First Committee Submits Six Drafts to General Assembly, One Calling for Immediate Start of Negotiations on Treaty Preventing Outer Space Arms Race

GA/DIS/3591
30 October 2017
Seventy-second Session, 25th Meeting (AM)

First Committee Submits Six Drafts to General Assembly, One Calling for Immediate Start of Negotiations on Treaty Preventing Outer Space Arms Race

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today approved six draft resolutions, including one on a legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

During the meeting, the Committee approved the draft resolution “Further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.54), by a recorded vote of 121 in favour to 5 against (France, Israel, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States), with 45 abstentions.  By the terms of that text, the General Assembly would urge the Conference on Disarmament to agree on a balanced programme of work that included the immediate commencement of negotiations on an international legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

The Committee also approved three other draft resolutions related to disarmament aspects of outer space, including one on transparency and confidence‑building measures in outer space activities (document A/C.1/72/L.46).  By a recorded vote of 175 in favour to none against, with 2 abstentions (Israel, United States), it approved the draft resolution “Prevention of an arms race in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.3).  By its terms, the Assembly would call upon all States, in particular those with major space capabilities, to refrain from actions contrary to that goal and to contribute actively to the objective of the peaceful use of outer space.

The draft resolution “No first placement of weapons in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.53) was approved by a recorded vote of 122 in favour to 4 against (Georgia, Israel, Ukraine, United States), with 48 abstentions.  That text would have the General Assembly encourage all States, especially space‑faring nations, to consider the possibility of upholding, as appropriate, a political commitment not to be the first to place weapons in outer space.

The Committee approved, without a vote, two draft resolutions related to other weapons of mass destruction: “Measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction” (document A/C.1/72/L.23) and “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction” (document A/C.1/72/L.49).

Speaking in explanation of position were representatives of Israel, Netherlands, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Philippines, Peru, Thailand, France, Finland, Indonesia, Malaysia, Lao’s People’s Democratic Republic, Cuba, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Iran, Liechtenstein, China, Syria, Japan, Germany, United States, Estonia (for the European Union), Belarus, Ukraine, Nepal, Pakistan and Switzerland.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the United States, Russian Federation, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Ukraine.

The Committee will meet again on Tuesday, 31 October, to continue its consideration of all draft resolutions and decisions before it.

Background

The First Committee met this afternoon to take action on all draft resolutions and decisions before it.  For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3571 of 2 October.

Action on Draft Texts

The representative of Israel presented her delegation’s position on several nuclear‑weapon‑related draft resolutions and decisions that the Committee had approved on 17 October.  On the draft resolution “The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East” (document A/C.1/72/L.2), she said the Arab Group had submitted it to divert the Committee’s attention from the real proliferation challenges facing the region.  Failing to address the real risk of weapons of mass destruction in the region, the draft resolution was “detached from reality” and neglected to mention that Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria had violated Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons obligations while promoting a clandestine military nuclear programme.  It also deviated attention from chemical weapon use in Syria, she added, noting that for those reasons, Israel had rejected the resolution in its entirety.  Meanwhile, her delegation had voted in favour of the draft resolution “Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty” (document A/C.1/72/L.42) because Israel actively participated in all elements of the instrument.  However, her delegation was unable to support the language of the draft resolution “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons” (document A/C.1/72/L.47) in its entirety and with regard to preambular paragraph 7 and operative paragraph 1.

The representative of the Netherlands said his delegation had traditionally supported the resolution on “United action with renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons” (A/C.1/72/L.35) and its efforts to build bridges between States to reach the goal of the total elimination of those arms.  “L.35” had also mentioned the disarmament commitments under the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, including the outcome documents of 1995, 2000, and 2010 review conferences, he said, recommending that negotiations on a fissile material cut‑off treaty should commence as early as possible.

The representative of Mexico said her delegation had voted in favour of “L.47”, emphasizing that almost three quarters of the United Nations membership had agreed upon the legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Draft resolutions that sought the same objective could not omit that historic fact, she said, noting that the new instrument offered a legal framework for nuclear‑weapon States to comply with the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.

