As a universal body with a mandate to make every effort to reach consensus, the Disarmament Commission could build on overcoming its 18‑year‑long deadlock to make a unique and constructive contribution to further signs of progress, from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s commitment to denuclearization to the reduction of strategic nuclear forces by the Russian Federation and the United States, delegates heard at the opening of its 2018 session, launching a new 3‑year cycle.
Given that global anxieties about nuclear weapons were higher than at any time since the cold war, measures for disarmament and arms control were more vital than ever before, said Thomas Markram, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, speaking on behalf of the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. However, the Commission could only hope to realize progress if it avoided re‑litigating outcomes from other processes and reopening irreconcilable disputes.
He went on to suggest a starting point for deliberations — consensus on the outcome of the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, endorsed by nearly all States. On the heels of last year’s adoption of recommendations for the General Assembly for the first time since 1999, delegates were off to the best start, he said, expressing hope that the opportunity would be used wisely.
The Commission, mandated by the Security Council to prepare proposals for a treaty for the regulation, limitation and balanced reduction of all armed forces and all armaments, including the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, would focus the current session’s discussions on nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation. It would also focus on the preparation of recommendations to promote the practical implementation of transparency and confidence‑building measures in outer space activities with the goal of preventing an arms race in outer space, in accordance with the recommendations contained in the report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities (document A/68/189).
Commission Chair Gillian Bard (Australia) emphasized the critical importance of starting a new three‑year cycle, telling delegates today that because of last year’s efforts, “we have been reminded of what success looks like.” Urging members to follow a similar course during the current session, she recalled that in March, the Conference on Disarmament had agreed on five focused subsidiary groups.
In the ensuing general debate, several speakers called on the international community to work together through inclusive dialogue that considered the positions of all States. Some expressed frustration over the lack of progress in implementing disarmament obligations by nuclear‑weapon States and called on them to reduce or eliminate their arsenals, while highlighting the Non‑Proliferation Treaty’s three pillars: disarmament, non‑proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Other delegates expressed concern at the threat of an arms race in outer space and called for interim measures as a precursor to a legally binding instrument.
Echoing a common concern, Egypt’s representative said the body was meeting at a time when the world was on the verge of a new chapter of the arms race among nuclear‑weapon States, an alarming reality requiring the immediate revival of reliable multilateral disarmament efforts and the revitalization of the disarmament machinery. Calling on States to build on its success in 2017, he said the Commission could facilitate efforts to bring disarmament and arms control back to the forefront of the United Nations work and “make up for the lost decades”.
On behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, Indonesia’s delegate said the Commission must achieve urgent results in its current work cycle and urged all delegations, especially nuclear‑weapon States, to cooperate actively in negotiations. Voicing concern over those States’ lack of progress, he called on them to decrease arsenals in line with their commitments to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty review conferences. Meanwhile, nuclear‑weapon‑free States should be involved in negotiations in a non‑discriminatory manner.
Similarly, some delegates regretted to note the widening gap between States with and without nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan’s representative said that divide had led to a loss of trust, more disputes and a new arms race, while the world remained poised on the brink of a new cold war. Voicing concern over the erosion of progress on mutual arsenal reductions, he called for increased confidence‑building measures.
Some highlighted the inextricable link between disarmament and non‑proliferation. Chile’s delegate said nuclear disarmament must enter into the Commission’s deliberations, adding that the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons had opened a promising path to a world free of those arms. Meanwhile, Brazil’s representative said that global nuclear disarmament was a long‑standing objective, and he rejected any approach that pursued non‑proliferation goals while ignoring disarmament.
Representing the view of a nuclear‑weapon State, the representative of the United States said the return of great power competition was indeed a major factor in shaping his country’s nuclear deterrence policy that ensured allied and partner security, international stability and nuclear non‑proliferation. He said China and the Russian Federation had expanded their nuclear capabilities and were seeking to reshape the post‑Second World War international order in ways antithetical to his country’s values and interests, while the United States and its allies strove to maintain and defend democratic traditions against potential aggression.
A range of factors must be considered as the international community pursued nuclear disarmament, the representative of the Russian Federation said. Voicing concern that some States were developing doctrines providing for a significantly increased role of nuclear weapons, while also establishing a lower threshold for their use, he said North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) missions where non‑nuclear‑weapon States were trained to deploy atomic bombs constituted a direct violation of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. “Such developments raise the risk of nuclear conflict,” he said, emphasizing that attempts to strengthen one country’s security at the expense of others were doomed to fail.
China’s delegate said no country could retreat to an isolated island at a time when international arms control and disarmament were closely linked with the security of all nations. China was the only nuclear‑weapon State to commit to provide unconditional assurances that it would not use such weapons against non‑nuclear weapon States, he said, emphasizing that the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament could not happen overnight and must follow the principles of undiminished security of all.
