12 October 2016
Seventy-first Session, 9th Meeting (PM)

States Must Work Diligently to Halt Arms Proliferation, Advance Talks on Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons, First Committee Hears, Concluding General Debate

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) concluded its general debate today after hearing an appeal for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons and a halt to the provision of weapons to parties to armed conflict in violation of international humanitarian law.

Christine Beerli, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said States had an unprecedented opportunity to take a decisive step by acting on a recommendation made by the Open-ended Working Group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, which the General Assembly had established to advance the issue.  The recommendation, which would have the General Assembly convene a meeting in 2017 on negotiating a legally binding treaty banning atomic bombs, was an indispensable building block in reaching the universal goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

If some States were unable to join those negotiations, she said, they should still take interim steps to reduce the risk of intentional or accidental use, including by reducing the role of such arms in military doctrines and minimizing the number of warheads on high alert.  “Given the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons,” she said, “any risk of use was unacceptable.”

Current armed conflicts exposed civilians to the particularly devastating effects of heavy explosive weapons, she added.  Such weapons caused extensive damage to critical infrastructure, triggering a debilitating “domino effect” on essential services, such as health care, and water and electricity supply systems.  She called on States and parties to armed conflict to avoid using explosive weapons owing to the significant likelihood of their indiscriminate effects.

At the same time, she said, irresponsible arms transfers were facilitating serious violations of international humanitarian law, including terrorism and gender-based violence.  Ceasing the supply of weapons to parties to armed conflicts that violated international humanitarian law would reduce human suffering and ultimately help to create conditions for regional and global security, she concluded.

During eight meetings over 10 days, more than 150 delegations participated in the Committee’s general debate, raising a broad range of pressing disarmament and international security issues.  Many speakers said a General Assembly meeting to negotiate a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons could help to break the current deadlock in global disarmament efforts.  Other speakers, including nuclear-weapon States, argued that such an instrument risked undermining established norms and rules based on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons regime.

Delegates raised a number of urgent concerns, among them the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the size of the world’s military budget and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, particularly to vulnerable countries.  On the latter issue, many speakers underscored the crucial role of the Arms Trade Treaty and the need to combat the illicit flow of such armaments.

Highlighting other challenges, speakers emphasized the need for collective action to address the risk of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorist groups, the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space and the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 13 October, to begin its thematic discussion on specific subjects and hear the introduction of draft proposals.

For information media. Not an official record.