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Removing Roadblocks to Progress with ‘Virtually Moribund’ Disarmament Machinery Informs Debate in First Committee as Speakers Consider Probable Causes

16 October 2013
General AssemblyGA/DIS/3480
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

First Committee

9th Meeting (PM)

Removing Roadblocks to Progress with ‘Virtually Moribund’ Disarmament Machinery

Informs Debate in First Committee as Speakers Consider Probable Causes


Pakistan Says Conference on Disarmament Impasse ‘Not Attributable to One State’

Tackling seemingly intractable disarmament and non-proliferation problems with “virtually moribund” disarmament machinery signalled an urgent need to “breathe new life” into attempts to remove the roadblocks, said delegates today in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), concluding the general debate segment of the session.

There was “very little to cheer about”, said the representative of Kenya.  He said the Conference on Disarmament’s 15-year impasse was of grave concern “to all in the world who value human security”.  He remained pessimistic, as he saw little evidence that the status quo would change any time soon.  Implementation of high-level declarations on non-proliferation remained “illusory” and policies prioritizing the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons were an increasingly integral part of the global strategy of military alliances.

The “cardinal principle” of equal and undiminished security for all States was being trumped by narrow self-interests, asserted Pakistan’s representative.  The Conference on Disarmament’s inability to commence negotiations was clearly not attributable to one State, nor was the malaise exclusive to the Conference.  States that argued that Pakistan’s concerns with respect to a fissile material cut-off treaty could be addressed during negotiations called into question why the three other core issues — nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances or a pact to prevent an arms race in outer space — could not be addressed the same way. 

Several delegations shared concerns about the Conference, including the representative of Morocco, who said that freeing the world of nuclear weapons was predicated on strengthening United Nations disarmament mechanisms.  He called for new initiatives bent on accomplishing that task.  Albania’s speaker proposed overcoming the deadlock by expanding the Conference’s membership.  Cuba’s delegate,  on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), urged the Conference to “demonstrate the political will” to begin substantive work.

Concerns regarding disarmament machinery were echoed at a regional level as well.  The representative of Israel said it was no simple task to create a mechanism that would enable the regional parties to handle all the problems confronting the Middle East.  There was no “strategic dialogue between States” in his region and no forum to develop confidence-building measures to defuse tensions and enhance trust, or bridge the significant conceptual gap between States.

Also speaking were the representatives of Argentina, Myanmar, and Iran.

A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross also spoke.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Iran, Syria, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

During an informal segment of the meeting, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane delivered a statement.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 17 October, to begin its thematic debate on Cluster 1, concerning nuclear weapons.


The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon to conclude the general debate portion of all related agenda items before it.  For background, see Press Release GA/DIS/3474.


RODOLFO REYES RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), reaffirmed the pride of the group’s 33 member States in being the first densely populated area in the world to be declared a nuclear-weapon-free zone.  Indeed, as recently as last August, CELAC members had adopted a Declaration on Nuclear Disarmament, which reiterated its prioritisation of nuclear non-proliferation in accordance with its longstanding support of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.  He called on the international community to consider the humanitarian aspect “whenever the debate on this type of weapon takes place”. CELAC reaffirmed the inalienable right of States to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, while urging nuclear-weapon States to comply fully with its article VI obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

He regretted the failure to uphold the agreement to hold a conference in 2012 for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.  CELAC rejected the nuclear deterrence concept, and insisted that nuclear-armed States offer legally binding assurance against the use or threat of use of those weapons against those States that did not have them.  At the recent high-level General Assembly meeting on nuclear disarmament, CELAC had presented a declaration outlining its priorities, and it would contribute to the implementation of practical actions as a follow-up to that meeting.  It urged the Conference on Disarmament to demonstrate the necessary political will to commence substantive work, and was pleased at the establishment of an Informal Working Group towards that end.  Eliminating chemical weapons was a priority, he said, stressing that no CELAC member possessed them.  He reaffirmed an “absolute rejection” of the use of chemical weapons, and hoped that the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons would accelerate a diplomatic solution to that country’s crisis.

