Calling for Lowering Nuclear Risks, First Committee Delegates Urge Possessor States to Swiftly De-alert Atomic Bombs, Stop Procrastinating on Promises
Exchanging views on ways to break a languishing disarmament impasse, including by assuring all non‑nuclear‑weapon States against the use or threat of atomic bombs, delegates of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today began a thematic discussion on nuclear weapons.
“Nuclear weapon States have not made progress in eliminating their arsenals and are instead modernizing and developing new delivery vehicles,” Indonesia’s representative said, speaking for the Non‑Aligned Movement, urging those countries to cease these activities and comply with their legal obligations.
She emphasized a need for a universal, non‑discriminatory and legally binding instrument to assure all non‑nuclear weapon states against the use or threat of nuclear weapons. She also called on nuclear‑weapon States to reduce the operational status of their armaments, adding that non‑proliferation and nuclear disarmament must go hand‑in‑hand.
Many echoed that call, including South Africa’s representative, who spoke on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition. New Zealand’s delegate, speaking for the De‑Alerting Group, said de‑alerting of nuclear weapons systems is a risk‑reduction measure. It is also a concrete step against the possible inadvertent launches due to technical failure or operator error, misinterpretation of early‑warning data, false reports, or use by rogue military units, terrorists or cyberattackers.
Recalling that both the United States and Russian Federation have received erroneous information from early warning sensors or have misinterpreted same, she cautioned that in each case, it has been extraordinarily fortunate that disaster has been averted, stressing that “good fortune is not sufficient”.
Egypt’s representative, speaking for the League of Arab States, said nuclear‑weapon States have failed to implement their international obligations to rid the world of such weapons. Furthermore, they failed to reject military doctrines and negative security assurances to non‑nuclear‑weapon States, he said.
Faced with their “procrastination”, he added, the Arab Group at the 2015 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons attempted to break the stalemate with a new working paper adopted by the Non‑Aligned Movement and the vast majority of Member States. However, three States broke the consensus.
The representative of the European Union delegation called on all nuclear‑weapon States to reaffirm existing security assurances outlined in relevant Security Council resolutions, and to sign and ratify the protocols to the treaties establishing nuclear‑weapon‑free zones.
At the outset of today’s meeting, the Committee heard briefings by the chairs of the groups of governmental experts on nuclear disarmament verification and on further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
The Committee also concluded its general debate by holding an informal session for civil society organizations.
Delivering statements during the thematic debate were the representatives of Morocco (for the African Group), Thailand (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Australia (for a group of countries) and the Philippines (for the Non‑Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative). The representative of the United States spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 19 October, to continue a thematic discussion on nuclear weapons.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon to conclude its general debate and continue its segment on thematic discussions and the introduction and consideration of all draft resolutions and decisions. For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3597 of 8 October.
KNUT LANGELAND (Norway), Chair of the Group of Government Experts on nuclear disarmament verification, which was established pursuant to General Assembly resolution A/71/67, provided an overview of its work. With 25 members selected equitably from each region, the Group is considering nuclear disarmament verification with a view to creating a world without nuclear weapons. In 2017, Member States were invited to express their views on the role of the Group, which were included in the Secretary‑General’s related report. Unlike such a mechanism for a fissile material cut‑off treaty, the Group was not mandated to hold open‑ended dialogues. Instead, the Group held informal consultations on various occasions, including on the margins of a session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Although the Group’s mandate is not to consider a treaty on nuclear disarmament verification, he said “its work is not starting from scratch”, as past experiences in this field can inform its discussions. The Group held its first meeting from 14 to 18 May in Geneva and exchanged views on how verification can play a role in nuclear disarmament and future treaties. Verification is linked to specific treaties. Contributions from both nuclear‑weapon States and non‑nuclear‑weapon States are vital. Verification can foster trust and confidence and bears greater importance when nuclear stockpiles become smaller.
Past verification experiences were exchanged by experts, including from Argentina, Brazil, Kazakhstan, South Africa, the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty Organization and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The experts also discussed practical issues and concurred that only parties to a treaty will be given a role in verification. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains a key partner. The experts drew lessons from some efforts, including a United Kingdom‑Norway initiative and the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification.