The representative of Argentina said her delegation had abstained from voting on the draft resolution “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” (document A/C.1/72/L.6).  Argentina had not yet signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but had begun an analysis and evaluation process on the impact it could have on the non‑proliferation regime and the peaceful use of nuclear energy, she said, pointing out that “L.6” had strongly called for States to sign and ratify the new instrument.  Any future instrument must strengthen the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and avoid creating a parallel regime and duplicating efforts.

The representative of Spain said his delegation supported the draft resolution “African Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zone Treaty” (document A/C.1/72/L.37).  However, Spain did not associate itself with operative paragraph 5 and would have wanted it to include more balanced language.

The representative of the Philippines said it had voted in favour of “L.35”, but did not co‑sponsor the draft because it had not articulated key principles.  States possessing nuclear weapons must fill their “end of the grand bargain”.  The humanitarian imperative was the foundation of the global disarmament architecture and that key principle must be upheld and affirmed.

The representative of Peru said “L.35” did not reflect recent progress toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons, including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Moreover, he was concerned some paragraphs had changed in a manner that weakened the commitment of nuclear‑weapon States.  Nevertheless, Peru had voted in favour of the draft because of his delegation’s principled position on general and complete disarmament.

The representative of Thailand said his delegation had voted in favour of “L.35” as a whole because of its attempt to stigmatize nuclear weapons.  However, it had abstained from taking action on operative paragraphs 20 and 21 because they were a step backward on the commitments of nuclear‑weapon States, especially in the context of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and the Test‑Ban Treaty.

The representative of France said that while “L.35” placed nuclear disarmament in the framework of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty while fostering dialogue between non‑nuclear- and nuclear‑weapon States, he was concerned by language on humanitarian consequences, contained in preambular paragraphs 19, 20 and operative paragraph 8.  France stood against an emotional and divisive approach aimed at discrediting nuclear deterrence policies.

The representative of Finland said “L.6” expressed the grave concern about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.  While the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons addressed those concerns and Finland shared the goal of a nuclear‑weapon‑free world, the participation of nuclear‑weapon States was essential in making progress on disarmament.  As such, his delegation had abstained from voting on the draft.  While the Treaty was now a fact, States must work together and avoid confrontations.

The representative of Indonesia said her delegation had abstained from voting on “L.35” because of changes in the language, including the omission of article 6 of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and the imbalance of emphasis between disarmament and non‑proliferation.  The very existence of nuclear weapons was the root of the problem and should be addressed in the draft resolution.

The representative of Malaysia said that while voting in favour of “L.35”, her delegation had concerns about far reaching implications beyond the resolution of the total eliminations of the arsenals and abstained on operative paragraph 2 that undermined the need to collectively uphold the international disarmament commitments coming from the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.  She reiterated that the use of nuclear weapons posed grave humanitarian consequences and should be the primary driver for all States to achieve a nuclear‑free world.  Her delegation also abstained on voting operative paragraphs 8 and 21 that now merely recalled for all States to sign and ratify the Non‑Proliferation Treaty without any delay, instead of urging them.

The representative of Lao People’s Democratic Republic said her delegation had voted in favour of “L.35” with hope that it would complement efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.  She also shared concerns about the recognition of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and expressed hope that such an important issue would be addressed in the future.

The representative of Cuba said her delegation had supported the draft resolution “Treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” (document A/C.1/72/L.50).  However, the substantive review of a potential treaty on fissile cut‑off material outside the Conference on Disarmament would exclude from participation the vast majority of States.  Cuba was not in favour of limited membership groups to consider matters that had implications on international peace and security.  Negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament of a non‑discriminatory, multilateral and verifiable fissile material cut‑off treaty should also encompass stockpiles and future disarmament in order to avoid creating a partial and insufficient instrument.

The representative of Bangladesh said that while his delegation had voted in favour of “L.35”, he regretted to note that operative paragraph 2 deviated from the agreements reached at previous Non‑Proliferation Treaty review conferences.

The representative of the Russian Federation joined the consensus on the draft resolution “International Day against Nuclear Tests” (document A/C.1/72/L.36) noting that the celebration should draw the attention to the unsatisfactory implementation of the Test‑Ban Treaty, which was the only legally binding instrument of its kind.  He expressed great surprise that the United States, one of the most active initiators of the Test‑Ban Treaty, together with other five countries had not supported “L.36”.  Statements were not enough; ratification was needed by the United States, otherwise that important instrument would never enter into force.

