Disarmament Machinery Must Sharpen Tools to Harness Largely Ungoverned Game-Changing New Weapons, Security Experts Tell First Committee

GA/DIS/3578
11 October 2017
Seventy-second Session, 10th Meeting (PM)

Disarmament Machinery Must Sharpen Tools to Harness Largely Ungoverned Game-Changing New Weapons, Security Experts Tell First Committee

Lethal Autonomous Systems, Cybersecurity Threats, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Pose Grave Challenge to Arms Control Regimes

Game-changing, largely ungoverned technological innovations were transforming how wars were being fought and added to the already immense load borne by the disarmament and non-proliferation machinery, posing challenges to arms control regimes, experts told the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today during a thematic discussion and debate.

The emergence of lethal autonomous weapons systems, cybersecurity threats, unmanned aerial vehicles and other new weaponry, combined with geopolitical tensions, would also have grave consequences for peace and security, said panellists during an exchange on the current state of affairs in the field of arms control and disarmament and the role of international organizations with mandates in that field.  Indeed, many of those emerging issues would become ever more central to future discussions as they affected areas such as arms control for weapons of mass destruction and conventional weaponry, some added.

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and the Conference on Disarmament joined High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu for the interactive discussion.  Some concerns raised included the lack of governance over new innovations in munitions and how the United Nations must keep abreast of technological developments.

Alerting the Committee of the potentially “combustible situation” resulting from rapid technological advancements at a time of global instability, Ms. Nakamitsu warned that technological innovations could lower the threshold for armed conflict, while avoiding the scrutiny of international humanitarian law and human rights law.  Driven largely by the private sector, such mechanisms needed to be devised to bring the industry “inside the tent”, she said. 

As the United Nations system grappled with such issues, she urged the international community to pick up the pace of its work, noting that the pace of technological innovation “outstripped the pace of international deliberations”.

Mr. Møller said that in a governance and ethical vacuum, even the most positive and inspiring technological advances could be repurposed with dangerous consequences.  That presented significant challenges, which could permanently alter the international security landscape, destabilize fragile balances of power, entrench country disparities and herald chaos with dire humanitarian consequences.

Agreeing, Mr. Williams said that while new scientific advances and technological breakthroughs represented important advances for humankind, they also presented risks to disarmament and non-proliferation.  The key to managing such risks was finding pragmatic and practical solutions without hampering the progress of States, he said.

Taking a different view, Mr. Rosemberg said emerging technological developments could be approached in a positive light with regard to disarmament and non-proliferation.  The key was to find a means for channelling knowledge and research in the right direction.  Through ongoing meetings of the working group on verification and a series of biennial science and technology conferences, the Organization had kept abreast of latest developments.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mabhongo said the continued access to state-of-the-art verification technologies was fundamental for enhancing IAEA nuclear forensic capabilities.  New and emerging technologies were also being considered to assist in implementing safeguards, he added.

Representing the view of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, Mr. Soares said member States of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean were also concerned about efforts that had aimed at developing technology for the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons alongside the construction of new types of atomic bombs.

Following the panel discussion, the Committee began its thematic debate on topics under the nuclear weapons cluster.

Also participating in the thematic debate were representatives of Indonesia (for the Non-Aligned Movement), Mexico (for the New Agenda Coalition), Sweden (for the De-Alerting Group), Viet Nam (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Egypt (for the African Group), Australia (for the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative), Jamaica (for the Caribbean Community), Australia (for the Progressive Approach Group), Argentina (for the Union of South American Nations) and Yemen (for the Arab Group).

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The First Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 12 October, for a joint panel discussion with the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Committee) on possible challenges to space security and sustainability, and at 3 p.m. to continue its thematic debate on nuclear weapons.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met for a high‑level exchange on the “Current state of affairs in the field of arms control and disarmament and the role of international organizations with mandates in this field” and began its thematic debate on nuclear weapons.  For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3571 of 2 October.

