High Representative Warns against Unbridled Missile Development amid Collapse of Nuclear Forces Treaty, Calls in Security Council for Universal Arms Accord
United States, Russian Federation Trade Accusations over Breached Commitments, Actions Evoking Cold War Era
The recent collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty cannot become the catalyst for renewed and unconstrained competition in missile development, acquisition and proliferation, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs told the Security Council today.
Briefing the Council on recent events, Izumi Nakamitsu said the Treaty’s recent termination removed one of the few constraints on the development and deployment of destabilizing classes of missiles. She expressed alarm that there remains no universal treaty or agreement regulating missiles.
“Today, only the Russian Federation and the United States are subject to legally binding restrictions on the number of certain missiles they may possess,” she continued. Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for all States to urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control, she said a growing number of countries — including those not party to existing multilateral arrangements — have acquired and developed their ballistic missile capabilities.
Indeed, more than 20 countries now possess ballistic missiles with capabilities that exceed the threshold for “nuclear capable” as defined by the Missile Technology Control Regime, she said. The development of a weapons system using missile technology that can manoeuvre at hypersonic speeds could spark an arms race.
Against that backdrop, she expressed concern over ballistic missile launches into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis in Yemen, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s continued augmentation of its missile capabilities. “Preventing the spread and emergence of destabilizing weapons remains a vital unfinished task for the international community,” she said, calling for new internationally legally binding multilateral approaches.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the Russian Federation said the United States has developed missiles, based in Romania, making it clear that medium-range rockets could indeed be used in the area. It also has made clear it does not plan to implement the New START Treaty in its current form. “We are now one step away from an arms race; if you believe [United States President] Donald Trump, then America is ready for an arms race,” he warned. Underscoring that the Russian Federation’s military budget is much lower than that of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he pledged his country’s willingness to engage in dialogue towards guaranteeing security and stability.
In turn, the representative of the United States said the Russian Federation broke its Treaty obligations by producing multiple battalions of new missile systems. Despite imploring the Russian Federation to return to the Nuclear Forces Treaty, the United States made the decision to withdraw. The Russian Federation and China would still like a world where the United States exercises restraint while they build their arsenals. What the United States and NATO allies know is that the Russian Federation has violated the now-terminated Treaty, with actions that demonstrate the ability to hit European targets. While there are no United States ground-launched missiles, China possesses 2,000 such weapons, which would violate the Treaty should Beijing have been a party to it.
China’s representative rejected such baseless accusations, stressing that the United States withdrawal aims to destroy the Treaty and assert unilateral action. China adheres to relevant treaties and opposes any kind of arms race, he said, pressing Moscow and Washington, D.C., to return to dialogue and create conditions for advancing disarmament, including by extending the New START Treaty in its current form.
Others expressed alarm over the Treaty’s collapse, raising the spectre of a new arms race. Many urgently called for resumed dialogue, with South Africa’s delegate pressing the two parties to resume discussions on a New START Treaty before its expiration in 2021. Pointing out that South Africa is the only country to have developed — and then voluntarily eliminated — its nuclear weapons, he more broadly pressed the United Nations community to sign and ratify the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Along similar lines, Côte d’Ivoire’s representative urged the Russian Federation and the United States to maintain cooperation as two nuclear Powers. Preserving the global non-proliferation architecture is critical to ensuring that nuclear Powers do not use their weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States.
“There is a real possibility of returning to an arms race which we thought was relegated to the time of the cold war,” said the representative of the Dominican Republic. Belgium’s representative likewise warned that the development of new capacities and the growing number of arsenals is moving the world away from the targets outlined in the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970. “We all have a national interest in there being a global order based on disarmament and non-proliferation,” he assured.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Kuwait, Peru, Germany, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia and Poland.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 4:33 p.m.
IZUMI NAKAMITSU, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that for decades the role of ballistic missiles as a means of delivering weapons of mass destruction has been a central concern for the nuclear disarmament process. Today, more than 20 countries possess ballistic missiles with capabilities that exceed the threshold for “nuclear capable” as defined in the Missile Technology Control Regime. Nuclear-armed States are pursuing novel missile and missile defence capabilities with potentially negative consequences for international peace. “We have also increased use of ballistic missiles in armed conflict, over recent decades,” she said, noting that Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) requires all States to prevent the proliferation to non-State actors of not only weapons of mass destruction but also their means of delivery.