Some speakers from nuclear‑weapon‑free States asked their atomic‑arms‑possessing counterparts to stop the policy of double standards. Speaking for the Arab Group, Tunisia’s representative said that in 2017, the failure of nuclear‑weapon States to respect disarmament commitments had induced the international community to accelerate its own efforts. That had led to the adoption of the first international legally binding instrument banning nuclear weapons — the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Some speakers noted that nuclear‑weapon States had not signed the instrument.
Welcoming that treaty’s adoption, Nigeria’s representative, on behalf of the African Group, urged all States to sign and ratify it. He also emphasized that any doctrine justifying the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons was unacceptable and unjustifiable.
Also delivering statements today were the representatives of Ecuador, Cuba, Nepal, Namibia, Ukraine, Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Algeria, Costa Rica, Japan, Iran, South Africa, El Salvador, Malaysia, Ghana, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Israel and Australia.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Japan, United States and Syria.
The Disarmament Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 3 April, to continue its work.
GILLIAN BIRD (Australia), Chair of the Disarmament Commission, thanked delegations for their flexibility and cooperation in the course of recent informal consultations. “This first year in a new three‑year cycle is critically important,” she said, adding that, due to last year’s efforts, “we have been reminded of what success looks like.” Urging members to follow a similar course during the current session, she recalled that in a positive development last week, the Conference on Disarmament had agreed on five focused subsidiary groups. In its current deliberations, the Commission should consider such processes and how it could be productive in supporting them, as it did not operate in isolation.
THOMAS MARKRAM, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, speaking on behalf of the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said there had been some recent signs of progress that pointed to where the Disarmament Commission could make a unique and constructive contribution. Welcoming the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s commitment to denuclearization following recent talks in China, he expressed hope that such developments would be the start of a longer process of sincere dialogue leading to sustainable peace. In addition, the Russian Federation and the United States had successfully reduced their strategic nuclear forces to levels required by the Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START Treaty).
Measures for disarmament and arms control were more vital than ever before, he said, given that global anxieties about nuclear weapons were higher than at any time since the cold war. In that context, he pointed out important signs of new life in United Nations disarmament bodies, particularly the Conference on Disarmament’s decision to establish subsidiary bodies, which would ultimately be judged by whether or not it would lead to the resumption of negotiations. For its part, the Commission had been able to consolidate its success in 2017 by starting a new cycle with the early adoption of its agenda, including the first new topic in 18 years.
Yet, difficulties and divisions persisted on substantive nuclear disarmament matters, he said. As a universal body with a mandate to make every effort to reach consensus, the Commission could only hope to realize progress if it avoided re‑litigating outcomes from other processes and reopening irreconcilable disputes. A starting point for deliberations could focus on the most recent consensus — the outcome of the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which had been endorsed by nearly all States. Recalling instances of difficult disarmament negotiations, the pursuit of collateral arms control measures had helped to build confidence, ease tensions and create an environment that favoured progress. In the nuclear field, such measures were primarily developed as a means for halting and reversing the arms race. Discussion on broader matters affecting strategic security could help to unlock the current stalemate and prevent the emergence of a new arms race.
The goal of preserving outer space as a realm free of conflict was one such measure to which the Commission could contribute, he said. As long as some continued to see outer space as a potential realm for war, there would be an increasing risk of weaponization and conflict. Despite geopolitical and strategic tensions, major space‑faring nations and other space actors continued to find common ground, including through transparency and confidence‑building measures. The Commission’s deliberations on such measures were an opportunity to review and help to put into practice the recommendations contained in the 2013 report of the Group of Governmental Experts, he said, noting that delegates were off to the best start in many years, and expressing hope that the opportunity would be used wisely.
ROLLIANSYAH SOEMIRAT (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, emphasized the absolute validity of multilateralism in the field of disarmament and non‑proliferation. The Commission, as the sole specialized body to consider disarmament issues and submit concrete recommendations to the General Assembly, must achieve urgent results in its current work cycle, he said, urging all delegations, especially nuclear‑weapon States, to cooperate actively in negotiations. Voicing concern over those States’ lack of progress, he called on them to decrease their arsenals in line with their commitments at Non‑Proliferation Treaty review conferences. Nuclear disarmament was a top priority and should not be made conditional with regard to confidence‑building measures or “strategic stability” issues. All States must comply with international law and agree on an unconditional, non‑discriminatory and legally binding instrument to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, pending the total elimination of such arsenals. Meanwhile, States had a right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and to engage fully in the exchange of related information and technology.
Nuclear‑weapon‑free States should be involved in negotiations in a non‑discriminatory manner, he continued, voicing regret over the failure to reach consensus at the 2015 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Underlining that the 1995 resolution on establishing a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East should be implemented without further delay, he regretted to note that a scheduled 2012 international meeting on the matter had yet to occur. He called on Israel, the only regional party that had refused to participate in the meeting, to accede to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and place its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Calling for the swift commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons as soon as possible, he said that body should also immediately consider China and the Russian Federation’s proposed draft treaty on preventing the placement of weapons in outer space.
