States Must Be Flexible, Creative in Finding Common Ground to Resuscitate Nuclear Disarmament Efforts, First Committee Told, as General Debate Opens

GA/DIS/3545
3 October 2016
Seventy-first Session, 2nd Meeting (AM)

States Must Be Flexible, Creative in Finding Common Ground to Resuscitate Nuclear Disarmament Efforts, First Committee Told, as General Debate Opens

Flexibility and creativity were needed in order to find common ground and move past recent setbacks across the disarmament landscape, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) heard today, opening its general debate.

Kim Won-soo, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, urged Member States to be open-minded in achieving common goals.  Breaking with “business as usual” required all States to show greater flexibility and creativity to narrow differences and find common ground.  Succeeding in shared ambitions required the jettisoning of old mindsets and the willingness to shed that business as usual attitude, he said.

Committee Chair Sabri Boukadoum (Algeria) pointed to evidence of what could be accomplished when the international community worked together, including dramatic reductions in nuclear arsenals since the end of the cold war and the establishment of several nuclear-weapon-free zones.  Further, legally binding prohibitions on chemical and biological weapons had been put into place while significant progress had been made in regards to conventional weapons.

Still, he went on to say, the unsuccessful 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the ongoing development and modernization of atomic weapons were troubling against a backdrop of ongoing arms races and testing.  Reports on the recent use of chemical weapons were an additional source of dismay, while the threat of bioterrorism loomed large.  Moreover, pressing issues had emerged, among them cybersecurity and the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

During the debate, many speakers said advances on disarmament efforts were lacking and more must be done to move forward at regional and global levels.  The progress in nuclear disarmament remained elusive and the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s implementation had fallen far short of expectations, said the representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition.  Bilateral reductions were no substitute for multilateral nuclear disarmament measures implemented in accordance with the principles of irreversibility and transparency, he added.

Some speakers called for new approaches as they raised concerns over the current impasse in the disarmament machinery, including the inability of the Conference on Disarmament to agree on a work programme.  The representative of Myanmar, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said it was regrettable that disarmament had been moving “at a frustratingly slow pace” at a time when the international security situation was grave.  He called on all Member States to take practical steps towards general and complete disarmament.

Elaborating on that point, the representative of Nigeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, emphasized the failure of responsibilities by nuclear-weapon States and their lack of progress towards the total elimination of their arsenals.  He insisted on the implementation of all agreed measures and undertakings by those States within the context of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In a similar vein, the representative of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said because existing step-by-step approaches that had been adopted by nuclear-weapon States had failed to make concrete progress towards the total elimination of those arms, it was time to take a new and comprehensive approach.

Several speakers highlighted the failure of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to agree on a final outcome document, despite the concerted effort of non-nuclear-weapon States, he said.  Speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, the representative of Tunisia also warned of the gaps between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon States.  Further efforts were needed to achieve total equality and avoid double standards, he said.  That was necessary in order to build the political will needed to ensure success.

Some delegates emphasized some recent positive developments.  The representative of Chile pointed to the Open-ended Working Group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, which had recommended, by an overwhelming majority, the start of negotiations on a legally binding instrument banning nuclear weapons.  Such an instrument would complement the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he said.

Expressing another perspective, the representative of the United States said frustration with the pace of progress was not a compelling reason to abandon an approach to reduction that had built upon decades of pragmatic steps.  Despite progress advancing slower than was desired, there had been real successes, with more to follow, he said.