Recognizing the value of addressing the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, he called for implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty in a manner that respected the sovereign right of all States to self-defence.  Likewise, anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions were of importance for CELAC, and all confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms were welcome. Pointing out the important work undertaken by the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, he concluded by highlighting that resources used for military expenses could benefit humanity, if they were used to support economic and social development.

U MAUNG WAI ( Myanmar), associating himself with ASEAN, said that nuclear disarmament remained his country’s highest disarmament priority.  Multilateralism and multilaterally agreed solutions provided the only sustainable method to address disarmament and international security issues.  The NPT was a cornerstone of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and nuclear-weapon States must work towards the total elimination of those arsenals.  He called for full implementation of the 22-point action plan, and said that pending total elimination of those weapons; legally binding instruments for security assurances were needed.  The nuclear-weapon-free zones could serve as an additional interim measure.

Reiterating the importance of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, he also stressed the need to keep all weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists.  Myanmar had recently signed the Additional Protocol to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreement, which was a testimony to his country’s commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  In that light, it was disappointing that the stalemate continued in the Conference on Disarmament.  The Conference was not alone in its lack of progress, as the United Nations disarmament machinery as a whole had been stagnant.  To remedy that, his delegation looked forward to the early convening of the Fourth Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly devoted to Disarmament (SSOD IV), and welcomed the work of the Open-ended Working Group to develop proposals to advance multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

ZAMIR AKRAM (Pakistan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, stated that, contrary to expectations, global security had deteriorated since the end of the cold war.  The “cardinal principle” of equal and undiminished security for all States was being trumped by narrow self-interests.  Absolute security for some States could not come at the cost of diminished security for others.  The world was rife with double standards, exceptionalism and revisionism.  New weapons, including drones and lethal autonomous robots were being developed, deployed and used.  Outer space remained threatened by the prospect of weaponization, and the hostile use of cyber-technologies for espionage and surveillance was growing.

He said that the use of armed drones was in the territory of another State outside the zone of conflict was contrary to international law. It was a challenge to security and sovereignty of a State, as it involved the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians including women and children.  Lethal autonomous robots, likewise, posed a fundamental challenge to the protection of civilians, and Pakistan called for international norms to govern them.  The country also recognized the need for a new consensus on nuclear disarmament, but he conceded that consensus-building would be difficult.  An essential prerequisite was the right to equal security for all States.  Until nuclear disarmament was achieved, non-nuclear-weapon States should be offered legally binding security assurances, in the form of a treaty, by nuclear-weapon States.  Pakistan, itself a nuclear-weapon State, had repeatedly advocated for such an instrument.

The First Committee during its debate, he noted, had heard “oft-repeated” laments about the failure of the disarmament machinery.  However, it must be acknowledged that the Conference on Disarmament did not operate in a vacuum; it functioned under the prevailing political realities.  Nor could its lack of progress be blamed on procedural rules, since landmark instruments like the Chemical Weapons Convention and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) had been successfully negotiated under the same rules of procedure.

The Conference was not a body to negotiate only one agenda item, namely a fissile material cut-off treaty.  If there was no consensus on negotiating a so-called “FMCT”, there was also no consensus on negotiating nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances or a pact to prevent an arms race in outer space.  The Conference’s inability to commence negotiations was clearly not attributable to one State, nor was that malaise exclusive to the Conference.  Some States argued that Pakistan’s concerns could be addressed during negotiations for a fissile material cut-off treaty, however, that ignored the “inconvenient truth”, namely, why their concerns on the three other core issues could not be addressed in the same manner.  An “FMCT” that only banned the future production of fissile material was “cost-free” for other nuclear-weapon States, and for non-nuclear weapon States, it entailed no obligation beyond what they had already assumed.  For Pakistan, however, such a treaty had a direct bearing on national security.

