Delayed Conference on Nuclear-Weapon-Free Middle East among Major Concerns
Concluding two days of general debate featuring the national views of 45 nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States, delegates in the Disarmament Commission suggested a number of fresh ways to overcome the 15-year-long deadlock impeding the forum’s work.
Mexico’s representative pointed to the most glaring proof of the Commission’s inaction, calling the existence of 17,000 nuclear weapons “an absurdity”. He was among many other speakers who called for prompt action to reach agreement in the coming three weeks over the body’s two agenda items — achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and formulating practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons — especially since the current session marked the end of the Commission’s three-year cycle.
Most speakers expressed their support for a world free of nuclear weapons, yet many also voiced frustration over the inability to find common ground. Identifying ways to overcome that failure, Norway’s representative cited successful recent disarmament events, including the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, and the Nuclear Security Summit held in The Hague last March, which had produced clear common challenges and goals.
Libya’s representative suggested that ending the Commission’s “inertia” required nuclear-weapon States to renounce their programmes, and all other Member States to sign, ratify and universalize the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Echoing a commonly held view, he said those goals could also be met through the creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones throughout the world. That broadly-supported notion saw many speakers calling for the swift convening of a delayed conference on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East.
To further advance disarmament goals, according to some speakers — including representatives of Spain and Australia — there was an urgent need to obtain the support needed to ensure the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Some speakers highlighted their own efforts, with the United Kingdom’s representative saying that although her country had already disarmed unilaterally to a minimum credible deterrent, such unilateral action was only one part of the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. A shared commitment was needed to build an environment in which no State felt the need to possess such weapons, she said.
India’s representative summed up the day’s debate by emphasizing that the Commission must send a strong signal during the current session by adopting consensus recommendations reflecting the international community’s resolve to accomplish the goal of global, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament. The complete elimination of nuclear weapons was a long-cherished goal that could indeed be achieved through a step-by-step process underwritten by a universal commitment and an agreed multilateral, global and non-discriminatory framework, he added.
Also speaking today were representatives of Iraq, Cuba, Egypt, Venezuela, France, Bangladesh, Greece (on behalf of the European Union), Oman (on behalf of the Arab Group), South Africa, Nepal, Turkey, Qatar, Austria, Nigeria and Viet Nam.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United States, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Syria.
The Commission will continue its session on a date to be announced.
The Disarmament Commission met this morning to continue its general debate.
JORGE MONTAÑO (Mexico) said that last September’s High-level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament demonstrated that the majority of States were meeting their obligations. As for weapons of mass destruction, the use of chemical weapons in Syria had resulted in near-universal accession to the Chemical Weapon Convention and in the destruction of Syria’s stockpiles. Mexico welcomed the first anniversary of the Arms Trade Treaty’s adoption, and hoped to host its first Conference of States Parties. Turning to nuclear disarmament, he said civil society should be able to participate in various relevant forums and conferences, pointing out that nuclear detonation impacted public health and the environment, among other fields. Mexico had proposed ways to establish new international disarmament norms and parameters, he said. As for the little progress made on non-proliferation, he described the existence of 17,000 nuclear weapons as “an absurdity” and expressed hope that the session would offer conclusions and recommendations on movement towards a more peaceful and safe world.
VICTORIA GONZÁLEZ ROMÁN (Spain) said the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was the most valuable instrument on hand, and the Plan of Action from the 2010 Review Conference had only reinforced disarmament commitments. Convening a conference on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East would be a key element of increasing security and stability in the region, as seen in other areas. To further advance disarmament goals, there was now an urgent need to obtain the support needed to ensure the entry in to force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Addressing the catastrophic consequences of nuclear-weapon use was possible within the NPT framework, she said, noting that the upcoming preparatory conference would present an opportunity to move the disarmament agenda forward. As for conventional weapons, she called for transparency regimes and confidence-building measures that would consider political and regional realities in order to establish mutual trust. Spain trusted that the Arms Trade Treaty would soon enter into force, she said.
MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM (Iraq), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, urged all States to accede to NPT and CTBT if they had not already done so, emphasizing that total elimination of nuclear weapons was the best guarantee that they would not be used. Stressing also the need to respect the right of developing countries to develop nuclear energy as they strove to grow their economies, he said Iraq had submitted a working paper on behalf of the League of Arab States, calling for the full and non-selective implementation of NPT, among other objectives. There was also need for an unconditional guarantee that nuclear weapons would not be used against non-nuclear-weapons States, although such an agreement must not be an alternative to total elimination. He called for accelerated efforts to convene a conference on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, but underlined the need for basic steps, such as Israel’s accession to NPT, in preparation for the creation of such a zone.
