Disturbed at Record $1.9 Trillion for Weapons, Delegates Urge Moscow, Washington, D.C., to Extend New START Treaty past February Deadline
A new arms race and emerging bioterror threats are unfolding as the world tackles the COVID‑19 pandemic and a global economic downturn, the Chair of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) warned today at the start of its annual general debate.
In addition to this horizon of challenges, many disarmament agreements made on nuclear and chemical weapons in previous decades have been undone, Agustín Santos Maraver (Spain) said, adding that pandemic‑related restrictions have also required new working methods during the First Committee’s seventy‑fifth session.
“Our task is not going to be easy,” he cautioned. “Prudence seems to require orienting our discussions to consolidate the body of existing resolutions, but we also have to nurture hope in these times of grief…towards the objective that has been mandated to us of ‘general and complete disarmament under effective international control’.”
General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir (Turkey) stressed that conflicts disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations, hampering the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals while demonstrating the inextricable links among the three pillars of the Organization — development, human rights, and peace and security.
Under‑Secretary‑General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu raised the spectre of a new arms race, while highlighting such new challenges as bioterror attacks alongside conventions yet to enter into force, from the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. She also expressed hope that discussions advance regarding 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), which expires in February.
In the ensuing general debate, delegates shared divergent views, cautioning against a new cold war and spotlighting national and regional challenges, from the United States withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme to a possible arms race in space. Many agreed that multilateral cooperation trumps trying to foster peace and security unilaterally.
Trinidad and Tobago’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by a majority of Member States has challenged the perception that disarmament is a neglected goal at the United Nations, and encouraged nuclear‑weapon States and nations under their “umbrella” to sign and ratify it.
Indonesia’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Alignment Movement, representing more than 120 Member States that comprise more than half the world’s population, said nuclear disarmament should be the United Nations highest priority. Reflecting that urgency, he said nuclear‑weapon nations have failed to make progress in eliminating arsenals and are modernizing them instead. Calling on all nuclear‑weapon States to comply with their commitments, he highlighted a pressing concern that there are no plans for further exchanges beyond the end of the New START Treaty.
Some delegates, including an observer for the European Union delegation and Iceland’s representative, speaking for the Nordic countries, called for extending the New START Treaty, which involves the two nations that possess most of the 13,400 nuclear weapons in existence today.
The United States delegate said that while the New START Treaty is a bilateral arrangement, what the world needs is an instrument that binds other nations, such as China. The Russian Federation’s representative said Moscow stands ready to extend the instrument immediately, without preconditions, urging his counterparts in the United States to do the same, “without artificial delays”.
Many representatives associated themselves with the Non‑Aligned Movement, including Viet Nam’s representative, speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Cameroon’s delegate, speaking for the African Group. They also expressed support for nuclear‑weapon‑free zones and called for the swift and full implementation of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan’s representative, speaking on behalf of the member States of the Treaty on a Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zone in Central Asia, explained that adopting the instrument was a practical necessity, driven by the need to ensure that countries in her region will never again suffer the consequences of an atomic arms race. However, Egypt’s delegate, speaking for the Group of Arab States, recalled that implementing a resolution to create a nuclear‑weapon‑free Middle East has been delayed since 1995.
Throughout the day‑long meeting, delegates expressed other frustrations, from States flouting Security Council resolutions to ballooning military spending in 2019. Mexico’s delegate saying that nuclear‑weapon States spent $73 billion on maintaining atomic arsenals, overshadowing resources allocated towards peace and development objectives. Nicaragua’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Central American Integration System, said a record $1.9 trillion was spent on weapons, funding that should be funnelled towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in the face of the current pandemic.
Some shared some positive developments on the horizon. Denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is key to international peace and security, said the Republic of Korea’s delegate. Noting that the agreement between his country, the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a major achievement, he expressed hope that Pyongyang would soon return to talks. The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said his delegation was cooperating with all friendly nations in the name of international peace and security, both on the Korean Peninsula and the region as a whole.
The First Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 12 October, to continue its general debate.
