15 October 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 7th Meeting (AM)

Alarmed by Crumbling Disarmament Agreements, First Committee Delegates Raise Urgent Concerns about Maintaining Security, from Online to Outer Space

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) continued its general debate today amid warnings that disregard for international disarmament agreements is resulting in the use of chemical weapons, imperilling sustainable development efforts and eroding trust on safety, from online to outer space.

Turkey’s representative cautioned the Committee that important arms control agreements are hanging in the balance while certain States increasingly ignore international humanitarian law in conflict zones.  Recalling that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity, he called for Syria’s full compliance with international mechanisms.

Also alarmed by ongoing disregard for international norms was Ukraine’s representative, who said the Russian Federation is eroding trust in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, encouraging an arms race in outer space and stoking conflict in the Crimean Peninsula.

The United Kingdom’s delegate said it is precisely because of respect for international norms on nuclear disarmament, with the Non-Proliferation Treaty as its cornerstone, that London has cut back its warheads.  Indeed, he continued, the United Kingdom remains the only nuclear-weapon State to reduce its deterrent capability to a single system.

However, many delegates said that to ensure a peaceful and stable future, agreements must be honoured and implemented.  At the same time, many said international standards must regulate the use of common domains such as outer space and cyberspace, with Venezuela’s representative voicing concern over certain States’ views of space as a “theatre of war”.  Chile’s representative said international law, humanitarian law and human rights law fully apply to cyberspace.

Throughout the morning meeting, speakers were united in their belief that international security is a cornerstone of sustainable development.  Jamaica’s delegate urged States to redirect resources from weapons budgets towards poverty eradication.  Similarly, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda stressed that the disarmament community has a key role to play in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representatives of the Russian Federation and Syria responded to claims related to the use of chemical weapons, while the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea urged States to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of others.

The First Committee will reconvene on Friday, 16 October, at 10 a.m., to continue its general debate.

General Debate

The representative of Ukraine warned Member States that the credibility of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is being undermined by certain States possessing them, including the Russian Federation, which has occupied and attempted to annex the Crimean Peninsula.  Calling on States to prevent an arms race in outer space, he condemned Moscow’s anti-satellite missile tests.  “It is outrageous that the Russian Federation does not comply with every single arms-control regime, yet wishes to take a leading role in the adoption of a legally binding instrument related to outer space,” he stated.  Turning to the threat of conventional weapons, he said the Russian Federation continues to illegally transfer military goods into Ukraine.  “If we fail to address challenges posed by Russia now, they could have far-reaching implications for regional security,” he concluded.

The representative of Jamaica, associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the maintenance of international peace and security is a vital precondition to fostering social and economic growth and development.  However, the illicit weapons trade remains a major threat to Jamaica and the Caribbean Community, adding that trafficking is a key driver of human suffering.  “We recognize that a significant reduction in illicit arms flows is central to any country, big or small, rich or poor, attaining peace, security and sustained development,” she said, pointing out that global military spending reached a record $1.9 trillion in 2019.  “Now more than ever is the opportune time to redirect portions of these funds to assist global development initiatives and poverty eradication strategies,” she said.

The representative of Chile, calling for a planet free of nuclear weapons, urged all stakeholders to fully implement the three pillars of the Non-Proliferation Treaty — disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  Turning to conventional weapons, he said the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons has a direct, negative impact on human rights and perpetuates gender-based violence.  Identifying cyberspace as a public good, he said international cooperation is fundamental to maintain a free, open and safe domain, adding that:  “International law, humanitarian law and human rights law fully apply to cyberspace.”  Outlining some national achievements, he said Chile has cleared most minefields in the country, destroyed 180,000 landmines and will continue to work with international partners to share best practices.

The representative of Brunei Darussalam, aligning himself with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said he attributed the stability in his region to efforts undertaken by the international community.  As a testament to its commitment to the United Nations, Brunei Darussalam is party to several regional and global agreements on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and sees the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as an invaluable partner for peace.  As ASEAN committed itself to regional stability 25 years ago by establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone, he called for similar efforts in the Middle East.

