First Committee Members Offer Fresh Ideas for Reviving Stalled Disarmament Machinery, including New Draft to Relocate Next Session Overseas
Deeply frustrated at the current deadlocked disarmament machinery, delegates offered fresh suggestions on how best to re-activate it at a time when its guidance is urgently needed to ease escalating global tensions, as the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) concluded its thematic discussion on the matter today.
From moving First Committee sessions overseas to appointing a special coordinator, delegates recommended swift action to revive discussions so the world can better respond to new and emerging threats, such as a potential arms race in outer space. Many called for galvanizing the necessary will to overcome persistent differences, improve dialogue and cast aside political agendas as ways to revitalize each one of the machinery’s components — Conference on Disarmament, Disarmament Commission and the First Committee.
China’s representative said the alarming trend of politicization in multilateral disarmament mechanisms must be rejected, and their rules of procedure should not be scapegoated for a stalemate caused by divergence over the priorities of arms control and disarmament. Observing that emerging technologies are bringing about increasing risks and challenges to international security, he said disarmament mechanisms must be able to adapt to this new reality.
At the heart of the debate were concerns about stagnation in the 65-member Conference on Disarmament, which failed to agree on a work programme in 2019. South Africa’s representative, among other delegates, said the current impasse is not sustainable and will increasingly affect its relevance. Turkey’s delegate said that besides the conclusion of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1996, little has come out of the world’s only multilateral disarmament treaty negotiating body.
To change that, the representative of the Netherlands said delegations must refocus on the substance of the agenda at future meetings. In this vein, his delegation submitted a working paper titled “Back to Basics — the Programme of Work” to the Conference, with a view to making a concrete contribution to efforts to reinvigorate the machinery.
Some voiced support for such an approach, with the delegate from the Czech Republic calling for the appointment of a special coordinator to initiate a debate on expanding the membership. Malaysia’s delegate agreed, adding that the Conference on Disarmament must reconquer its relevancy and overcome differences.
Sharing the Conference on Disarmament’s annual report, the body’s president briefed the Committee during a panel discussion at the outset of the meeting, which also featured the Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters and a research coordinator at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). He said that with the necessary political will, the Conference on Disarmament can begin to negotiate treaties on such pressing issues as preventing an outer space arms race and banning the production of weapons-grade fissile material.
Cautioning against Member States being idle in the face of the differences that separate them, he said engagement and negotiations are critical if they hold divergent views and positions about “whether it is early harvest time for this or other low-hanging fruit in the disarmament discourse”.
Delegates also raised concerns about frozen discussions in the Disarmament Commission, which is the sole specialized deliberative body of the Assembly meant for in-depth discussions on specific disarmament issues.
Austria’s representative said that as geopolitical tensions rise, the international disarmament community must work harder to seek security through cooperation rather than allowing confrontations to fester. During its 2020 presidency of the Disarmament Commission, Austria will be firmly committed to work together with members, she said, adding that it is imperative to modernize the working methods and expand its membership.
The Russian Federation’s delegate urged Member States to avoid the politization of all parts of the disarmament machinery. With regard to the First Committee’s work, the United States violated existing agreements by not issuing visas to visiting experts from the Russian Federation. As such, his delegation tabled the draft resolution “Improving the effectiveness of the work of the First Committee” (document A/C.1/74/L.57), by which the General Assembly would decide to convene the First Committee’s 2020 session in Vienna or Geneva, he said, calling on all Member States to support it.
Some delegates also called for including the gender perspective in all disarmament processes to improve results, including the representative of Trinidad and Tobago, who spoke on behalf of 79 countries.
Also delivering statements today were representatives of Ireland, Namibia, Republic of Korea, France, Algeria, Iran, Spain, Australia, Japan, Portugal, Ecuador and Syria.
The representative of Syria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The First Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m., on Friday, 1 November, to take action on draft resolutions.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon for a panel discussion and to resume its thematic discussion on the disarmament machinery. For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3624 of 10 October.