AGUSTÍN SANTOS MARAVER (Spain), Chair of the First Committee, said the entry into force of the Charter of the United Nations, following the first time that atomic bombs were deployed, was supposed to open a new chapter for humankind. Today, the issue of full disarmament has become the most important issue discussed in international relations. While the First Committee continues to work towards fulfilling the mandate of general disarmament, many agreements on nuclear and chemical weapons in previous decades have been undone, at a time when new arms race develops amid a global pandemic and economic crisis. “Our task is not going to be easy,” he said. “Prudence seems to require orienting our discussions to consolidate the body of existing resolutions, but we also have to nurture hope in these times of grief…towards the objective that has been mandated to us of ‘general and complete disarmament under effective international control’.”
VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, highlighted the equal importance and interlinkages of the three pillars of the United Nations — development, human rights and peace and security. Still, nuclear bombs remain the most destructive weapon in humanity’s arsenal, and their use today is unimaginable. Encouraged by the high‑level participation of Member States at the recent meeting to promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, he emphasized that security issues continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. As such, addressing peace and security challenges can have an enormous positive impact on their lives, considering that insecurity hampers progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, from education and gender equality to the rule of law. Similarly, the risk of conflict is increased by poverty, human rights violations and a lack of education opportunities. “Full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require us to make progress on peace and security matters,” he said, underlining the importance of the Committee’s work.
IZUMI NAKAMITSU, Under‑Secretary‑General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that even during the global COVID‑19 pandemic, the world is alarmed by the return of a nuclear arms race to improve and expand arsenals. While reduction efforts are important, she said the only way to completely remove the risk is to totally eliminate nuclear weapons. Turning to recent developments, she commended States whose ratifications of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will lead to this legally binding instrument’s entry into force, at which point the Office for Disarmament Affairs will organize the first meeting for signatories. Welcoming efforts between Moscow and Washington, D.C., she expressed hope that they will extend 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), which expires in February. Meanwhile, the postponed tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons provides extra time for States parties to lay the foundation for successful results, she said, adding that the instrument remains the primary vehicle for eliminating atomic bombs.
Turning to other concerns, she said the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty is a piece of unfinished business. At the same time, the use of chemical weapons continues to threaten international peace and security, and those using this prohibited class of weaponry must be held accountable. Likewise, she underlined an urgent need to increase global health security, as a bioterror attack could cause widespread death and destruction. While it is also necessary to ensure that outer space does not become a setting for a new arms race, she remained encouraged by the seeking of norms for responsible behaviour in this domain.
The representative of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said nuclear disarmament should be the United Nations highest priority, especially since nuclear-weapon States have failed to make progress in eliminating their arsenals and have, in fact, been modernizing them and conducting further research. Dialogue among nuclear‑weapon States remains limited, and there are no plans for further exchanges beyond the end of the New START Treaty, he said, highlighting concerns about the United States national defence strategy, which flouts legal obligations and threatens international peace and security. More broadly, he called on all nuclear-weapon States to comply with their commitments to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons without further delay.
The representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Group of Arab States, associated himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and also highlighted the importance of creating nuclear‑weapon‑free zones to establish peace and security. Raising regional concerns, he said Israel is violating many international decisions and Security Council resolutions by refusing to join the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and to put its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Moreover, a resolution on the creation of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East was adopted at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, but its implementation continues to be delayed, he said, adding that the Arab Group will table a draft resolution on proliferation risks in the region.
The representative of Iceland, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said that 50 years after the Non‑Proliferation Treaty’s entry into force, States are still supporting and developing actions to advance its implementation. Disarmament verification is a crucial area to examine in the First Committee, he said, voicing full support of IAEA efforts, whereby the peaceful use of nuclear energy can be verified and promoted. On the Test‑Ban Treaty, he urged States outside the instrument to sign and ratify it to guarantee a universal moratorium on the practice. Welcoming dialogue between the United States and the Russian Federation, he called for extending the New START Treaty. Concerned that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues to pose a major threat, he cautioned that the country’s illegal nuclear‑weapon and missile programmes violate numerous Security Council resolutions.
The representative of Viet Nam, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said “formidable challenges require formidable efforts by all of us”. Non‑Proliferation Treaty parties must recommit to its full implementation, and the Test‑Ban Treaty must achieve universal adherence. Once the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons enters into force, it will contribute to totally eliminating all atomic bombs. Pointing to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon‑Free Zone, he said ASEAN supports creating similar areas, including in the Middle East. ASEAN will continue to help to realize peace and stability on a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. More broadly, he underscored the COVID‑19 pandemic’s devastating socioeconomic impact, highlighting the importance of biological security and safety. Conventional weapons must be effectively regulated and controlled, he said, also urging the United Nations to keep playing a key role in cybersecurity, with the Open-Ended Working Group and the Group of Governmental Experts working with each other.
