‘Choose Wisely’ between Static or Dynamic Future, High Representative Warns First Committee as It Considers Deadlock in Disarmament Machinery

GA/DIS/3504
16 October 2014
Sixty-ninth session, 9th Meeting (PM)

‘Choose Wisely’ between Static or Dynamic Future, High Representative Warns First Committee as It Considers Deadlock in Disarmament Machinery

The first place to look to understand insufficient progress in disarmament was at the lack of harmony between domestic policies and international responsibilities, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs told the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today as it concluded its general debate and began its thematic discussion on disarmament machinery.

Recalling the words of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, High Representative Angela Kane said the United Nations faced two alternative futures:  It could either limit its role to serve as “static conference machinery”, or it could become a “dynamic instrument” in the service of global interest.

“He left little doubt which future he preferred,” she said, adding that the same choice was now before the disarmament community.  “Let us choose wisely,” she said.

During two panel discussions, high-ranking representatives discussed the roles and progress of their various organizations.  The representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said verification challenges were becoming more complex as the global nuclear landscape continued to change.  While more nuclear facilities were being placed under safeguards, new ones were becoming ever more sophisticated, which made implementation of safeguards more challenging.

The Deputy-Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said that her organization had embarked on a historic mission to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons.  A total of 98 per cent of Syria’s declared chemical stocks had so far been destroyed, proving the resilience of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  Still, more work was needed to ensure that mechanisms were in place to prevent the re-emergence of weapons of that kind.

Speaking of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the Director of that organization’s International Data Centre said the Treaty body had succeeded in keeping the world nuclear-weapon free for years.  With the support of Member States, the international monitoring system was 90 per cent complete, which represented an unparalleled “return on investment.”  But the longer it took for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) to enter into force, there was a growing risk of “treaty fatigue”.

The President of the Conference on Disarmament said that although that body had been unable to adopt a programme of work, the 2014 session was still filled with activities.  Nevertheless, the fact remained that the Conference was still unable to commence substantive work, as had been the case for 18 years.

The Disarmament Commission operated in a sensitive field and required pragmatism on all sides, that body’s Chair said.  Despite significant efforts, the 2014 session had produced no substantive results due to the deadlock concerning the linkages between nuclear issues and conventional weapons items.  No decision or proposal had been possible in one field without having a decision in another. 

 

The Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters said the Board looked forward to next year’s discussions on the use of arms control to manage conflict, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear use, and, among others, non-State actors.  The Board hoped the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) would become a self-sustaining member of the United Nations family.

The Director of UNIDIR said that while the global security situation had been under near-constant stress, UNIDIR had continue to play a key role in providing valuable data and analysis to member States.  “If UNIDIR didn’t exist, the United Nations General Assembly would have to invent it all over again,” she said.

During the conclusion of the general debate, the representatives of Egypt and Bolivia delivered statements.  The representative of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL) also spoke during the general debate.

The representatives of Angola and Pakistan spoke on the disarmament machinery cluster, as did the representative of the European Union delegation.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 17 October, to continue its thematic debate on the disarmament machinery.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon to conclude its general debate and begin its series of thematic discussions.  For background, see Press Release GA/DIS/3497.

Debate Statements

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab and African Groups, called for the “speedy establishment” of nuclear-weapon-free zones, including in the Middle East.  Despite repeated calls, there was a lack of progress in implementation.  Egypt, along with members of the League of Arab States, had spared no effort in contributing its part to providing the necessary support for furthering the process, as demonstrated by the letters compiled in the Note by the Secretary-General (document A/68/781).

On the advancement of conventional weapons, he reiterated that “technology should not overtake humanity”.  The potential or actual development of lethal autonomous weapons raised questions about compliance of their use with international humanitarian law, as well as issues of warfare ethics.  Regulations should be put in place before such systems were developed or deployed, he noted.

LUIZ FILIPE DE MACEDO SOARES, Secretary General of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL), said his region had an innovative contribution to make towards disarmament, as that densely populated part of the world was kept free of nuclear weapons.  The region might not be “a Shangri-La” but it was important to note that there had been no significant crisis affecting international peace and security that had emerged from the region in many years.  Not a single country in the region was party to any military alliance based on nuclear weapons.  The Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean wished to join with other nuclear-weapon-free zones in a major movement to break the long stalemate in nuclear disarmament negotiations, to get past the so-called “priorities” of the nuclear-weapon States.  Because those States were modernizing their weapons, it was a kind of arms race — a page out of cold war history that should have been turned.

