Delegates Voice Alarm over Mounting Chemical Weapon Threats, as Disarmament Commission Concludes General Debate
Citing allegations that illegal toxins had been used in a recent incident in the United Kingdom — and by various parties to Middle East conflicts — delegates today voiced alarm over mounting threats posed by chemical weapons and their nuclear and biological counterparts, as the Disarmament Commission concluded its annual general debate.
While delegates disagreed about the circumstances surrounding the incident that occurred on 4 March in Salisbury, United Kingdom, in which a national of the Russian Federation and his daughter had been exposed to a nerve agent prohibited under international law, many said it had demonstrated the “very real” threat still posed by chemical weapons. Some expressed concern that those risks — like those posed by nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles — could be exacerbated by the tensions and heated rhetoric that were rapidly escalating around the world.
Indeed, the Commission’s new three‑year work cycle had opened against an increasingly uncertain and complex international backdrop and amid the proliferation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, France’s representative noted. That included the recent attack in the United Kingdom, in which the Russian Federation had likely been involved. Rejecting the use of such weapons with impunity by both State and non‑State actors, she highlighted other recent incidents, including attacks in Syria and the assassination of the brother‑in‑law of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
Elaborating on that point, the United Kingdom’s delegate emphasized that collective global security depended on the comprehensive set of rules, norms and standards that States had painstakingly built to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Voicing concern that the Russian Federation had flagrantly violated those norms in the recent Salisbury incident — “the first use of chemical weapons on European soil since the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) foundation” — he said disrespect for international norms and laws threatened the basis of democracies, open societies and free economies. Those hostile activities put everyone at risk, he stressed.
The representative of the Russian Federation, rejecting those allegations as he spoke in exercise of the right of reply, said they remained totally unsubstantiated. Calling for a full investigation of the Salisbury incident, he voiced concern that the United Kingdom continued to block the Russian Federation’s access to its own citizens. In addition, the United Kingdom had failed to request a special session of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council to discuss the incident, as provided for in its statute, having instead delivered its own verdict on the matter. In that context, the Russian Federation itself had called for a special meeting of OPCW, which would be convened soon and include specific questions about the incident.
The representative of Syria, meanwhile, expressed concern that security challenges were being exacerbated by terrorism, including the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups supported by some United Nations Member States. Syria condemned the use of chemical weapons and was a party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction. Syria had honoured its commitments under that instrument, despite difficult circumstances. Noting Syria’s compliance had been confirmed by a 2014 OPCW fact‑finding mission, he expressed concern that some States continued to transfer munitions and equipment to terrorist groups in his country, while simultaneously launching accusations against his Government.
Echoing broader concerns, Côte d’Ivoire’s delegate said the global regime preventing the proliferation of deadly weapons had been “severely shaken” in recent months. Despite OPCW efforts — resulting in the destruction of 95 per cent of the world’s chemical weapons — events in the United Kingdom and the use of such weapons by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) revealed that they still posed a serious threat. However, Côte d’Ivoire’s own experience in stemming the flow of conventional arms to criminal networks proved that, with political will, the management of weapons was possible. “It is not too late to overcome our differences and restore trust amongst us,” he stressed, urging States to reverse current trends and make global disarmament a reality.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the Philippines (also on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Antigua and Barbuda (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Switzerland, Croatia, Venezuela, Iraq, Honduras, Portugal, United Republic of Tanzania, Pakistan, India, Italy, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Peru, Singapore, Turkey and Thailand.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Brazil, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States and Syria.
ARIEL RODELAS PENARANDA (Philippines), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation efforts could be best addressed through multilateralism, with all countries carrying out their obligations responsibly. Reaffirming the importance of regional nuclear‑weapon‑free zones and voicing support for the creation of one in the Middle East, he said the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon‑Free Zone (Treaty of Bangkok) and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons were two vital steps towards global nuclear disarmament. Also voicing support for the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty and the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the latter being the cornerstone of the global non‑proliferation regime, he welcomed plans to hold an inter‑Korean summit between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Also critical were the Republic of Korea’s efforts to reduce tensions and work towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Underlining the importance of the full and effective implementation of Security Council resolution 1540 (2004), he also called on all States — especially nuclear‑weapon States — to demonstrate good faith, promote mutual understanding, enhance trustworthy cooperation and ensure responsible actions in striving for a world without nuclear weapons. Turning to the issue of transparency and confidence‑building measures in outer space, he said technology and its applications were indispensable tools for viable, long‑term sustainable development. Space exploration should be exclusively for peaceful purposes and must benefit all of humanity, he said, calling on the international community to build consensus on related norms. A possible avenue could be the development of an appropriate multilateral framework on rules of behaviour in outer space.
