At a crossroads on how to overcome the long‑standing impasse in the Conference on Disarmament, speakers in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today discussed ways to revitalize the disarmament machinery and maintain its relevance as a deliberative institution for global arms control.
The deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament was at the centre of Member States’ frustrations, with Yemen’s representative and other delegates citing a lack of political will as the reason behind the Conference being unable to agree on a programme of work. Speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, he said nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cut‑off treaty and other issues were “intertwined” with global objectives and “we could not address one before the other”.
Indonesia’s delegate said the world was at a crossroads. It had a choice of either moving the machinery forward collectively for the greater good of humankind, or remain deadlocked in the absence of political will, which could put humankind in harm’s way, she said, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Other speakers pointed to the competing priorities and objectives of Member States, as well as the prevailing security landscape, as factors contributing to the disarmament machinery’s current state of affairs. Several protracted regional security crises had not only significantly influenced the readiness of Member States to make progress on disarmament, but also to finalize or fully implement existing international agreements, said Poland’s representative. Nevertheless, it was the responsibility of Governments to break the long‑lasting stalemate in a responsible and visionary manner.
Pointing to recent successes, several speakers, including the representatives of Bangladesh, India, Austria and the Republic of Korea, held up examples of the type of consequential work that could be accomplished through the negotiating forum. They included the Disarmament Commission’s adoption of recommendations on confidence‑building measures in the field of conventional weapons and the programme of work adopted by the Open‑ended Working Group on the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.
Several speakers cautioned Member States against pursuing initiatives outside the disarmament machinery. The representative of France said the disarmament machinery had “proven its worth” as an inclusive platform for dialogue, respecting the interests of each State. Initiatives that tended to polarize debates or stigmatize certain countries did not enable the international community to work towards shared objectives, as currently evidenced in the field of nuclear disarmament.
Indeed, the disarmament machinery remained the best way to chart a path forward, said the representative of European Union. The Conference on Disarmament should fulfil its crucial role negotiating multilateral disarmament treaties and shaping instruments and norms, such as guidelines and codes of conduct, she said.
Other speakers, including the representative of Paraguay, favoured reform measures that focused on the Conference on Disarmament, including expanded membership and broadened civil society participation. Portugal’s delegate said 17 years had passed since the last enlargement of its membership to 65, a number that did not sufficiently represent the world. He urged States to address the issue of the Conference’s membership as a decisive step towards its revitalization.
At the outset of the meeting, the Committee heard a briefing by the Chair of the Open‑ended Working Group on the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.
Several draft resolutions were also introduced, including on United Nations regional centres for peace and disarmament and on convening of the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.
Delivering statements today were representatives of Indonesia (for the Non‑Aligned Movement), Bahamas (for the Caribbean Community), Switzerland, United States, Kazakhstan, Australia, Cuba, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, South Africa and the Netherlands.
The representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United States and the Republic of Korea spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Committee will meet again on at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 26 October, to continue its debate on disarmament machinery and to begin its consideration of all draft resolutions and decisions before it.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) began its thematic discussion on the disarmament machinery and heard a briefing by the Chair of the Open‑ended Working Group on the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament. For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3571 of 2 October.
FERNANDO LUQUE MÁRQUEZ, Chair of the Open‑ended Working Group on the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, said activities had included agreeing upon a work programme. Having adopted a different approach, he said he had suggested that discussions continued using a rolling text projected onto a screen in the meeting room. While such a process had been laborious, it had permitted participants to see their ideas in real time and find solutions to differences of opinion. It had also allowed the Chair to weigh pros and cons. Having the text on the screen had opened up the discussion and allowed participants to reach consensus on a work programme.
Nevertheless, differences had persisted, he said. There were two groups with two distinct opinions, including on the role that consensus would play and how it would be reflected in recommendations. Eventually, it had been possible to agree upon language that was acceptable to all. He acknowledged the delegations that had shown a commitment to multilateralism and had made it possible to adopt a work programme by consensus.
He said the recommendations in the Working Group’s report were future oriented. They included a call to examine how the United Nations disarmament machinery functioned with a view to ensuring its future relevancy. The fourth special session should establish effective measures to promote international peace and security, he said, thanking all participating delegations. The path ahead was now up to the Committee, he said, emphasizing that the fourth special session would be beneficial to all States, particularly those who had decided 72 years ago to protect people from the scourge of war.
The First Committee then engaged in an informal dialogue.