Also delivering statements were the representatives of Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico and Kazakhstan, as well as the European Union.  The representatives of Syria, the Russian Federation and the United States spoke in exercise the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., 4 October, to continue its work.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this morning to begin its annual general debate on all disarmament and international security agenda items entrusted to it, for which it had before it the following reports:  A/71/115, A/71/115/Add.1, A/71/172, A/71/135 (Part I), A/71/135 (Part I/Add.1), A/71/140/Rev.1, A/71/140/Rev.1/Add.1, A/71/129, A/71/126, A/71/152, A/71/152/Add.1, A/71/259, A/71/138, A/71/138/Add.1, A/71/154, A/71/123, A/71/123/Add.1, A/71/151, A/71/84, A/71/161, A/71/124, A/71/124/Add.1, A/71/133, A/71/122, A/71/122/Add.1, A/71/132, A/71/139, A/71/137, A/71/371, A/71/131, A/71/187, A/71/95, A/71/95/Corr.1, A/71/153, A/71/128, A/71/127, A/71/125, A/71/293, A/71/162, A/71/176, A/71/27, A/71/42, A/71/135 (Part II) (to be issued), A/71/156, A/71/156/Add.1, A/71/134 and A/71/134/Add.1.  It also had before it documents A/C.1/71/1, A/C.1/71/INF/1, A/C.1/71/INF/4, A/C.1/71/CRP.1 and A/C.1/71/CRP.2 concerning organization of work.

Opening Remarks

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria), Committee Chair, said the General Assembly’s first resolution (document A/RES/1) had addressed the elimination of atomic weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, representing the finest act of global cooperation in the face of a new challenge to international peace and security.  But, it was also the first in a long list of resolutions that were awaiting full implementation.  More than 15,000 atomic bombs remain today and more than half the world’s population live in countries possessing them or belonging to nuclear alliances.  In the field of conventional weapons, early efforts by the United Nations Commission for Conventional Armaments and the Disarmament Commission had faded away after the cold war.

Some could say that much had been achieved, he said, pointing to dramatic reductions in nuclear arsenals since the end of the cold war and the establishment of several nuclear-weapon-free zones.  Non-nuclear-weapon States had pledged to forego such armaments and nuclear-weapon States had the duty to adhere to their Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons obligations.  Legally binding prohibitions on chemical and biological weapons had been put into place while significant progress had been made in the field of conventional weapons.

“But, there are a number of troubling signs in the recent landscape of disarmament,” he said, citing the unsuccessful 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the ongoing development and modernization of atomic weapons.  Nuclear arms races were underway and testing had continued.  Reports on the recent use of chemical weapons were a source of dismay, while the threat of bioterrorism loomed larger as non-State actors exploited loopholes in the implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction.  Meanwhile, global military spending remained at the highest level in history.  New pressing issues included cybersecurity, lethal autonomous weapons systems that were known as “killer robots” and the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

“This year, there are greater expectations for the First Committee to achieve tangible progress,” he said.  Many delegations, frustrated by deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission, were eager to see fresh momentum.  Many States were also determined to approve a proposal for the General Assembly to start negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.  More efforts were needed to eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.  Security Council resolution 2310 (2016) had helped to revitalize momentum for disarmament, while the Open-ended Working Group on the Fourth Special Session of the General Assembly Devoted to Disarmament should be an opportunity to review the most critical aspects of the disarmament process.  At high-level meetings, political leaders and experts had reaffirmed their commitment to disarmament and highlighted the need to find common ground.  It was the Committee’s turn to follow on their efforts, he said.

KIM WON-SOO, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that while there had been greater interest from the international community about the disarmament agenda, divisions over nuclear disarmament had deepened.  That had led to yet another disappointing failure at the Conference on Disarmament to adopt a programme of work and to growing frustration over the resulting stalemate.  States needed to step up efforts to listen more attentively to different views.  Moreover, breaking with “business as usual” required all States to show greater flexibility and creativity to narrow those differences and find common ground.  He expressed hope that, over the coming weeks, States would be actively engaged in finding an inclusive path forward to resuscitate nuclear disarmament.

The pursuit of peace was symbiotic with the pursuit of prosperity and justice, he said.  Succeeding in shared ambitions required the jettisoning of old mindsets and the willingness to shed the business as usual attitude.  Noting that 2016 marked a number of important anniversaries in the disarmament agenda, he said those commemorations had been possible because of the collective commitment of all States to the cause of complete and irreversible disarmament.  With that, he expressed hope the same spirit would guide the Committee through the current session’s deliberations.

Statements

INA HANINGTYAS KRISNAMURTHI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Alignment Movement, said the continued existence of nuclear weapons and their possible use or threat of use posed a threat to humanity.  Concerned over the current impasse, she said nuclear-weapon States had not made progress in eliminating their arsenals.  It had become obvious that the existing step-by-step approach that had been adopted by nuclear-weapon States had failed to make concrete progress towards the total elimination of those arms.  It was time to take a new and comprehensive approach.