JUAN MARCELO ZAMBRANA TORRELIO (Bolivia), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said that global disarmament standards were crucial to ensure the survival of Mother Earth.  Weapons of mass destruction only endangered peace, international security, and the entire planet.  Nuclear-weapon stockpiles had the capacity to destroy the Earth several times over.  Forty years after the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), there was still a handful of privileged States who maintained weapons, including permanent members of the Security Council.  Small nuclear-weapon States must also cease such activities and move beyond the attainment of nuclear weapons.  The international community must reaffirm the primary objective of a world free of nuclear weapons.  It was unacceptable, he said, that some States held nuclear weapons to protect their security interests while others did not have the right to guarantee their respective security.  It was inconceivable to think that weapons could not potentially be used some day, be it deliberate or by accident, he warned.

Panel on Disarmament Machinery

ANGELA KANE, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that the work, capacities and political will of Member States determined what was possible in disarmament.  The first place to look to understand the lack of progress in disarmament was in the lack of harmony between domestic policies and international responsibilities.  The United Nations had not reacted passively to external events.  For example, in 2006, the General Assembly had recommended that the Secretary-General update the roster of experts and laboratories to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons.  That and other actions affected the investigation of chemical weapons in Syria.

While the United Nations and international organizations had increasing capacities to deal with weapons of mass destruction, she said, it was unlikely that any State or international body could adequately address the immediate or long-term humanitarian consequences of any nuclear weapons use.  In his last annual report, in 1961, former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld said that the United Nations faced two alternative futures:  it could either limit its role to serve as “static conference machinery”, or it could become a “dynamic instrument” in the service of global interest.  He left little doubt which future he preferred, she said, adding that the same choice was now before the disarmament community.  “Let us choose wisely,” she added.

GRACE ASIRWATHAM, Deputy-Director General, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said that since the last briefing to the Committee, the OPCW had embarked on a historic mission to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons.  She pointed to significant accomplishments by that mission, remarking that a total of 98 per cent of Syria’s declared chemical stocks had so far been destroyed.  It was vital to draw lessons from that remarkable achievement, in order to respond to future opportunities in the right way, with the right resources.  Above all, the Syria mission had proven the resilience of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  That endeavour also was underpinned by an extraordinary collective international effort and had jointly overcome obstacles by coming up with novel technical solutions.

More broadly, she said, the OPCW continued to make good progress.  She noted that, to date, 85 per cent of declared chemical weapons had been verified as destroyed and industry inspections had continued apace at 241 per year.  Still, more work was needed to ensure that mechanisms were in place to prevent the re-emergence of those weapons.  To that end, the OPCW had worked with States parties to improve the national implementation of their Convention obligations.  It was also looking to expand cooperation with other international organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, to develop new synergies.

GEOFFREY SHAW, Representative of the Director General of the IAEA, said the Agency had worked hard since 1957 to bring the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology to Member States.  That had included providing access to electricity and improving nutrition.  Recently, the Agency helped support efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone by providing specialized diagnostic equipment.

By implementing safeguards, the IAEA independently verified the correctness and completeness of the declarations made by States about their nuclear programmes, he said.  Safeguards provided credible assurances that States were fulfilling their international obligations and served to detect any misuse of nuclear material or technology.  Safeguard agreements were currently in force with 181 States, of which 173 were non-nuclear-weapon States.  The number of States with additional protocols in force continued to rise and now stood at 124.

At the same time, he said, the global nuclear landscape continued to change.  Verification challenges were growing and becoming more complex.  While more nuclear facilities were being placed under safeguards, new nuclear facilities were becoming ever more sophisticated, which made implementation of safeguards more challenging.  That global trend was only expected to continue.  Although the responsibility for ensuring nuclear security lay with national Governments, the Agency played a central role in strengthening the global nuclear security framework.

RANDY BELL, Director, International Data Centre, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, said the Treaty body had succeeded in keeping the world nuclear-weapon free for years, as the non-testing norm provided a deterrent for nuclear-armed States.  However, there was a need for credible assurances of Treaty compliance by all States.  That was the essence of cooperative security in international relations.

He went on to report that with the support of Member States, the international monitoring system was 90 per cent complete, which represented an unparalleled “return on investment” for Member States.  Technical capacity-building was essential for developing States, and building a knowledge base in the technical aspects of the Treaty would strengthen its enforcement.  Nevertheless, the longer it took for it to enter into force, he warned, the risk of “treaty fatigue” would grow, which could diminish the likelihood that States would honour their commitments.  There were eight States remaining for the Treaty to enter into force, he said, noting that the CTBTO was encouraged by the expressed intention of the United States to promote ratification.  Likewise, the CTBTO recent engagement with China and Israel had given rise for cautious optimism.