Conventionally armed missiles feature in the arsenals of many States and some non-State actors, she continued, noting that they have been used as area bombardment weapons, often aimed at cities. The development of a weapons system using missile technology that can manoeuvre at hypersonic speeds could spark a destabilizing arms race. The launch of ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis in Yemen has been particularly troublesome. Moreover, the recent collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty removed one of the few constraints on the development and deployment of destabilizing classes of missiles. The Treaty’s ending should not be the catalyst for renewed and unconstrained competition in missile development, acquisition and proliferation. “I echo the Secretary-General’s call for all States to avoid destabilizing developments and to urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control,” she asserted.
She said that despite various alarming developments, there is no universal treaty or agreement that regulates missiles. “Today, only the Russian Federation and the United States are subject to legally binding restrictions on the number of certain missiles they may possess,” she stressed. The Missile Technology Regime and Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation — while of clear value — are not sufficient to deal with every aspect of the threat. The three United Nations panels of experts on missiles that met in the 2000s provided useful synthesis on the various security issues related to missiles. However, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) has not adopted a resolution on the issue since 2008. A growing number of countries, including those outside of existing multilateral arrangements, continue to acquire and develop their ballistic missile capabilities.
The Security Council has been particularly focused on activities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is augmenting its missile capabilities, contrary to the Council’s resolutions, she noted. Stressing that arms control and disarmament measures played a crucial role in conflict prevention, risk mitigation, de-escalation and tension reduction at the height of the Cold War, she said “preventing the spread and emergence of destabilizing weapons remains a vital unfinished task for the international community in our shared endeavour to preserve international peace and security”. There is an urgent need for new internationally legally binding multilateral approaches.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said that for some time, Moscow and Washington, D.C., were implementing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, however the agreement has become “uncomfortable” to the United States. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., has developed missiles, based in Romania, making it clear that medium-range rockets could indeed be used in the area — and now, there are no limits on the development and deployment of similar systems, kicking aside the disarmament architecture. Key figures in the United States Administration make clear that they do not intend to implement the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START Treaty) in its current form. Moreover, Washington, D.C., has consistently violated its obligations, he said, noting that his delegation called today’s meeting to draw attention to these issues. However much his United States counterpart may harp on claims that the Russian Federation compromised the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, he recalled that his country has put forward proposals to strengthen it and unambiguously stated that the weakening of the agreement would undermine broader disarmament efforts.
Step by step, the United States is returning to another era and flexing its muscles, he said, declaring: “We are now one step away from an arms race; if you believe [United States President] Donald Trump, then America is ready for an arms race.” He pointed out that the Russian Federation’s military budget is much lower than that of the United States — $700 million — and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — more than $1 trillion. Despite that spending on weapons development has been included in the United States military budget, the Russian Federation has been blamed. Think about how many development gains could be accomplished with the defence budget, he said, wondering whether the Council will evade its responsibility and if future generations would ever forgive its inaction. The Russian Federation remains ready for any serious dialogue towards guaranteeing security and stability. “Breaking things” does not equate to building, he explained. Solving the current problem, including the consequences of Washington’s irresponsible actions, must be dealt with today.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said the Russian Federation decided to break its treaty obligations, producing multiple battalions of new missile systems. Despite efforts to implore the Russian Federation to return to the provisions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the United States made a decision to withdraw. Describing the current landscape, he said the Russian Federation and China would still like a world where the United States exercises restraint while they continue to build their arsenals. What the United States and NATO allies know is that the Russian Federation has violated the now-terminated Treaty, with actions that now demonstrate the ability to hit European targets. China has also deployed similar systems.