She reaffirmed the inalienable right of each State to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy, including the sovereign right to develop a full national nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes without discrimination.  Recalling the successful conclusion of nuclear negotiations with Iran, she said the agreement had shown that dialogue and diplomacy were the most appropriate means to resolve such issues.  She called for the immediate removal of any limitations and restrictions on exports to developing countries of nuclear materials, equipment and technology for peaceful purposes, consistent with the provisions of relevant multilateral treaties.  She also recognized that the primary responsibility for nuclear safety rested with individual States and any multilateral norms, guidelines or rules in nuclear security should be pursued within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

HAU DO SUAN (Myanmar), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), underscored the importance of convening the Fourth Special Session of the General Assembly Devoted to Disarmament.  That would be an opportunity to review – from a perspective more in tune with the current international situation – the most critical aspects of the disarmament process while mobilizing public opinion in favour of eliminating nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.  ASEAN looked forward to work on strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty ahead of the next review conference.  It also supported substantive discussions on the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons.  While ASEAN strongly supported the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, such areas were no substitute for the total and complete elimination of such weapons and nuclear-weapon States must give unconditional assurances that they would not use, or threaten to use, such weapons in those areas.

Recalling that the Sustainable Development Goals included the need to ensure access to affordable and reliable energy for all, he reaffirmed the right of all States to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.  He expressed concern over recent developments in the Korean Peninsula and urged the parties to exercise self-restraint and create an environment conducive to the early resumption of the Six-Party Talks.  He called for early implementation of Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) and for developing countries to be given assistance for its implementation.  Voicing concern at the growing illicit manufacture, transfer and circulation of small arms and light weapons, he asked the Secretariat to explore, within existing resources, the means to assist Member States, at their request, with regard to best practices in physical stockpile management and security.  Underling that it was regrettable that disarmament had been moving “at a frustratingly slow pace” at a time when the international security situation was grave, he called on all Member States to take practical steps towards general and complete disarmament.

ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said now was the time to raise a voice against the slow pace of nuclear disarmament.  The highest priority for the African Group remained the achievement of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, the overall objective of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  He regretted to note that the 2015 Review Conference had been unable to agree on a final outcome document, despite the concerted effort of non-nuclear-weapon States, particularly those from Africa.  The continued threat of the existence of nuclear weapons posed to humanity was real, he stressed.

With the 2015 Review Conference setback etched in memory, he expressed hope that such failure would serve as a stark reminder about the need to renew commitments to the overall objective of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Highlighting the lack of progress made by nuclear-weapon States toward the total elimination of their arsenals, he insisted on the implementation of all agreed measures and undertakings by those States within the context of the Treaty.

MOHAMED KHALED KHIARI (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, associated himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, saying that peace and stability could not be achieved with the presence of nuclear weapons.  Stressing that multinational agreements were the best means to reverse that trend, he urged States to adhere to such instruments and noted the central role played by the Conference on Disarmament.  Nuclear-weapon States should follow through with their commitments toward the elimination of those arms, he said, calling for the universality of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was the cornerstone of the international regime for nuclear disarmament.  At the same time, he stressed the right of all States to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in accordance with IAEA guidelines.

Emphasizing the importance of establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones, particularly in the Middle East, he said the Arab Group would present a proposal and draft resolution on that issue.  Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons posed a threat to international peace, he said, condemning that country’s refusal to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty or subject its facilities to IAEA verification.  The establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East was an extremely important pillar of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, yet since 1995, no progress had been made on that front.  The Arab Group had done its part and other parties must do the same.  Although the Committee had great tasks ahead, it should not be discouraged.  Rather, it should prompt countries to make further efforts in achieving total equality and avoiding double standards.  That was necessary in order to build the political will needed to ensure success, he concluded.

PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the unprecedented scale and reach of international terrorism, the increasing influence of non-State actors and new emerging threats, had constituted “a new normal”.  Strongly encouraging all States to act within the framework of the United Nations Charter, she said CARICOM had, for its part, established a regional mechanism to fight the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.  Those efforts had absorbed resources from national budgets that had otherwise been devoted to socioeconomic development, she noted, adding that CARICOM members had fully subscribed to the purpose of the Arms Trade Treaty and were moving toward its full implementation.