The Group, whose mandate will expire in April 2019, will not create a specific regime nor prejudge negotiations on future treaties. At the next meeting in November, more in‑depth discussions will be undertaken regarding how verification will be carried out and what kind of capacity is needed to accomplish this. After a final meeting in 2019, the Group’s final report will be submitted to the seventy‑fourth session of the General Assembly.
GUILHERME DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on Further Practical Measures for the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, which was established pursuant to General Assembly resolution A/72/250, said its 25 members meet twice yearly to consider and make recommendations on substantial elements of a related legally binding instrument. As Chair, he is mandated to hold an informal consultative meeting in 2019, which will be convened in January/February in New York. He will strive to facilitate significant outcomes and is committed to exercise his role in a fair and balanced manner, he said, adding that a number of States that voted against resolution A/72/250 had nevertheless been participating constructively in discussions.
Citing some of the Group’s activities, he said a workshop held in Beijing, with support from the Russian Federation and China, facilitated a first round of exchanges on topics. Its first session, held in Geneva in August, benefited from the participation of experts to share information on specific issues. All members were willing to work within the established mandate and contribute to elements of a possibly legally binding instrument.
Throughout discussions, delegates made recurring references to the draft treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects. It was agreed that whatever normative action would be taken in the future, it must be consistent with existing treaties. The technical, political and legal viability of different commitments was also discussed. Different types of obligations were envisioned, including prohibitions on the use or threat of use of force on space objects, among others. Each threat was associated with a transparency and confidence‑building measure.
To explore this matrix approach, experts will provide input on as many elements as necessary by the end of November. The grid will be used as the basis for a report to be released after the Group’s second and last session in March 2019.
INA HAGNININGTYAS KRISNAMURTHI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, expressed alarm over an impasse in the realm of nuclear disarmament. Nuclear‑weapon States have not made progress in eliminating their arsenals and are instead modernizing and developing new delivery vehicles, she said, urging those States to cease those activities and comply with their legal obligations. The United Nations High‑level International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament would provide an opportunity to review progress on the issue, she added, expressing hope that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would advance progress towards the elimination of atomic bombs.
She emphasized the need for a universal, non‑discriminatory and legally binding instrument to assure all non‑nuclear‑weapon States against the use or threat of nuclear weapons. She called on nuclear‑weapon States to reduce the operational status of their armaments, adding that non‑proliferation and nuclear disarmament must be pursued together. Calling on nuclear‑weapon States to demonstrate the necessary political will to ensure progress at the next Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Review Conference, she reiterated the importance of nuclear‑weapon‑free zones, especially for establishing one in the Middle East. Reaffirming the inalienable right of each State to develop and use nuclear energy, she strongly rejected limitations and restrictions on exports to developing countries of nuclear material, equipment and technology intended for peaceful purposes.
OMAR HILALE (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, said the total elimination of nuclear weapons remains the only guarantee against their use. Recalling that the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, he expressed support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, saying it strengthens, rather than undermines, the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. In that connection, he called on all States to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as soon as possible. Indeed, the highest priority for the Group is the total elimination of nuclear weapons, he said, voicing a deep concern at the slow pace of denuclearization by nuclear‑weapon States.
Highlighting that nuclear‑weapon‑free zones represent a milestone towards achieving disarmament and non‑proliferation objectives, he reaffirmed the Group’s commitment to the African Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zone Treaty, known as the Treaty of Pelindaba. However, the Group remains concerned that obligations regarding the establishment of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East had not yet been met. The related 1995 resolution is an integral part and the basis on which the Non‑Proliferation Treaty was indefinitely extended. He called on all States to work towards previously agreed outcomes at past Non‑Proliferation Treaty review conferences. Through technical assistance and maximizing the use of science, the Group also supports the transfer of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. He went on to call on all States to take into consideration the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons and take necessary measures to dismantling them.