The representative of Iran said his delegation had voted in favour of “L.6” and would continue to support its overall objective.  However, the only way forward on nuclear disarmament was the conclusion of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons, as called for by the General Assembly.  Voting in favour of “L.42”, he said his delegation agreed with its principle objective, but noted that the language could have been improved, including by addressing the issue of nuclear‑weapon States modernizing their arsenals, which undermined the Test‑Ban Treaty’s goal.  Meanwhile, Iran abstained from voting on preambular paragraph 4 and disassociated from references to the Security Council.  The General Assembly should express its views independently and there was no need to refer to the work of other organs that involved a different context.  Regarding “L.50”, he said any fissile material instrument should be comprehensive and non‑discriminatory, with its scope covering past, present and future production and his delegation had abstained from voting on it because it lacked those conditions and was based on a limited mandate no longer relevant to today’s reality.

The representative of Liechtenstein said “L.35” had been a bridge‑building document, but his delegation had abstained from voting on it because of changes to the text, including a lack of tangible references to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  The draft had attempted to weaken commitments made to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and Test‑Ban Treaty, he said, regretting to note that operative paragraph 21 failed to issue an urgent call to Annex 2 States to ratify the latter instrument.  That could send the wrong message, he said, expressing hope that “L.35” could serve as a bridge‑builder in the future.

The representative of China said his delegation had voted against a number of draft resolutions because of references to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  While believing in the same end goal contained in that instrument, he said the international community must follow the principles of undiminished security for all by taking a gradual approach.  Consensus must be achieved through the existing disarmament machinery and by ensuring the participation of all parties.  The new instrument was politically and legally flawed, thwarting the effectiveness of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, and did not constitute new customary international law nor would it override existing instruments.  Thus, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was not binding to States not party to it, he said, adding that China would uphold its commitment that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time and would continue to contribute to the establishment of a nuclear‑weapon‑free world.

The representative of Syria said his delegation had voted in favour of “L.2”.  The only real threat in the region was Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons.  His delegation had abstained from voting on “L.42” because non‑nuclear-weapon States had not been provided with guarantees within a reasonable timeframe against the use of those arms and the threat of their use had not been adequately addressed.  Syria had abstained from voting on “L.50” because the sponsors had not considered comments on the need to include fissile material stockpiles.

The representative of Japan said that as the only country to have ever suffered from atomic bombing, nuclear‑weapon States and non‑nuclear‑weapon States must take united action based on the understanding of the humanitarian effects from the use of such weapons.  On “L.6”, his delegation was concerned about the fragmentation of the disarmament community, which was undermining progress.  On “L.5” and the draft resolution “Ethical imperatives for a nuclear‑weapon‑free world” (document A/C.1/72/L.17), he said Japan recognized the humanitarian consequences based on first‑hand experience and raised awareness on that issue.  However, recognition of the issue should serve as a bridge‑builder for unifying the international community, not dividing it.  His delegation had voted in favour of the draft resolution “Towards a nuclear‑weapon‑free world” (document A/C.1/72/L.19), despite incoherent language in operative paragraph 22.

Turning to draft resolutions related to other weapons of mass destruction, the Committee took up the draft resolution “Measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction” (document A/C.1/72/L.23), by which the Assembly would urge all Member States to take and strengthen national measures to prevent terrorists from acquiring those arms, their means of delivery and materials and technologies related to their manufacture.

The Committee then approved the draft without a vote.

The Committee then took up a draft resolution titled “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction” (document A/C.1/72/L.49).  By its terms, the General Assembly would take note of the consensus outcome of and the decisions on all provisions of the Biological Weapons Convention reached at the eighth Review Conference of the States parties, and would call upon States parties to participate and actively engage in its continued implementation.

The Committee then approved the draft without a vote, as orally revised.

The representative of Iran, explaining his delegation’s position on “L.49”, said a vote in favour had been cast because the most pragmatic action would be to resume negotiations on a multilateral legally binding protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention.  His delegation was not satisfied with text in operative paragraphs 6, 7 and 10; he said that one of the paragraphs should be considered as agreed language for the possible inclusion of the agenda of relevant meetings within the framework of the Convention.