The Committee held a panel discussion with Taonga Mushayavanhu (Zimbabwe), President of the Conference on Disarmament, Steffen Kongstad (Norway), Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters and John Borrie, Research Coordinator and Lead for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Other Strategic Weapons of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Programme.
Mr. MUSHAYAVANHU said the annual report of the Conference on Disarmament represents a delicate balance, demonstrating the flexibility and restraint by all members. With a view to resuming a substantive work in the Conference, the principle of balance in the treatment of all core items on the agenda must be respected. Still, resolving “this contentious matter cannot be postponed forever”. Cautioning against Member States being idle in the face of the differences that separate them, he said engagement and negotiations are critical if they hold divergent views and positions about “whether it is early harvest time for this or other low-hanging fruit in the disarmament discourse”. With the necessary political, the Conference on Disarmament can begin to negotiate treaties to eliminate and prohibit nuclear weapons, prevent an arms race in outer space, provide security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon States, ban the production of weapons-grade fissile material and on other disarmament matters. Optimistic ahead of the 2020 session of the Conference on Disarmament, he called on all Member States to exercise flexibility and restraint.
Mr. KONGSTAD, briefing the Committee via a video-presentation on the Advisory Board’s work since 2018, said part of its activities included contributing to the development of the Secretary-General’s agenda for disarmament “Securing Our Common Future”. The Board also considered two substantive items: exploring measures to mitigate civilian harm from armed conflict in urban areas; and the role of the disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation regime in managing strategic competition and how to build trust, given the current deteriorating international security environment. On the former, he said, the Board suggested exploring how the Secretary-General can produce a report on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas to encourage further debate by the General Assembly. It also recommended developing a systematic, coherent and comprehensive approach to pooling data that United Nations entities are collecting on how explosive weapons affect civilians. On the latter, he said the Advisory Board called for the Secretary-General to keep advocating vigorously for essential disarmament and arms control principles. The Board also highlighted an urgent need for multilateral efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons. He also discussed the Advisory Board’s work in its role as trustees of UNIDIR.
Mr. BORRIE, briefing the Committee via video-teleconference from Geneva on the Institute’s research agenda, highlighted its knowledge and advisory support services alongside budget details and its management and administration activities during a period of reform. Recalling contributions the Institute can make to disarmament and arms control going forward, he said its shift to a programmatic approach now focuses on conventional weapons, gender and disarmament, security and technology, weapons of mass destruction and other strategic weapons. In the coming year, the Institute’s priorities include six papers on: weapons of mass destruction compliance and enforcement, a space security conference, a project focused on a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons, and research on new challenges to arms control and disarmament.
The Committee then suspended its meeting for an interactive dialogue.
PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of 79 countries, highlighted the importance of gender perspectives, which provide key insights on how women, men, girls and boys can be differently impacted by armed conflict and weapons. For example, most casualties resulting from small arms and light weapons are men, but such weapons are often used to facilitate gender-based violence against women and girls. “Applying a gender lens to our work allows us to devise more sustainable and comprehensive policy solutions which are inclusive and more consequential,” she said. She welcomed the work done since 2018 to advance gender issues at the Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, the upcoming Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, and in the First Committee. For the first time, all key United Nations disarmament leadership positions are held by women, she said, also noting the pivotal role civil society is playing to raise awareness on gender perspectives.
MARTIN ERIC SIPHO NGUNDZE (South Africa) expressed frustration and concern about the stalemate during the 2019 session of the Conference on Disarmament, noting that in 23 years, only the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty has been negotiated. The current impasse is not sustainable and will increasingly affect the relevance and statures of the Conference on Disarmament. In addition, the Disarmament Commission has little progress in several years. At the same time, he commended the work of UNIDIR, including its timely research and discussions. South Africa joins others in calling for the equal engagement and participation of women across the different disarmament fora, he said, adding that only international cooperation is effective against current threats.
