Calling for the establishment of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East, delegates spotlighted the benefits such an area would have in promoting peace in the region, as the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) concluded its general debate today.
The Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States expressed strong support for the creation of such a zone. However, some regional parties are not committed to United Nations resolutions and decisions to create one, raising fears about the universalization of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, he stressed. Highlighting a forthcoming United Nations conference on creating such a zone, to be held at Headquarters in November, he encouraged all participating States to prioritize regional interests and to call on Israel to reconsider its decision not to participate.
Syria’s representative said that despite calls from other Member States, Israel has not yet joined the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. As such, he called on Member States to work towards freeing the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction and to compel Israel to adhere to the agreement and place its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
An observer for the State of Palestine, firmly supporting the idea of a nuclear‑weapon‑free Middle East as well as the forthcoming United Nations meeting on realizing it, said “a decision of self‑exclusion or boycott of the conference by one party can only be attributed to this country’s longstanding delaying tactic regarding the establishment of a such zone”. But, creating a zone free of such arms is imperative and critical for international peace and security, he said, adding that all weapons of mass destruction must be prohibited, as their use is incompatible with the rules of international law.
The Permanent Observer for the Holy See said nuclear weapons “exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict, but the entire human race”. He urged those Governments possessing atomic arsenals to reconsider any plans to modernize their capabilities, which would risk expanding instead of reducing their role in global security.
Today’s meeting concluded the Committee’s general debate, which began 10 October, and featured statements delivered by more than 120 delegates, who shared their concerns, challenges and national strategies on a range of issues. From ballooning military spending — which reached $1.8 trillion in 2018 — to the stalled disarmament machinery, many delegates cautioned against the start of a new worldwide arms race, on Earth and in outer space. Some called attention to the rising global trade in small arms and light weapons and the increasing incidence of cyberattacks, with several commending work being done to regulate these threats.
Others called for galvanized efforts to focus on returning to a multilateral path towards the commonly shared goal of a world without nuclear weapons, with some pointing out that there are almost 14,000 atomic bombs in existence today, representing a grave threat to humanity. Some delegates drew attention to the crucial link between disarmament and sustainable development, calling for a shift from military spending to initiatives centred on realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Also speaking today was an observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Representatives of the Russian Federation, United States, Syria and France spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The First Committee will reconvene on Monday, 21 October, at 10 a.m., to resume its consideration of organizational matters.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon to continue its general debate. For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3624 of 10 October.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that despite calls from other Member States, Israel has not joined the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The failure of that instrument’s 2015 Review Conference, due to positions taken by the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, encouraged Israel to challenge the will of the international community. He called on Member States to work towards freeing the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction and to compel Israel to adhere to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and place its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Israel, through its Zionist doctrine, is itself a weapon of mass destruction, he said, and so too are those States that supply it with weapons. As a State party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, Syria condemns the criminal use of these weapons and has, despite difficult circumstances, carried out all of its obligations under that instrument. In more than 180 messages to the Secretary‑General, Security Council, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism and others, Syria has given precise information about the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups by States supporting them. Member States must bear responsibility for stopping the trafficking of weapons to armed militants at Syria’s border, he said, adding that if they fail to do so, then — sooner or later — the scourge of terrorism will strike back.
BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, cited Pope Francis in saying nuclear weapons “exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict, but the entire human race”. He urged those Governments possessing nuclear weapons to reconsider any plans to modernize their capabilities, whether for missiles, aircraft, submarines or warheads, which would risk expanding instead of reducing their role in global security. He further urged all Governments to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty so it may finally come into force. It is unfortunate that the Conference on Disarmament has been unable for years to agree on further steps in support of eliminating nuclear weapons, as its members have the serious responsibility to work together in overcoming the impasse, he said. With mounting tensions in South Asia raising the possibility of conflict between nuclear‑armed neighbours, an agreement to cease the production of related fissile material would reduce those risks.
MAJED S. F. BAMYA, an observer for the State of Palestine, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and Arab Group, said all weapons of mass destruction must be prohibited, as their use is incompatible with the rules of international law. The Non‑Proliferation Treaty is about disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, “not a fait accompli that would justify the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons”. For its part, the State of Palestine has joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and firmly supports the creation of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East, something crucial for international peace and security. Underlining the importance of the United Nations conference on the issue, to be held at United Nations Headquarters in November, he said “a decision of self‑exclusion or boycott of the conference by one party can only be attributed to this country’s longstanding delaying tactic regarding the establishment of a such zone”. In addition, this party is the only one that has unlawfully acquired nuclear weapons and refuses to join the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. More broadly, he regretted to note that resources for the production and trade of weapons are being allocated at the expense of development initiatives and the eradication of poverty.