SAMSON S. ITEGBOJE (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said any doctrine justifying the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons was unacceptable and unjustifiable. Welcoming the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he urged all States to sign and ratify, emphasizing that States had an inalienable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Group was proud to have adopted the African Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba), and he said such a zone must be established in the Middle East.
To make further gains, he called on the Conference on Disarmament to rapidly agree on a work programme and for the full implementation of the General Assembly’s resolution on follow‑up to its 2013 high‑level meeting on nuclear disarmament. He favourably anticipated the related high‑level international conference, while welcoming the 2017 ministerial conference on the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty. There was an urgent need for Earth and outer space to be free of nuclear weapons. “Outer space, as the common heritage of all humankind, must be explored and utilized exclusively for peaceful purposes,” he said, noting the adoption of the African Space Policy and Strategy in 2016 and the Group’s continued concerns about the proliferation of space debris. He highlighted the efforts of the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa.
MARÍA DEL CARMEN DOMÍNGUEZ ÁLVAREZ (Chile) said it was fundamental to include nuclear disarmament in the Commission’s deliberations, adding that the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened a promising path to a world free of such weapons. Chile hoped that the subsidiary body created by the Conference on Disarmament on preventing an arms race in outer space, as well as the General Assembly’s establishment of a group of governmental experts on that issue, would produce concrete results. Transparency and confidence‑building measures on outer space activities should be complementary, with a collective effort leading to a legally binding instrument to prevent an arms race in outer space, she said, calling on delegations to be pragmatic and flexible so as to repeat the success of the Commission’s 2017 session.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said scant progress in the past two decades in implementing article 6 of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty had led to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a significant signal that the overwhelming majority of the world did not want nuclear threats. While the instrument’s adoption had marked a first step, the next would be for nuclear‑weapon States and their allies to join it. Unfortunately, the gap between States with and without nuclear weapons was widening, leading to loss of trust, more disputes and a new arms race, while poised at the brink of a new cold war. Voicing concern over the erosion of progress on mutual arsenal reductions by the United States and the Russian Federation, he called for increased confidence‑building measures. It was equally important to develop and adopt a legally binding international instrument on the prohibition of the use of scientific discoveries to create new types of weapons of mass destruction.
FERNANDO LUQUE MÁRQUEZ (Ecuador), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, voiced a range of concerns, including recent attempts to distort international disarmament goals in favour of “mythical conditions”, the “timid” progress made in recent years that had led to a dangerous and irresponsible new arms race and the continued illegal possession of nuclear weapons by a handful of States. Welcoming the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he expressed regret that several States had not signed the instrument under the erroneous notion that it would be detrimental to non‑proliferation efforts. It was clear that there could be no non‑proliferation without disarmament. Turning to transparency and confidence‑building measures to prevent an outer space arms race, he said the Commission’s discussion on that issue was commencing “at just the right time” and called on States agree on a legally binding instrument.
ANAYANSI RODRÍGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the Commission’s past successes could lead to further agreements during the current cycle. Calling for the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, she said additional efforts were needed to completely eliminate atomic arsenals. She encouraged participation in the high‑level conference on nuclear disarmament to be held 14‑16 May 2018 and underlined the importance of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in September. Political will was needed to achieve a nuclear‑weapon‑free world. She encouraged the reversal of such trends as States continuing to modernize their arsenals and test new weapons. Raising other matters, she urged the convening of a conference to establish a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East and expressed concern at the threat of an arms race in outer space. She supported strengthening the legal regime governing outer space, adding that while the Chinese‑Russian draft treaty proposal was a good start for negotiations, interim transparency and confidence‑building measures were needed.
NIRMAL RAJ KAFLE (Nepal), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, welcomed the Commission’s adoption of recommendations on practical confidence‑building in the field of conventional weapons. As a party to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and a signatory of the Test‑Ban Treaty, Nepal believed that “States possessing nuclear weapons should respect the importance of principles of transparency, irreversibility and verifiability” with a view to totally eliminating those arms. The exploration and use of outer space should be for peaceful purposes and remain free of weapons, he said, expressing support for the full implementation of measures recommended in the 2013 report of the Group of Governmental Experts. Space‑faring States should provide to other nations information on the principles and goals of their policies and security‑related activities, possibly reporting to a repository that could be developed by the Office for Disarmament Affairs and the Office for Outer Space Affairs.
