The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) concluded its general debate today amid warnings that transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups are driving illicit arms transfers and weaponizing cyberspace while geopolitical tensions increase the risk of nuclear escalation.
Simmering the current heightened tensions hinged on crafting effective frameworks to address shortcomings, from protecting the digital realm from criminals to harnessing the spread of conventional weapons, some delegates said. Many representatives called for applying existing provisions of landmark disarmament and non-proliferation agreements, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Describing the devastation terrorist groups have wrought on national security and development, Iraq’s delegate said improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists have had a deep destructive impact. Indeed, the failure to fully implement relevant Security Council resolutions could result in terrorist organizations acquiring a range of weapons, including atomic bombs. Israel’s delegate also voiced concern over the deteriorating security landscape in the Middle East, where he said various weapons systems have been transferred to terrorist organizations by certain States.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire stressed that the threat posed by terrorist groups extends from the physical world to the cyber realm. Cyberspace is now an arena for conflict where State and non-State actors can conduct attacks on critical infrastructure, including healthcare systems, he said, adding that addressing the matter requires increased South-South cooperation.
Delegates were united in their opposition to the weaponization and criminal use of cyberspace. “Cyberspace has become a backbone of society,” said the delegate from Montenegro, emphasizing that maliciously using information and communication technologies undermines economic growth and increases the risk of conflict. Denmark’s delegate called for a free, open and stable cyberspace where human rights and fundamental freedoms fully apply. Similarly, an observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross said that considering how rapidly societies are digitizing, it is critical that international humanitarian law be interpreted and applied in a way that protects the digital sphere.
At the meeting’s outset, Switzerland’s representative spoke on behalf of the De-Alerting Group to urge nuclear-weapon States to remove their arsenals from high alert status. He cautioned that instances in which the United States and Russian Federation received inaccurate data could have plunged the world into a nuclear catastrophe. “The devastating consequence of nuclear detonation means we cannot simply rely on good fortune,” he said, noting that de-alerting is a key step towards disarmament and risk reduction.
Some delegates said de-alerting in and of itself would not suffice and reaffirmed calls for total denuclearization. “The world is witnessing an arms race that is both the cause and consequence of mutual suspicion and a potential source of future conflict,” said Zimbabwe’s representative, calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
The meeting marked the end of the Committee’s general debate — which began 9 October and featured statements from 143 delegations — in a session characterized by unprecedented modalities to accommodate for restrictions emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the general debate, delegates agreed that the pandemic has reshaped the international peace and security landscape. Warning of emerging arms races across the globe, many representatives reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire and also addressed obstacles on the road to a nuclear-weapon-free world, including persistent violations of international disarmament obligations.
Delegates over the past two weeks also called for tighter controls to stem the rising tide of illegal weapons which are having devastating effects on the humanitarian and development situation in countless countries. Overwhelming support emerged for the creation of norms to regulate the use of common domains such as outer space and cyberspace.
Several delegations spoke in exercise of the right of reply to address a number of disarmament issues.
The First Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 26 October for a virtual interactive dialogue.
The representative of Switzerland, speaking on behalf of the De-Alerting Group, called on States maintaining nuclear weapon systems to reduce their readiness as a step towards risk reduction and disarmament. “Risks multiply significantly when nuclear weapons are on high alert; the case for urgent action on de-alerting is compelling,” he said, adding that it is due to good fortune that deployment was avoided in instances in which the United States and Russian Federation had received incorrect data. “The devastating consequence of nuclear detonation means we cannot simply rely on good fortune,” he noted, adding that some nuclear-weapon States have failed to act on their own acknowledgement of the risks of maintaining these systems on high alert.
The representative of Zimbabwe, associating himself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, voiced frustration with increasing global military expenditure and the modernization by many States of their nuclear and non-nuclear arsenals at a time when States are seeking agreements on disarmament. “The world is witnessing an arms race that is both the cause and consequence of mutual suspicion and a potential source of future conflict,” he said, calling for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Nuclear-weapon States must take a leadership role in disarmament initiatives, he said, warning that the control architecture is collapsing due to nations’ reluctance to reduce and eliminate their arsenals.