The Disarmament Commission as well as the First Committee confronted similar challenges, with the former body unable to agree on a document for more than a decade and a half.  Resolutions adopted by the First Committee were done so “almost mechanically”, without any progress towards their implementation.

He urged a comprehensive revitalization effort to reflect existing realities, and, noting that the Non-Aligned Movement countries comprised almost two-thirds of the United Nations membership, he reiterated Pakistan’s support for its longstanding call to convene the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.

PETRIKA JORGJI ( Albania), associating himself with the European Union, said that his country had been the first to completely destroy its entire chemical agents stockpile.  He condemned the chemical attacks in Syria and commended the work of the OPCW.  Albania had been among the first to sign the Arms Trade Treaty and was in the final stages of its ratification.  On the topic of nuclear weapons, he said that the road towards their total elimination was complex.  The NPT remained the cornerstone of the world’s framework for peace and security on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy.  An early entry into force of the Test-Ban Treaty would be a major contribution to global peace and security.

He was deeply concerned about the long impasse preventing the Conference on Disarmament from playing its role.  That deadlock was not acceptable, and he hoped it would be able to agree on a programme of work and start substantive negotiations on all core disarmament issues.  He reiterated support for expanding its membership and for the appointment of a special coordinator in that regard. Countries must spare no effort to find ways to revitalize the Conference.  Further, negotiating a fissile material cut-off treaty remained crucial to the nuclear disarmament agenda and would complement the NPT and the CTBT.

MARIA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina), associating herself with CELAC, said that the United Nations had been formed to rid the world of the scourge of war. However, 13 years into the twenty-first century, it was concerning that the international community had not been able to do away with weapons of mass destruction.  The humanitarian consequences of a possible nuclear detonation, the recent use of chemical weapons, and the continued use of conventional weapons made the “race against time” even more crucial.  The international community should work together to achieve the universalization of the legal instruments on disarmament and non-proliferation by the United Nations’ seventy-fifth anniversary, as only  in that way could the basis be laid for mutually guaranteed security.

She said her country’s commitment to disarmament could be seen in its ratification of all legal instruments and control regimes in that field, as well as in the Brazilian-Argentine Agency to control nuclear material, which could serve as a model elsewhere in the world.  She hoped that Syria’s entry into the Chemical Weapons Convention could encourage other countries in the region to follow suit and contribute to freeing the Middle East of mass destruction weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty might not be up to the expectation of some delegations, but the 133 signatories showed the urgent need of the vast majority of countries to protect their citizens from the illicit diversion of those weapons.  The Treaty also contributed to honouring human rights and international humanitarian law, and her country looked forward to its entry into force.  She also welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2117 (2013), the first on small arms and light weapons.  There were 650 million such weapons in the world, and those were used in 60 per cent of all human rights violations.  Arms embargoes were not an end in themselves but contributed to reducing availability and conflict.

BOUCHAIB EL OUMNI ( Morocco) said that if “progress” could be used to describe control of conventional weapons, it could be said that nuclear disarmament was moving at a “snail’s pace”.  Those weapons were no guarantee of security; that was to be found in coexistence, dialogue and mutual respect.  Nuclear weapons were a high-risk threat that undermined the world’s future.  Reiterating Morocco’s support for proposals made by the Non-Aligned Movement at the recent high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament, he said effective implementation of related treaties was key The NPT was the cornerstone of that regime, he said, underscoring the importance of accession to both the treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.  Achieving a world free of nuclear weapons meant strengthening the United Nations disarmament machinery, in particular, the Conference, whose problems were political in nature.  Morocco was ready to consider initiatives that could breathe new life into those mechanisms.  It also called for strengthening the financial and staffing capacities of the IAEA.  Concluding that non-proliferation, disarmament and security were at the core of global concerns, he said that an arms race should not take precedence over combating poverty.