BASSEM HASSAN (Egypt), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, Arab Group and the African Group, said the Commission was meeting at a time when the world was on the verge of a new chapter of the arms race among nuclear‑weapon States, an alarming reality requiring the immediate revival of reliable multilateral disarmament efforts and revitalization of all components of the disarmament machinery. Calling on States to maintain and build on its success in 2017, he said the Commission could support and facilitate efforts to bring disarmament and arms control back to the forefront of the United Nations work and “make up for the lost decades”. While recognizing the need for a gradual approach in the implementation of certain disarmament commitments, he stressed that actual negotiations on such commitments should not follow a gradual course, especially where principles and final objectives had already been codified. In that context, the Commission’s recommendations should include a clear reiteration of such principles and objectives in both of its agenda items. Spotlighting the urgent need for a clear road map towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons within a specific time frame, he called on nuclear‑weapon States to demonstrate the political will needed for the Commission to reach a substantive outcome.
NEVILLE M. GERTZE (Namibia), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and African Group, said nuclear disarmament should remain a priority on the United Nations agenda, noting many long‑term, positive outcomes of multilateral diplomacy. Any use of nuclear weapons was a violation of the United Nations Charter and crime against humanity. Only their total elimination would assure they would never again be produced or used. In that regard, he expressed concern over scant progress in implementing disarmament obligations by nuclear‑weapon State, calling on them to completely eliminate their atomic arsenals. In addition, outer space should be free of nuclear weapons, as their presence constituted an existential threat to global peace and the future survival of humanity. Outer space should be explored and utilized exclusively for peaceful purposes and for the benefit of all States, he said, welcoming African Space Policy and Strategy, an important framework towards the realization of a regional outer space programme.
SUN LEI (China) said no country could retreat to an isolated island at a time when international arms control and disarmament were closely linked with the security of all nations. In trying to help to build a world of lasting peace and security, China maintained atomic arms to protect its own national security and was the only nuclear‑weapon State to commit to provide unconditional assurances that it would not use such weapons against non‑nuclear‑weapon States. Nevertheless, the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament could not happen overnight and must follow the principles of undiminished security of all. Countries with the largest arsenals had a special responsibility and must make drastic reductions, he said, regretting to note that some had subscribed to a zero‑sum game mentality. Meanwhile, China firmly upheld the existing disarmament regime, with the Non‑Proliferation Treaty as its cornerstone. It had also actively supported the Test‑Ban Treaty. Expressing support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of the Iran nuclear agreement, he called on all parties to operate in good faith. He also called for programmatic efforts to lead the way for the establishment of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East. Turning to outer space, he noted that China was a major sponsor of transparency and confidence‑building measures and called on all States to pursue such steps in order to establish mutual trust and promote cooperation. More broadly, the Commission played an important role in disarmament and in providing guidelines and recommendations, he said, encouraged by the success of last year’s session.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine), recognizing challenges in implementing existing international treaties and bringing new ones into force, reaffirmed a commitment to strengthening the current disarmament machinery. He also underlined the importance of both non‑nuclear‑weapon and nuclear‑weapon States being involved in that process. For its part, Ukraine had been proactive in abandoning its nuclear capability and acceding to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty in 1994, as well as by taking steps to eliminate the use of highly enriched uranium for civilian purposes by removing all existing stocks from its territory in 2012. However, the blatant violation of international obligations, including under the Budapest Memorandum, by one nuclear‑weapon State had undermined the whole United Nations‑based security system. Even more disturbing were the high‑ranking officials from the Russian Federation, striving to escape responsibility, who had stated that provisions of that agreement were only relevant to the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine, with no legally binding consequences. Despite that, Ukraine regarded the Non‑Proliferation Treaty as a key element of the global non‑proliferation regime and would continue to provide support to its effective implementation.
MARTIN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) recalled that progress in 2017 had shown that “when there is a will, we understand each other”. The international community must work together towards complete disarmament through an inclusive and transparent dialogue that considered the positions of all States, he said, adding that recommendations on that issue ahead of the 2020 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference might prove to be the Commission’s greatest legacy. All countries had the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the pursuit of development. Turning to outer space, he said called for its maintenance as a demilitarized arena, adding that confidence‑building measures were both appropriate and necessary, with past work and the Group of Governmental Experts’ conclusions being a good basis for the Commission to begin negotiations. He called on all delegations to join in the body’s current negotiations in a pragmatic and flexible manner.
MAURO VIEIRA (Brazil) said global nuclear disarmament was a long‑standing objective. The Commission should focus on transparency, irreversibility and verification. Discussions on the latter could be based on agreed principles. However, he rejected any approach that pursued the non‑proliferation goals while ignoring disarmament. Indeed, it was illogical to believe that peace and security could be achieved by the updating and modernization of nuclear arsenals, he said, calling on the Commission to consider that matter. As disarmament was a moral and ethical imperative for the whole international community, Brazil supported the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which represented concrete action on the part of nearly two thirds of all nations to close legal gaps regarding the possession and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons. On the issue of outer space, he called for the creation of a legally binding instrument towards preventing its weaponization that could be based on voluntary political measures that had been proposed by the Group of Governmental Experts.