ASHA CECILY CHALLENGER (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, pledged to pursue a multilateral approach to help to ensure the Commission reached a strong consensus outcome in its current session. The shared objective was to rid the world of nuclear weapons, she said, adding that the need had become dire against the backdrop of the increasing modernization of arsenals by some States. CARICOM States were part of the first regional zone free of nuclear weapons in a densely populated area of the world, namely the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco). Calling on States to build on the success of the Commission’s previous session, she said preventing the weaponization of outer space was a major global concern. Such a trend would destroy global strategic stability and disrupt existing arms control instruments while posing other serious challenges.
MARK POWER (United Kingdom) said the world’s collective security and prosperity relied on an effective global non‑proliferation and disarmament regime. The international community had constructed a comprehensive set of rules, norms and standards that countered the proliferation of all types of weapons of mass destruction. “We must protect the rules‑based system that we so painstakingly created,” he said. In that context, he expressed deep concern that those norms had been flagrantly violated by the Russian Federation with “the first use of chemical weapons on European soil since the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) foundation”, breaching both the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention) and the United Nations Charter. The Russian Federation’s disrespect for international norms and laws threatened the basis of democracies, open societies and free economies and should concern every delegate in the room. Its hostile activity did not respect borders and placed all at risk. He expressed gratitude to countries that had responded to the Russian Federation’s actions, sending a clear message that its continued attempts to flout international law would no longer be tolerated.
Despite a number of alarming challenges ahead, he said the United Kingdom welcomed the planned Korean summit with a view to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. Nevertheless, the international community must continue to exert maximum pressure on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply with its international obligations. As a State party to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and a responsible nuclear‑weapon State, the United Kingdom took its responsibilities very seriously and remained committed to the long‑term goal of a world without such arms. It had already disarmed further than any other nuclear‑weapon State to a minimum and credible deterrent level. The United Kingdom had long made clear that it would only consider using nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances of self‑defence, including in defence of NATO allies. Furthermore, his country had committed not to use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against any non‑nuclear weapon State party to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty that remained in full compliance with its obligations.
MATTEO FACHINOTTI (Switzerland) said the international security situation was more unstable than it had ever been since the cold war and the aim seemed to be to rearm rather than disarm further. Recent violations against the Chemical Weapons Convention marked a worrying trend. Condemning such violations, he said the international community must confront those and other challenges while relaunching disarmament efforts and reinvigorating related bodies to foster trust and help to prevent conflicts. The Commission was well positioned to deliver results in the forthcoming three‑year cycle. Humanitarian consequences of the use of atomic bombs must be considered, especially given recent developments, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear programme. Another concern was the modernization of nuclear weapons and the development of new weapons, he said, emphasizing that the world did not need more weapons; it needed more dialogue. “We must lower the threshold for their use,” he said. Concerning the recommendations to promote the implementation of transparency and confidence‑building measures in outer space, he said that arena was being used in an increasingly diverse manner and had become strategically important in many areas. Trust among States played an essential role and he hoped such a climate would prevail. After a long deadlock in the Commission, delegates were in a good position to make progress on agenda topics. The Conference on Disarmament had also found common ground. “We must use this progress to ensure we live in a more peaceful and stable world,” he said.
BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the African Group, said the global non‑proliferation architecture and the nuclear disarmament regimes had been “severely shaken” in recent months. Voicing concern over the acquisition of new nuclear weapons by some States, along with an increasing market for conventional weapons, he said the common objectives of non‑proliferation and disarmament were especially threatened by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent violations of numerous Security Council resolutions. Those activities required accelerated efforts to bring the Test‑Ban Treaty into force, he said, calling on Annex II States that had not yet signed that agreement to do so as soon as possible. There was also an urgent need to ensure that national policies did not result in the militarization of outer space, he said, noting that “outer space has become a major strategic asset” as well as a component of some countries’ military activities. As such, a code of conduct must govern activities alongside confidence‑building measures. Turning to other concerns, he said that despite the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) — resulting in the destruction of 95 per cent of those substances — recent events in the United Kingdom and the use of such weapons by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had shown that they still posed a very real threat. Another grave threat was that small arms and light weapons were being funnelled to organized crime or trafficking networks, he said, recalling Côte d’Ivoire’s experience in demonstrating that, with political will, the management of such munitions was possible. “It is not too late to overcome our differences and restore trust amongst us,” he said, calling on States to reverse current trends and ensure that global disarmament become a reality.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), welcoming the inclusion of transparency and confidence‑building measures in outer space activities on the Commission’s agenda, said the increased number of orbit launch attempts in 2017 had demonstrated the importance of space. Keeping it free of conflict was in the interest of humanity. The lack of consensual agreement in the field of nuclear disarmament must not derail efforts in other segments where a high degree of common understanding and room for progress existed. The 2020 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was of utmost importance. The Commission’s consideration of issues related to outer space had demonstrated its ability to expand the range of deliberations as new circumstances and priorities required. Moving forward, it was crucial to gain a deeper understanding of other new disarmament trends and developments, with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) playing a useful role in providing research‑based data and knowledge to enhance the Commission’s work.
HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the Commission was entering a new cycle at a troubled time. Illegal interventionism was being defended and countries were being threatened with destruction. In that context, countries must defend and respect the principles of the United Nations. The role of the Commission in formulating recommendations was an important contribution. However, despite appeals to eliminate nuclear weapons, some States continued to update and modernize arsenals. Denouncing such actions and urging those countries to negotiate towards reducing and eliminating their stockpiles, he said that even the threat of using atomic bombs was a crime against humanity. Negative security assurances were needed to guarantee that possessor States would not use such arms against nuclear‑weapon‑free States. While Venezuela had recently ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, it supported the sovereign right of countries to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Concerning outer space activities, transparency and confidence‑building measures did not substitute the clear goal of a legally binding international instrument that prohibited the weaponization of outer space. In that connection, he invited the Conference on Disarmament to discharge its duties to negotiate such an instrument and welcomed the joint Chinese‑Russian draft treaty.
MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq), associating himself with the Arab Group and the Non‑Aligned Movement, expressed hope that the Commission’s recent success would help to reinvigorate the United Nations disarmament machinery. Because Iraq believed the universalization of disarmament and non‑proliferation treaties to be critical, it had voted in favour of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the adoption of which had marked the culmination of 20 years of international work. Turning to regional matters, he said Israel must disarm, and the resolution adopted at the 1995 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference must be implemented by creating a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. In that vein, he urged Israel to sign the Non‑Proliferation Treaty as a non‑nuclear party and place all its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. When carried out in line with those safeguard regimes, all States, especially developing countries, had the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without any discrimination. Raising concerns about the potential use of nuclear weapons by terrorist groups, he called on all States to redouble efforts to prevent non‑State actors from gaining access to such weapons, including by putting effective security measures in place around all nuclear materials.
YOLANNIE CERRATO (Honduras), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said her country firmly believed in arms control, supporting the International Tracing Instrument and having drafted legislation to ensure the implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. Disarmament should be linked directly with the maintenance of international peace and security as well as the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she said, expressing support for the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and development. She also expressed support for the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in September, encouraging States to mobilize further related efforts. Regretting to note that spending on nuclear weapons deprived countries of essential resources that could be used to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, she said it was immoral to try to achieve peace with such arms. Pledging a commitment to ensure the Commission’s success, she hoped that concrete proposals would be forwarded to the General Assembly at the end of the three‑year cycle.