IVIAN DEL SOL DOMINGUEZ (Cuba), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said that creating a world free of nuclear weapons was the only way to ensure international peace and security and the survival of human beings. Nothing justified their possession, he said, paying tribute to the Japanese families who had lost their lives in the “nuclear mushroom cloud”. Introduced by the Non-Aligned Movement, the relevant General Assembly resolution called for the immediate start of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention in the Conference on Disarmament, he recalled, adding that it also established 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Emphasizing that developing new nuclear technologies was inconsistent with the principle of nuclear disarmament, he condemned the double standards employed by some nuclear-weapon States which questioned the right of Latin American countries to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
MOOTAZ AHMADEIN KHALIL (Egypt) welcomed the renewed momentum in efforts to revive the international debate on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the incompatibility of their use with international humanitarian law. Egypt supported calls for the development of a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, and urged nuclear-weapon States that had not participated in the first and second and Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, held in Norway and Mexico, respectively, to participate in the third Conference, to be held in Austria. The speedy establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones would add impetus to efforts aimed at achieving the wider objective of a world free of nuclear weapons, he said. But despite repeated calls and overwhelming support for a conference on the establishment of such a zone in the Middle East, none had been convened in 2012, as called for by the 2010 NPT Review Conference, he noted, warning that continuing failure to do so would call the credibility and relevance of the NPT review process into question.
BHAGWANT SINGH BISHNOI (India), noting that the Commission was a specialized deliberative pillar of the disarmament machinery and the only body with universal membership for in-depth deliberations, said his delegation was disappointed at its inability to adopt recommendations after more than a decade, emphasizing that it was up to all Member States to show greater political commitment. The complete elimination of nuclear weapons was a long-cherished goal that could only be achieved through a step-by-step process underwritten by a universal commitment and an agreed multilateral global and non-discriminatory framework. The Commission must send a strong signal reflecting the international community’s resolve to achieve the goal of global, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament, he stressed, noting that Member States should use the forum to intensify dialogue and demonstrate their commitment by adopting consensus recommendations. Turning to conventional weapons, he said confidence-building measures should proceed at a pace comfortable to all participating States, and take the political, military and other prevailing conditions into account. Since the current session was the final one of the three-year cycle, it was crucial that the Commission adopt consensus recommendations, he stressed.
IBRAHIM O. A. DABBASHI (Libya) said it was time to leave behind the inertia seen in the Commission’s inability to adopt recommendations. Dialogue must move the agenda forward and the lack of will on the part of Member States strengthened so that the Commission could play an active part. The risk of nuclear weapons being used remained very real, and their complete elimination was the only guarantee that they would not be used, he said, emphasizing the importance of nuclear-weapon States renouncing their programmes, among other steps. Libya fully supported plans to create a world free of nuclear weapons, he said, adding that it would spare no effort to participate fully in a conference on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East. On conventional weapons, he said Libya had suffered a great deal as a result of landmines laid years ago, including tens of thousands laid by the former Qadhafi regime.
SARAH TELFORD (United Kingdom) said her country remained “absolutely committed” to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Emphasizing that her country took its particular responsibilities seriously, she said it had already disarmed unilaterally to a minimum credible deterrent, further than any other nuclear-weapon State, and had a strong record of meeting its disarmament commitments. Yet unilateral action was only one part of the process leading to a world without nuclear weapons, she said, adding that a shared commitment was needed to build an environment in which no State felt the need for them. That would entail, among other steps, the entry into force of CTBT, the start of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, and the “P-5” process, begun in 2009 to build trust and confidence among nuclear-weapon States and encourage transparency. Nuclear-weapon-free zones also made a great contribution to bolstering the non-proliferation regime, and the United Kingdom supported the creation of one in the Middle East, she said. As for conventional weapons, the Arms Trade Treaty had entered force this year, she recalled, noting that the international community had a responsibility to combat and eradicate the illegal manufacturing of and trafficking in small arms and light weapons. For its part, the United Kingdom had, among other actions, destroyed all its stockpiles of cluster munitions in November, five years ahead of the deadline set by the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since the Commission had not been working as it should over the past few years, the United Kingdom would support any discussions among Member States aimed at identifying practical ways to improve its working methods.