GEORGE WILHELM GALLHOFER (Austria) said that 2017 was a milestone year for the field of disarmament, with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons placing humanitarian concerns centre stage. He called on all States to support the instrument so it could enter into force soon. Condemning nuclear tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he cautioned against fostering a security landscape in which other countries would believe that they too needed atomic arms. Nuclear weapons could not provide security and mutual deterrence was a fatally flawed concept. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was the first bold step toward a nuclear‑weapon‑free world, complementing the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. In that vein, agreements made in New York during the Commission’s session could guide upcoming negotiations in Geneva. Furthermore, he expressed support for the early commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cut‑off treaty, which would establish an effective legal measure that was needed for the implementation of article VI of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. Concerning outer space, he said Austria was aligned with the European Union on such matters. He also expressed support for the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) to provide expertise to the Commission.
NIRUPAM DEV NATH (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said complete nuclear disarmament should be pursued on an equal footing with non‑proliferation. Indeed, the modernization and updating of nuclear arsenals posed a major threat, and drawing lines between the two issues would only hinder both efforts. Voicing support for negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament towards the development of a comprehensive convention on the elimination of nuclear weapons in line with General Assembly resolution 72/251, he said the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was a critical step and urged all States to take a pragmatic view of its signing. He further urged nuclear‑weapon States to eliminate arsenals in line with their international obligations, adding that the provision of non‑discriminatory assurances for non‑nuclear‑weapon States remained critical. Reaffirming the inalienable right of Member States to pursue the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in line with international safeguard regimes, he said Bangladesh planned to deepen its engagement with IAEA. It also supported efforts towards a legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, he said, noting that the Chinese‑Russian proposed treaty served as a good basis to begin those negotiations.
FAISAL M. IBRAHIM (Nigeria), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the African Group, said the Commission should streamline and improve its working methods to better deliver on its mandate, especially by making nuclear disarmament a priority and pointedly confronting the challenge of non‑proliferation. The continued existence of nuclear weapons posed an existential threat to humankind, he said, adding that the cost of maintaining and modernizing arsenals was both outrageous and inexcusable when compared to the resources allocated by States to ventures related to growth, development and prosperity. Reaffirming the International Court of Justice’s 1996 advisory opinion to the effect that the threat or use of nuclear weapons constituted a crime against humanity and a violation of international law, he said the universalization of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty was dependent on strict compliance with the instrument’s three pillars of disarmament, non‑proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Welcoming the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he underlined the need to ensure the peaceful use of outer space and voiced support for the negotiation of a treaty — as well as interim transparency and confidence‑building measures — towards that end.
MOEZZ LAOUANI (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, emphasized that peace and security could not be achieved through the possession of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Instead, more resources should be allocated to development and humanitarian efforts. He recalled that at the 2015 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the Arab Group had proposed a road map forward, which had been endorsed by the Non‑Aligned Movement, but rejected by several nuclear‑weapon States. That breaking of consensus had called into question the seriousness of those States in respecting the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, he said, urging them to immediately halt the policy of double standards in which they supported Israel to the detriment of regional peace and security. The imperative to make the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons was a critical one. The Arab Group had done its part to that end and it was time for others to do the same. In 2017, the failure of nuclear‑weapon States to respect disarmament commitments had induced the international community to accelerate its efforts, leading to the adoption of the first international legally binding treaty banning nuclear weapons.
“This confirms the fact that nuclear weapons are inhumane ones whose use runs counter to the most basic rules of international law,” he stressed, urging the Commission to ensure that its discussions during the current session continued to maintain momentum sparked by the success of the 2017 session. All Arab countries had acceded to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, and submitted their nuclear facilities to IAEA safeguard regimes. A nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East was a critical pillar of that instrument, he said, expressing concern that no concrete progress had been made on the issue in many years. Voicing hope that the present session would lead to clear recommendations, he said it would ultimately depend on the political will of nuclear‑weapon States. Welcoming the inclusion of an agenda item on the prohibition of an arms race in outer space, he described that arena as the common heritage of humankind. Any effort to create rules for its use should therefore strengthen the use of outer space for the benefit of all peoples and prohibit its use for war or arms races.
SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, African Group and the Arab Group, called on Member States to show political will and flexibility to allow the Commission to reach agreement on substantive recommendations. Collective efforts must universalize the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, he said, calling for compliance with each of its three pillars. At the same time, he expressed deep concern at the lack of progress in multilateral disarmament negotiations and called on nuclear‑weapon States to comply with the instrument’s obligations. Touching on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences resulting from a detonation of a nuclear weapon, he endorsed the Humanitarian Pledge, coming out of the 2014 Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, to help to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate such weapons. Noting that Algeria was among the first to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he underlined the importance of nuclear‑weapon‑free zones as not only a confidence‑building measure, but an important step toward achieving nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation objectives. He also expressed concern over an arms race in outer space and called for the commencement of negotiations on an international, legally binding instrument.