CAMILLE ANDRIEU (France) said the new cycle had opened in an increasingly uncertain and complex international context, amid the proliferation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons by States or terrorist groups, including the recent attack in the United Kingdom, in which the Russian Federation had likely been involved. In addition, the international community must band together to ensure the full dismantlement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear programme and to address other threats, including the illicit conventional weapons trade. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action contained in the Iran nuclear agreement had demonstrated that the international community could indeed find practical solutions to disarmament crises. Reaffirming France’s commitment to the agreement, she called on all parties, including Iran, to abide by their commitments. The Non‑Proliferation Treaty remained the cornerstone of non‑proliferation, she said, rejecting any attempt to undermine it, including the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. For its part, France took a pragmatic, progressive and realistic approach to nuclear disarmament, including dismantling test sites, and its continued work on the verification of nuclear disarmament to strengthen the trust between nuclear‑weapon and non‑nuclear‑weapon States. She encouraged her Russian Federation and United States partners to continue to reduce their arsenals.
Turning to chemical weapon concerns, she said France rejected the use of such agents with impunity by State and non‑State actors, including incidents in Syria, the assassination in Malaysia of the brother‑in‑law of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s leader and attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom. In that regard, France had launched a partnership against the impunity of chemical weapon use to send a signal that such actions carried consequences. On issues related to outer space, she said France’s priority was to ensure the viability and security of activities. She reiterated support for the Commission and pragmatic discussions around challenging issues that confronted the international community.
TEODORO LOPEZ LOCSIN, JR. (Philippines), pledging to work to preserve gains that had been made during the 2010 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, said his country had taken action in line with its international commitments on non‑proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including by passing the Strategic Trade Management Act to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by closely monitoring the trade in strategic goods. “Universalization is key in effectively implementing all treaties and agreements on disarmament and non‑proliferation,” he said, describing the recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as complementary to existing mechanisms such as the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and essential to achieving the ultimate goal of a nuclear‑weapon‑free world, the latter remaining the foundation and the former being the capstone. The Philippines had worked consistently towards the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, he said, echoing support for the creation of conditions conducive to dialogue among the concerned parties and welcoming the readiness of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to discuss terms of a peaceful resolution.
JOSÉ ATAÍDE AMARAL (Portugal) said multilateralism based on universal rules and values was the most effective way to ensure international peace and security. Voicing frustration over the process leading to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he said a gradual, step by step approach remained the best approach to pursuing multilateral disarmament negotiations. Citing an urgent need to reverse recent trends towards arms races in both the atomic and conventional weapon spheres, he said nuclear‑weapon States had a special responsibility to reduce their arsenals. Welcoming the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as a proven success, he urged all its parties to continue to adhere to the agreement’s terms. Current challenges, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent nuclear tests, were reminders of the urgency of bringing the Test‑Ban Treaty into force. Meanwhile, efforts must continue towards establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Further, the peaceful, sustainable and equitable use of outer space must be ensured through transparency and confidence‑building measures as well as increased international cooperation and the development of standard rules of behaviour.
MODEST JONATHAN MERO (United Republic of Tanzania), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the African Group, recalled that his country had participated in the negotiations leading to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and had voted in favour of the instrument. Underscoring the important role of IAEA in working with States to promote the peaceful, safe and secure use of nuclear energy and technology, he said the United Republic of Tanzania was concerned about the implications of an arms race in outer space and the potential deployment of ballistic missiles in that arena. In that context, he called on the international community to strictly comply with relevant disarmament agreements and the existing outer space legal regime.
NABEEL MUNIR (Pakistan) echoed concerns that the Commission was meeting against a backdrop of rapidly escalating global tensions sparked by some States’ insatiable desire for global dominance. Those challenges were exacerbated by the hostile use of emerging cybertechnology such as automated armed drones. Meanwhile, discriminatory waivers for the development of nuclear weapons — “special arrangements” granted to some countries — had opened the door for the potential unsafe use of such weapons. Nowhere was that more evident than in South‑East Asia, where one country continued to build its arsenals in a myopic pursuit of regional dominance. Despite provocations and threats, Pakistan remained committed to keeping the region free of nuclear weapons and had tabled a number of proposals to that effect, including a draft non‑aggression pact. Regrettably, none of those proposals had been positively received.
Pakistan had long advocated for the renewal of international disarmament efforts based on the principle of “equal and undiminished security for all”, he said. Outlining a number of critical elements in that regard, he spotlighted the recognition of the right to equal security for all States; the recognition of the existence of disputes with more powerful States as well as discrimination in the application of international laws and norms; the importance of reducing arsenals of nuclear‑weapon States in a reasonable time frame; the provision of negative security assurances by those States; the need to bring the development and use of cyberweapons and autonomous weapons under international rules; and the establishment of a strategic restraint regime in South‑East Asia.