BASSEM YEHIA HASSAN KASSEM HASSAN (Egypt) raised concerns at the continuing failure to make concrete progress to achieve nuclear disarmament and to commit to the implementation of the outcomes of the 1995 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Nuclear‑weapon States fail to implement their international obligations to rid the world of such weapons. Furthermore, they fail to reject military doctrines and negative security assurances to non‑nuclear‑weapon States. Faced with their procrastination, the Arab Group at the 2015 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference attempted to break the stalemate with a new working paper adopted by the Non‑Aligned Movement and the vast majority of Member States. However, three States broke the consensus.
The responsibility of ridding the region of weapons of mass destruction is a collective one, he continued. Arab States support a need to create nuclear‑weapon‑free zones around the world, he said, suggestion practical and immediate steps, as called for in the annual Arab Group draft resolution. However, the Group is concerned by the security threat posed by Israel’s refusal to accede to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and subject its installations to IAEA safeguards. The continued delay of the implementation of the 1995 resolution is a serious setback and hampers progress in the achievement of peace and durable security in the region and the world, he said, also highlighting a need for increased cooperation with regard to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
JOHANN KELLERMAN (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition, said 2018 marks the 20 years since the issue of the 18‑point Nuclear‑Weapons‑Free World: The Need for a New Agenda. Despite many efforts and initiatives to achieve and maintain a world free of nuclear weapons, “much regrettably remains to be done”, he said, reiterating that the only guarantee against the use of nuclear weapons is their total elimination.
Raising other concerns and providing an overview of the Coalition’s proposed draft resolution, he said the draft reiterates that each article of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty is binding at all times, with all States called to comply fully with all resolutions and commitments. Expressing deep concern over the catastrophic human consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, he called upon Member States to give due prominence to the urgency of disarmament. Nuclear‑weapon States must decrease the operational status of their systems and diminish their role, pending their total elimination. Turning to the Middle East, he urged States to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. India, Israel and Pakistan are also called to accede to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear‑weapon States promptly and without conditions, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is urged to abandon all its nuclear weapons and programmes.
DELL HIGGIE (New Zealand), speaking on behalf of the De-Alerting Group, highlighted a number of concerns. She noted the Group’s continued call for de‑alerting nuclear weapons systems, both as a risk‑reduction measure and concrete step towards disarmament. De‑alerting should have strong international consensus given the grave risk nuclear weapons will pose as long as they exist and how those risks multiply when the weapons are on high alert. Dangers include possible inadvertent launches due to technical failure or operator error, misinterpretation of early‑warning data, false reports or their use by rogue military units, terrorists or cyberattackers. Even former military leaders from States with the largest arsenals acknowledge that de‑alerting is most important in times of high tension, such as now, she said.
Citing the significant history of accidents and close calls over recent decades, she noted that both the United States and Russian Federation have received erroneous information from early warning sensors or have misinterpreted same. “In each case, we have been extraordinarily fortunate that disaster has been averted,” she said, while noting good fortune is not sufficient. Expressing regret that some nuclear‑weapon States now say de‑alerting may create dangerous deterrence instabilities, she affirmed that at this time of high tension, it would be more stabilizing to take concrete agreed measures to de‑alert. Nuclear weapons States should urgently implement pre‑agreed commitments with a view to removing all weapons from high‑alert status.
MARATEE NALITA ANDAMO (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reiterated the commitment to keeping the region free from nuclear bombs and weapons of mass destruction. It will continue to engage nuclear‑weapon States and explore ways to bridge the outstanding differences. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons constitutes a vital step towards global nuclear disarmament and complements existing instruments. The bloc continues to recognize the Non‑Proliferation Treaty as the cornerstone of the international nuclear non‑proliferation and disarmament regime, she said, urging all State parties to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of existing obligations under article 6 of the instrument.