The representative of Iraq, associating himself with the Arab Group and Non-Aligned Movement, called for the full implementation of Security Council resolutions seeking to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear weapons. “Much like nuclear weapons, the continuing development and sale of conventional weapons poses a direct threat to the security of States,” he said, calling for the creation of a comprehensive system to combat the trafficking. Similarly, unexploded ordnance continues to pose security threats across the world, he said, noting that improvised explosive devices planted by terrorist groups in Iraq are still hampering the nation’s recovery and development efforts.
The representative of Bolivia, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, urged States to support calls for a global ceasefire in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for the provision of humanitarian assistance to regions requiring it. Attempts to develop atomic bombs run counter to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, he went on to say, rejecting the use and threat of their use He called for the total elimination of chemical and biological weapons and noted that unexploded ordnance, including anti-personnel mines, continues to hamper development efforts in affected areas. Moreover, the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons is a threat to democracy, and States must engage in constant information sharing to curb trafficking.
The representative of Indonesia, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said nuclear arsenals are growing and stoking rivalries worldwide. Calling for a ban on nuclear weapons testing, he urged States to support International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards and reiterated calls for the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Noting the world’s increasing dependence on information and communication technologies, he said States must not militarize cyberspace and outer space. At the same time, he said de-nuclearization will be a major step towards global stability.
The representative of Montenegro, associating herself with the European Union delegation, said the world is gripped by tensions akin to the cold war, as States key to the success of disarmament agreements are failing to work cooperatively. Calling for the full implementation of relevant arms control and disarmament instruments, she cautioned that the re-emergence of chemical weapons is one of the most urgent threats to international peace and security. “Cyberspace has become a backbone of society,” she said, warning States that maliciously using information and communication technologies undermines economic growth and increases the risk of conflict.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire, associating himself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, reflected on the pandemic’s negative effect on disarmament. While States try to address the health crisis, global peace and security achievements could be lost, as cyberspace has become an arena for conflict. Citing the danger of terrorist and organized crime groups engaging in cyberattacks on vital infrastructure, he called for increased cooperation and capacity building for developing countries. Turning to outer space exploration, he said activities must be undertaken in the interest of all States, urging stakeholders to prevent a related arms race. The arms proliferation remains a major challenge for peace, he said, emphasizing the need for international cooperation and improved mechanisms to regulate the use of improvised explosives and anti‑personnel landmines.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, associating himself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, called on nuclear-weapon States to fully comply with their legal obligations and provide nations without atomic arsenals with legal-binding assurances against their use or threat of use. On conventional weapons, he said landmines and cluster munitions pose the most immediate security challenge worldwide. As such, the United Republic of Tanzania supports efforts to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in compliance with existing legal instruments. Highlighting the development-disarmament link, he called on States to review national priorities with a view of reducing military spending and allocating resources towards realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The representative of Kenya, associating himself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, said using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes should go hand in hand with non-proliferation efforts. On cyberspace security, he said Kenya has, in line with relevant resolutions and General Assembly reports, adopted safety measures, joined an initiative led by Australia and Mexico that tracks progress in cybersecurity and works with the African Union on capacity building to mitigate cyberthreats. In addition, Kenya has created a national security framework that collaborates with regional and national organizations on related resilience and conflict prevention efforts.
The representative of Portugal, associating himself with the European Union delegation, said the termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a setback, adding that it is more important than ever before to renew 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). He urged Iran to comply with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Tehran’s nuclear programme and called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to cooperate with IAEA efforts. Citing other concerns, he said the Conference on Disarmament does not have a representative membership and underlined the importance of the participation of women in related discussions.
The representative of Oman, associating himself with the Arab Group and Non-Aligned Movement, expressed support for the Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire and called on all States to adhere to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. He called on all States to support the vision of a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone, which would promote trust among States in the region. In this vein, he anticipated progress in 2021 at the forthcoming Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction. Emphasizing the need for cybersecurity and the protection of vital institutions, he called for international support and information sharing on that front, adding that Oman ranks sixteenth on the cybersecurity index.
The representative of Slovenia, associating herself with the European Union delegation, said the fragmentation and weakening of international security regimes amid the COVID-19 pandemic is worrying. As a country with a nuclear energy programme, Slovenia attaches great importance to IAEA safeguard systems. Turning to the New START Treaty, she said any future regime should include China. Raising several concerns, she urged Pyongyang to return to the IAEA regime of inspections and called on Tehran to comply with the Joint Plan of Action. Meanwhile, the use of chemical weapons and nerve agents, most recently in the Alexei A. Navalny case, is unacceptable, she said, calling on the Russian Federation to fully cooperate with the international community and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). As for cybersecurity, she emphasized the importance of exchanging views on how norms and principles of international law apply to responsible State conduct in cyberspace within the Open-Ended Working Group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security.