NAZIM KHALDI (Algeria), associating himself with the African Group, Arab Group and Non-Aligned Movement, said his country is deeply involved in consolidating stability and security with its neighboring States. In Libya, comprehensive political dialogue and a national reconciliation remains the only way to settle the crisis. On the situation in Mali, the peace and reconciliation agreement stemming from the Algiers process remains the sole frame of reference for the Government, other Malian parties and the international community. The African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, known as the Treaty of Pelindaba, is a concrete example of disarmament at the regional level, he said, adding that his delegation will submit the draft resolution “Strengthening of security and cooperation in the Mediterranean region” during the current session.
SUSANNE HAMMER (Austria), associating herself with the European Union, expressed deep concern about protracted procedural debates that continue at the expense of substance. As geopolitical tensions rise, the international disarmament community must work harder to seek security through cooperation rather than allowing confrontations to fester. During its 2020 presidency of the Disarmament Commission, Austria will be firmly committed to work together with members, she said, adding that it is imperative to modernize the working methods and expand its membership. Austria is also actively engaged as a champion on five actions under the Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda.
JOHN DEVLIN (Ireland) expressed concern about the ongoing deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament and its continued failure to reach consensus on an agreed programme of work. His country is also deeply disappointed that the Conference was unable to hold formal substantive deliberations in 2019, which reflects a broader malaise impacting the disarmament machinery. Also observing that disarmament meetings have been curtailed or cancelled due to shortfalls in funding, he highlighted a strong need for all States to pay their assessed contributions in a timely manner.
LAHYA ITEDHIMBWA SHIKONGO (Namibia), associating himself with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern about the slow movement in the multilateral disarmament process, especially within the Conference on Disarmament. Highlighting a need to revitalize such institutions and forums, he called for improved coordination between them. Moreover, he observed that gender perspectives make arms, control, disarmament and non-proliferation more effective, adding that: “as we promote disarmament, we must take into consideration the key roles that ordinary women, men, girls and boys can play and also how they can be affected by armed conflicts and the availability of weapons.”
MARTIN KLUČAR (Czech Republic) said his country is deeply concerned by the ongoing stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament, and its persistent failure to agree on a programme of work. For some delegations, the launch of negotiations on a legally binding treaty to ban the production of weapons-grade fissile material is not feasible without consensus on a programme of work on all core issues. Nevertheless, the Conference should build on substantive discussions in 2019 to help to build common ground for the coming year. He called for the appointment of a special coordinator who can initiate a debate on expanding the membership of the Conference, which would also promote the transparency and inclusiveness of its work.
LIM A YOUN (Republic of Korea) said now is the time to pursue a fresh approach to revive the United Nations disarmament machinery. The Netherlands’ proposal to delink the Conference on Disarmament’s programme of work and to establish subsidiary bodies is worth considering. The active engagement of civil society and insightful contributions from research institutions such as UNIDIR can also help. For its part, her delegation has submitted a new draft resolution that aims to encourage Member States to seek more concrete measures to empower, engage and educate young people on disarmament issues.
YANN HWANG (France) expressed commitment to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Production, Development and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, adding that his delegation holds the chairmanship in 2019. France is also particularly committed to safeguarding the Non-Proliferation Treaty ahead of its fiftieth anniversary and 2020 Review Conference. The rule of consensus remains crucial to advancing towards the universalization and implementation of decisions, he observed, expressing concern over the growing trend towards polarized debates on nuclear disarmament. Recalling France’s commitment to the Conference on Disarmament, he said the time is ripe for launching negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. As such, France supports a year-to-year renewal of the Conference’s subsidiary bodies based on continuity and further development. He also expressed concern about the serious finance problems that the disarmament treaty bodies have experienced for years, noting with regret that multilingualism is being threatened by this unstable fiscal situation.
