States Must Reach across Aisles, Summon Political Will Needed to Reduce Arsenals, General Assembly President Tells First Committee

GA/DIS/3571
2 October 2017
Seventy-second Session, 2nd Meeting (AM)

States Must Reach across Aisles, Summon Political Will Needed to Reduce Arsenals, General Assembly President Tells First Committee

High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Says Progress Would Enable United Nations to Focus on Development, Humanitarian Assistance

Redoubled efforts to take concrete steps forward in all disarmament processes were needed to build upon progress achieved with the recent adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) heard today at the opening its general debate.

In that spirit, General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia) called on Member States to summon the political will to do more, show courage and exercise flexibility to advance the ultimate aim of ensuring peace and security for all.  Those efforts were critical to address today’s security challenges.

“The evolving global environment does not look promising,” he said, citing new nuclear tests, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, the unprecedented number of people displaced by armed conflicts, growing modernization of nuclear weapon arsenals, the use of chemical weapons and growing military spending, which in 2016 reached $1.686 trillion even as millions lived in extreme poverty.  To foster change, positions must not be held for the sake of positions, he said, stressing that delegations must seek constructive dialogue, reach across aisles and make a difference in people’s lives.

Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said the failure to accomplish long‑standing disarmament aspirations had left the world facing unprecedented danger.  Achieving progress on the disarmament agenda would enable the United Nations to accomplish other goals such as sustainable development, humanitarian assistance and gender equality, she said, emphasizing that the crisis on the Korean Peninsula should serve as a “wake‑up call”.

Echoing those concerns, First Committee Chair Mohammed Hussein Bahr Aluloom (Iraq) said 122 countries had voted in favour of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adding that implementing the new instrument was the only way to ensure that those weapons were not used.

In the same vein, many speakers called for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty, with some urging the eight remaining Annex 2 States (China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States) to sign and ratify the instrument.  Many also made suggestions on ways to resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, with the European Union’s delegate urging all States to implement rigorous sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, underlining the vital importance of the Test‑Ban Treaty and its verification regime.

Other speakers held up the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a path towards further progress.  The representative of Mexico, on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), said the Non‑Proliferation Treaty had been adopted on the basis of a “grand bargain” whereby nuclear‑weapon States legally committed themselves to achieving nuclear disarmament, in return for non‑nuclear weapons States likewise promising not to develop those arms.  The presumption of indefinite possession of nuclear weapons ran counter to the purpose of the Treaty, he said, adding that it was time for the international community to translate words into concrete action, backed by clear and agreed upon benchmarks and timelines.

In that sense, the representative of Indonesia, on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said a new and comprehensive approach to nuclear disarmament was needed, with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, upon entering into force, greatly contributing to furthering the objective of their total elimination.

Speakers also raised other global and regional concerns.  Several delegates reaffirmed the need for a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East, with the representative of Yemen, on behalf of the Arab Group, asking Member States to support the Group’s related draft resolution.

Many speakers also voiced their hope for constructive engagement during the First Committee’s session and beyond, including at meetings leading up to the 2020 Review Conference of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.

Also delivering statements were the representatives of Thailand (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Nigeria (for the African Group), Trinidad and Tobago (for the Caribbean Community), Norway (for the Nordic countries), Mexico, Germany and Chile.  The representative of Syria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 3 October, to continue its work.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this morning to begin its general debate, scheduled to run through 10 October, on all agenda items before it.  For background, please see documents A/72/293, A/72/328, A/72/29, A/72/27, A/72/327, A/72/315, A/72/340 (Part I), A/72/311, A/72/321, A/72/308, A/72/318, A/72/309, A/72/179, A/72/122, A/72/302, A/72/344, A/72/305, A/72/65 and A/72/65/Add.1, A/72/206, A/72/339, A/72/304, A/72/97, A/72/99, A/72/98 and A/72/98/Corr.1, A/72/363, A/72/154, A/72/185, A/72/42, A/72/340 (Part II), A/72/320 and A/72/180.  It also had before it documents A/C.1/72/CRP.1, A/C.1/72/CRP.2, A/C.1/72/1, A/C.1/72/INF/1 and A/C.1/72/INF/4 pertaining to its organization of work.

Opening Remarks

MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq), Chair of the First Committee, noting that 122 countries had voted in favour of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, emphasized that the instrument’s implementation was the only way to ensure that those weapons were not used.  Expressing concern about the alarming situation on the Korean Peninsula, he asked for all parties to respect international norms.  On the issue of weapons in outer space, he encouraged fruitful dialogue that would address challenges.  Turning to the disarmament machinery, he said everyone should step up to achieve progress in the Conference on Disarmament and welcomed the Disarmament Commission’s agreement on recommendations to send to the General Assembly.