Panel Discussion

DATO MAZLAN MUHAMMAD, President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that despite initial differences on a variety of issues, he was hopeful that a constructive spirit would continue to prevail in next year’s Conference session.  Although the Conference had been unable to adopt a programme of work, the 2014 session was still filled with activities.  Many delegations were looking forward to engaging with colleagues from civil society, which could perhaps lead to further progress.  Nevertheless, the fact remained that the Conference was still unable to commence substantive work, as had been the case for 18 years.  The Secretary-General had called on the Conference to live up to the international community’s expectations.  He was confident that the incoming president would explore new ideas for that purpose.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK, Chair of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, believed strongly that consensus-building decision-making should remain part of the Commission.  However, operating that way in such a sensitive field required pragmatism on all sides.  He acknowledged that Member States were concerned about the decreasing relevance of the Commission as, despite significant efforts, the 2014 session had produced no substantive results.  The problem was the deadlock concerning the linkages between nuclear issues and conventional weapons items.  No decision or proposal had been possible in one field without having a decision in another.  Thus, the Commission was not able to fulfil its role.  The goal of a new resolution in the Committee was to pave the way for more results-oriented work in the Commission’s 2015 session.  The resolution was more action oriented and would prepare for gradual change.  The Disarmament Commission proposed more general language for fine-tuning the agenda for the 2015 session.  He acknowledged that enthusiasm for the Commission was not at the highest level, and noted that the current Chair would end his mandate this year.  While the Commission had not achieved its goals, it had made “a small step forward”, he said.

ISTVÁN GYARMATI, the Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, said the Board looked forward to next year’s discussions on the use of arms control to manage conflict, the humanitarian consequences of nuclear use, and, among others, non-State actors.  The Board would come up with recommendations for the Secretary-General after its second meeting in July.  It had been occupied with the situation of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), which was a “very strange” member of the United Nations family in that it was not financed from the regular budget and was a research institute, which made its situation “pretty interesting”.  A search for a new director was under way.  It was the Board’s firm desire to go address all open issues and offer solutions, and it hoped to make the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research a self-sustaining member of the United Nations family.

THERESA HITCHENS, Director, UNIDIR, said that while the global security situation had been under near-constant stress, UNIDIR had continued to play a key role in providing valuable data and analysis to Member States.  One of the Institute’s unique advantages was its ability to work independently outside the political pressure of the system, she said.  It tried to “move knowledge to action” by building capacity.  It also added value by looking ahead at emerging threats before crises erupted in areas such as cybersecurity.  The Institute, she said, provided Member States with the foundational understanding to make effective decisions that balanced benefits with societal risk, in order to create knowledge-based responses to security challenges.  “If UNIDIR didn’t exist, the United Nations General Assembly would have to invent it all over again.”  As the Institute was funded by voluntary contributions, she thanked Member States that had funded its operations, particularly given financial constraints.  Despite that, longer term solutions were required to address the gap in funding as UNIDIR was being called on to do more.

IOANNIS VRAILAS, representative of the European Union delegation, said that the United Nations disarmament machinery was “crucial and irreplaceable”.  Recent positive developments in disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control showed that negotiations in those fields could produce results.  Rather than maintaining the practice of proceeding in a formalistic manner, the First Committee should concentrate its efforts on the most pertinent and topical issues, he noted.  In order to become more relevant, the possibility of “bi- or tri-ennialising” more resolutions, in a balanced manner, should be contemplated.  He expressed disappointment that the Conference on Disarmament had not succeeded in commencing its substantive work.  Nevertheless, there had been some encouraging developments, including the re-establishment of the Informal Working Group to assist in developing a Work Programme.  He reiterated the European Union’s commitment to expanding its membership, underling the importance of continued consultations on the matter and the appointment of a special coordinator for that purpose.

MARIA DE JESUS FERREIRA (Angola) confirmed that her country was in the process of ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Chemical Weapons Convention.  In the face of the nuclear weapon threat, the world’s current disarmament situation required harmonized coordination among Member States.  Only when each State gave its best at the national and international levels would it be possible to harmonize the implementation of comprehensive nuclear disarmament programmes, with a view of guaranteeing peace and international security.  Angola did not possess any nuclear installations in its territory, and did not have any national plans to possess them.  Instead, it foresaw projects related to the use of radioisotopes, linear particle accelerators, and a variety of x-ray devices in different activities, particularly in the field of medicine and animal health.

ZAMIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said that despite claims of supporting the aim of nuclear disarmament, some of the major nuclear-weapon States had only paid “lip service” to that goal.  In the context of the Conference of Disarmament, they had consistently opposed the start of any negotiations, arguing that the objective could only be achieved through a step by step approach.  That did not contribute to nuclear disarmament as they only envisaged agreements related to non-proliferation measures.  On the CTBT, he said that major nuclear-weapon States had only been ready to negotiate and conclude the Treaty after having conducted more than a thousand nuclear tests, when they no longer required any further testing.  Thus, they had made a “virtue out of necessity”.  Similarly, some major nuclear- weapon States and their allies were promoting negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, arguing that that was the only “ripe issue” on the Conference on Disarmament’s agenda.  Since they already possessed huge stockpiles of fissile material, those major Powers were ready to make that “sacrifice”.  A meaningful measure relating to fissile material should not only ban future production, but also reduce, or at least put under international safeguards, existing stockpiles.

For information media. Not an official record.