Non-binding legal agreements, she said, had been of “tremendous assistance” to Caribbean Community member States in their attempts to address the illicit arms trade in the region.  She reiterated a commitment to the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, and looked forward to the 2018 Review Conference to strengthen that mechanism.  As a global ban on nuclear weapons could contribute to a nuclear-weapon-free world, she supported the negotiation of a legally binding instrument for their prohibition.

JACEK BYLICA of the European Union emphasized the importance of universalizing the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Upholding and preserving that Treaty was a key priority for the European Union, which called upon States that had yet to do so to join without delay or conditions.  Member States of the European Union would co-sponsor the Committee’s resolution on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, he said, calling on all States – particularly those listed in Annex 2 – to sign and ratify the instrument.  He condemned in the strongest possible terms nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, saying the European Union was appalled by the grave violations of relevant Security Council resolutions and acts of provocation.  He urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fully comply with its international obligations, abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes and return to compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards at an early date.  The historic agreement with Iran on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was a rare success of diplomacy in the Middle East, but only its full and sustained implementation would assure the international community about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

Reaffirming the European Union’s strong support for a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, he said the bloc was appalled by the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  “There can be no impunity and perpetrators of these horrific attacks must be held accountable,” he said.  He underlined the importance of national, regional and international efforts to prevent non-State actors from acquiring and using nuclear, biological or chemical weapons and to improve nuclear and radiological security.  Among the European Union’s objective was the universalization of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.  The bloc also supported further development of norms of responsible State behaviour in cyberspace.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), said that achieving nuclear disarmament obligations was the “only appropriate response” to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences and risks that had been linked to the very existence of those type of weapons.  Yet, progress in nuclear disarmament remained elusive and the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s implementation had fallen far short of expectations.  “We remain deeply concerned by the unacceptably slow pace of nuclear disarmament,” he added, emphasizing the need to move forward at regional and global levels.  Bilateral reductions were no substitute for multilateral nuclear disarmament measures implemented in accordance with the principles of irreversibility and transparency.

The Conference on Disarmament had not been able to fulfil its mandate, he said, emphasizing the need for it to commence work without delay.  He reiterated the Coalition’s disappointment and deep concern that the 1995 resolution on the establishment of the Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons had yet to be implemented.  The failure to agree on an outcome document at the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was also a “missed opportunity”.  The next review cycle provided an opening for the States Parties to undertake a comprehensive examination and assessment of the Treaty’s current status.  “It is now time that the international community translate words into concrete action,” he said, stressing that the status quo was no longer acceptable.

JUAN JOSÉ GÓMEZ CAMACHO (Mexico), associating himself with the New Agenda Coalition, contrasted the international agreement that had been reached on sustainable development and climate change with the lack of progress on disarmament.  Mexico roundly condemned nuclear tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and called on the nuclear-weapon States to fulfil their Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments and obligations.  At least 15,000 nuclear weapons continued to exist in just a few States, with a real possibility that such arms could harm the environment, public health and food security.  Those weapons should not be used again under any circumstances, he said.  Satisfied with the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco, he hoped it would be a framework for nuclear-weapon-free zones elsewhere.  Welcoming progress on implementing the Arms Trade Treaty, he noted Mexico’s proposal for the Secretary-General to establish a group of experts to report on the consequences of global transfers of conventional weapons.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said, despite providing a dismal overview of nuclear disarmament, some positive elements had emerged in recent years.  In the context of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Review Conference, he highlighted the commitment of a significant number of States to fill the unacceptable legal gap that allowed the most destructive weapons created by humanity to not to be explicitly prohibited.  Taking note of the Open-ended Working Group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, he said it had recommended, by an overwhelming majority, the start of negotiations on a legally binding instrument banning nuclear weapons, which would complement the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