Highlighting a range of issues, he said illicit arms trafficking and staunching the spread of weapons of mass destruction were pressing concerns.  Citing recent efforts on the latter, he noted that Security Council resolution 2325 (2016) had called on States to strengthen their non‑proliferation regimes and bolster international cooperation.  Among growing threats, he raised concerns about the broad trading of small arms and light weapons and use of improvised explosive devices.

MIROSLAV LAJČÁK (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, said success in the First Committee was vital to the well‑being and survival of millions of people around the world.  Its efforts must focus on how to save, secure and improve lives while realizing its potential to facilitate an environment of stability and security.  The Committee’s work would also contribute significantly to international efforts to prevent conflicts from escalating into global crises, he said, adding that disarmament and the non‑proliferation of conventional arms, small arms and nuclear weapons would bolster the life expectancy of peace.

Discussing disarmament was not easy, he said, as it often related to sensitive national security matters.  Important steps included the recent adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the consensus in the Disarmament Commission, after nearly two decades, on recommendations to be presented to the Assembly.  However, many challenges remained, and the total elimination of nuclear weapons would require navigating many complexities.

“The evolving global environment does not look promising,” he said, citing new nuclear tests, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, the unprecedented number of people displaced by armed conflicts, growing modernization of nuclear weapon arsenals, the use of chemical weapons and growing military spending, which in 2016 reached $1.686 trillion even as millions lived in extreme poverty.  Calling on Member States to summon the political will to do more, show courage and exercise flexibility to advance the ultimate aim of ensuring peace and security for all, he said positions must not be held for the sake of positions.  Delegations must seek to be constructive, reach across aisles and make a difference in people’s lives.

IZUMI NAKAMITSU, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said the United Nations had sought solutions to disarmament challenges since its inception, yet the need for decisive progress was now urgent.  The crisis on the Korean Peninsula should serve as a “wake‑up call”, with diplomacy and dialogue guiding the way to a political solution.  The failure to accomplish longstanding disarmament aspirations had left the world facing unprecedented danger.  Achieving progress on the disarmament agenda would enable the United Nations to accomplish other goals such as sustainable development, humanitarian assistance and gender equality.

Highlighting some of the main challenges and opportunities for the First Committee, she said recent progress must be built upon.  While 15,000 nuclear weapons existed, with many on a high level of alert, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons had been a historical accomplishment.  Urging States to use the current review cycle of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to implement commitments, she asked them to redouble efforts and make concrete steps.  With regard to evidence of chemical weapon use in Syria, she asked for accountability of all parties involved.

Disarmament must also focus on measures that mitigated consequences for civilians, she said, adding that eliminating the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons was essential to work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Emerging threats, such as weapons placed in outer space, must be addressed using diplomatic and political efforts.  The First Committee’s current agenda had never been more crowded, which could either be a sign that collective action had not been quick or decisive enough, or a sign that the disarmament machinery was alive and robust.  She encouraged all States to increase the dynamic in the Committee’s work and to include women in all processes.  Proliferation was creating an unimaginable danger and it was imperative to make progress in all areas of concern.

Statements

INA HAGNININGTYAS KRISNAMURTHI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said nuclear‑weapon States had made no progress on eliminating their arsenals.  Progress on disarmament was being held hostage to such misguided notions as strategic stability.  “It is time to take a new and comprehensive approach to nuclear disarmament,” she said, adding that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, upon entering into force, would contribute to furthering the objective of their total elimination.  Negotiations must begin in the Conference on Disarmament on further disarmament measures and nuclear‑weapon States must fully and urgently comply with their legal obligations to totally eliminate their arsenals in a transparent, irreversible and internationally verifiable manner.  She called on those States to cease the modernization and life‑extension of their nuclear weapons and for a legally binding instrument to be concluded that would assure non‑nuclear‑weapon States against the use or threat of use of those arms.

Disarmament and non‑proliferation were mutually reinforcing, she said, emphasizing that concerns were best addressed through multilaterally negotiated, universal, comprehensive and non‑discriminatory agreements.  She called on the nuclear‑weapon States to demonstrate the required political will to enable the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to draft concrete recommendations towards achieving disarmament.  However, non‑proliferation policies should not undermine States’ rights to the peaceful use of nuclear technology, she said, highlighting that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s programme had demonstrated that dialogue and diplomacy were the appropriate means for resolving nuclear‑related issues.

VIRACHAI PLASAI (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the total elimination of nuclear weapons was the only guarantee against their use or threat of use.  Noting that 2017 marked the twentieth anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon‑Free Zone (Treaty of Bangkok), he said ASEAN remained committed to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and looked forward to participating in preparations for the 2020 Review Conference.  The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was a historic and vital step towards global nuclear disarmament, complementing existing instruments.  On the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty, he urged Annex 2 States to sign and ratify the instrument as soon as possible so it could enter into force.