DANNY RAHDIANSYAH (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, expressed concern about the continuous erosion of multilateralism in the field of disarmament, non‑proliferation and arms control. The Conference on Disarmament was the sole multilateral negotiating body of its kind, he said, calling on it to agree to a work programme, and on Member States to demonstrate the necessary political will so it could fulfil its negotiating mandate. Meanwhile, he welcomed the Disarmament Commission’s adoption by consensus of the recommendations on practical confidence‑building measures in the field of conventional weapons.
He said the General Assembly’s fourth special session devoted to disarmament would “offer an opportunity to review” the most critical aspects of the process and mobilize the international community. Expressing deep concern about the lack of adequate representation of Non‑Aligned Movement member States in the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, he requested the Secretary‑General to undertake steps to ensure balanced and equitable representation. He then tabled two draft resolutions, on United Nations regional centres for peace and disarmament and on convening of the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.
MARWAN ALI NOMAN AL-DOBHANY (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group and associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, supported the universalization of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as well as nuclear disarmament and security. Welcoming the convening of the Assembly’s fourth special session on disarmament, he hoped that it would reach tangible results in accommodating the many developments in light of the increasing threats.
Highlighting the adoption of the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he also welcomed the efforts under the Conference on Disarmament and reaffirmed the need to empower it, adding that the current decades‑long impasse had been caused by a lack of political will by States. Nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cut‑off treaty and other issues were “intertwined” with global objectives, he noted, emphasizing that “we could not address one before the other”. The Group had undertaken a constructive role in achieving nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation, he said, asking nuclear‑weapon States to demonstrate the necessary will to reach consensus and results.
ANGGI SAZIKA JENIE (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the United Nations disarmament machinery had produced important treaties and promoted trust and confidence among States. Enhancing its effectiveness should be a priority. The main roadblock to achieving progress was the lack of political will demonstrated by Member States, she said, particularly on nuclear disarmament. Concerned about the deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament, she encouraged States to demonstrate the necessary political will so that it could fulfil its negotiating mandate.
While States had a legitimate right to ensure their national security, that should not be at the expense of collective security of all, she said, recognizing the value of multilateralism in instituting a rules‑based approach to norms and as a tool for building trust. The world was at a crossroads as far as the disarmament machinery was concerned; it had a choice of either moving the machinery forward collectively for the greater good of humankind, or remain deadlocked in the absence of political will, which could put humankind in harm’s way. “The choice was ours to make,” she said, calling for the reinvigoration of the machinery through positive and concrete actions.
SHEILA CAREY (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), called on the Disarmament Commission and the Conference on Disarmament to overcome the paralysis and move forward with agreement in key areas. Turning to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she said security, justice, good governance and peace were essential to make gains on the goals. CARICOM commended the contributions of regional centres, including the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin American and the Caribbean in Peru, which had supported States in numerous arms trade and weapon control measures, and expressed appreciation for the leading roles that had been taken by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).
Confidence‑building measures were critical instruments, she said, highlighting the importance of establishing nuclear‑weapon‑free zones. Recent activities on the Korean Peninsula and in other regions had demonstrated the threat weapons of mass destruction posed globally. She welcomed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and supported the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. In closing, she recognized the contributions of civil society in the maintenance of peace and security, especially related to technological innovations and their potential risks.
JUDIT KÖRÖMI, of the European Union delegation, underlined the importance of seeking multilateral solutions to global challenges and threats to international peace and security within the framework of the United Nations. Expressing support for the disarmament machinery, including the First Committee, Conference on Disarmament and Disarmament Commission, she said they must be utilized more effectively to fulfil their respective roles and achieve results in line with their agreed mandates. All shared responsibility for enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of the First Committee, which served as an important forum to discuss and address issues.
Meanwhile, the Conference on Disarmament should fulfil its crucial role, she said. That included negotiating multilateral disarmament treaties and shaping instruments and norms, such as guidelines and codes of conduct. Collective thinking must revitalize its work, she said, reiterating a long‑standing commitment to enlarging its membership. She also encouraged enhanced interaction between civil society and the body, hoping further steps could be taken towards broadened contributions of non‑governmental organizations (NGOs), academia and research institutions. Turning to the Disarmament Commission, she expressed support for efforts to improve its working methods and more constructive and focused deliberations. Welcoming its adoption of recommendations for the first time since 1999, she said the European Union was hopeful that progress would allow the Disarmament Commission take up new topics of high relevance during its next cycle in 2018.