FRANK ROSE (United States) said national efforts had reduced nuclear stockpiles by 85 per cent from its cold war peak, with help from the Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START Treaty).  Frustration with the pace of progress was not a compelling reason to abandon an approach to reduction that had built upon decades of pragmatic steps to scale back nuclear weapons.  Proposals for a ban were therefore polarizing and were forsaking long-standing principles of credible nuclear disarmament, such as verifiability.  Nuclear disarmament would only come about through an approach that took the views and security interests of all States into account and consensus was the only way forward.  For that reason, the United States had rejected the final report of the Open-ended Working Group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, he said, calling on others to do so as well.  Those saying a majority of States favoured a nuclear weapon ban had overlooked the billions of people living in countries that counted on such weapons as a deterrent or who were protected by an extended deterrent.  The United States would maintain a nuclear arsenal so long as nuclear weapons existed.  Those weapons remaining in its nuclear arsenal would serve their fundamental role of deterring the use of nuclear arms against the United States, its allies and its partners, he said, adding that the United States did not accept the notion of a “legal gap” in fulfilling its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations.

The United States, he said, was committed to creating new approaches to disarmament, such as the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification.  It was also working with other nuclear-weapon States to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty, with the five permanent members of the Security Council agreeing to discuss doctrine and policy in New York on 6 October.  In the First Committee, the United States would, during the current session, advance space security and sustainability.  A world without nuclear weapons would not be easily reached, given the technical and political challenges and the broader international security environment.  Progress may be slower than desired, but there had been real successes, with more to follow, he said.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan) pointed to the unfair parity existing among Member States.  While non-nuclear-weapon States had fulfilled their commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, nuclear-weapon States were not fully honouring their obligations under Article VI.  In that vein, he called for the universalization of the Treaty and drew attention to the failure of its 2015 Review Conference.  That failure must be turned into positive action and political will at the 2017 first session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Review Conference.  The international community could not afford another setback, he concluded.

Right of Reply

The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, referred to the statements of the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and the representative of the European Union Delegation regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  Syria had always condemned any use of chemical weapons in any part of the world, he said, adding that the European Union had provided groups, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Nusrah Front, with chemical weapons for use in Syria.  Airports in the European Union had also been used to transport weapons and munitions to countries bordering Syria for transfer to Da’esh and the Nusrah Front.  That had proven that European Union member States were assisting terrorist groups by providing them with conventional and chemical weapons.

The representative of the Russian Federation, exercising the right of reply, informed the Committee that President Vladimir Putin had today signed a decree to suspend an agreement with the United States on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium.  That decision, which had been taken in response to “unfriendly steps” on the part of the United States, had no relation to the international disarmament agenda.  He asked that a full text explaining the situation be posted on the Committee’s website and also made available in its conference room.

The representative of the United States, responding to his counterpart from the Russian Federation, said his Government regretted the Russian Federation’s decision to suspend the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement unilaterally.  It was the latest in a series of steps on the part of the Russian Federation to end long-standing cooperation on nuclear security and disarmament.  The United States sought a constructive dialogue with the Russian Federation on strategic issues, but it was the Russian Federation that had engaged in destabilizing activities and had suspended cooperation under existing agreements.  The United States had not violated that agreement and it regretted that the Russian Federation had rejected offers to hold consultations on alternative methods of disposing of weapons-grade plutonium.

The representative of the Russian Federation, taking the floor for a second time, said his counterpart from the United States was warping the facts.  Sanctions that had been imposed by the United States had been the main reason why the Russian Federation had suspended the agreement.  Another reason, he said, was the United States’ inability to comply with its own obligations.  Although implementation was supposed to begin in 2018, a facility enabling the United States to do so was only two thirds completed and experts had said another 20 to 30 years were required to begin to implement the agreement.  The United States therefore unilaterally had decided to dispose of its plutonium in salt shafts, which was not an irreversible method.  If the United States corrected the situation and ensured implementation by 2018, not 2050, then it would be possible for the Russian Federation to resume implementation.

The representative of the United States, also speaking for a second time, said the Russian Federation had rejected offers for consultations on the issue.  If his Russian Federation colleagues had serious problems with United States’ implementation of the agreement, they should take them directly to the United States delegation, he said.

 

 

 

 

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For information media. Not an official record.