The representative of Nicaragua, speaking on behalf of the Central American Integration System, said international peace and security will only be achieved through respect for and adherence to the United Nations Charter. Emphasizing the link between violence and transnational organized crime, he said members are focusing on the illicit small arms and light weapons trade, including through national legislation. Reaffirming the need to work towards a world without nuclear weapons, he said their place in security policies must be eliminated. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will strengthen the non‑proliferation regime, he continued, adding that atomic‑bomb testing undermines international peace and security and puts millions of lives at risk. With a record $1.9 trillion spent on weapons in 2019, he said resources should be redirected towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly given how the pandemic is impacting national budgets.
The representative of Cameroon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, associated himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, emphasizing that there is no substitute to multilateralism for addressing disarmament issues. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons reinforces the need to commit to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, he said, favouring more profound and concrete nuclear disarmament measures within a clear time frame. Indeed, 75 years after the first and only use of atomic bombs, voices must be raised against the slow pace and lack of commitment among nuclear‑weapon States to dismantle their arsenals. Noting the tenth anniversary of the African Nuclear‑Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, he said creating such zones contributes to the goal of a nuclear‑weapon‑free world and strengthens the non‑proliferation regime. He also encouraged atomic‑bomb-possessing nations and those under their “umbrella” to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Concurrently, nuclear‑weapon States must cease any further modernization and upgrading of their atomic arsenals.
The representative of Trinidad and Tobago, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said disarmament is about preventing and eliminating violence, supporting sustainable development and upholding the values of humanity. While CARICOM has crafted regional solutions to address the small arms and light weapons proliferation, multilateral cooperation is still needed, including by fully implementing the Arms Trade Treaty. Given the increased reliance on digital platforms in the COVID‑19 era, he expressed concerns about rising cybercrime threats. Anticipating the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he recalled that its adoption in 2017 by a majority of Member States has challenged the perception that disarmament is a neglected goal at the United Nations. He also took note of broad efforts to promote women’s participation in disarmament, non‑proliferation and arms control matters.
The representative of Kyrgyzstan, speaking on behalf of the member States of the Treaty on a Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zone in Central Asia, underscored the instrument’s role in enhancing regional and international peace and security. Noting that the zone borders two nuclear‑weapon States, and one member formerly had possessed such weaponry, she expressed hope that the United States will join other nuclear‑weapon nations in ratifying the Treaty’s Protocol on Negative Security Assurances, through which they are legally obligated not to use or threaten to use atomic bombs against its States parties. For countries in the region, establishing the zone was a practical necessity, driven by the need to ensure that they will never again suffer the consequences of a nuclear arms race.
An observer for the European Union delegation called for an extension to the New START Treaty, and also urged States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Test‑Ban Treaty. Committed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, he regretted to note the United States withdrawal and reinstatement of sanctions. Iran now has 10 times the amount of uranium agreed upon and should return to its commitments without delay. He also expressed concern about the nuclear programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, recalling that its repeated ballistic missile launches violate multiple Security Council resolutions. As the use of chemical weapons represents a serious breach of international law, he said perpetrators of related attacks in Syria must be held accountable.
The representative of Mexico, noting the increasing number of people living in poverty, highlighted the enormous amount of resources allocated to nuclear weapons. Of the more than 13,400 nuclear weapons currently in existence, about 1,800 warheads are maintained at a maximum alert level. In 2019, nuclear‑weapon States spent $73 billion on their maintenance, reflecting a stark contrast to resources allocated towards peace and development objectives.
The representative of Liechtenstein said the Committee is meeting at a time when people have perhaps never felt more insecure. Concerns include COVID‑19, economic hardship, climate change and an unprecedented unravelling of international law in the area of disarmament and non‑proliferation amid an increasingly unchecked arms race and heightened aggressive postures of several nations. Europe’s security has been further weakened by the United States announced withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. Meanwhile, outer space is facing rapid militarization while weapons continue to flow into conflict‑affected areas, sometimes violating Security Council resolutions. Given these developments, the Committee must overcome its traditional “silo” thinking by recognizing the larger context in which security questions must be addressed.