The representative of Turkey said important arms control agreements have become defunct or hang in the balance at a time when there is an increasing disregard for international humanitarian law in conflict zones.  This worrying trend is evidenced by Armenia’s breach of a ceasefire agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh, he said, calling on all States to uphold international norms and obligations.  Turning to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, he supported such activities alongside IAEA safety standards and recommendations.  Recalling that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity, he called on Syria to fully comply with international mechanisms.  Turning to issues of outer space, he said peace and security in that realm can only be achieved by preventing an arms race, adding that:  “We need to increase international cooperation and establish standards of responsible State behaviour.”

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and CARICOM, said that while Caribbean countries are not manufacturers or significant importers of small arms and ammunition, they suffer from their use, with increased violence that devastates communities.  “We need to adjust the thrust of our consideration in the work of this Committee towards armed violence that is experienced in societies all over the world,” she said, noting that such violence includes gangs, organized crime and gender-based attacks.  Further, the disarmament community has a key role to play in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The representative of Venezuela, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, expressed concern over the failure by some nuclear Powers to comply with international obligations to reduce their arsenals in a transparent manner.  There should be a legally binding instrument to prevent an arms race in outer space, he said, adding that Venezuela rejects a militaristic approach towards outer space along with the implementation of national security doctrines that view the domain as a “theatre of war”.  He also expressed concern over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, noting a 2018 attempt to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro Moros involving such a device.

The representative of Estonia, associating himself with the European Union delegation, said that he was worried by the re‑emergence of the use of chemical weapons, noting their use in Malaysia, Syria, Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.  Condemning the use of the military chemical nerve agent novichok to poison the Russian opposition leader, he said the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and three independent laboratories have all confirmed its use.  As such, he called on the Russian Federation to cooperate with OPCW to ensure an impartial investigation and to bring perpetrators to justice.  He also recalled that OPCW found in 2017 that Syria had used chemical agents in three instances, constituting grave violations of international law that must result in serious consequences for those responsible.

The representative of the United Kingdom noted that the Non-Proliferation Treaty remains the cornerstone of the disarmament regime, expressing his delegation’s strong support for the step-by-step approach towards meeting related goals.  London has cut back its warheads to the level needed to provide minimum, credible deterrence and is the only nuclear-weapon State to reduce its deterrent capability to a single system.  He recognized the limits of 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), and applauded efforts by the United States to secure its extension, while expressing support for a new trilateral arms control agreement involving China.  Concerned about Iran’s ballistic missile activities and the proliferation of weapons to proxies and non-State actors, he warned that Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium is more than 10 times over the limit imposed by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on its nuclear programme.  Recalling that his delegation — along with France and Germany — initiated a dispute resolution mechanism on 14 January, he called on Iran to engage seriously in this process and return to full compliance without delay.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to comments made about the “so-called attempt on the life of Russian blogger” Alexei A. Navalny, a Russian citizen who started feeling ill on an airplane, was tested in Omsk with no traces of a chemical weapon found, then sent to Berlin for treatment, where an ensuing scandal claimed novichok had been used.  A bottle apparently containing this fatal poison was subsequently delivered to Germany. But it remains unclear how it was added to the bottle without people wearing protective clothing, he said, noting that the material found may not be a chemical weapon, but might instead be alcohol or strong medicine.

The representative of Syria rejected allegations made by certain delegations that are part of a campaign to tarnish the image of Damascus and its allies.  Those countries refuse to recognize a Security Council meeting in 2014 that noted Syria had honoured its obligations and destroyed its chemical weapons.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rejected statements made by several delegations as an act of interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation.  If Member States want to become real players in international peace and security, they must learn to take an impartial attitude to any issue.  In 2020, even amid a pandemic, undisguised acts of hostility continue in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, including the introduction of foreign military hardware.

Also delivering statements today during the general debate were representatives of Cambodia, Lithuania, Latvia, Honduras, Romania and Georgia.

For information media. Not an official record.