ALFREDO FERNANDO TORO-CARNEVALI (Venezuela), endorsing the statements of the Non-Aligned Movement and CELAC, stressed the importance of multilateral diplomacy in the Disarmament Commission, which enjoyed universal membership. Recalling the General Assembly’s first high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament, on last 26 September, he said the total elimination of nuclear weapons was the highest priority for the international community. By the terms of its resolution 68/32, the Assembly had decided to consider holding the High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament in 2018 at the latest, to review and advance the process. Last January in Havana, CELAC had taken a historic step, declaring itself “a zone of peace” and thereby becoming the first densely populated area free of nuclear weapons, he said. However, it was regrettable that no conference had been held on establishing a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East, he said.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France), associating himself with the statement to be delivered on behalf of the European Union, said it was possible to reach agreement given the necessary constructive spirit and political will. The Arms Trade Treaty was the first international instrument adopted in the area of disarmament since 1996, and France had been among the 18 States that had ratified it on 2 April 2014, bringing the number of ratifications to 31. However, there had been some worrisome and unacceptable developments, such as the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the third nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. France would remain vigilant about eliminating the former country’s chemical weapons, he said, urging the latter to end its “belligerent rhetoric”.
FARUK HOSSAIN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Commission could hardly afford to waste the third and final year of the current cycle. Nuclear-weapon States should pursue complete, irreversible, verifiable and transparent nuclear disarmament, and non-nuclear-weapon States should refrain from seeking nuclear arsenals, he said, emphasizing the urgent need to start negotiations within the Conference on Disarmament on the early conclusion of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear States deserved legally binding protection from the use, or threat, of nuclear weapons against them, he said, adding that establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones was a useful interim step towards securing negative security assurances as well as achieving global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation objectives. CTBT was a critical instrument and an essential step in ensuring nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, he said, urging the eight countries holding nuclear technology to ratify the instrument urgently and unconditionally. The inalienable right of all NPT parties to develop, research, produce and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination should be respected, he said.
Mr. MIDTTUN (Norway) said that the steps to move forward could be gleaned from current events, including the removal and destruction of chemical weapons from Syria. Norway and Denmark had been tasked with that mission, which was both practical and effective. The recent security summit in The Hague was another success, partly because it pointed to common challenges and provided a clear description of the tasks ahead. The primary international challenges included ensuring a positive outcome from the 2015 NPT Review Conference, and creating a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East, he said, noting that talks with Iran were moving ahead. Noting Europe’s extensive track record on conventional arms control, he said multilateral approaches were the way forward in that regard, emphasizing that without resolve, the goals would be lost.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United States, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to comments made yesterday by his counterpart from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to the effect that his country would not accept the latter as a nuclear-weapon State. The onus was on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to take meaningful actions towards denuclearization, he emphasized.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea asked why France’s representative had not brought up actions by the United States when discussing provocations yesterday. The United States had made a number of provocations, including its decision to drop nuclear bombs over civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to conduct military exercises on the Korean peninsula, he noted.
In response to comments by the representative of the United States, he said that the United States posed a nuclear threat to his country. Regarding compliance with Security Council resolutions, he said that his country had never recognized them, adding that it was the United States that should be punished more than anybody else under Council resolutions. The United States should not be concerned about the Democratic Republic’s prosperity, especially since it had been imposing sanctions against the latter for decades, he added.
ALEXANDROS ANDREAS YENNIMATAS (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said he regarded NPT as the cornerstone and essential foundation of disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. In view of the current situation, the Treaty was even more important, he said, urging all States to ratify and adhere to its terms if they had not already done so. CTBT’s entry into force was another priority for the European Union, which also sought the immediate convening of negotiations within the Conference on Disarmament on a treaty banning fissile materials.
Describing the 2013 adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty as a landmark decision, he said that the European Union, as a staunch supporter, looked forward to its early entry into force. Already 17 European States had deposited their ratifications, and those remaining were preparing to do the same, which would bring the number of ratifications to the required threshold of 50. The European Union welcomed the Security Council resolution on small arms and light weapons, the first of its kind adopted by that body, he said, calling attention to the bloc’s working paper on practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons. It entailed exchanging information on national regulations, and steps to make military expenditures and activities mutually transparent.
AMER HIAL AL-HAJRI (Oman), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group and associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed regret that the Commission had not reached agreement in more than a decade, and that the Conference on Disarmament faced a similar deadlock. Regarding the High-Level General Assembly Conference on Nuclear Disarmament held in September 2013, he said the Arab States expected a working group to come up with timetables for the total elimination of nuclear weapons and for a comprehensive treaty banning them. They also called for implementation of the Programme of Action of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, which called for the convening of a conference on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. The conference had been postponed due to Israel’s non-compliance with NPT, he said.
DAVID ROBIN WENSLEY (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said it was an anomaly that while biological and chemical weapons had been subjected to internationally legally binding instruments banning their production, in light of their indiscriminate nature and the unacceptable harm they posed, nuclear weapons had yet to be subjected to similar prohibitions. South Africa was pleased to be part of the African nuclear-weapon-free zone, but profoundly disappointed about the delay in establishing a similar zone in the Middle East and the continuing failure to convene a conference for that purpose, he said. The General Assembly’s adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty had changed the landscape of the conventional arms control debate, and with its entry into force approaching fast, South Africa’s domestic ratification process was already well under way.