ASEAN was gravely concerned over escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, including nuclear and missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said, calling for denuclearization in a peaceful manner and the resumption of dialogue to re‑establish peace.  Reaffirming the inalienable right of States to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, he also welcomed disarmament progress.  He welcomed advances in efforts to eliminate of chemical weapons stockpiles and emphasized the key role of the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.  He also noted ASEAN’s activities in the areas of anti‑personnel mines and cybersecurity, noting that 2017 was a progressive year for disarmament.  States had a legitimate right to ensure their security, but that should not be at expense of the collective security of all States, he said, emphasizing the role of multilateralism in that regard.

TIJJANI MUHAMMAD BANDE (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Non‑Proliferation Treaty was pivotal to banish nuclear weapons, prevent their spread and assess the impact of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.  Following the failure of the instrument’s 2015 Review Conference, he hoped for a positive engagement of States parties at the 2020 Review Conference, which offered a unique opportunity to review progress since 2010.  Reaffirming the central role of nuclear‑weapon‑free zones, such as in Africa, he restated the Group’s deep concern that the 1995 resolution on establishing such a zone in the Middle East had not been implemented.  He stressed the importance of achieving universal adherence to the Test‑Ban Treaty, bearing in mind the special responsibilities of nuclear‑weapon States.

Turning to conventional weapons, he said the Group urged all States parties to the Arms Trade Treaty to implement it in a balanced manner that would protect the interests of all States, not just the major producing and exporting countries.  Reaffirming the right of States to acquire, manufacture, export, import and retain conventional arms for their self‑defence and security needs, he remained deeply concerned at the illicit trade, transfer, manufacture, possession and circulation of small arms and light weapons in many regions of the world, particularly on the African continent.  In that regard, the Group remained committed to the Programme of Action on Small Arms.

PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM), associated herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).  CARICOM was gravely concerned about the evolving situation on the Korean Peninsula and the threat of nuclear war.  For small island developing States in the Caribbean, rhetoric about war as a real possibility was increasingly worrying.  International terrorism, non‑State actors, new proliferation threats and growing strife and conflicts between States were meanwhile unprecedented, she said, encouraging all States to act consistently within the framework of the United Nations Charter on all disarmament and international security matters.

While CARICOM had crafted regional solutions to tackle crime and security problems fuelled by the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, she said multilateral cooperation was essential.  Underscoring the region’s commitment to the Arms Trade Treaty, she said that instrument could significantly contribute to reducing the suffering of countless people around the world, especially women and children.  But to succeed, the Arms Trade Treaty must be implemented in good faith by all States parties, including those that were major manufacturers, exporters and importers.  Ahead of the 2018 Review Conference of the Programme of Action, CARICOM would highlight, among other issues, the illicit trade in ammunition and the role of women in curbing the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

KHALED HUSSEIN MOHAMED ALYEMANY (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, associated himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, saying that only the elimination of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction would ensure global peace and stability.  “We must, once and for all, rid humanity of those weapons,” he said, adding that high‑level multilateral talks under United Nations auspices were the only way to deal with disarmament and international security issues.  Calling on all Member States to honour their disarmament obligations, he said the First Committee, Disarmament Commission and Conference on Disarmament were the multilateral forums most appropriate for addressing disarmament issues.  In that vein, he expressed hope that a high‑level General Assembly conference on nuclear disarmament in 2018 would lead to tangible results.

The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was an important development that would fill gaps in the disarmament regime, he said, noting the State of Palestine’s participation in negotiations on an equal footing with other Member States.  Reaffirming a need for a zone free of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, he asked Member States to support the Arab Group’s related draft resolution.  The Arab Group condemned and remained deeply concerned about Israel’s refusal to adhere to Non‑Proliferation Treaty and to put its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision and its continued lack of cooperation on that issue.

TORE HATTREM (Norway), speaking for the Nordic countries including Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, said the recent beginning of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty conference review cycle had been constructive.  While Member States may not agree on all issues, it was important to unite behind the Treaty and practical measures to advance the nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation agenda.  In 2016, the Nordic countries were among the lead sponsors of a General Assembly resolution on nuclear disarmament verification, a follow‑up to which would be the commencement of a group of governmental experts in 2018.  The recent nuclear and ballistic missiles test carried out by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea constituted a threat to the global non‑proliferation regime and to international peace and security, he said, urging that country to take necessary steps to facilitate a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Turning to conventional weapons, he said the Arms Trade Treaty provided fundamental norms for a responsible trade, including assessments of the potential for gender‑based violence prior to authorizing arms exports.  With 2017 marking the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti‑Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, he regretted to note the increased use of improvised landmines as tools of war.  Looking ahead, the main challenge would be the widespread use of homemade devices produced and used by non‑State actors.  Addressing large‑scale contamination from improvised mines would require the international community’s coordinated efforts and dedicated resources.  The intergovernmental disarmament machinery was at a crossroads, he said, noting that while the Conference on Disarmament had yet again failed to produce an agreed programme of work, some Member States seemed to prefer alternative options for advancing disarmament priorities.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition, said some achievements had been made in implementing concrete, transparent, mutually reinforcing, verifiable and irreversible disarmament measures within the framework of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, but new challenges in international security continued to be cited as justifications for slow progress.  Given the fact that the consequences of nuclear weapons use could not be constrained within borders, the continued reliance upon them in security doctrines was indefensible and fostered proliferation.  In a world where the basic human needs of millions were not being met, the growing spending on nuclear weapons was both unacceptable and unsustainable, he said.

