Speakers highlighted the importance of nuclear non‑proliferation treaties and of strengthening confidence and trust among political leaders of the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East, as the Security Council held a high‑level briefing today on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres noted Kazakhstan’s tradition of support for the global non‑proliferation regime. He also underscored that engagement in disarmament, non‑proliferation and arms control measures built confidence. However, that confidence could be undermined by bellicose rhetoric and confrontational approaches, he cautioned.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme was being questioned, he said. The multilateral agreement, which was in the best interest of the Iranian people and the international community at large, should be preserved. Meanwhile, the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict seriously challenged the “global taboo” against those weapons of mass destruction. If it was again determined that chemical weapons had been used in Syria, the international community must find an appropriate way to identify those responsible and to hold them to account.
The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, pointed to his own country’s renunciation of nuclear weapons as an example to other countries, and underscored that an atmosphere of mutual trust could foster a new model of international cooperation. Non‑proliferation was a matter of humanity’s survival, he said, noting that as the number of countries with weapons of mass destruction increased, so did the risk of such weapons falling into the hands of destructive forces. To that end, it should be made more difficult to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was a good example of the return of systemic dialogues in international affairs and confidence in political institutions, he said, spotlighting that it was only possible thanks to an atmosphere of trust. A similar approach could be applied to resolve challenges concerning the Korean Peninsula and to restore trust among the parties concerned.
Andrzei Duda, President of Poland, said that the provocative actions of the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea undermined non‑proliferation efforts. The stockpiling of chemical weapons and its ballistic missile programmes were a clear violation of international law and showed that a policy of aggression had overshadowed one of open dialogue and trust.
Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, said that the Middle East was unfortunately still a flagrant example of threats facing the non‑proliferation system. He also noted the selectivity of the Security Council in dealing with those threats. Further, he condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, highlighting that the inability of the Council to keep the mechanism to determine which party was using those weapons meant that party had impunity.
The representative of the United States said that States must comply with their international obligations and demand that Iran, a country that supported terrorism and murderers, fulfil its obligations. That was not because the United States wanted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to fail, but because it wanted non‑proliferation to succeed, she said. On the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, she said that the Russian Federation had vetoed resolutions on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, and urged unity on that issue through constructive, effective actions.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that the United States and the United Kingdom had erroneously complained that his country had closed the Joint Investigative Mechanism and vetoed its extension. In fact, it was his country that had proposed the resolution to extend the Mechanism and improve its impartiality, but those Member States had not allowed that resolution to pass.
Several delegates stated their views on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, with the Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific of the United Kingdom, Mark Field, noting that while the Non‑Proliferation Treaty remained a cornerstone, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons did not offer tangible benefits to signatories, and that was the reason why his country would not sign on to that instrument.
Offering a different view, the representative of Equatorial Guinea noted that the Treaty was a way to move forward, given that despite a common desire to eliminate nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, tangible results had been elusive.
As a member of the world’s first nuclear‑weapon‑free zone, Bolivia also subscribed to the implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and was firmly against any form of nuclear testing, that country’s representative said. Cooperation among States was a powerful tool to bring about non‑proliferation, he added.
Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, also made a statement during the meeting.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Peru, Sweden, France, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, China and Netherlands.
The meeting began at 10:19 a.m. and ended at 12:59 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary‑General, said that Kazakhstan had a proud tradition of support for a world free of weapons of mass destruction, and for the global non‑proliferation regime. As the Council declared in 1992 at its first Head of State‑level Summit on the issue, the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction constituted a threat to international peace and security. The situation on the Korean Peninsula was the most dangerous peace and security challenge in the world today, he said, noting that he welcomed the Security Council’s firm decisions in response to the nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Elsewhere, trust on nuclear and other issues between the United States and the Russian Federation continued to ebb, he said. Vital strategic arms reductions measures established during and after the cold war were under threat, he said. After the expiration of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms in 2021, there would be no new arms control negotiations under way. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme was also being questioned. That multilateral agreement, which was in the interest of the Iranian people and the international community at large, should be preserved. In the Syrian conflict, the use of chemical weapons seriously challenged the global taboo against those weapons of mass destruction. If the use of chemical weapons in Syria was once again determined, the international community must find an appropriate way to identify those responsible and to hold them to account.