The representative of Germany, highlighting that “L.49” referred to the first instrument on weapons of mass destruction ever signed, said science and technology developments must be considered.  While his delegation supported “L.49”, he expressed hope for a more ambitious outcome.  The way ahead required creative solutions and flexibility, he said, emphasizing that, for the sake of consensus, Germany had to accept the minimal outcome of the last review conference on the Biological Weapons Convention.

The representative of the United States said “L.49” was not the draft resolution his delegation had hoped to see.  Noting that the latest review conference had been unable to agree on a new programme of work, he said the United States had sought more ambitious language and, in the interest of reaching a consensus, had accepted far less.

The representative of the Russian Federation, explaining his delegation’s position, drew attention to the importance of retaining outer space as a place of peaceful research.  Irresponsible steps had been taken in the past that had led the world to the brink of a catastrophe.  Nobody wanted the repetition of such a scenario in outer space, he said, pointing out that many Member States had advocated for actions against the weaponization of outer space.  However, an unprecedented campaign was attempting to discredit the international community’s efforts to prevent an outer space arms race.  Member States needed to prevent the unlimited domination of one State in outer space, he said, emphasizing that any unilateral measures to protect one’s orbital property were doomed to fail.  Global threats went beyond bloc interests, requiring open and balanced consideration, and those problems must be solved on an equitable, respectful basis.  Political will was needed to address one of the world’s most serious issues, he said, calling upon all responsible States to support the Russian Federation’s related draft resolutions.

The representative of Cuba, expressing support for the urgent adoption of a treaty to prevent an outer space arms race, said such activity would endanger international security.  Cuba had therefore co‑sponsored all draft resolutions under the outer space cluster, including “Prevention of an arms race in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.3).

The representative of the United States said his delegation would vote against the draft resolution “No first placement of weapons in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.53) because it did not adequately define what constituted a weapon, failed to address terrestrially based anti‑satellite arms and did not meet transparency and confidence‑building requirements for related activities.  Emphasizing that “L.53” was not the answer and did not enhance the United States’ security interests, he said his country would engage in programmes to sustain the safety and stability of outer space activities.  On the draft resolution “Further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.54), he said the United States and the United Kingdom would vote against it because of several concerns, including that the new group of governmental experts would base discussions on the proposed Russian‑Chinese joint draft treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space.  Several other issues had not been addressed, including terrestrially based anti‑satellite weapons and the need for a verification regime.  He was also concerned about China imposing its national view on multilateral politics, adding that political commitments that could not be verified by the international community were not the answer.

The representative of Estonia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said members would abstain from voting on “L.53”.  Underlining the importance of developing initiatives to increase confidence and mutual trust between current and future space actors, she said “L.53” did not adequately respond to that objective nor did it address the need to define what constituted a weapon in outer space.  She was also concerned about the continued development of anti‑satellite weapons and capabilities.  Instead of taking action on such a draft resolution, it would be more useful to address the behaviour in, and use of, outer space to advance meaningful initiatives.

The representative of Belarus said a basic element of outer space disarmament was the peaceful use of outer space.  Belarus would vote in favour of “L.53”, having voiced support for a draft treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.  It also would vote in favour of “L.3” and “L.54” and supported reaching consensus on the draft resolution “Transparency and confidence‑building measures in outer space activities” (document A/C.1/72/L.46).

The representative of Ukraine said her delegation would vote against “L.53”, which had been submitted by the Russian Federation.  “L.54” contained unacceptable provisions, obscure and vague terminology related primarily to space debris, she said, adding that the Russian Federation had blocked the code of conduct in outer space that the European Union had proposed.

The representative of Nepal said that since preventing an arms race fell under the umbrella of maintaining international peace and security, his delegation would vote in favour of “L.3”, “L.46”, “L.53” and “L.54”.

The representative of Iran said his delegation had joined consensus on “L.46” and had voted in favour of “L.53”.  On the latter, however, the term “weapons” had not been defined.  It was prohibited to place “any kind of weapons of mass destruction” in outer space.  In the absence of explicit descriptions of weapons other than weapons of mass destruction, that policy should be considered in line with the universal principle of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes.  Any other interpretation of such a policy would be unacceptable.

