A lot of the more workaday outrages at the UN were eclipsed last week by the performance of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, new celebrity of the General Assembly stage. But as the (radioactive?) dust settles, let us turn to largely unnoticed but imminent “election” of Iran as rapporteur for — of course — the General Assembly’s main committee on Disarmament and International Security, best known at the UN as the First Committee.
This Committee should not be confused with the UN’s Disarmament Conference in Geneva, the gridlocked body on which Iran held the rotating chair for four weeks this spring. As did North Korea in 2011 (that chair rotates alphabetically through the membership, the alphabet being apparently of greater weight to the Conference than the actual business of disarmament).
The First Committee, by contrast, is located at UN headquarters in New York, and is a relatively busy shop, populated by all 193 members of the UN General Assembly. This is where the members gin up scores of draft resolutions every year for consideration by the General Assembly, on subjects such as weapons of mass destruction, nonproliferation and disarmament. These are toothless in their direct import, but can swing considerable weight in shaping debates, and spawning conferences and conventions that lead to drumbeats for more of the same.
Every October, to coincide with the newly opened year-long session of the General Assembly, the First Committee elects a bureau, consisting of a chairperson, three vice chairs and a rapporteur. For the previous session, the chair was Indonesia, with vice chairs Lithuania, Peru and Kenya, and the rapporteur was Norway.
This year will be different.