Confidence was undermined by bellicose rhetoric, confrontational approaches, the absence of communications channels, and inflexible positions, he continued. Engagement in disarmament, non‑proliferation and arms control measures built confidence. It was alarming to see historic accords such as the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty under question. Effective verification mechanisms had proven to be some of the most successful and enduring types of confidence‑building measures. From the ground‑breaking verification protocols of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, to the invaluable work undertaken by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), verification built confidence. In that context, he welcomed the establishment of a Group of Governmental Experts on Nuclear Disarmament Verification.
The United Nations could play a central role in assisting Member States to develop, augment and support confidence‑building measures, he said. The Organization’s position as an “honest broker” allowed it to act as a venue in which all parties could engage in dialogue, whether for the development of new norms and values, or to resolve existing disputes and promote understanding. The Security Council in particular could provide leadership by demonstrating unity and by continuing to highlight the importance of dialogue and diplomacy as an essential means for building confidence. A measure that all Member States could take was the universal and complete implementation of all disarmament and non‑proliferation obligations.
NURSULTAN A. NAZARBAYEV, President of Kazakhstan, said that confidence‑building measures had justified themselves at a time when humanity was at the brink of a large‑scale war. An atmosphere of mutual trust could facilitate formation of a new model of international cooperation, he said, pointing to his own country’s renunciation of nuclear weapons as an example that could serve as practical guidance to other countries. Developments in science and technology as well as the realities of globalization meant that non‑proliferation was a matter of humanity’s survival. The increase in the number of countries that possessed weapons of mass destruction created a greater risk of nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological weapons falling into the hands of destructive forces.
He said it should be made more difficult to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and suggested the possibility of developing a special Security Council resolution defining implications for countries in breach of the Treaty, including sanctions or other coercive measures. The international community should develop a truly effective mechanism for applying stringent measures against acquiring or proliferating weapons of mass destruction. A legally binding system of safeguards by nuclear States must be developed, he stressed, adding that the division of countries into military blocs, whose existence was provocative and meaningless, should be left behind.
Political trust and systemic dialogues should be brought back to international affairs, he said, calling attention to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as a good example. The agreement was possible thanks to an atmosphere of trust, and a similar constructive approach should be applied to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula. The world was deeply concerned by developments there, although those challenges could be resolved through a restoration of trust. Providing security guarantees to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would be an important condition for creating an atmosphere of trust and Pyongyang’s return to the negotiating table. Stressing that the most effective measures for combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction was the creation of nuclear‑weapon‑free zones, he warned that scientific achievements could result in a new arms race, and in that regard, the international community should strengthen control over the creation and proliferation of new military and information technologies.
ANDRZEI DUDA, President of Poland, said that support for and the creation of new international legal instruments to mitigate unlawful and aggressive behaviour of some members of the international community was a priority for his country. He stressed that aggression, as well as any attempt to build aggressive capabilities, should always be treated as a violation of international norms, as it led to the erosion of the peaceful existence of States. The very essence of solidarity and lawfulness at the international level was the peaceful cooperation between States, which was why it was so important to further develop legal instruments in international relations, as well as the ability to enforce them.
Despite having developed and established a legal and treaty architecture, non‑proliferation and disarmament remained an unfinished endeavour, he underscored. The Non‑Proliferation Treaty had a mixed record, first and foremost because there was no requirement for a country to join it, and those that had joined could withdraw with no more than three months’ notice. Within the Treaty there was no framework for a sanctions regime to guard against violations, and although it allowed for signatories to pursue a nuclear strategy for peaceful purposes, the inspections procedure was based on voluntary cooperation and mutual trust. Recent developments in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, broken assurances provided for Ukraine by the Budapest Memorandum, controversies over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as well as threats posed by non‑State actors, demonstrated that the non‑proliferation agenda was as topical as ever.