The representative of the United States said the Russian Federation has long used the United Nations to “launder” its bad international behaviour. Citing several examples, he said Moscow has twice tested space‑based weapons while claiming to want to prevent the domain’s weaponization. Further, the Russian Federation has developed nuclear weapons unconstrained by the New START Treaty and continues to undermine the international security frameworks to which it has agreed. After the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed this week that Russian opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny was poisoned, Moscow must provide a full account of the incident. Going forward, the world needs a treaty that addresses all atomic arsenals, as the bilateral “cold war” approach only constrains the United States and the Russian Federation, he said, raising concerns that Beijing possesses large nuclear delivery systems and plans to double its warhead stockpile over the next decade.
The representative of Mongolia, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, agreed that the postponed Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, while disappointing, creates time to pursue common ground, and that even in unprecedented times, the international community will achieve a successful outcome. When the review conference convenes in New York, scheduled for January 2021, Mongolia will serve as coordinator of the fourth Conference of Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zones and Mongolia, to be held concurrently. Given the COVID‑19 pandemic and rapid advances in science and technology, the international community must work together to improve biosecurity and biopreparedness. Underscoring Mongolia’s commitment to peace and security in North‑East Asia, he said the Korean Peninsula must be denuclearized, with outstanding issues resolved peacefully through dialogue.
The representative of the Russian Federation underlined a need to reverse deliberate destructive actions, based on the foreign policy egocentrism of one State to dismantle a carefully constructed system of international agreements. Unlike the United States, the Russian Federation is well aware of its global and regional security responsibilities. Pursuing confrontational models aimed at transforming international relations to suit the spirit of such concepts as the “great Power competition” and “peace through strength” must be stopped. Moscow is ready to extend the New START Treaty without preconditions and invites the United States to do likewise “without artificial delays”. Committed to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world, he said realizing that objective requires a step‑by‑step approach. Fully supporting international treaties banning chemical, biological and toxin weapons, he said strengthening those regimes is an international priority. He also highlighted the need for a legally binding instrument to ban the deployment of weapons in outer space and prohibit the use of force or related threats against objects in that domain.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said the uncertainty created by the COVID‑19 pandemic is straining the work disarmament and non‑proliferation regimes, but is a reminder of the need for global coordinated responses. To return to the path towards a nuclear‑weapon‑free world, the Non‑Proliferation Treaty must remain the cornerstone of those regimes. Denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is key to international peace and security. Despite a stalled peace process, the milestone agreement between the Republic of Korea, the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must not be underestimated. Seoul is determined to make progress, he said, expressing hope that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will return to talks. On disarmament, he said there is the need to empower youth while nurturing a new generation of experts.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said that the country with largest nuclear arsenal should take the lead in dismantling it. Any attempts to start a new cold war must not be tolerated. In 2020, despite the pandemic, joint military exercises have continued in the south, alongside the importation of sophisticated military hardware. He underscored his delegation’s consistent opposition to biological and chemical weapons, adding that outer space should be used for peaceful purposes only. For its part, Pyongyang is actively cooperating with all friendly countries as it contributes to maintaining international peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and the wider region.
Right of Reply
The representative of China, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to his counterpart from the United States, taking note that Washington, D.C., is relaunching its “star wars” programme and remains the only nation to possess chemical weapons while being a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said Pyongyang poses no threat if no armed provocations are perpetrated against it. Meanwhile, Seoul should halt its joint military exercises and the importation of sophisticated armaments.
The representative of Japan rejected claims made by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as groundless, and that Tokyo follows an exclusively defence‑oriented military policy.
The representative of the United States said Beijing had its chance to lead on COVID‑19, but failed and the world is now bearing the consequences. While Washington, D.C., is upholding its disarmament obligations, China is not, he said.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said Japan has a historical responsibility to account for its past, and must also give up its plans for overseas expansion, which threatens international peace and security.
China’s representative said that since the start of the pandemic, Beijing has made great contributions to controlling its spread. However, delegates living in New York have their own assessment of the United States performance, he said, expressing hope that the United States will provide a written reply to 10 basic facts about the manner in which it threatens international peace and security.
Japan’s representative said Tokyo has made sincere and humble efforts to contribute to international peace, security and prosperity over several decades, and invited Pyongyang to share that constructive approach.
Also delivering statements today during the general debate were representatives of Norway, Peru, Thailand, Egypt, Guatemala, Finland, Philippines, Costa Rica, Netherlands and Iceland.