ROLANDO CASTRO CÓRDOBA (Costa Rica), welcoming the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a critical step forward, said it was time for all States to eliminate those arms from their defence strategies and military doctrines. “Maintaining the status quo means we are increasingly threatened by insecurity,” he said, urging all States to work together in the context of the upcoming high‑level conference on nuclear disarmament. Voicing regret over the failure to reach consensus at the 2015 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, he called on all States to show the political will to ensure success in 2020. More must be done to ensure States complied with their commitments, especially given the minimal progress in reducing nuclear stockpiles and fresh investments being made to modernize them and extend their lifespans. On outer space, he said countries should share information about their exploration of or military expenditures related to their investments in that arena. Voicing support for a related legally binding instrument, he called for deeper cooperation between States that had established space programmes and those that had yet to do so.
JOHN BRAVACO (United States) said the return of a great power competition was a major factor in shaping United States policy. In addition to expanding their nuclear capabilities, Russia and China were seeking to reshape the post‑Second World War international order in ways antithetical to his country’s values and interests. The United States and its allies strove to maintain and defend democratic traditions against potential aggression. Nuclear deterrence played a critical role in that effort by ensuring allied and partner security, international stability and nuclear non‑proliferation. Meanwhile, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continued its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and Iran continued its missile programme. Chemical weapon use by State and non‑State actors had also increased, in Syria and now in the United Kingdom, where a nerve agent had been used, he said, noting his country’s belief that the Russian Federation was responsible for the latter attack.
Turning to the Commission’s Working Group on nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation, he said that incompatible priorities and expectations had prevented progress on that topic and shared interests must be the focus to make advances going forward. The United States had begun to articulate a new approach — creating the conditions for nuclear disarmament — that considered prevailing geopolitical conditions. With respect to the Working Group on outer space, he said it was unfortunate that some countries believed that the ability to attack space assets offered an asymmetric advantage, and, as a result, were pursuing a range of anti‑satellite weapons. While the United States would prefer that the space domain remained free of conflict, it would meet and overcome any challenges that arose. More specifically, the United States had already undertaken a number of activities consistent with the recommendations of the Group of Governmental Experts’ 2013 report and would provide its view on those accomplishments in forthcoming deliberations.
KOSUKE AMIYA (Japan) said that to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, disarmament efforts should be advanced with participation from both nuclear‑weapon and non‑nuclear‑weapon States, taking into account existing security threats. Japan continued to call for the early entry into force of the Test‑Ban Treaty and its universalization, while calling for maintaining all existing moratoria on nuclear test explosions. The international community was facing rising tensions in the security environment, with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes posing an unprecedented, grave and imminent threat to the entire world. The international community must reaffirm that a nuclear‑armed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would never be accepted.
As the only country to have ever suffered atomic bombings in wartime, Japan was at the forefront of nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation, he said. Nuclear disarmament must be promoted based on two principles — a clear understanding of the humanitarian impacts of the use of nuclear weapons, and an objective assessment of the reality of the security situation. It was imperative to maintain and strengthen the Non‑Proliferation Treaty regime as the cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation regime, with it being vital to achieve a meaningful outcome at the 2020 review conference. For its part, Japan would continue to strengthen cooperation with other States and groups of States.
GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the new nuclear arms race, and efforts to modernize arsenals, must end. As nuclear‑weapon States had a legal obligation and an ethical and moral responsibility, they could not and should not insist on “such obscured and unrealistic strategies as deterrence”. Negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention must start soon. Outer space should be explored and utilized exclusively for peaceful purposes. The Commission should recommend that Israel join the Non‑Proliferation Treaty without conditions and place, as a non‑nuclear‑weapon party, its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. For its part, Iran had fully implemented all its nuclear commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “However, the current irresponsible and destructive approach, policy and practice of the United States regarding the Plan of Action had seriously challenged its continuity,” he said. Iran’s implementation of its commitments could continue only if all other parties would continue implementing their obligations fully, effectively and unconditionally. “Iran will react proportionally to any continued significant non‑implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commitments by one of its participants,” he said, adding that the agreement could not be renegotiated or altered. “The international community should not allow the United States’ Administration to continue to mock and undermine the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the African Group, expressed concern over the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament since 1999. The modernization of arsenals and their means of delivery by some nuclear‑weapon States in violation of article VI of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty was a serious concern. South Africa was among the first 50 countries to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, but that instrument was not the final word on such weapons. The vitality and relevance of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty must be recognized, he said, adding that it was unacceptable for States parties to treat their obligations as an “à la carte” menu from which they could choose. On outer space activities, he stressed the importance of international cooperation and dialogue, adding that there was no alternative to open and transparent multilateral processes in which all interested States could participate on an equal footing.