ANTHONY ANDANJE ( Kenya), associating himself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, stated that there was “very little to cheer about” regarding disarmament and international security.  The 15-year impasse in the Conference on Disarmament was of grave concern, not just for non-nuclear-weapon States, but to everyone in the world who valued human security.  Unfortunately, Kenya was not optimistic that the status quo would change “any time soon”.  Despite several high-level declarations on non-proliferation in recent years, even by the Security Council, practical implementation had been illusory.  Increasingly, policies that prioritized pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons were an integral part of the global strategy of military alliances.  Emphasizing the unimaginable humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonation, he welcomed the Oslo Conference as a significant event, particularly since the disarmament machinery was “virtually moribund”.  Kenya believed in a world free of nuclear weapons, and, quoting Albert Einstein, he said: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our mode of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe”.

DAVID ROET ( Israel) said his country’s policy on arms control and security had always been pragmatic and realistic, and rooted in the belief that all security concerns should be addressed within the regional context.  The “disturbing realities” in the Middle East required an incremental process that must begin with confidence-and security-building measures leading to more ambitious undertakings.  Effective arms control could only be achieved and sustained in a region where war, armed conflict, terrorism, political hostility and incitement were not features of every day life.  Sadly, those features had prevailed over the past year.  The Middle East had some of the most daunting arms control challenges in the world, and the region was undergoing historic transformations.  Turmoil in the Arab world and instability in several States demonstrated the fragility of the region.

Given that complexity, he said it was no simple task to create a mechanism that would enable all regional parties to handle all the problems confronting the region.  An infrastructure of peace, co-existence and mutual recognition would be vital precursors to any regional arms control measures.  In the Middle East, it was not only a matter of complying with treaties.  It was “no coincidence” that four of the five NPT violations had occurred in the Middle East, namely, in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, in Libya under Gaddafi, in Syria and in Iran, while the fifth — in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — had been “deeply involved” in nuclear and missile proliferation in the Middle East.  Unfortunately, Israel did not enjoy peace with the region as a whole.  Neighbouring countries such as Iran and Syria, and groups like Hamas and Hizbullah rejected Israel’s right to exist and continued to stockpile rockets and missiles, which fundamentally threatened Israel’s security.  Those threats needed to be neutralized before Israel could feel that its national security was adequately safeguarded.

Additionally, he said, there was no strategic dialogue between the States of the region and no forum to develop confidence-building measures to defuse tensions and enhance trust.  A significant conceptual gap existed between the States of the region that must be bridged through direct dialogue and consensus agreements.  A successful direct multilateral dialogue could send a strong signal that regional partners were capable of working towards a shared vision of a more secure and peaceful Middle East.  Israel had demonstrated a positive commitment to participate in direct consultation with its Arab neighbours, and if no progress had been made, it was not for lack of effort on Israel’s part.  The Arab League was tabling a resolution on “Risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East”, which was a one-sided attempt to divert attention away from the proliferation activities of States, such as Iran and Syria.  The text sought to alienate and isolate Israel, and only reinforced suspicion — “the enemy of progress”.  He called on States to reject that resolution.

GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGANI ( Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, stated that nuclear disarmament was “not an option, but an imperative”. It was both a right and a responsibility.  Non-nuclear-weapon States had already fulfilled that responsibility, while nuclear-weapon States had so far failed in their obligations.  Reduction of nuclear weapons was not a substitute for their total elimination, and pending that elimination, all cases of non-compliance with nuclear disarmament obligations “must come to an end”.  There had been almost seven decades of calls for the elimination of those weapons, and the world had lost its patience for rhetoric and euphemistic remarks.  At the same time, measures aimed at strengthening nuclear security must not undermine the inalienable right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

He said that the failure to convene a conference on establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East “due only to Israel’s objection” was an unwelcome development.  Expressions of deep concern made it “crystal clear” that the establishment of such a zone enjoyed strong international support.  He urged Israel to be compelled to participate in such a conference “without any precondition”.  The “bold” decision by Syria to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention had proved that the use of force had lost its legitimacy.  “Instead of the logic of force, we should resort to the force of logic and diplomacy.”  Noting that the first stage of the new round of negotiations between his country and the “P5+1” had concluded today, he said both sides had expressed their satisfaction over progress made.  Apart from one regime in the region, an overwhelming number of countries supported that process.  Iran had entered into the negotiations in good faith and hoped that the concerns of other parties would be removed.  He expected them to acknowledge Iran’s inherent right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