Provocative actions taken by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s regime risked not only destabilizing the region, but also undermined the non‑proliferation efforts, he said. The stockpiling of chemical weapons, the development of military nuclear capabilities and ballistic missile programmes, as well as provocative tests of those weapons were a clear violation of international law. Such actions showed that a policy of aggression and confrontation overshadowed the policy of open dialogue and trust. Poland had been a long‑standing and active supporter of strengthening non‑proliferation and disarmament norms and principles, and despite the concerns raised over the Treaty, he believed it was the only real instrument that brought the world closer to being nuclear‑free. The proliferation of ballistic missiles, including those capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, was equally significant to global and regional security.
SHEIKH SABAH KHALID AL HAMAD AL SABAH, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, said that the choice of subject matter was extremely important for the international community and the Council, in order to guard the world from weapons of mass destruction. The disarmament and non‑proliferation efforts were essential for preserving international peace and security. He highlighted his country’s commitment to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and its conviction that international treaties were useful. The ideal means to end proliferation was to remove nuclear weapons completely.
He highlighted the challenges of the Middle East in creating zones free of nuclear weapons. The Middle East was unfortunately still a flagrant example of threats facing the non‑proliferation system, he said, noting the selectivity of the Security Council in how it dealt with those threats. It was therefore not surprising that the region was feeling disappointed, particularly in the Arab countries, because of the failure to implement a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone.
The debate today reaffirmed how earnestly the Security Council addressed threats and the dangers represented by weapons of mass destruction. Any attack or use of deadly weapons would lead to destruction that could not possibly be repeated. He condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and followed with concern over the allegations of the use of those weapons by the warring parties. The inability of the Council to keep the mechanism to determine which party was using those weapons meant that party had impunity, he said.
SERGEY V. LAVROV, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said that the topic was relevant because 1 July 2018 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the invitation to sign the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. Leading up to that anniversary, there had been major challenges that would make the review cycle more difficult. All countries should shed an unwillingness to heed one another’s views. In 2015 there was a trend to compel the nuclear powers to get rid of their weapons, and that approach was pushed through with the opening of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. But full eradication was only possible under the condition that equitable security was available for all, he said.
He called upon all stakeholders who determined the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty to carry through with its signing and ratification. It was important to bring together efforts to implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to resolve the situation around the Iranian programme. The overwhelming international community believed that the action plan strengthened peace and security. It should not be abandoned because of the agendas of certain countries. He also expressed his concern over the growing threat of chemical terrorism in the Middle East. Militants were using toxic chemicals and had their own manufacturing facilities, he said.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States), recalling Kazakhstan’s denuclearization route, emphasized that her country played a leading role in implementing resolution 1540 (2004), assisting States to prevent non‑State actors from developing or acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems. But today’s landscape was complex, with security challenges that spilled over borders. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea posed the greatest threat to international security, defying the Council’s resolutions while starving its citizens. The Council must rise to the challenge and fully implement all resolutions. For its part, the United States would continue to work on a diplomatic solution while it remained dedicated to defending itself.
Turning to Iran, a country that supported terrorism and murderers, she said an Iranian‑supplied missile was used to attack civilians in Yemen. The Iranian regime had also violated prohibitions and proven itself to be “unworthy of our trust”, she said, emphasizing that States must comply with their international obligations and demand that Iran fulfilled its own obligations, not because the United States wanted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to fail, but because it wanted non‑proliferation to succeed. Raising the issue of the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, she said perpetrators must be held accountable and related issues must be addressed. However, the Russian Federation had vetoed resolutions on the OPCW‑UN Joint Investigative Mechanism and its important work, she said, urging unity on the issue through constructive, effective actions.
MARK FIELD, Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific of the United Kingdom, said that if the non‑proliferation rule book was to remain effective in the twenty‑first century, then all stakeholders must play their part. The threat of a nuclear Iran had brought the Council together to defend commonly held rules and shared interests. Hard work had produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a successful result the United Kingdom strongly supported. However, challenges remained. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continued to flout non‑proliferation rules with its illegal nuclear weapon programme, as indicated in some of the strictest sanctions the Council had adopted in recent times.
