UK General Election

Pack 2005

This briefing paper is produced by: VM CENTRE FOR PEACE

Working for a lasting peace in the 21st century

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UK General Election Pack 2005

Vijay Mehta 


Ask your parliamentary candidate questions about where they stand on the following issues in the forthcoming election in May 2005.

This briefing paper has 5 different themes, each with a short description followed by suggested questions.


Nuclear Weapons & NPT

A key pillar of the UN’s efforts for maintaining international peace and security is the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - the cornerstone of the international regime for the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons, the regulation of technology associated with the development of such weapons, and the eventual attainment of global nuclear disarmament.

The NPT provides a framework that fixes nuclear non-proliferation at the core of world affairs and denotes a legally-binding commitment to nuclear disarmament. Ratified by 187 countries, it is the most comprehensively endorsed arms limitation and disarmament covenant, and supplies the basis from which all other related international agreements have evolved, such as the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). As such, the NPT is a landmark treaty and a linchpin in the international structure for arms agreements.

However the NPT is in great peril because of the widespread perception of far-reaching changes in the international security environment. Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director- General of the IAEA, has linked these to three phenomena:

  1. The emergence of an international black market in nuclear material.
  2. The determination of NNWS (Non Nuclear Weapons States) to acquire technology requisite for the production of fissile material.
  3. The resolve of terrorists to obtain Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), including nuclear weapons.

In May 2005, the signatories to the Treaty will convene in New York for the NPT Review Conference, a major summit which is held every five years and which constitutes a key mechanism for appraising progress towards nuclear disarmament, identifying obstacles and finding solutions.

To address the body of problems discussed above, Dr ElBaradei has made a number of proposals for strengthening the NPT. These ’seven steps’ - none of which seeks to amend the NPT - encapsulate many of the UN High-Level Panel’s Report on threats, Challenges and Change major recommendations for the non-proliferation regime:

  1. A five-year moratorium on the construction of facilities intended for uranium enrichment and plutonium separation.
  2. The conversion of existing nuclear research reactors operating with highly enriched uranium to ones using low enriched uranium.
  3. The establishment of the additional protocol to the NPT as the norm for verifying compliance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  4. The strengthening of the measures taken by the UN Security Council (UNSC) to deal with withdrawals from the NPT.
  5. An increased effort by states to act upon UNSC resolution 1540, which instructs states to pursue and prosecute any illicit trading in nuclear material and technology.
  6. The acceleration of nuclear disarmament by Nuclear Weapon States.
  7. An acknowledgement of the link between regional instability and the perceived need of states affected by regional instability to acquire nuclear weapons.

Suggested Questions on Nuclear Weapons & NPT:


Small Arms

More than 500 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation around the world — one for about every 12 people. They were the weapons of choice in 46 out of 49 major conflicts since 1990, causing four million deaths — about 90 per cent of them civilians, and 80 per cent women and children. Human security is under increasing threat from the spread of small arms and light weapons and their illegal trade. They have devastated many societies and caused incalculable human suffering. They continue to pose an enormous humanitarian challenge, particularly in internal conflicts where insurgent militias fight against government forces. In these conflicts, a high proportion of the casualties are civilians who are the deliberate targets of violence — a gross violation of international humanitarian law. This has led to millions of deaths and injuries, the displacement of populations, and suffering and insecurity around the world. Global military expenditure and arms trade form the largest spending in the world at over $950 billion in annual expenditure, as noted by the prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SPIRI), for 2003.

In 2006 the next UN conference on illicit small arms will be held in New York. Governments must take this opportunity to adopt a global Arms Trade Treaty for the reduction of small arms thus transferring resources from arms to development and human security.

The Arms Reduction Coalition (ARC) is calling for the UN to agree a legally binding instrument requiring UN member States to reduce the amount of resources spent on arms by between 1 and 5 percent per year for a period of 10 to 25 years. This is based on Article 26 of the UN Charter which states "In order to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for Armaments of the world’s human and economic resources, the Security Council shall be responsible for formulating…, plans to be submitted to the Members of the United Nations for the establishment of a system for the regulation of Armaments". Read the full ARC Resolution on the ARC website.