SABRINA DALLAFIOR MATTER (Switzerland) welcomed the successful conclusion of the Disarmament Commission’s three‑year cycle. Significant financial problems had affected the proper functioning of several disarmament treaties, with worsening consequences since 2016 due to the late payment of mandatory contributions. In that regard, she urged States to pay their arrears as soon as possible. Turning to the deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament, she said its revitalization required, among other things, overcoming the deep‑seated political impasse. The body was affected by anachronistic working methods and its limited membership.
Mr. HAJNOCZI (Austria) said the Disarmament Commission had managed to partially end its deadlock by negotiating the confidence‑building measures on conventional weapons, which had inspired hope. However, the Conference on Disarmament still faced difficulties in fulfilling its mandate, he said, recommending going “below the surface” to have an honest look at the underlying reasons for its stalemate. Too much time had been lost and many issues needed to be addressed outside the Conference. Expressing support for the Conference on Disarmament to become inclusive for all interested stakeholders to enhance its relevance and introduce new approaches for progress, he stressed the urgency for more broadly reforming the disarmament machinery and bringing it into the twenty‑first century.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States), expressing support for the existing disarmament machinery, pointed out that some had decided that majority rule on multilateral disarmament issues should override the sovereign equality of States. The United States had played a role in modest successes in the Disarmament Commission and the Open‑ended Working Group. While the United States remained deeply sceptical of the value of a fourth special session, it decided to support the Open‑ended Working Group’s consensus‑based effort as a signal of its commitment to the United Nations consensus‑based multilateral disarmament institutions. Turning to the Conference on Disarmament, he expressed concern that one Member State during its tenure as President of the Conference refused to convene any plenary meetings, which had deprived the international community of a forum to address security challenges, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said the United Nations disarmament machinery had lost its balance. However, after a period of inaction, he was pleased with the Disarmament Commission’s adoption of recommendations. Meanwhile the Conference on Disarmament was the only multilateral forum for negotiations on disarmament, having drafted nearly all existing international treaties. Despite having such strong capacities, it had been deadlocked, and Member States must decide which future they would choose. He also underscored the importance of UNIDIR in preparing thematic documents and encouraged Member States to make financial contributions towards its institutional budget and projects.
DARREN HANSEN (Australia) said the disarmament machinery should function as it had been intended to, by facilitating rather than impeding multilateral outcomes. While there had been some progress in that area, he raised concerns about the struggle of the Conference on Disarmament to move forward with a programme of work. He underlined the need for more dialogue among all the relevant parties as agendas were pursued in Geneva, Vienna or New York. Australia was looking forward to working towards strengthening the Non‑Proliferation Treaty review process; however, he was disappointed that meetings had been shortened or cancelled due to funding shortfalls, and encouraged all States to pay their dues in a timely manner.
Ms. HERNANDEZ (Cuba) said that each component of the disarmament machinery played a crucial role, and highlighted the importance to multilateralism as the core principle of negotiations. She welcomed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but raised concerns about the deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament. Rationalizing the working methods and rules of procedure was not enough, she said, as the current gridlock had resulted from a lack of political will of some States. She expressed concern in the establishment of closed working groups to analyse items on the agenda of the disarmament bodies that were sensitive for all Member States. That should be the exception and not the rule, and they should be underpinned by the principle of transparency.
KINJARAPU RAMMONAH NAIDU (India), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the United Nations had a central role and primary responsibility in the sphere of disarmament. The Conference on Disarmament had been blocked by the “security exclusivism” of some, and a “confidence deficit” of others. India remained committed to its founding principles and objectives, supporting efforts aimed at reaching consensus on its programme of work. Noting that the Disarmament Commission was a universal deliberative forum for building consensus on disarmament issues, he welcomed the adoption of the recommendations on the practical confidence‑building measures in the field of conventional weapons.
VINICIO MATI (Italy) said all three forums of the United Nations disarmament machinery must be strengthened. Welcoming the Disarmament Commission’s adoption of the recommendations, he expressed hope that more positive results would follow, including the resumption of substantive work by the Conference on Disarmament. Priorities there included commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cut‑off treaty and further efforts to elaborate recommendations on all aspects of negative security assurances. Welcoming any constructive proposal aimed at putting the body back on track, he said discussions in the recent Conference on Disarmament working group on the Way Ahead were a good basis for that effort. Italy would also remain constructively engaged in ongoing discussions to relieve the financial difficulties of several Geneva‑based disarmament conventions.