Meanwhile, the Council could not agree on addressing the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he said. Such divisions were sending a dangerous, confused message to would‑be proliferators, he said, imploring all Council members to take a united path. The Non‑Proliferation Treaty remained the cornerstone in the field, offering tangible benefits to signatories. The Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons, however, did not, which was why the United Kingdom would not join that instrument. Instead, other steps could advance progress, including ensuring that the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty entered into force.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said current tensions across the world required an enhanced culture of dialogue, peace and development. As a country in the world’s first nuclear‑weapon‑free zone, Bolivia firmly subscribed to the implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and stood against any form of nuclear testing. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula must be resolved through dialogue leading to denuclearization, with confidence‑building measures that could be modelled after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme. As Chair of the Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1540 (2004) on non‑proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their delivery methods, Bolivia supported the view that cooperation among States was a powerful and effective tool to reach that goal. Concerned about exorbitant military expenditure, he said those funds would be better spent on health and education with a view to preventing and resolving conflict.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that his country was committed to disarmament and non‑proliferation. To preserve international peace and security, the threat of nuclear weapons should be eliminated by disarmament. Peru was part of the first nuclear‑weapon‑free zones in the world, he said, underscoring that the challenges facing the non‑proliferation regime were the most serious threat to international peace and security today. The international community should attend to challenges presented by the weapons programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He welcomed the Iranian programme, which was promoted by IAEA. He said that the commitment of the Council to combat the use of chemical weapons in Syria should be promoted further. In that context, it must go beyond sanctions and promote preventive diplomacy.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said progress on nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation must be a priority for the Council and the international community. Frustration over the lack of progress vis‑à‑vis the Non‑Proliferation Treaty must be addressed by concrete action in implementing existing disarmament commitments. It was essential to build trust, something that was clearly lacking today. In assuming the rotating presidency of the Conference on Disarmament, Sweden would strive to identify substantive issues on which a programme of work could be agreed. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action demonstrated the potential of diplomacy and it was vital that all parties to that instrument continue to implement their commitments. In parallel to implementing the sanctions regime on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more work must be undertaken to reduce tensions and build trust, he said, welcoming that country’s decision to participate in the Olympic Games as a window of opportunity that must be seized. On the use of chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq, he said those responsible must be identified and brought to justice, adding that the use of the veto in the Council was hindering accountability.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said a century after chemical weapons had first been used, the non‑proliferation regime had been weakened, as cases in Iraq, Syria and Asia demonstrated. Likewise, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea represented an alarming threat and the Council must remain steadfast in its firm and determined efforts to address that issue. In such a complex context, confidence‑building and transparency initiatives at regional and multilateral levels were critical, including through IAEA‑guided activities. France strongly supported the Non‑Proliferation Treaty as a critical tool, but rejected any international initiative that could weaken that instrument.
France also supported the implementation of resolution 1540 (2004) to prevent non‑State actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, he said. For its part, France was involved with the Security Council’s non‑proliferation initiative and remained convinced that the international community could find solutions through multilateral efforts to the proliferation crisis, as demonstrated by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and resolution 2231 (2015). Together, the plan and the resolution constituted the cornerstone for regional and international security and stability. A restoration of a complete ban on chemical weapons was imperative, and impunity must end, with perpetrators punished, he said, noting that France would hold a meeting on related concerns later in January. Going forward, efforts must continue to advance gains and ensure progress.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) said recent issues underlined the need for increasing efforts to strengthen dialogue and existing non‑proliferation instruments. Unfortunately, nuclear‑weapon States had failed to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and must now provide security assurances to non‑possessor nations. All stakeholders must create the conditions for the Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty to enter into force. Côte d’Ivoire was dedicated to peace and to seeing Africa remain a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone. Moving forward, the international community must remain united with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which represented the best guarantee to avert an arms race in the Middle East. It also must stay committed to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and to addressing chemical weapon use in Syria, while ensuring that resolution 1540 (2004) was implemented to prevent non‑State actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, he said, emphasizing the usefulness of regional and subregional partners in such efforts.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said Non‑Proliferation Treaty norms were being seriously tested. Discussions of confidence‑building measures and dialogue had been timely to, among other things, address pressing challenges and to find solutions. While the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action remained a resounding example of such efforts, more needed to be done, he said, expressing hope that participating countries would continue to uphold their commitments. Based on lessons learned from that agreement, there was a need to address the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s testing activities through a diplomatic path to resolving the crisis on the Peninsula. Welcoming the decision of the United States and the Republic of Korea to reduce military exercises in the area, he hoped the forthcoming Olympic Games could provide further opportunities for even small steps that could help to pave the way towards dialogue, which in turn could shape a lasting solution. Turning to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction among non‑State actors, he said relevant instruments must be effectively implemented and that the Council must play its important role.