MAGED ABDELFATTAH ABDELAZIZ, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, associating himself with the Arab Group, underscored his support for complete disarmament, the non‑proliferation regime and the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Regrettably, some regional parties are not committed to United Nations resolutions and decisions to create such a zone, raising fears about the universalization of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. A recent decision by the League’s member States on the matter represents a substantial contribution to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty’s 2020 Review Conference. Success requires States to meet their obligations, but Israel has been washing its hands of such commitments while refusing to accede to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty or to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. He invited all States participating in the upcoming conference on a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons to prioritize regional interests and to call on Israel to reconsider its decision not to participate. Turning to other concerns, he called for international cooperation in cybersecurity, particularly in a context of terrorism and violent extremism. Emphasizing that outer space must remain a global commons, he said the international community has a duty to ensure that it remains peaceful and safe.
ROBERT MARDANI, an observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), pointed out that 2020 marks the seventy‑fifth anniversary of the first and only use of atomic bombs, regretting to note that the Organization’s calls to eradicate these weapons remain unheeded. By signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Member States are sending a clear signal that any use, threat of use and possession of these weapons is unacceptable in humanitarian, moral and legal terms. Affirming that the 2020 Review Conference of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty will be a critical opportunity to implement long‑standing risk reduction commitments and halt and reverse the new nuclear arms race, he called for all signatories to find common ground in the humanitarian rational that lies at the foundation of the agreement’s principles. He also rejected the weaponization of information technology, artificial intelligence and robotics or the use of chemistry, biology or radiation for similar purposes.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, reminded the United States delegation that it was his country that initiated the chemical demilitarization of Syria in 2013 and which convinced the Government of that country to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. He emphasized that the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles took place under difficult circumstances, namely the conflict that engulfed most of the country. He expressed “major doubts” about the objectivity and impartiality of the investigation and identification team established by OPCW and requested that the United States, going forward, to be objective, impartial and, most importantly, accurate.
The representative of the United States said Syria has yet to give a full accounting of the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpiles. He strongly urged the Russian Federation to try harder to persuade Syria to be forthcoming in that regard. Damascus has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own people and there is no reason to keep debating this fact, he said, adding that Syria is not the only State in recent years to use chemical weapons in violation of their obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The representative of Syria said the only established fact is that the United States has used nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It has also used, in Syria, many internationally prohibited weapons against civilians. Emphasizing that Damascus condemns the use of chemical weapons, he said the questions are how terrorists acquired them and who trained them in their use. Syria has provided the Security Council with information about the presence of United States experts in Syria and neighbouring territories, he said, adding that two female experts on chemical weapons trained Al‑Nusra Front and one of its affiliates on the mixing and use of chemical substances before leaving Syria on 6 September.
The representative of the United States said “this is just another day in the First Committee” with more lies from the Syrian regime. The terrorists who have used chemical weapons are the ones in Damascus and they will eventually be held to account. He added that the Government of Syria has done a better job of defaming itself than the United States could ever do.
The representative of the Russian Federation, in his second intervention, said his delegation carries out its foreign policy based on principles of collaboration and not on the principle of exerting pressures, as is common with the United States. Syria has constantly demonstrated its readiness to openly, honestly and fully collaborate with OPCW to settle all issues that remain in relation to its chemical dossier. The only obstacle for this is the policy of manipulation by the OPCW leadership over the past several years. The best example is the chemical attack in Douma, he said, emphasizing that Moscow had presented reliable evidence of the incident, but United Nations and OPCW representatives refused to consider it.
The representative of France said Syria is supported by a permanent member of the Security Council, adding that history will severely judge the authors of these crimes and those covering them up. When reports determining that the Syrian regime was responsible for two chemical weapon attacks, one member of the Security Council refused to renew the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism. The United States, France and other countries supported this mechanism, with many States expressing a wish that OPCW will be given the capacity to determine who is responsible for the chemical attacks, which left hundreds of people suffering. Calling for an end to impunity, he said perpetrators will eventually be brought to justice for these war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The representative of Syria said Damascus has fulfilled all its obligations to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The representative of the ruling regime in Washington, D.C., fully knows about the policy of lies and fabrications adopted by the United States, he said, recalling the lie told about alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which preceded the invasion of that country, or of the terrorist organizations sponsored by the United States to implement their plans on other countries. Indeed, it would take “hundreds of light years” to hold Washington, D.C., accountable for the death of the innocents all over the world, he said.