The Committee then turned to draft resolutions related to the disarmament aspects of outer space.

It first took up the draft resolution “Prevention of an arms race in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.3), which would have the General Assembly reaffirm the importance and urgency of preventing an arms race in outer space and call upon all States, in particular those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to the objective of the peaceful use of outer space and of the prevention of an arms race in outer space and to refrain from actions contrary to that objective and to the relevant existing treaties in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation.

It then approved the draft resolution by a recorded vote of 175 in favour to none against, with 2 abstentions (United States, Israel).

The Committee then took up the draft resolution “Transparency and confidence‑building measures in outer space activities” (document A/C.1/72/L.46).  By the text, the Assembly would encourage Member States to continue to review and implement, to the greatest extent practicable, the proposed transparency and confidence‑building measures contained in the report, through relevant national mechanisms, on a voluntary basis and in a manner consistent with the national interests of Member States.

The Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.

The Committee then took up the draft resolution “No first placement of weapons in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.53).  That text would have the Assembly reaffirm the importance and urgency of the objective to prevent an arms race in outer space and the willingness of States to contribute to reaching this common goal and would encourage all States, especially space‑faring nations, to consider the possibility of upholding, as appropriate, a political commitment not to be the first to place weapons in outer space.

The Committee then approved the draft resolution by a recorded vote of 122 in favour to 4 against (Georgia, Israel, Ukraine, United States) with 48 abstentions.

The Committee then considered the draft resolution “Further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space” (document A/C.1/72/L.54), which would have the Assembly urge the Conference on Disarmament to agree on and implement at its earliest opportunity a balanced and comprehensive programme of work that includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on an international legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, including on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space.

By the terms of the text, the Assembly would request the Secretary‑General to establish a United Nations Group of Governmental Experts and decide that the newly established group would operate by consensus, without prejudice to national positions in future negotiations, and hold two two‑week‑long sessions in Geneva, one in 2018 and one in 2019.

The Committee then approved the draft resolution by a recorded vote of 121 in favour to 5 against (France, Israel, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States), with 45 abstentions.

The representative of Pakistan said his delegation had voted in favour of “L.54” although unfortunately some countries had bypassed the Conference on Disarmament by establishing external expert groups.  Preventing an arms race in outer space was one of the core issues of the Conference on Disarmament’s agenda.  He expressed hope for actions that would enable the Conference on Disarmament to adopt a balanced and comprehensive programme of work.

The representative of Switzerland said his delegation had voted in favour of “L.53” and “L.54”, adding that an elaboration of new norms and standards were necessary to prevent an arms race in outer space.  He expressed hope that the new group of governmental experts would give fresh inputs and that major space powers would participate to ensure the implementation of those provisions.  Welcoming “L.54”, he was concerned that space could become a place of military confrontation.  Other concerns included the development of land‑based weapons and testing weapons, he said.

Right of Reply

The representative of the United States, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said his country had a moratorium on nuclear‑weapon testing for the last 25 years.  While he was sure the Russian Federation had a lot of interest in the democratic process in the United States, the international community should not lose focus that one country currently posed the biggest threat to the Test‑Ban Treaty.

The representative of the Russian Federation said Ukraine’s representative represented the ultra‑nationalist regime that had come to power in 2014 as the result of a coup d’etat supported by the United States and the European Union.  What was going on in Ukraine was regretful.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said the objectives of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme were to put an end to threats being made by the United States and to prevent a military invasion.  Joining the Test‑Ban Treaty went against his country’s sovereign rights.  If the United States wanted world peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, it should dismantle its nuclear weapons arsenal and join the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.

The representative of the United States said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was an outcast; its provocative acts threatened security in the region and beyond.

The representative of Ukraine said all criminal actions conducted by the Russian Federation would be judged in The Hague.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rejected the provocative allegations of the United States regime.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would defend itself with its powerful nuclear deterrence and at the same time contribute to the maintenance of global peace and security.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that perhaps his counterpart from Ukraine did not know what the tribunal in The Hague was and had not studied it properly in school.

The representative of the Ukraine said she wanted to bring to the attention of the Chair and all delegates that personal remarks in the Committee were unacceptable.

For information media. Not an official record.