WU HAITAO (China) said peace and development were the world’s main themes, but security threats were on the rise, including the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The international community had found consensus on non‑proliferation, but risks and challenges remained, including conflict hotspots that saw terrorist groups acquiring such weapons. Achieving the common goals of building a clean, beautiful and inclusive world must include enhancing cooperation. States should adhere to the principles of the United Nations Charter, build a new form of international relations and create a security pattern that provided common benefits. The Council must fulfil its essential role to prevent conflicts and build peace, which would remove a driver of weapons proliferation, he said, adding that sanctions would only lead to exacerbating conflict.
Turning to the Korean Peninsula and its recent success in de‑escalating tensions, he said further efforts were needed to maintain that momentum. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was an effective way to address proliferation concerns, he continued, emphasizing that the international non‑proliferation regime, through relevant instruments and resolutions, was an important part of the security landscape. Commitments to enhancing States’ capacities to undertake non‑proliferation initiatives must be guided by a spirit of cooperation alongside the provision of international aid, as needed. China advocated for finding peaceful solutions to conflicts and opposed all proliferation activities. For its part, China fully implemented Council resolutions and worked for political solutions to conflict hotspots. A denuclearized Korean Peninsula was essential, he said, emphasizing that China would continue to work towards a diplomatic solution to that situation.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) emphasized the need to universalize, implement, verify and enforce international non‑proliferation norms, adding that effectively addressing non‑compliance would strengthen international confidence in the global non‑proliferation architecture. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was a proven success and all parties to that instrument must continue to fulfil their commitments. The sanctions regime imposed on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must be scrupulously implemented worldwide, while accountability for the use of chemical weapons in Syria must be ensured. He added that the 2020 Non‑Proliferation Treaty review cycle was an opportunity to strengthen the non‑proliferation architecture, and called on all States to make every effort to realize the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said that despite a common desire to totally eliminate nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, tangible results were elusive. Welcoming the newly adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a way to move forward, he highlighted the need for possessor States to engage in constructive dialogue with their non‑possessor counterparts to achieve further progress. He also underlined the importance of nuclear‑weapon‑free zones, IAEA activities and relevant General Assembly resolutions. Concerned about the languishing impasse in the Conference on Disarmament, he said efforts must aim at overcoming the stalemate so it could resume its functions as the sole global negotiating body in its field. Turning to conventional weapons, he reiterated the importance of the Arms Trade Treaty while emphasizing States’ sovereign rights to self‑defence.
The representative of the Russian Federation, taking the floor a second time, said that the meeting was dedicated to strengthening confidence‑building measures, but unfortunately in the world and in the Security Council in particular there was insufficient confidence and trust. He questioned what kind of trust there could be if the United States and the United Kingdom continued to manipulate the Council and the social sentiment of the international community. His country was not being heard and its positions were being distorted. He said those countries erroneously complained that the Russian Federation had closed the OPCW‑UN Joint Investigative Mechanism and vetoed its extension. Those countries had shamefully forgotten that the Russian Federation had proposed the resolution to extend the Mechanism and improve its impartiality, and they did not allow that to pass. Their Mechanism had discredited itself with a mendacious report that withstood no criticism.
The representative of the United Kingdom, taking the floor a second time, said that the Russian Federation was a key player in creating the Joint Investigative Mechanism, and that it had also voted to establish it. The Mechanism was an independent expert body that had made a key undisputed finding of fact, the fact that the Syrian regime had gassed its own people. Those were the facts that the Russian Federation did not like. It was on that basis that it chose to veto the Mechanism, and in so doing it had set back the whole issue of non‑proliferation.