RACHITA BHANDARI (India), associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said her country attached special importance to the Commission and its unique role in the disarmament machinery as a platform for dialogue and cooperation at a time of growing mistrust and tensions. The adoption of consensus recommendations on confidence‑building measures in the area of conventional weapons in 2017 had demonstrated that past deadlock had not been due to some procedural flaw, but rather a lack of political will to invest in multilateral outcomes. Yet, India was disappointed that success had not been replicated in the 2017 Working Group on realizing nuclear disarmament, she said, noting that an increasing number of actors believed that such weapons were needed even more today. India was committed to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, supporting both the proposal for the Conference on Disarmament to draft a nuclear weapons convention and the negotiations on a fissile material cut‑off treaty.
It was important that as the Commission started working on a new agenda item, it did not replicate work done in other fora, she said. While transparency and confidence‑building measures were important, they did not substitute legal measures to prevent an arms race in outer space. States must be able to protect their interests without resorting to “half steps”. Outer space must be a common endeavour and not an area of conflict. The triad of disarmament machinery must operate as a composite in pursuit of collective security in an increasingly interdependent world. There was no other option.
ANDREA ROMUSSI (Italy) said the most significant challenge during the current complex era was addressing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear weapon programme. Highlighting recent positive developments in that regard, he also emphasized the importance of exerting pressure on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including through sanctions. Valuing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, he said every action should be taken to ensure that it remained a success story. Raising concerns about chemical weapon attacks in Syria and the United Kingdom, he condemned their use by anyone, anywhere, and stressed the need for accountability. Satisfied with the Commission’s recommendations of confidence‑building measures regarding conventional weapons, he hoped such guidance could be used as a source of inspiration. Sharing the desire for a world free of nuclear weapons, Italy believed the Non‑Proliferation Treaty remained the cornerstone of the non‑proliferation regime. Nuclear disarmament must be pursued in a step by step and verifiable way, in accordance with article VI of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty in a way that promoted international stability. Italy also remained a strong supporter of the Test‑Ban Treaty and was focused on reaching out to States that had not yet ratified the instrument. Meanwhile, he reiterated support for the establishment of a conference leading to the establishment of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East. Concerning outer space, he said a set of globally shared principles of commonly accepted behaviour was needed alongside a legally binding instrument. He also expressed support for the promotion of transparency and confidence‑building measures in the field of cyberspace.
STELLA KABURIS (Netherlands) recognized the need for more international rules and immediate measures to regulate outer space, beyond the current set of mechanisms and instruments. Space arms control mechanisms must be verifiable and include a monitoring regime, while transparency and confidence‑building measures should be improved. The Commission should deliberate on common guidelines such as establishing standards of responsible behaviour in outer space. Achieving and maintaining a world free of nuclear weapons was a priority for the Netherlands. The Commission had to look for common ground “where progress is possible despite difficult circumstances”. Disarmament and non‑proliferation were two sides of the same coin and no distinction between them should be made. The Commission could also contribute to prevent nuclear conflict by discussing the role of risk reduction measures.
JASSER JIMÉNEZ (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, underlined the need to accelerate efforts towards global disarmament and prioritize the elimination of nuclear weapons. Welcoming the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he said Nicaragua, as a State party to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, regretted the recent trend among nuclear powers to modernize their arsenals in contravention of article VI of the latter instrument. Expressing support for efforts to keep outer space free of all weapons and maintain it as an arena for the equal benefit of all humankind, he called for the establishment of confidence‑building measures and voiced support for an international convention to prohibit an arms race. In that regard, he recalled that Nicaragua and the Russian Federation had both committed themselves to not be the first to use weapons in outer space.
ENRI PRIETO (Peru), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, outlined his country’s support for global disarmament and non‑proliferation regimes. As one of the first States to sign on to the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the Test‑Ban Treaty, Peru urged other countries to sign on to the latter. Reaffirming the inalienable right of all countries to research and use nuclear energy in a peaceful manner in line with IAEA safeguards, he said nuclear weapons must be treated the same as all other weapons of mass destruction. In that context, Peru supported the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and called on all States to sign it. It was unacceptable that, over recent years, not a single nuclear weapon had been destroyed. Instead, some States had continued to enhance their arsenals. Against that backdrop, the Commission should work to develop recommendations aimed at reversing those trends and moving towards the ultimate goal of complete, irreversible, transparent and verifiable global disarmament.
