Appeal for Peace
UN Representative, International Peace Bureau

Saul Mendlovitz
Dag Hammarskjöld Professor, Rutgers Law School
Co-Founder, Global Action to Prevent War

Allison Boehm
International Coordinator, Peace Boat US

James Paul
Executive Director, Global Policy Forum

Mark Marge
UN Liaison, International Action Network on Small Arms

Vernon Nichols and Jim Nelson
Co-Presidents, NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security

Hon. Douglas Roche, O.C.
Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative

Ann Lakhdhir
UN Representative, Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies

Pera Wells
Secretary-General, World Federation of United Nations Associations

William Pace
Executive Director, World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy

cc: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Mr. Vijay Nambiar, Chef du Cabinet


[1] In 1997, a report of the Secretary-General explained the rationale for the establishment of DDA as follows:

2B.1 Disarmament is a central issue on the global agenda. With the end of super-Power rivalry, nationals everywhere have come to recognize their stake in the success of multilateral negotiations and the monitoring of weapons development. The emergence of new dangers and actors has added fresh urgency to the tasks that the United Nations is called upon to play in the area of disarmament. In the post-cold-war period, there is a growing threat from the spread of nuclear weapons technology and material, as well as a wider interest in acquiring biological and chemical weapons and means of delivery for such weapons. Regional warlords, criminal syndicates and various terrorist groups have during recent years become involved in trading in and the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. The extensive use and destructive power of landmines in areas of armed conflict and the flow of conventional weapons and small arms into the hands of civilians have become items on the international agenda and have often to be addressed in the context of peacekeeping operations.

2B.2 Consequently, a managerial reorganization of Secretariat capacities will now be effected so that a structure can be put in place to respond more effectively the priorities of Member States in the fields of disarmament and arms regulations. A Department for Disarmament and Arms Regulation will therefore be established, headed by an Under-Secretary-General.

United Nations reform: measures and proposals: Proposed programme budget for the biennium 1998-1999: Report of the Secretary-General. A/52/203 (11 September 1997), p. 13 (emphasis supplied).


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