Panel Discussion

The Committee opened the meeting with a high-level exchange on the “Current state of affairs in the field of arms control and disarmament and the role of international organizations with mandates in this field”.  The panel included Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; Michael Møller, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament; Xolisa Mabhongo, Director of the New York Office of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Gareth Williams, head of the Chemistry and Safety, Inspectorate Division at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); José Rosemberg, Senior Liaison Officer at the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO); and Luiz Filipe de Macedo Soares, Secretary General of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Ms. NAKAMITSU said technological innovations had the long-term potential to change how wars were fought and increasingly placed civilians in harm’s way.  The enabling nature of cyberspace meant that information and communications technology-enabled infrastructure was vulnerable to attacks.  In the military domain, there was a potential for destabilizing arms races as advanced States sought to build or negate perceived advantages.  In the future, technological innovations could lower the threshold for armed conflict due to perceptions of casualty-free warfare.  In the short-term, there was concern about the ability of such innovations to conform to international humanitarian law and human rights law.  There were also specific concerns in the context of cyberattacks and autonomous weapons systems, she said, adding that innovations could also increase the risk of proliferation, including non-State actors.

She highlighted that the innovations were being driven largely by the private sector, not Governments.  As such, mechanisms needed to be devised to bring the industry “inside the tent”.  Moreover, the technological revolution was occurring at a time of growing geopolitical instability and inflamed regional disputes.  The combination of that combustible situation with potentially revolutionary new weapons could have grave consequences for peace and security.  Outlining how the United Nations system was attempting to deal with some of those challenges, she said efforts must speed up, as the pace of technological innovation “outstripped the pace of international deliberations”.  Likewise, the pace of investment in innovation dwarfed investment in norm-building.  Many of the potentially game-changing innovations impacting the work of the First Committee were currently ungoverned, she concluded.

Mr. MØLLER said “our current tools of governance are not fit for today’s and much less for tomorrow’s challenges”, noting the emergence of new levels of interdependence.  As a “techno-optimist”, he firmly believed that the recent wave of change had a clear potential to bring vast benefits to humankind.  However, in a governance and ethical vacuum, even the most positive and inspiring technological advances could be repurposed with dangerous consequences.  That presented significant challenges which could permanently alter the international security landscape, destabilize fragile balances of power, entrench country disparities and herald chaos with dire humanitarian consequences.  Too often, arms control deliberations were held on the basis of narrow mandates in separate United Nations bodies, he said, stressing that a disjointed approach was increasingly detrimental to any meaningful global oversight and arms control regime.  Turning to the Conference on Disarmament, he said the time had come to consider if its structure had become more of a roadblock than a vehicle, asking whether consensus was needed for all decisions in that body.

Mr. MABHONGO said IAEA activities included verifying States’ compliance with non-proliferation obligations for peaceful nuclear programmes.  The Agency had implemented safeguards – internationally approved legal and technical measures – in 181 countries and had dealt with some of “the most critical issues” on the international agenda - the nuclear verification in Iraq, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  It was also involved in monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitment under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  IAEA inspectors had examined records, physical inventories of fuel and samples and had verified the functioning of IAEA-installed seals and cameras that monitored movement of nuclear material.  The continued access to state-of-the-art verification technologies was fundamental for enhancing IAEA nuclear forensic capabilities, he said, adding that new and emerging technologies were also being considered to assist in implementing safeguards.

Mr. WILLIAMS said that while new scientific advances and technological breakthroughs represented important advances for humankind, they also presented risks to disarmament and non-proliferation.  The key to managing such risks was finding pragmatic and practical solutions without hampering the progress of States.  That goal was enshrined in the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.  However, the enormous contribution of such developments also contributed to the Convention’s implementation.  Progress on analytical science allowed for the detection of the smallest quantities of chemicals, which was important for investigating alleged uses of toxic materials.  States parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention were required to ensure that chemistry was used for peaceful purposes.  For OPCW, scientific advancement “must be mediated by a continuous strengthening of the law and the promotion of ethical norms and practice”, he said.  The collaboration between policymakers and scientists was essential in addressing problems related to rapid advances in science.

Mr. ROSEMBERG, speaking on behalf of Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, said emerging technological developments could be approached in a positive light with regard to disarmament and non-proliferation.  The key was to find a means for channelling knowledge and research in the right direction.  Through ongoing meetings of the working group on verification and a series of biennial science and technology conferences, the Organization had kept abreast of latest developments.  The International Monitoring System had, on 3 September, picked up an unusual seismic event in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with a magnitude of 6.1, several times the size of any previous test conducted by that State.  Subsequent analysis appeared to lend credence to the country’s claim that it had successfully tested a two-stage thermonuclear weapon, which would be more than 10 times stronger than the bomb that had destroyed Hiroshima.  In identifying a way forward, a nuclear-test moratorium and the eventual ratification of the Test-Ban Treaty should be part of any long-term solution.

