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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2958

Arab Nations Insist on WMDs in UN Arms Register

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 05 November, (IPS): - When the General Assembly decided to create a United Nations Register of Conventional Arms back in December 1991, one of the primary reasons was to promote transparency in one of the most secretive aspects of governmental operations: arms trade and domestic military holdings.

But the Arms Register has so far eluded one of its ultimate objectives: universal participation by all 192 member states.

The 22-nation League of Arab States -- most of whose members have refused to participate in the Register -- has complained once again that its scope should be widened to include weapons of mass destruction.

Currently the Register comprises only seven categories of major conventional arms: combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships (including submarines), battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, and missiles and missile- launchers.

But the declaration of arms transfers -- both imports and exports in all seven categories -- as well as domestic military holdings are voluntary.

A spokesman for the Arab Group told the U.N. Committee on Disarmament and International Security last week that the Register "did not take into account the situation in the Middle East, where Israel possessed the most lethal weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including one that was not included in the Register."

A U.N. official told IPS that "most Arab countries do not participate, some never did, while others ceased to do so over the WMD issue. However, Lebanon and Jordan have been participating."

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior research fellow with the Center for Peace and Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS the proposal to include chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in the U.N. Register "is a thinly veiled attempt to get Israel to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal".

"Given that this is a register of conventional arms, its expansion to include these weapons seems unlikely," she added.

In addition, the Arab states have generally been reluctant to participate in transparency measures with respect to arms transfers.

"This gives them little leverage over this process," said Goldring who has been tracking the Arms Register since its creation in 1992.

The largest number of declarations by member states was 126 in 2001. The lowest was 85 in 1998.

In 2007, the declarations numbered 89. And this year, the total is 86, although there may be more declarations to come before the end of December. Still, it is far below the total number of U.N. member states: 192.

However, according to the United Nations, a total of 172 states have reported to the Register one or more times.

Goldring said the Register is a key source of data on the global trade in conventional weapons.

"It is certainly not perfect, but it is the best option we have. It is the only official international source of information on arms transfers, and its development should be nurtured," she added.

Since 1994, the Register has been reviewed every three years. The next review is scheduled to take place in 2009.

In 2006, in the fifth such review, the Group of Governmental Experts agreed on a standardised form for government reports and expanded the scope to include transfers of small arms and light weapons, described as the primary cause of deaths in most conflicts.

So far, more than 30 countries have provided information on their small arms and light weapons transfers. This is described as an important and positive trend.

In the 2006 review process, Iran proposed the inclusion of WMDs in the Register. But the governmental experts concluded that it was a matter for the General Assembly to decide.

In turn, each time the General Assembly has considered this issue within the context of the Register reviews, it has decided to leave open the question of its scope and expansion.

Goldring said she was pleased to see the continuing progress in improving the Register. In fact, the last two reviews of the U.N. Register have produced far more substantial results than the first three reviews, she added.

"This in turn increases the likelihood that the 2009 review will produce continued strengthening," Goldring said.

Arguably the most important improvement would be further enhancing the reporting on small arms and light weapons, and integrating this information into the main country reports, she added.

Although only 67 countries reported before the mid-2008 deadline, the final number of participants for 2008 is likely to be significantly higher than the 86 so far.

But the 67 countries represent only about one-third of the U.N. member states.

"However, this group includes most of the world's most significant arms exporters, including the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ukraine, and China," she said.

That increases the likelihood that the Register is capturing much of the world's trade in conventional weapons, noted Goldring.

- Asian Tribune -

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