RUBÉN ARMANDO ESCALANTE HASBÚN (El Salvador), noting his country was a party to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco), said the continued existence of nuclear weapons and their role in the security doctrines of some countries constituted a major threat to international peace and security. Welcoming the adoption and opening to signature of the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons, he said that agreement would help to strengthen the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. Yet, he rejected any attempts to create divisions or change the paradigm of the common pursuit of complete disarmament. El Salvador supported the expanded use of outer space for solely peaceful purposes and for the equal benefit of all States without regard to their development status. Emphasizing that transparency and confidence‑building measures could eliminate misunderstandings among States in their outer space activities, he voiced support for efforts to facilitate the exchange of information on national outer space activities and expenditures.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) recalled that, on 5 February, his country had confirmed its full compliance with its obligations under the New START Treaty, reducing its overall capacity to a level even lower than the limits provided for by the agreement. That meant the Russian Federation had cut its nuclear arsenal by over 85 per cent since the height of the cold war, he said, underlining the need to consider a range of factors as the international community pursued nuclear disarmament. Those included the unlimited deployment of the United States’ global missile defence system, the development of high‑precision non‑nuclear strategic offensive weapons, the United States’ reluctance to abandon plans of deploying strike weapons in outer space and the increasing qualitative and quantitative imbalances in conventional arms. Voicing concern that some States were developing doctrines providing for a significantly increased role of nuclear weapons, while also establishing a lower threshold for their use, he said North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) missions where non‑nuclear‑weapon States were trained to deploy those arms constituted a direct violation of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. “Such developments raise the risk of nuclear conflict,” he said, emphasizing that attempts to strengthen one country’s security at the expense of others were doomed to fail.
Such principles as equal rights, mutual respect and consensus between States must not only be declared, but also applied in practice, he continued. In the context of heightened military and political tensions, and in order to prevent the most dangerous scenarios, the Russian Federation had been obliged to take technical military measures on 1 March — all in strict compliance with existing arms control agreements. The objective of complete nuclear disarmament would not be achieved through the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which not only failed to facilitate progress, but also caused problems in securing the viability and effectiveness of the fundamental Non‑Proliferation Treaty. “Raising the issue of immediate total nuclear disarmament is clearly premature,” he said, also voicing concern that a number of States had withdrawn from the Test‑Ban Treaty and the United States, in its new nuclear policy, did not exclude the possibility of tests. He expressed support for the objective of preventing an arms race in outer space and described the proposal by his delegation, along with China, as a “full‑fledged multilateral initiative” towards that goal.
M. SHAHRUL IKRAM YAAKOB (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Commission was the sole specialized body with universal membership in the field of disarmament and non‑proliferation. He looked forward to the second meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Review Conference and was optimistic it would achieve tangible results. Meanwhile, he applauded the spirit of cooperation at the meeting in March of the Preparatory Committee for the third United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. Malaysia remained committed towards the establishment of adequate and stringent domestic laws to effectively control the circulation of conventional arms. Regarding an arms race in outer space, he welcomed further dialogue to deepen understanding around security threats and hazards, transparency and confidence‑building measures, and areas of practical international cooperation.
FRED FRIMPONG (Ghana), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the African Group, expressed hope that the 2020 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference would move beyond its past setbacks and take multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation forward. The high‑level conference on nuclear disarmament would meanwhile enable Member States to take stock of progress and to further advance the goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons had become an indispensable part of the general disarmament discourse while also reinforcing the objectives of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. Focused efforts on establishing legally binding instruments were key to addressing the fragility of outer space and its use for the common good.
CHO TAE-YUL (Republic of Korea) said his Government had taken several measures aimed at translating its disarmament commitments into action. It had participated in the work of the High‑level Fissile Material Cut‑off Treaty Expert Preparatory Group and the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification, among other bodies, while also making the utmost efforts to resolve the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear issue through maximum pressure and engagement. Describing that as the most serious modern‑day threat to global security, he said a series of high‑level interactions between concerned parties were now unfolding “at breakneck speed”. An inter‑Korean summit would be held on 27 April, where the Republic of Korea would work to keep up its hard‑won momentum towards the peaceful achievement of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Welcoming the inclusion of an agenda item related to outer space activities, he voiced support for Australia’s threefold proposal on transparency and confidence‑building measures in that arena, stressing that discussions should focus on establishing norms of behaviour to promote safety in outer space activities.
MARÍA ANTONIETA SOCORRO JÁQUEZ HUACUJA (Mexico) said the Commission was meeting in a global context characterized by a complicated international security situation not seen since the cold war. She highlighted the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and cautioned against their normalization. In that vein, she was concerned about the justification by some States for increasing their stockpiles while decreasing resources allocated toward development. Indeed, nuclear disarmament continued to be a priority of the multilateral agenda and was a matter of existential importance, she said, noting action of some States who asserted that arms, particularly nuclear weapons, supported peace. Because of their devastating impact and indiscriminate nature, nuclear weapons could never be considered beneficial. Disarmament and non‑proliferation were two processes that were mutually reinforcing. She called for commitments made under the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and article VI to be upheld, noting that compliance was not subject to any conditions. Turning to outer space activities, she expressed support for the use of space for exclusively peaceful purposes and the benefit of all countries. Outer space was an indispensable tool for the betterment of all people. In that vein, she appealed to States to adhere to United Nations treaties on outer space and said measures to increase transparency, trust and global security were needed.