The representative of Guyana, associating herself with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Non-Aligned Movement, said that while her country neither manufactures nor exports small arms and light weapons, it continues to experience the impacts of their illegal circulation. Expressing deep concern over some States’ continued investment in modernizing their nuclear weapon programmes, she said that as a developing country, Guyana deems it unconscionable that resources would be utilized on weapons of mass destruction while millions of the world’s people are mired in poverty. Turning to chemical weapons, she underscored the importance of evidence-based attribution of responsibility whenever these weapons are used.
The representative of Myanmar, associating himself with ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement, warned the Committee of increased global military spending at a time when mistrust among States is on the rise. Nuclear weapons pose an existential risk, he said, adding that their total elimination is the only guarantee against their use or threat of use. Turning to the situation in Rakhine, he said it is irresponsible to suggest that Myanmar is hindering the return of displaced peoples by placing landmines near its border with Bangladesh, adding that: “The primary reason why the repatriation process is hindered is the presence of terrorists and their supporters in refugee camps in Bangladesh.”
The representative of Israel, raising several regional concerns, said the Middle East is marked by a lack of compliance with arms control mechanisms, including certain States using chemical weapons. Moreover, weapons systems have proliferated and have been transferred to terrorist organizations in the region. Iran has consistently violated its nuclear obligations, including by having a plan to develop nuclear warheads, and continues to destabilize the region by using every possible tool at its disposal, from terrorism to missile and rocket attacks against its neighbours. Regarding the Arab Group’s conference on a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone, he said such a gathering goes against the guidelines and principles of establishing such areas, adding that: “Experience shows that such frameworks must emerge from the mutual political desires of all regional parties.”
The representative of Denmark, associating himself with the European Union delegation, said the New START Treaty is the last agreement left that puts legally binding constraints on nuclear arsenals and launching systems. He called on the United States and Russian Federation to extend the treaty and to include China in such discussions. He condemned Syria’s continued violations of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, adding that violators must be brought to justice. Voicing support for a free, open and stable cyberspace where human rights and fundamental freedoms fully apply, he said malicious cyberactivity by State and non-State actors puts lives at risk and is unacceptable.
The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the “P-5” countries (the five permanent members of the Security Council: China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States), reaffirmed his commitment to all aspects of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Recalling that the instrument provides the essential foundation to stem the threat of nuclear weapons, he expressed support for the ultimate goal of an atomic-bomb-free world. The dialogue on doctrines is an essential element of the P-5 road map, he said, reiterating readiness to negotiate a fissile material cut-off treaty with the participation of all relevant States.
The Permanent Observer for the Holy See raised concerns about backsliding on an array of disarmament treaties amid growing global and regional rivalries. As such, he urged the Russian Federation and the United States to extend the New START Treaty for five years while developing a framework for broader multilateral undertakings. As for the dismantling of some aspects of the disarmament architecture, an exceedingly dangerous geostrategic environment is marked by tensions among States and increased risks posed by artificial intelligence and cybertechnology. The current limitations on the arsenals of the two chief nuclear-weapon States are almost a decade ago, and more time must be devoted to working out the next steps. A major step towards complete disarmament should begin with a renunciation of defence strategies that blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons. Beyond renouncing doctrines of atomic warfare, nuclear Powers should make a no-first-use pledge.
An observer for the State of Palestine, associating himself with the Arab Group, New Agenda Coalition and Non-Aligned Movement, said the Non-Proliferation Treaty no longer be interpreted as allowing for the continued possession of nuclear weapons. Israel is the region’s only country that has illegally acquired and developed atomic bombs, refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and pursues policies obstructing efforts to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Raising several concerns, he called for drafting a protocol to address shortcomings of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, including the absence of a verification system. Rejecting the use of new information and communication technology for non-peaceful purposes, he called for an international legal framework within the United Nations on the matter.
The Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, associating himself with the Arab Group, called for the elimination of nuclear weapons and for redirecting weapon programme resources towards sustainable development initiatives. Expressing support for the non-proliferation regime, he cautioned that certain nuclear-weapon States are failing to abide by international commitments related to the full elimination their arsenals. “We must do everything possible to strengthen disarmament commitments and bolster the credibility of the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” he said. While the League is working towards establishing a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the Middle East, he said Israel is flouting disarmament-related mechanisms. As such, he called on Israel to allow IAEA inspections of all its nuclear facilities.
An observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged all States to work together to prevent the potentially disastrous effects of unrestrained technological developments being used in war. Despite these advances, armed conflicts continue to be fought predominantly using heavy explosive weapons. While no general ban of those weapons exists, their use in urban areas result in high levels of civilian casualties and destruction alongside such indirect effects as disruptions in water and electricity supplies, health care and other essential services. Their use also hampers the capacity to contain COVID-19, she said, highlighting recent reports of cyberoperations targeting medical facilities. While States have taken an essential first step to avoid or at least minimize the human cost of cyberoperations by affirming that international humanitarian law applies in cyberspace, she said that considering how rapidly societies are digitizing, it is critical that this global jurisprudence be interpreted and applied in a way that protects the digital means and tools that are increasingly relied on in every aspect of life.
An observer for the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean reflected on the challenges of its mandate: to ensure compliance with the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco. Nuclear-weapon States and nations administering de jure or de facto territories in the region concur with its full implementation, respecting the military denuclearization of the zone and providing negative assurance guarantees to States parties. Unfortunately, by means of interpretative declarations, the commitments of some of the States party to the Protocols have been limited. While the Agency has offered those States a way out of the problem through signing adjustments that would eliminate misunderstandings and provide full respect for the Treaty, France and the Russian Federation have responded negatively to its proposal. The United Kingdom has not agreed to receive representatives of the five member States of the Agency’s Council to present its proposal and the United States has not provided a response, he said, urging those four nuclear-weapon States to reconsider their approach and to carry out discussions with the aim of finding a mutually agreed upon solution.
Also delivering statements today during the general debate were representatives of Panama, Italy, San Marino, Botswana, Togo, Mauritania, Tunisia, Congo, Slovakia, Zambia, Morocco, Burkina Faso and Malaysia.
Right of Reply
The representative of Libya, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, referred to a claim made by his counterpart from Syria. Emphasizing that there is no proof that chemical weapons used in Syria had been taken from Libya, he said Syria’s delegate was trying to mislead international opinion and deflect from the fact Damascus used such weapons against its own people. In fact, Libya has no capacity to develop such weapons, as the OPCW destroyed those facilities, none of which ever produced sarin.
The representative of Iran, in response to comments made by delegates from the United Kingdom and France, reiterated that its missile capability is for defence purposes only. Further, the Joint Plan of Action is not a one-way commitment, but requires regional participation, including the European Union. In response to his counterpart from Israel, he said that country has institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians, and it possesses all types of weapons of mass destruction, including atomic bombs. As such, he called on Israel to join the various disarmament regimes and join negotiations on a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.
The representative of Bangladesh responded to a statement made by his counterpart from Myanmar. Rejecting allegations regarding the presence of terrorist factions in Bangladesh, he said his delegation a zero-tolerance policy against terrorism. Myanmar has driven over 1 million from its territory and the Rohingya people continue to carry the trauma of that expulsion. Furthermore, an independent fact-finding mission in Myanmar found the use of landmines by both State and non-State actors in 2010 and 2011, placed in border areas in an attempt to prevent Rohingya people from returning home.
The representative of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said member States of the European Union should take an impartial approach when considering the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, the United States must withdraw its hostile attitude toward Pyongyang, which will continue to strengthen its safety and war deterrent systems.
The representative of Syria said he did not say the toxic chemicals used in Syria were manufactured in Libya, but that they had been transferred from there on a civilian aircraft. In response to Israel’s representative, he said efforts were made to divert eyes from the Israeli nuclear weapon programme and its non-adherence to Security Council resolutions. Israel’s arsenal remains the biggest threat to peace and security in the Middle East, and authorities continue to ignore international calls to join arms treaties, while enjoying the support of certain States, including Canada and the United States.
The representative of Myanmar said the Government is facilitating the dignified return of refugees. Meanwhile there are non-State armed insurgents that use landmines in Myanmar, he said, emphasizing that the Government supports the principles of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction and has established educational campaigns, mine action centres and mine clearance initiatives.