ENRIQUE JOSÉ MARÍA CARRILLO GÓMEZ (Paraguay) highlighted several achievements, including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the Disarmament Commission’s confidence‑building measures on conventional weapons and the Open‑ended Working Group agreeing on a programme of work for the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament. The universalization of commitments was crucial to properly strengthen the disarmament machinery, he said, urging Member States to ratify or accede to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty, Arms Trade Treaty and Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Calling on States to refrain from acts that went against the goals of such instruments, he condemned nuclear tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Paraguay supported efforts including establishing a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East and broadening the disarmament machinery, which should also implement reform measures that were underpinned by the need to eliminate poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In that vein, he called on countries to shift resources to help achieve those goals.
Ms. YANILMAZ (Turkey) said the problems hampering progress in the Conference on Disarmament had not been created by its procedures or internal dynamics, and the body did not operate in a void. Turning to the Disarmament Commission, Turkey had made substantial efforts to reach a consensus and welcomed the recommendations agreed upon. By arriving at a consensus, a deadlock of almost two decades had been broken, serving as a reminder that proceeding by consensus was indeed possible.
Mr. HASSAN (Egypt) associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Arab Group, underscored the importance of inclusive, multilateral diplomacy and fully supported the disarmament machinery. His country also supported nuclear disarmament commitments and recognized the important role of NGOs and civil society in disarmament matters. The Conference on Disarmament remained the single multilateral negotiating body, but a lack of political will prevented it from adopting a balanced programme of work. He welcomed collective action to revitalize the Conference as long as it respected existing rules and procedures. He also called for negotiations on nuclear disarmament leading to the prohibition of nuclear weapons in line with article 6 of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Meanwhile, the First Committee continued to be the most effective forum to bridge the gap and create momentum in the disarmament machinery, he said.
USMAN JADOON (Pakistan) said legally binding measures should be achieved by consensus with the participation of all stakeholders. In that regard, the disarmament machinery had produced significant treaties, including the elimination of two entire classes of weapons of mass destruction. However, the current deadlock was the consequence of competing priorities of certain Member States. Some States had made the strategic calculation that certain initiatives threatened their positions, while others refused to support initiatives that would negatively affect their security disproportionately. But, blaming the Conference on Disarmament would be tantamount to addressing symptoms without addressing the problem. The lack of progress on nuclear disarmament was the principal reason, he said, noting that while most States supported its objectives, certain countries only wanted to advance partial measures, such as the fissile material cut‑off treaty. He called for a return to consensus‑based and non‑discriminatory approaches that would lead to undiminished security for all.
ABDELKARIM AIT ABDESLAM (Algeria), associating himself with the Arab Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, said the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission played crucial roles within the United Nations multilateral disarmament machine, but a lack of trust and political will of States had stalled progress. The two‑decade‑long deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament could have harmful effects to its credibility. The stalemate was not because of its “methods of work, nor agenda,” he said, noting its many valuable contributions to multilateral disarmament. Rather, its mandate could not be fulfilled unless States committed to achieving the common goal of nuclear disarmament, using the required political will, he said, calling on the body to resume its work without delay.
FAIYAZ MURSHID KAZI (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, voiced concern over the protracted impasse in the Conference on Disarmament and encouraged all States to show the necessary political will to fulfil its negotiating mandate. He also urged the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs to keep that issue high on its agenda and garner the necessary political will among nuclear‑weapon States. Welcoming the Commission’s recommendations on confidence‑building measures in the field of conventional weapons, he said he looked forward to similar successes by other working groups. The fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament represented a renewed opportunity for demonstrating a collective will and capacity to infuse dynamism in the disarmament machinery. He underscored the importance of expanding disarmament education, research and the use of social media to the wider public, including students.
SHUAIB MAHOMED (South Africa) welcomed recent advances in efforts to strengthen the disarmament machinery, but said that the prolonged stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament and the lack of agreement in the Disarmament Commission still had a negative impact on the multilateral system. The Commission needed to be revitalized to be able to match current international security needs or would become redundant. He also expressed his disappointment that the Conference on Disarmament could again not reach consensus on resuming substantive work. The continued resistance by a small number of States to implement their disarmament obligations and to subject themselves to the international rule of law lay at the heart of the problem.