HADAS ESTER MEITZAD (Israel) urged the Commission to consider the issue of nuclear disarmament in context, striking a balance between what was plausible and what was possible. Relevant regional circumstances must be always be taken into account, she stressed, calling for a better understanding of prevailing realities before States considered embarking on new venues for disarmament negotiations. Israel supported the goal of achieving a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, but only in the context of mutual recognition and the cessation of all hostilities and acts of terrorism and aggression. Citing escalating tensions across the Middle East, she said the region had become a “laboratory for terrorist acts”. Conventions on chemical weapons had been repeatedly violated. Syria must comply fully with all its international obligations, including the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction. Meanwhile, Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its clandestine nuclear activities continued unabated. Taken together with Iran’s various aggressions, it was clear that any regional arms control process “cannot be separated from the reality we face”, she said. Concerning nuclear‑weapon‑free zones, she recalled that a relevant 1999 Disarmament Commission report had detailed elements required for the creation of such areas, including the need to consider realities on the ground and for such agreements to emanate exclusively from the region in question.
TEGAN BRINK (Australia), noting that her country was chairing the current session, said the Commission must reassess its working methods and objectives. On topics such as outer space, where Member States were still developing positions and best practices, there was value in holding broader discussions. However, on non‑proliferation and disarmament, a focused discussion could lead to outcomes that could be conveyed to the 2020 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the Conference on Disarmament and the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament. On outer space activities, she said that non‑binding transparency and confidence‑building measures were the best and most immediate approach to encourage security.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, noted the appreciation that some delegates had expressed for recently reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula. That was thanks to his country’s magnanimous measures to bring about real peace and security, and not the result of the pressure and sanctions exerted by the United States or others. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had developed nuclear weapons as a deterrent to protect its people from aggression by the United States and threats over the past 70 years. Absent that threat, his country would not need such a deterrent. The United States and other hostile forces should stop their anachronistic policy, he said, calling on all to approach the situation on the Korean Peninsula with prudence, self‑control and patience.
The representative of Iran said his counterpart from Israel had made unfounded allegations against his country. Israel was only trying to divert attention from their expansionist policies and aggression, and nothing could cover up the brutalities of the regime and the reality of its policies and practices. By accusing others, they were trying to portray themselves as sheep when they were actually wolves, as evidenced by the recent killing of 20 innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Israel had waged more than 15 wars during its lifetime and had invaded all of its neighbours and even countries beyond the region. Moreover, it continued to commit and sponsor terrorist acts and possessed weapons of mass destruction, refusing to be a party to treaties banning such weapons. Its nuclear facilities were the only non‑safeguarded facilities in the Middle East and it was the only one rejecting the establishment of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the region.
The representative of Japan said his country would never accept a nuclear‑armed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang’s words about denuclearization and peaceful engagement must become action towards the total and irreversible dismantlement of its missiles.
The representative of the United States said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear weapons programme represented a “clear, grave threat” to international peace and security and violated numerous Security Council resolutions that explicitly prohibited them. That country’s missile tests and related activities only served to increase the international community’s resolve to counter those programmes, he said, calling on Pyongyang to refrain from using inflammatory rhetoric and engage in serious negotiations. Calling on all States to take actions demonstrating that there were consequences to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s violations, including cutting economic and diplomatic ties, he said the United States’ commitment to defending its allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan, remained ironclad. The United States would take steps to defend itself and its allies using the full range of capabilities at its disposal. Pressure on Pyongyang would continue and increase until there was action towards denuclearization.
The representative of Syria said Israel had attempted to divert attention from the real danger in the region — its own nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction. The Israeli entity should be the last to speak about disarmament and level such accusations, as it had introduced terrorism to the region and refused to join any international conventions related to weapons of mass destruction. In addition, it continued to develop and modernize its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and provided them to armed terrorist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Nusrah Front. Meanwhile, the Israeli entity itself had used toxic substances against civilians in all its attacks against Arab countries.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in a second intervention, said it was the United States’ nuclear policies that had induced his country to take defensive action. The current pressure and sanctions would not resolve the problem, he said, calling on the United States and Japan to take a more “sincere and responsible attitude” towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The representative of the United States, taking the floor a second time, said that while he welcomed recent diplomatic overtures on the Korean Peninsula, international pressure would increase on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea until concrete actions of denuclearization were made by that country.