DURGA PRASAD BHATTARAI (Nepal) said his country strongly opposed the weaponization of outer space and supported the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones as critical to genuine and meaningful disarmament. Noting with concern that the production, transfer and trading of conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons, had increased in recent years, he said that confidence-building measures could be instrumental in promoting transparency and understanding among stakeholders, while reducing tensions and mitigating the threats posed by such weapons. Regional mechanisms could complement global efforts by creating a climate conducive to effective collaboration.
HALIT ÇEVIK (Turkey) said each State had a legitimate right to manufacture, import, export, transfer and retain conventional weapons for its own national defence and security, but more attention should be paid to their adverse effects. The Programme of Action and the International Tracing Instrument were important contributions to global efforts to combat those effects. Confidence-building measures made an important contribution to global, regional and local peace and security, he said, adding that his Government valued such mechanisms as the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms and the United Nations Report on Military Expenditures. It supported the inclusion of small arms and light weapons as a mandatory category in the Register.
GHANIM AL-HUDAIFI AL-KUWARI (Qatar) said nuclear disarmament efforts had fallen by the wayside with the postponement of the proposed conference on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. That outcome was due to the refusal of a single State — Israel. That country should accede to NPT and accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, he emphasized. Welcoming Egypt’s 2013 initiative relating to a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East, he stressed the need to set a date for the conference, warning that failure to do so would generate suspicion that the nuclear-weapon-States did not want such a zone in the region.
EMILY STREET (Australia) said the global community must find practical and realistic ways to achieve nuclear disarmament, while acknowledging that progress in that regard occurred most readily in an atmosphere of trust. The hard reality was that there were no shortcuts, and the international community must work methodically if disarmament was to happen. However, the shared objective of a world free of nuclear weapons would never be realized without stringent negotiated controls on fissile material for weapons, she emphasized. CTBT’S entry into force would be a concrete step forward, she said, adding that her delegation also strongly supported the establishment of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as ongoing efforts to convene the relevant conference at the earliest opportunity.
ANDREAS RIECKEN ( Austria) said that after 15 years of extensive deliberations, it was time for the Commission to fulfil its mandate and agree on recommendations for submission to the General Assembly. A substantive outcome in both working groups was not only desirable, but possible, he said, urging the Commission to focus on consolidating the “common denominator” emerging from collective deliberations over the years in order to ensure that a consensus outcome could be agreed at the end of the current session. For its part, Austria remained committed to substantive processes in all disarmament forums and would host the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, he said. “For us, nuclear disarmament is a global task and a collective responsibility.” While acknowledging the right of States to develop nuclear energy for peaceful uses, he said that the Austrian Government’s current work programme reaffirmed its commitment to a policy opposed to nuclear power stations. As for conventional weapons, he said practical confidence-building measures were important in easing inter-State tensions and promoting international peace and security.
USMAN SARKI (Nigeria) said the continuing existence of nuclear weapons remained an existential threat to all of humankind. The development, possession and deployment of such weapons clearly vitiated all agreed international human rights and humanitarian principles, as well as international law, and it was important that the global community strive to achieve the end-goal of comprehensive nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Nigeria had acceded to the Treaty of Pelindaba to demonstrate its commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world, and called upon other Member States to support efforts to replicate nuclear-weapon-free zones in other regions, including the Middle East, he said. It was also imperative to highlight recent measures to address the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, while acknowledging the suffering endured by a number of African States as a result of their illicit trafficking, particularly in conflict zones. Nigeria strongly supported the principle behind the Arms Trade Treaty and believed that its application by Member States could reduce human suffering, while contributing to international peace and security, he said.
PHAM QUANG HIEU (Viet Nam), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, urged Member States to revitalize the Commission, saying it was of great utility as the sole deliberative forum entrusted with disarmament by the international community. Its deliberations should take into account the balance among the issues of disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Discussions on conventional weapons should highlight the legitimate right to self-defence and the right to import, maintain and produce conventional arms for security needs. “Any initiative on disarmament and arms control should not undermine this critical principle,” he stressed.
Right of Reply
ASAAD IBRAHIM (Syria) said that the representative of France had made baseless allegations against his Government relating to the use of chemical weapons. The French speaker had been selective and negligent in relation to numerous reports that had found that various groups had used chemical weapons, including terrorists. The French regime should be a guardian of the United Nations Charter, instead of being an agent of hostility, he said.