LUKE TANG (Singapore), aligning himself with ASEAN, said mutually reinforcing progress on disarmament and non‑proliferation was essential to strengthen international peace and security. In that context, he looked forward to the upcoming Preparatory Committee meeting on the 2020 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference as a platform for bridging differences and building trust. Calling for strengthened support for nuclear‑weapon‑free zones as building blocks towards a nuclear‑weapon‑free world, he encouraged efforts to achieve such a zone in the Middle East while reaffirming his country’s commitment to the Treaty of Bangkok. Expressing support for the early entry into force of the Test‑Ban Treaty, he noted that established norms on nuclear testing did not replace the need for a legally binding instrument. Meanwhile, Singapore supported the Commission’s deliberations on issues related to outer space. Most treaties on the subject had been drafted when outer space had not yet become relevant to a broad spectrum of human activity. Today, many essential services were reliant on technologically advanced applications in space.
ABDULLAH HALLAK (Syria), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the world was facing difficult challenges, and at the top of the list was the modernization of nuclear arsenals and the threat of nuclear‑weapon States launching them. That was exacerbated by terrorism. Especially worrying was that some Member States were using terrorism as a political weapon by supporting terrorist groups that used chemical weapons. The United States and the United Kingdom, both party to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, protected Israeli efforts to acquire nuclear weapons in flagrant violation of that instrument. France had also contributed to the development of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. In that context, he called on all States to work towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons in the Middle East and called on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards.
He said Syria condemned the use of chemical weapons and was a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, having honoured its commitments under that instrument, despite difficult circumstances. Its compliance had already been confirmed by the Special Coordinator of the OPCW fact‑finding mission in 2014. States transferring their munitions and equipment to terrorist groups was a cause of great concern to Syria. That was being done with the assistance of certain countries, which had encouraged terrorist groups to use chemical substances to launch accusations against the Government of Syria. The political will of nuclear‑weapon States had been absent in the framework of the Disarmament Commission when it had deliberated on recommendations for nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation. In terms of transparency and confidence‑building measures in the field of outer space, he said that arena should be for the common good of mankind. As such, Syria had voted in favour of all related resolutions approved by the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) and supported the Chinese‑Russian draft treaty to prevent its weaponization. More generally, Member States must show their responsibility to end the trafficking of munitions to armed terrorist groups through Syria’s neighbouring States.
RAUF ALP DENKTAŞ (Turkey) welcomed the fact that the Commission had been able to agree on an agenda for the new triennial cycle at an early stage. Reaching consensus on at least one of the agenda items in the previous cycle gave hope for restoring the Commission’s essential role within the disarmament machinery, which was particularly important given the present state of affairs. Turkey supported the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, the centre point of the global disarmament and non‑proliferation regime. However, Turkey did not support any action that could undermine that instrument. Calling for the strengthening of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty regime, he urged delegates to leave behind the frustration caused by the failure of the instrument’s 2015 review conference and look ahead to a meaningful outcome for the upcoming 2020 review cycle. At the same time, his Government believed now was a good time for the Commission to consider transparency and confidence‑building measures for outer space activities. In that connection, he believed there was room for achieving consensus and repeating the success of the 2017 session.
NONTAWAT CHANDRTRI (Thailand), associating himself with ASEAN and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the modernization of weapons and their further accumulation by some nations threatened the global concept of disarmament. Calling for efforts to strengthen that pursuit, he said discussions at the Commission could help to build trust and confidence between all parties. “There is no place for weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons,” he said, welcoming the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a historic step towards that goal. More inclusivity, as well as deeper consultation with civil society and academia, was needed in those international discussions.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, exercising the right of reply in response to the statements delivered by the delegates of the United Kingdom, Switzerland and France, described his country’s proactive measures in pursuit of peace on the Korean Peninsula. Sanctions and pressure imposed against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had had no effect, he said, describing the decades‑long hostility the United States had shown against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as the main source of those tensions. Pyongyang would do its best to achieve peace and security in the region, he said, expressing support for global efforts towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons around the world. Responding to the representative of France specifically, he said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continued to oppose the research, storage and use of all chemical weapons.