NAZIM KHALDI (Algeria), associating himself with the African Group, Arab Group and Non-Aligned Movement, said the Conference on Disarmament still lacks the political will, resulting in a deadlock. Its inability to reach consensus on a comprehensive, balanced programme of work reflects an “intolerable state of affairs” that is particularly harmful to non-nuclear-weapon States. The Conference cannot fulfil its mandate unless all Member States show political willingness to move forward. Meanwhile, the Disarmament Commission is also endangered, with its failure to convene organizational and substantive sessions in 2019. He expressed hope that underlying issues will be resolved and the politicization of its work avoided in time for the 2020 sessions.
ROBERT GABRIELSE (Netherlands) said that given the failure of progress in the Disarmament Committee and the Conference on Disarmament, delegations must refocus on the substance of the agenda at future meetings. For its part, the Netherlands submitted a working paper titled “Back to Basics — the Programme of Work” to the Conference on Disarmament, with a view to making a concrete contribution to efforts to reinvigorate the machinery. In addressing risks to international peace and security posed by developments in science and technology, a pragmatic approach based on existing international law should be adopted. Full implementation and strict compliance are fundamental for upholding existing regimes and form the bedrock for future disarmament measures, he said, expressing concern about the institutional and financial sustainability of some parts of the disarmament machinery and calling for the timely payment of assessed contributions by all States.
WU JIANJIAN (China) noted that certain countries have gone to great lengths to promote unilateralism, taking the current system of international arms control treaties back to the cold war era. The authority of multilateral disarmament mechanisms should be firmly upheld, and their rules of procedure should not be scapegoated for a stalemate caused by divergence over the priorities of arms control and disarmament. Moreover, the alarming trend of politicization in multilateral disarmament mechanisms should be rejected. Certain countries have been repeatedly taking advantage of platforms to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries by slinging trumped-up charges against them. Also observing that emerging technologies are bringing about increasing risks and challenges to international security, he said multilateral disarmament mechanisms should adapt to this new reality.
HEIDAR ALI BALOUJI (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said negative votes and abstentions by the United States over the years are an example of the lack of political will at the Conference on Disarmament. The disarmament machinery should ensure that resolutions that require Israel to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty are implemented. With their distorted facts and fabricated information, the reports of the United States on compliance with disarmament agreements undermine the authority of such organizations as IAEA and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). He also called for strict application of the principle of equitable geographical distribution in the composition of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.
ANDREY BELOUSOV (Russian Federation) said that given the multiple threats facing the disarmament arena, it is essential to have an agenda of work for a forum such as the Conference on Disarmament. As such, he called for support for each one of its components — Conference on Disarmament, Disarmament Commission and the First Committee — and urged Member States to avoid the politization of these fora or the use of them as platforms of pressure. He regretted to note that approving resolutions has become increasingly difficult, adding that there is no clear path ahead. With regard to the First Committee’s work, the United States has committed unjustified actions by not issuing visas to visiting experts from the Russian Federation, constituting a violation of agreements. In this vein, his delegation has tabled the draft resolution “Improving the effectiveness of the work of the First Committee” (document A/C.1/74/L.57), by which the General Assembly would decide to convene the First Committee’s 2020 session in Vienna or Geneva, he said, calling on all Member States to support it.
IGNACIO SÁNCHEZ DE LERIN (Spain) said the Conference on Disarmament must focus more on negotiation and demonstrate greater creativity and flexibility. It cannot become a victim of a lack of political will, he said, underscoring the need to streamline its working methods and drawing attention to the Netherlands’ constructive proposal. Spain regrets that the Disarmament Commission was unable to move forward on its work in 2019 and hopes that situation will not be repeated. He expressed the hope that more women will get involved in the work of the disarmament machinery and that all Member States will meet their financial obligations on time.