CRISTINA MARIA CERQUEIRA PUCARINHO (Portugal) urged the First Committee, Disarmament Commission and the Conference on Disarmament to work in mutually reinforcing ways to address today’s emerging, complex security challenges. She regretted to note that the disarmament machinery had, in past decades, been unable to deliver on its mandate. In the Conference on Disarmament, 17 years had passed since the last enlargement of its membership to 65, a number that did not sufficiently represent the world. She urged States to address the issue of the Conference’s membership as a decisive step towards its revitalization. Meanwhile, the Disarmament Commission’s consensus adoption of recommendations had been a breakthrough, she said, calling for the immediate start of negotiations for a verifiable and non‑discriminatory treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
MIROSLAW BROILO (Poland) said he was concerned about the future of the disarmament and non‑proliferation process. While all agreed that the Conference on Disarmament was the only multilateral negotiating forum, common efforts should be aimed at strengthening the body and enabling it to fulfil its task. In that regard, the roles of the Conference on Disarmament presidency and the coordinating mechanism were fundamental. Of course, the function of international institutions should not be disconnected from reality on the ground, and the evolution of the geopolitical situation should be considered. Several protracted regional security crises had not only significantly influenced the readiness of Member States to make progress on disarmament, but also to finalize or fully implement existing international agreements. However, it was the responsibility of Governments to break the long‑lasting stalemate in a responsible and visionary manner.
BENJAMIN WEISZ (France) said the disarmament machinery had “proven its worth” as an inclusive platform for dialogue, respecting the interests of each State. Citing the high level of universality of the Nuclear Non‑Proliferation Treaty and the Test‑Ban Treaty as examples of such progress, he said they also demonstrated that the strict rule of consensus was a vital basis for promoting trust between all players. Yet, initiatives that tended to polarize debates or stigmatize certain countries did not enable the international community to work towards shared objectives, as currently evidenced in the field of nuclear disarmament. “My country is deeply concerned by this tendency of ignoring the ethos of the disarmament machinery,” he stressed. Outlining numerous encouraging developments achieved in 2017, he emphasized that States could only transcend political divides and pave the way for further progress if they reached a shared understanding of the challenges posed by the various elements of disarmament agreements. In addition, he reaffirmed France’s support for a fissile material cut‑off treaty and its openness to examining other core issues that could be included in a balanced work programme in the Conference on Disarmament.
SACHI CLARINGBOULD (Netherlands), encouraged by the Disarmament Commission’s agreement on recommendations, expressed hope to see positive developments extended to other agenda items before the body. She reaffirmed support for UNIDIR as an autonomous entity that generated ideas and promoted action on disarmament and international security issues. The Netherlands had supported some of the Institute’s work so that it could feed into deliberations and, inevitably, negotiations. A sound financial system underpinning the Geneva‑based conventions and treaties was crucial for sound disarmament machinery, she said, noting that the conventions continued to be in financial trouble. Additional efforts towards improving the efficiency of the contribution process were needed.
KIM IN-CHUL (Republic of Korea), welcoming the Disarmament Commission’s consensus adoption of the recommendations on practical confidence‑building measures in the field of conventional weapons, looked forward to discussions on its new agenda items, including transparency and confidence‑building measures in outer space. He regretted to note that the working group on the Way Ahead established at the 2017 session of the Conference on Disarmament had not agreed to recommendations, saying that an artificial dichotomy separating pre‑negotiation work from actual negotiations did not contribute to its work. He expressed hope that Member States could reinvigorate efforts so that the Conference on Disarmament could fulfil its mandate and prove its relevance.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, rejected the remarks made by the representative of the United States about its nuclear tests and ballistic missile launch. His country’s intention was to stop the United States’ nuclear threats and prevent a military invasion, he said, adding that Pyongyang wanted to establish balance of power with the United States.
The representative of the United States said his country did not pose a threat to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, whose threatening behaviour was a concern of the world. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea needed to stop its provocative threats and actions, which only brought it further isolation.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said the United States had tried to mislead the world about the nuclear issue and was better off joining the Non‑Proliferation Treaty as a non‑nuclear‑weapon State. If that happened, the matter would be resolved.
The representative of the United States said it would not recognize the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a nuclear‑weapon State and would always defend the interests of its people and its allies.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said as the First Committee had been speaking about the disarmament machinery, at least one third of the remarks that had been made were about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s provocation.