The representative of Brazil, also speaking on behalf of Austria, Mexico, New Zealand and Nigeria — all of which had been strong supporters of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — said several delegates through the general debate had made incorrect statements about that agreement. Contrary to those statements, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was completely compatible with the Non‑Proliferation Treaty, which remained the cornerstone of the global disarmament regime. The assertion that it weakened the Non‑Proliferation Treaty was also inaccurate, he said, emphasizing that the 2017 agreement went even further by requiring all its parties to maintain — at a minimum — their existing IAEA safeguards at the time of signing, without prejudice to any changes made in the future.
The representative of the Russian Federation rejected allegations that had been made by his counterparts from the United Kingdom and from France. Accusations that the Russian Federation had violated international law in a recent incident in Salisbury remained totally unsubstantiated by any facts, he said, underscoring the need for a full investigation of the incident. Expressing concern that United Kingdom continued to block the Russian Federation’s access to its own citizens, he said it was his country’s right to investigate what kind of substance had been used against the victims. The United Kingdom had provided a totally unsubstantiated allegation and had failed to call for a special session of the OPCW Executive Council to discuss the incident, having instead delivered its own verdict on the matter. In fact, the Russian Federation had been forced to request the convening of a special meeting of OPCW, which would take place soon with particular questions posed about the incident. In addition, he questioned why the French delegation had been involved in discussions about the incident.
The representative of the United Kingdom, addressing a number of inaccuracies that had been made by his counterpart from the Russian Federation, affirmed that a criminal investigation was under way, in accordance with national law and in line with article VII of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The United Kingdom had also provided evidence to and was cooperating with OPCW. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation had maintained its “novichok” programme in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention despite the fact that they had claimed to have destroyed all remnants of chemical weapons in 2017. Lastly, referring to article IX of the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said the United Kingdom had asked the Russian Federation how a nerve agent that Russian scientists had admitted to using had been used in the United Kingdom. When that request was met with derision and scorn, his Government took action with allies to protect its national security. Those were the facts, and despite the attempted smokescreen, it was clear that the Russian Federation’s representative was trying to obscure the preservation of the norms against the use of weapons of mass destruction. Rather than taking responsibility, the Russian Federation had chosen diversion and misinformation.
The representative of the Russian Federation, taking the floor in his second intervention, said the statement by the representative of the United Kingdom did not correspond with reality. It was false that his Government had conducted work on the “novichok” programme. The Russian Federation did not own any of the substances that the United Kingdom claimed and this could be verified. Both countries should be able to achieve results on the matter if they worked through the relevant treaties. Regarding the demand that his Government provided information on the substance, that was a 24‑hour ultimatum phrased in an incomprehensible way, he said. Russia was a sovereign State and not a colony of the United Kingdom. In that regard, his Government had acted legitimately. The Russian Federation is able to work strictly by the rules of OPCW and hoped to have a professional discussion in The Hague so that the experts can get to work and conduct an impartial investigation, he said.
The representative of the United States called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to refrain from actions that threatened international security and to fulfil its international obligations. While he welcomed recent overtures, pressure on the regime would increase until actions on denuclearization were made.
The representative of Syria said the United Kingdom was among the greatest terrorist‑exporting country, and that its media personnel were jihadists. British colonialism had brought carnage to his region, looting their wealth. The British policies in his region were a poison that could not be cured. The representative of the United Kingdom was defaming Syria. The United Kingdom was no longer a super Power and had become a follower of another nation. Furthermore, it needed to allow the people of Scotland to exercise their right to self‑determination and leave Gibraltar and focus on its domestic affairs instead.
The representative of the United Kingdom, taking the floor again, said that while the Russian Federation claimed it had destroyed its chemical weapons in a verifiable manner, that was only true as it pertained to its declared chemical weapons programme.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, taking the floor for a second time, said that in addressing peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, he must remind the United States to approach matters with self‑control, patience and respect. In that regard, it was unnecessary to speak about “maximum pressure”.
The representative of the United States said what was necessary was for Pyongyang to show concrete actions towards denuclearization.