Mr. SOARES said that the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean member States had made two collective statements in 2017:  the first in February, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco), and the second on 26 September, the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.  As members of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, the bloc’s member did not see themselves as having withdrawn from the international debate concerning such weapons.  On the contrary, he noted, they felt more entitled to intervene and act based on their commitments.  In fact, they expressed indignation with the existence of about 15,000 nuclear weapons.  Without reservation, he reaffirmed a commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, demanding that its conditions be promptly fulfilled and that the Test-Ban Treaty  enter into force.  Agency member States were also concerned about efforts that had aimed at developing technology for the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and the development of new types of such weapons.

The presentations were followed by an informal discussion.

Thematic Debate on Nuclear Weapons

MICHAEL TENE (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned-Movement, voiced continued deep concern at the threat to humanity posed by nuclear weapons.  Some States possessing them had not made progress in eliminating stockpiles, still included nuclear weapons in their security policies and were upgrading their arsenals.  A new and comprehensive approach was needed, with the General Assembly’s high-level conference on nuclear disarmament, to be convened in 2018, providing an important opportunity to finally make progress.  The new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons could also contribute, but the high-level conference was still needed to enhance public awareness.

Nuclear-weapon States must urgently comply with their legal obligations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals and end efforts to upgrade them, he said, adding that a binding instrument was still needed to effectively insure all non‑nuclear‑weapon States against their use.  Nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation were mutually reinforcing and essential for strengthening international peace and security.  Regretting to note the failure of the Ninth Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, he called on nuclear-weapon States to enable the next 2020 Review Conference to approve concrete recommendations.  Reaffirming the right of all countries to develop a full nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes, he strongly rejected restrictions on related materials.  Stressing the need to achieve universal adherence to the Test-Ban Treaty, he pledged the Movement’s constructive engagement with all on attaining a world free of nuclear weapons.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition, said the only guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons was their total elimination.  The Coalition’s draft resolution addressed several issues on which progress was essential for the achievement and maintenance of a world free of those arms.  Summarizing several of those areas, he said the draft text reiterated that each article of the Non-Proliferation Treaty was binding on States parties, who should be held fully accountable with respect to strict compliance with their obligations.

With regard to establishing the Middle East as an area free from nuclear arms and all weapons of destruction, he said the draft resolution would have the Assembly urge the co-sponsors of the 1995 Non-Proliferation Review Conference resolution to present new proposals and exert their utmost efforts to ensure the early creation of such a zone.  The draft text would also have the Assembly urge India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as non‑nuclear-weapon States promptly and without conditions, and to place all their nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards.  By the text, the Assembly would also urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to abandon all nuclear arms and related weapons programmes.

EVA WALDER (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the De-Alerting Group, said nuclear‑weapon States must take practical steps to address the significant number of arms on high alert.  The 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 64‑point action plan had recognized the legitimate interest of non-nuclear-weapon States on that issue, but those commitments had not yet been met.  The General Assembly’s support for de-alerting had grown significantly in recent years, resulting in its adoption of a resolution sending a clear message that efforts must be renewed.  “Lowering alert levels was a key element of nuclear risk reduction,” she said, emphasizing that de-alerting was not only a disarmament measure, but also a significant contribution to non‑proliferation.  In that vein, nuclear‑weapon States should consider de‑alerting as a strategic step in de‑emphasizing the military role of nuclear weapons.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), stressed the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (Treaty of Bangkok).  ASEAN also supported the establishment of nuclear‑weapon‑free zones in other regions, especially in the Middle East.  The adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons constituted a vital step towards global disarmament and complemented the existing non-proliferation instruments.  Given that the Non‑Proliferation Treaty was the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime, she called on States to renew their commitments under Article VI.  Considering the significance of the Test-Ban Treaty, she welcomed its recent ratification by Myanmar and Switzerland and urged others to follow suit.  Turning to recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, she reiterated ASEAN’s support for denuclearization in a peaceful manner.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), speaking for the African Group and endorsing the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the continent supported the principle of complete nuclear disarmament as a prerequisite for maintaining international peace and security.  However, he expressed concern over the slow pace of progress by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish that task.  Reaffirming the contribution of nuclear-weapon-free zones across the world to the overall objectives of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he said such designated areas represented a significant milestone towards achieving nuclear disarmament.