KATHLEEN LAWAND, Head of the Arms Unit Legal Division of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the incalculable consequences of any use nuclear weapons made it a humanitarian imperative of all States to ensure that those weapons were never used again.  However, the use of chemical weapons was a more immediate concern.  Though their use was indisputably prohibited, recent events in Syria highlighted the urgent need to achieve universal adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

She said that while mass destruction weapons were foremost in the minds of many, it was conventional weapons that continued to pose the greatest threat to civilians in most conflicts today. Because military operations were increasingly conducted in populated areas, civilians were particularly exposed to the risk of death, injury or destruction of property caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area.  Those should be avoided in densely populated areas. Regarding new warfare technologies, such as remotely-piloted aircraft or drones, States must assess such weapons’ compatibility with international humanitarian law.  Further, although autonomous weapons designed to operate with little or no human control did not yet exist, the real possibility of their emergence was a cause for concern, as it was questionable that such devices could distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Right of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, Iran’s representative said that during the last meeting, a “fake name” had been used to refer to the Persian Gulf by one delegate.  He reiterated that the Persian Gulf was the only and true geographical designation for the sea area between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. It was historically established and universally recognized, and inventing or using any other name was “rejected” and void of any legal significance.

Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of Syria said that the audacity of Israel was “unprecedented”.  The majority of Member States had welcomed Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the United Nations and the OPCW had commended its positive cooperation with the Joint Mission.  However, Israel’s representative did not pay attention to the fact that the majority of delegations in the room had insisted that it similarly commit itself and stop violating international disarmament and non-proliferation agreements and resolutions, since it was the only State in the Middle East to possess “all kinds of weapons of mass destruction”, including nuclear weapons. Israel was not a party to any major treaty governing non-proliferation, including the NPT, the Missile Technology Control Regime or the Biological Weapons Convention, and had signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention.  Israel still maintained a policy of nuclear ambiguity or opacity.

Everyone was aware, he said, of the Negev Nuclear Research Centre near Dimona, where a plutonium reactor had been supplied by a European State in the 1960s.  Based on the capacity of the Dimona reactor, Israel was believed to have enough weapons-grade plutonium for approximately 200 nuclear warheads.  Dr. Avner Cohen, Senior Fellow at the Centre for International and Security Studies at Maryland, wrote a comprehensive paper entitled “ Israel and Chemical/Biological Weapons: History, Deterrence and Arms Control” published in the Non-Proliferation Review in Autumn 2001.  The paper stated that Israel’s chemical weapons programme had started with the David Ben-Gurion doctrine, which says that the destruction of Palestinian society was a necessity for establishing the State of Israel on its ruins.  If Palestinians could not be removed by massacre and expulsion, they should be removed by extermination, it says.  To accomplish that extermination, Ben Gurion had recruited many scientists, who could “either increase capacity to kill masses or to cure masses”.  Experts in microbiology were recruited to form the Science Corps in the Haganah; it was later named HEMED.  Thereafter, a new branch devoted to biological weapons was formed within “HEMED”, and called “HEMED BEIT”.  It was publically known as “Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR)” and it expropriated as its research centre the mansion of a Palestinian named Shukri Al Taji near the settlement of Nes Ziona.

The delegate from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said the representative of Israel had made a “misleading comment” regarding his country’s nuclear issue.  Israel was a nuclear weapons-possessor, and was nothing more than an expression of the United States’ exercise of “double standardization” inside the international legal framework and legal system.  The reality spoke for itself, which was that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons was “silenced” by the United States and the United Nations Security Council for one simple reason — it was an ally of the United States.  Therefore, a different standard was applied to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because it was not an ally of the United States.  As a fully-fledged nuclear-weapon State, Israel would “for sure” become the source of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East region.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.