In 2018, many ASEAN members have taken further steps to realize the goal of a nuclear‑weapon‑free world, she said. Providing examples, she said Thailand ratified in September the Test‑Ban Treaty, making all ASEAN countries parties to the instrument. She urged annex II States to sign and ratify the Treaty as soon as possible to ensure its entry into force. Brunei Darussalam and Myanmar joined other ASEAN members in September becoming signatories to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. These mark significant steps towards an early entry into force of this historic legal instrument. ASEAN welcomes the three inter‑Korean summits and the summit between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she said, expressing support for all efforts to bring about the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which will contribute to peace and stability in the region.
SALLY MANSFIELD (Australia), speaking on behalf of a group of countries, called the Non‑Proliferation Treaty “a success story” and the cornerstone of the global non‑proliferation and disarmament architecture. Negotiators of the Treaty knew the threat was too big to be contained by one country alone, thereby launching a multilateral approach as the “only way” to deal with the issue. In that vein, she called for the universalization and prompt entry into force of the Test‑Ban Treaty and negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament to ban the production of fissile material. In addition, she encouraged international cooperation and dialogue on disarmament verification.
While there are differences of opinion on how to best advance disarmament and a perceived lack of progress in that domain, she said these dynamics must not inhibit efforts to collaborate in areas where common ground exists. “We all bear responsibility for making progress on disarmament,” she said. Although maintaining the status quo is not an option, she acknowledged the difficulties of conceiving concrete progress on disarmament without the direct involvement of those possessing nuclear weapons. Therefore, building trust and confidence is paramount and only possible through the sustained engagement of all stakeholders.
KIRA CHRISTIANNE DANGANAN AZUCENA (Philippines), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, reaffirmed the critical importance of concerted action to achieve the shared goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. However, the current geopolitical situation underlines a need to strengthen and uphold the Non‑Proliferation Treaty. Urging all States parties to fully comply with their obligations and commitments under the Treaty, the Initiative will continue to develop new ideas to build bridges with Member States.
While expressing hope that dialogue on the Korean Peninsula will yield meaningful progress on denuclearization, she said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s programmes on weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles are in clear violation of international law and must be dismantled completely, verifiably and irreversibly. The transparency of all States parties must be increased and nuclear‑weapon States must provide regular reports on their implementation of obligations and commitments under the Initiative. All States that have not signed the Test‑Ban Treaty are urged to do so without delay, especially the remaining annex 2 States, whose ratification is required for the instrument to enter into force.
ANNE KEMPPAINEN, of the European Union delegation, called for further efforts to focus on all aspects of disarmament to enhance global security, as there is room for further progress in arms control, disarmament and non‑proliferation. The European Union remains committed to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and calls for concrete progress towards the full implementation of article 6, taking into account the special responsibility of States possessing the largest nuclear arsenals. Urging the Russian Federation to address serious concerns regarding its compliance with the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, she highlighted the crucial importance of the instrument for the security of Europe and beyond. Concerning the Test‑Ban Treaty, she noted that a new European Union decision was adopted to continue its long‑standing support for the strengthening of the instrument’s monitoring and verification capabilities. In the Conference on Disarmament, the European Union prioritizes the commencement of negotiations towards a fissile material cut‑off treaty, calling on nuclear‑weapon States to uphold an immediate moratorium on their production of such substances.
Regarding negative security assurances, she called on all nuclear‑weapon States to reaffirm existing agreements outlined in relevant Security Council resolutions, and to sign and ratify the protocols to the treaties establishing nuclear‑weapon‑free zones. The Russian Federation failed to honour its commitment under the Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine's Accession to the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, known as the Budapest Memorandum, she said, calling on this country to honour and fulfil its commitment. Turning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, she said Iran has continued to meet its nuclear‑related commitments as confirmed by IAEA. She then called on Iran to play a constructive role in the region and refrain from arms transfers or any activities related to ballistic missiles.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United States, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that while his Government supports the implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, it cannot support initiatives that are not the product of dialogue between all countries in the region. The United States had presented a working paper to put stakeholders on a path towards this goal. The Arab Group seeks to impose a solution on the region. Only through direct dialogue and dealing with the real weapons of mass destruction threats in the Middle East will the goal of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the region be achieved. He warned that any efforts to hold the 2020 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference hostage to this issue will fail.