MEMET MEVLÜT YAKUT (Turkey) regretted to note that the First Committee, which remains a significant component of the United Nations disarmament machinery, faced difficulties in starting its substantial work during the current session and expressed hope the same situation will not surface in the future. He remained convinced the Conference on Disarmament, another component of the machinery, possesses the mandate, rules of procedure and membership to discharge its duties. Though a consensus on its programme of work did not emerge in 2019, thematic discussions took place and maintaining its relevance is more important than ever before when its work resumes in 2020. The Disarmament Commission, the third important pillar of machinery, remains the sole specialized deliberative body of the Assembly that allows for in-depth discussions on specific disarmament issues. Supporting efforts to increase its effectiveness, he regretted to note its failure to start its substantive session in 2019.
VANESSA WOOD (Australia) said her delegation will work closely with partners within the Conference on Disarmament’s leadership, with a view to breaking the longstanding deadlock. She also called on all Disarmament Commission members to seize the current opportunity to reach a consensus ahead of the Non-Proliferation Treaty 2020 Review Conference. More needs to be done to raise awareness and literacy about why gender equality matters and examine how best to create a more inclusive environment in the different disarmament forums, where young people can consider arms control as a career path where they can contribute and make a difference, she said, adding that: “We need new ideas, new creativity and new innovations.”
HIROKI MATSUI (Japan) said that emerging issues and new challenges listed in the Secretary-General’s agenda for disarmament will affect various cross-cutting fields and stakeholders, which requires States to take collective action. Japan appreciates UNIDIR’s contributions and remains committed to providing more than $500,000 to the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa. Considering the deteriorating international security environment, the Conference on Disarmament should hold more substantive discussions on specific issues. To make progress during the 2020 session, robust cooperation and coordination among presidents is indispensable. Algeria, the first president in 2020, should take a proactive role by holding informal consultations with all relevant stakeholders.
AMIR HAMZAH BIN MOHD NASIR (Malaysia), associating with ASEAN and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said general and complete disarmament is a goal that must be achieved through a multilateral process, calling on all Member States to strengthen different parts of the disarmament machinery, such as the First Committee, Conference on Disarmament and Disarmament Commission. As the sole negotiating body of its kind, the Conference on Disarmament must reconquer its relevancy and overcome the deadlock around its programme of work. This deadlock undermines its credibility and erodes the trust of the international community towards disarmament as a whole. Commending the establishment of a related Group of Governmental Experts, he said the membership of the Conference on Disarmament should be broadened.
JOSE AMARAL (Portugal), associating himself with the European Union, regretted to note the current erosion of the disarmament machinery, with the First Committee being increasingly polarized and the Conference on Disarmament remaining paralyzed for two decades. The Conference on Disarmament must broaden its membership and the Disarmament Commission members must overcome their differences and allow it to fulfil its mandate. The full and effective participation of women in all decision-making processes is essential, he said, adding that incorporating gender perspectives will help to revitalize the disarmament machinery.
ANDRES FIALLO (Ecuador), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that setting aside the “fatality” of the disarmament machinery, there is a clear lack of political will behind the Conference on Disarmament. He expressed regret that given the limited time frame, the objective seems to be adopting the programme “without really listening to each other”. In that sense, delegations have been interrupted while making useful suggestions, including representatives of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Citing the absolute necessity of involving women in disarmament, he added that the problem lies not in the machinery itself but in attacks on multilateralism.
ABDULLAH HALLAK (Syria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said multilateralism is key to the work of disarmament. The experiences of recent years show that the impasse in the Conference on Disarmament is due to its systematic politicization, especially by the United States, which is impeding progress by injecting issues that extend beyond the scope of its work. As such, the Conference must be moved away from “narrow considerations”, he said, calling for neutrality. As it stands, the United States has taken the Conference hostage for the benefit its political positions.
Right of Reply
The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the representative of the killers of the prophets used language that can be described as insolent and cheap. Everyone knows that the record of Israeli occupation has stained the United Nations throughout its existence, he said, adding that it would take five years to catalogue the anomalies of the Israeli regime.