Turning to the peaceful use of nuclear technology, he underscored the need to respect States’ inalienable rights to use nuclear energy and stressed the IAEA’s central role in that regard.  Emphasizing the importance of nuclear knowledge sharing and the transfer of such technology to developing countries, including African countries, he highlighted the potential contribution of nuclear energy in the promotion of sustainable development and prosperity across the world.

JOHN QUINN (Australia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, affirmed the importance of concerted action to achieve the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.  The rapid development of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programmes challenged the established disarmament and non-proliferation architecture while posing a grave and imminent threat to peace and security.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must immediately cease its illegal activities and abandon all related programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

He said the Initiative remained committed to the further successful implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which had demonstrated that diplomacy could advance Non-Proliferation Treaty objectives when supported by broad international consensus.  In addition, there was a need for improved transparency by the nuclear-weapon States, including information on the quantity, type and status of their arsenals and delivery systems.

E. COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and endorsing the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, said nuclear weapons were inimical to the maintenance of international peace and security and disarmament obligations had to be pursued.  The importance of that pursuit had been made more evident by heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where he urged every effort be made through diplomatic means to reduce the threat of nuclear war.  The maintenance and upgrading of nuclear arsenals and related infrastructure were also frightening, he said.

Against that backdrop, the international community must urgently work for the total elimination of nuclear weapons by stimulating a sense of collective purpose, he continued.  CARICOM was playing its part, including by helping with the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and remained committed to keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists.  Sharing frustration at the lack of progress in disarmament, he called for finding common ground in all areas and welcomed efforts to reinvigorate deliberations on the Test-Ban Treaty.  He also expressed appreciation for the successful convening of the preparatory session for the 2020 Review Conference, IAEA efforts and the Treaty of Tlatelolco.

JOHN QUINN (Australia), speaking on behalf of the Progressive Approach Group, said that the Group was committed to the pragmatic pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons, which considered both the security and the humanitarian dimensions of such weaponry.  With the Non-Proliferation Treaty being the cornerstone of all long-term disarmament and non-proliferation efforts, he said effective initiatives must be inclusive and engage nuclear-weapon States in practical ways that built the necessary trust for further reductions.  In that light, he supported the practical and effective actions to advance disarmament, as outlined in the 2010 action plan.

He said confidence must be built through credible engagement and demonstrated implementation of concrete disarmament measures by nuclear-weapon States, a commitment to non-proliferation by all States and universal support to IAEA safeguards.  Progress in that vein included the development of parallel and simultaneous measures, or building blocks, on non-proliferation and disarmament.  Achievements had also been seen in the expert work on the fissile material cut-off treaty and nuclear disarmament verification.  Practical gains must be prioritized on those and many other issues, including transparency measures and the Test-Ban Treaty’s entry into force.  In all such areas, States must contribute to minimizing divisions and finding common ground.

MARTÍN GARCIA MORITÁN (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations, welcomed the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, saying it complemented the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Test-Ban Treaty.  He expressed hope that the new instrument would enter into force soon.  Turning to concerns, he strongly rejected the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear testing, which posed a threat to international peace and security.

For its part, he said, the Union of South American Nations was proud of the proclamation of the nuclear-weapon-free zone in his region.  Urging nuclear-weapon States not to use or threaten to use such weapons, he called on all nations to work towards adopting a universal and legally binding instrument on negative security guarantees.  Further, a political, legal and institutional framework for establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones in other parts of the world could be found in the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.

MARWAN ALI NOMAN AL-DOBHANY (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group and endorsing the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern about the lack of progress towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons and condemned the continued adoption by nuclear-weapon States of deterrence-based doctrines.  The total elimination of those arms was the only safeguard to prevent their use.  Efforts must be redoubled, in light of the failure of States to meet their obligations.

Also disappointing was the failure of the 2015 Review Conference, at which Arab countries had tried to avoid a stalemate on achieving consensus on a final outcome document on the issue of establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.  Effective steps and measures towards that end must be taken, he said, raising additional concerns at the increasing threat caused by Israel’s rejection to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty – the only country in the region failing to do so.  He called for the universalization of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of the multilateral disarmament regime, while affirming the right of States to use nuclear energy peacefully.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said his country had legitimate rights to safeguard against nuclear threats from hostile forces.  His counterpart from Australia, who had spoken on behalf of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, must understand the real threats on the Korean Peninsula instead of making provocative remarks.

For information media. Not an official record.