Suggested Questions on Small Arms:


UN Reforms

The seminal UN high-level Panel Report on Threat, Challenges and Change suggests how nations can work together to meet the challenges to peace and security in the 21st century. The report, called ‘A more secure world: Our shared responsibility’, contains recommendations on changes that could be made within the UN system so that it can better address today’s threats and security challenges.  

The report contains 101 recommendations for dealing with the six areas identified by the Panel as being the greatest challenges to worldwide security in the future. The areas are: continued poverty and environmental degradation, terrorism, civil war, conflict between states, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and organized crime.

Every one of these threats requires a universal response if it is to be effectively dealt. Only a broad, common agenda provides any hope of mustering such a universal response. As the problems are interrelated, the report reaffirms that a multilateral approach is a key ingredient to solving these global challenges.

It is important to remember that no amount of systemic change at the United Nations will in itself be of much avail if the main protagonists do not re-double their efforts to resolve a number of long standing disputes including Palestine, Kashmir and North Korea. There seems to be a new willingness to address all of these issues and the perseverance and the determination to see them through to a conclusion.

The Panel recommends that new enthusiasm be directed towards disarmament, and that efforts be made to reduce the supply of nuclear weapons. They also recommend improvements to the enforcement capacity of the Security Council and better public health defenses to combat the threat of biological weapons.

The report is the start, not the end, of a process. The year 2005 will be a crucial opportunity for member states to discuss and build on the recommendations in the report, some of which will be considered by a summit of heads of States this September. But building a more secure world takes much more than a report or a summit. It will take resources commensurate with the scale of the challenges ahead; commitments that are long-term and sustained; and, most of all, it will take leadership -from within States, and between them.

Suggested Questions on UN Reforms:


Poverty Reduction and Millennium Development Goals

In September 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, world leaders agreed to a set of timebound and measurable goals and targets for combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. Placed at the heart of the global agenda, they are now called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Summit’s Millennium Declaration also outlined a wide range of commitments in human rights, good governance and democracy.


  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Reduce child mortality
  4. Promote gender equality and empower women
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Suggested Questions on Poverty Reduction and MDGs:


Human Rights

The United Nations has been central to the development of human rights, as both a norm and a body of international law. The Preamble to the UN Charter of 1945 pledges the Organisation and its constituent states ‘to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small’. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 – is the first multinational declaration to mention human rights by name. More recently, the UN Millennium Declaration of 2000 reiterated the commitment of its signatories to the UDHR, and there is now a broad consensus on the need to integrate human rights across the UN’s work in recognition of the interlocking nature of threats to global stability. Thus, the Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2004) puts human rights at the centre of the debate on UN reform and, significantly, observes that the UN Charter accords the same weight to human rights as it does to economic issues and matters of international security.

In addition to ensuring that UK domestic policies conform to international human rights standards set by the UN, the UK should seek also to contribute to the institutional reform of the UN’s human rights machinery which, according to the High-Level Panel, is being seriously "undermined by eroding credibility and professionalism". In response to this situation, the Report makes a number of immediate and longer-term recommendations:

Although the present government has indicated an overall approval of the Report, it has yet to respond formally to the specific proposals. As governments debate the High-Level Panel’s proposals in advance of the September summit, it is hoped that the next UK government will lend its full international influence to the reform of the UN’s human rights institutions.

Suggested Questions on Human Rights:

1. membership of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) be universalised?

2. an advisory body be established to support the work of the CHR?

3. the Office of High Commissioner be tasked with the production of an annual, global report on human rights?

This briefing paper has been prepared for World Disarmament Campaign/ Arms Reduction Coalition for the General Election. Some of the material used here has been reproduced from:


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