Pointing out that the Non‑Proliferation Treaty had been adopted as a “grand bargain” — nuclear‑weapon States legally committed themselves to achieving nuclear disarmament in return for non‑nuclear weapon States legally committing themselves to refrain from developing nuclear weapons — he said the presumption of the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons ran counter to the instrument’s purpose.  “We must uphold and preserve the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and the best way to protect the Treaty is to implement it,” he said, adding that its current review cycle presented an opportunity to undertake comprehensive assessment of its status.  The international community must now translate words into concrete action, backed by clear and agreed upon benchmarks and timelines.

JACEK BYLICA, European Union delegation, condemned in the strongest terms the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches.  Urging all States to effectively implement rigorous sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he underlined the vital importance of the Test‑Ban Treaty and its verification regime.  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action demonstrated that effective multilateralism and diplomacy could produce results even to the most pressing proliferation crises.  Reiterating the need for Iran to strictly abide by all its nuclear‑related commitments, he called on that country to refrain from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Recalling the European Union’s condemnation in the strongest terms of all use of chemical weapons, he called on Syria, a State party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, to clarify the many substantive questions regarding its declaration, noting with grave concern the confirmed use of sarin and sulphur mustard.  He reaffirmed the European Union’s full support for a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.  Noting that all Member States had the responsibility to stem the illicit trade and excessive accumulation of small arms and light weapons, he called upon all States to join the Arms Trade Treaty, which had the potential to stem those flows to conflict regions.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said given that the current escalation of tensions contributed to criticism of the relevance of the United Nations and multilateralism, the international community must focus with resolve to improve living conditions for all and reform was needed to promote sustainable peace.  Disarmament, which was crucial to ending conflict and to fostering peace, should be the raison d’être of the United Nations.  Given their humanitarian impact, nuclear weapons should never be seen as legitimate.  Emphasizing that the international community must continue with multilateral disarmament negotiations, he expressed regret that the Test‑Ban Treaty had not yet entered into force at a time when recent tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had underscored its importance.  While welcoming the strengthening of the Mine Ban Convention, he said the United Nations must do much more to prevent the spread of conventional weapons.  In that regard, it was imperative to monitor international transfers of small arms and light weapons and avoid the diversion of such weapons into the illicit market.

SUSANNE BAUMANN (Germany) condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for defying international law and the authority of the United Nations Security Council, adding that its actions posed a threat to global security as a whole.  An imminent crisis could be resolved through the Non‑Proliferation Treaty provided there was political will.  Raising several issues, she first said Iran was acting in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and all parties should honour obligations from the agreement.  On the Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, she welcomed bilateral talks between the parties, adding that Germany supported a pragmatic step‑by‑step approach toward the nuclear arms reductions.  Together with partners, Germany would undertake efforts to strengthen the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and its review process.  Solid verification measures were needed rather than declarations of goodwill, she said, noting support for an early start of negotiations of a fissile material cut‑off treaty.

Cristián Barros Melet (Chile), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, urged the universalization of the Chemical Weapons Convention with a view to achieving a world free of such weapons.  Chile had been an active promoter of the Mine Ban Convention and had served as president in 2016.  He went on to highlight the July law to provide reparation and assistance in rehabilitating victims of accidents caused by mines or explosive devices.  Chile had always been a strong supporter of general and complete disarmament, he emphasized, calling on the international community to commit to a united political will towards a climate of mutual confidence in moving forward to achieve real progress.

Right of Reply

The representative of Syria, responding to the statement made by the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, rejected her remarks, saying that they preceded results of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism.  Such comments meant that things were being done to incriminate Syria, which would be a blessing for terrorist groups and the Governments sponsoring them.  With regard to Norway’s statement, he said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had been targeting Syrian civilians and schools.  Noting that the European Union had a habit of accusing everyone who disagreed with the positions of its member States, some of which had helped Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh) and Nusrah Front access toxic substances, he said Germany was providing Israel, which was not a party to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, with submarines that could launch nuclear missiles.

For information media. Not an official record.