Highlighting United States activities, he said that today, there are no United States ground-launched missiles. Yet, China possesses 2,000 such weapons, which would have violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty if Beijing had been a party to it. Describing United States missile launch systems that comply with Treaty obligations, he said the Russian Federation and China have moved in the opposite direction, developing new nuclear weapons capabilities, amassing more missiles, modernizing their arsenals and adding new weapons, including an underwater drone. Wondering exactly what caused the recent nuclear-related explosion in the Russian Federation, he highlighted other worrying events triggered by Moscow and Beijing. The United States remains open to effective arms control that goes beyond treaty obligations.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated an entire category of missiles, one of the key achievements of post-cold war arms control in Europe and the world. However, the Russian Federation violated its provisions by developing and deploying non-compliant missiles. Recalling the recent withdrawal from the agreement, he supported the United States in its explanation of its related activities, adding that Washington, D.C., remains compliant with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation’s actions are in line with a pattern of aggression that runs counter to international peace and security.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the Council regularly issues appeals to ensure peace and security, with arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament being pillars of those efforts and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty being a central element. Expressing regret that the end of this agreement erodes the global arms system, she said the viability of disarmament and non-proliferation agreements depends on honouring their provisions. The Russian Federation’s development of new missiles increases threats against Europe, and Moscow has shown no willingness to take steps to remedy the situation. As such, the international community must re-establish mutual trust and dialogue, as the world cannot afford a new arms race. Efforts must be redoubled to preserve conventional and nuclear arms control agreements to build on the progress of recent decades, she said, encouraging all States to support such initiatives.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) said the termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty gives rise to fears of a new arms race, noting that any initiative that undermines the arms control structure will comprise peacekeeping gains. He called on the Russian Federation and United States to maintain cooperation as two nuclear Powers, stressing that multilateral and bilateral forums will be essential to preserving gains made. Preservation of the international non-proliferation architecture is critical to ensuring international peace and security. Noting that the success of joint action can reinforce trust among States parties, he said it is incumbent on nuclear States to guarantee that they will not use their weapons against non-nuclear States.
JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS YABRA (Dominican Republic) said that the termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is highly regrettable, expressing concern over escalating tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation. “There is a real possibility of returning to an arms race which we thought was relegated to the time of the cold war,” he said, cautioning that neither humanity — nor the planet — can be exposed again to the disastrous humanitarian and environmental damage caused by the use and development of these weapons. He urged parties to rethink their use of inflammatory rhetoric, which stokes tensions.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said recent developments have exposed the polarization within the international community. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a pillar of European and global security, he said, expressing regret that the Russian Federation has not responded to global calls to resume talks on the instrument. “It is important for Russia and the United States to engage in a constructive dialogue to guarantee the re-establishment of trust,” he said, stressing that the unparalleled power of nuclear weapons underscores the urgency of making progress. The development of new capacities and growing number of arsenals are moving the world away from the targets outlined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “We all have a national interest in there being a global order based on disarmament and non-proliferation,” he assured.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) voiced concern that some nuclear-weapons States insist on modernizing their nuclear arsenals and means of delivery in flagrant violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “It is indeed deeply troubling that a long-established arms control instrument such as the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] has unravelled, placing not only the region of Europe but the whole world at risk of nuclear war,” he said. Urging the United States and the Russian Federation to resume discussions on a New START Treaty before its expiration in 2021, he pointed out that South Africa is the only country to have developed and then voluntarily eliminated its nuclear weapons. Calling on the United Nations community to sign and ratify the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he stressed that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing processes and warned that a selective focus on the latter — coupled with lack of progress on the former — weakens the non-proliferation regime.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said the two signatories — the United States and the Russian Federation — by committing to the Treaty were able to destroy thousands of missile systems and pledge to reducing tensions. “This hope has started to fade away,” he said, stressing that the world cannot afford the collapse of the global disarmament architecture. This could gravely impede global security especially given that some Member States have not committed to relevant international instruments. If parties circumvent their commitments, it would set a dangerous precedent for countries that have not yet joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, such as Israel.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) called on nuclear-weapon States to fully comply with article 6 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Expressing regret that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has been weakened, he encouraged the Russian Federation and the United States to settle differences and to fully implement the New START Treaty. The path of diplomacy must be followed to ensure present and future disarmament for the benefit of the entire world.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty saw the destruction of more than 3,000 missiles and was a cornerstone of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Russian Federation bears the sole responsibility for the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, posing significant risks to North Atlantic security. Moscow’s violation is part of a broader pattern whereby it avoids treaty obligations, as can be seen through its recent actions. Going forward, two things are needed: tangible steps to reduce the threat of escalation, and a road map for developing arms control initiatives with verified limitations for the largest arsenals. Indeed, the Russian Federation and the United States have a special responsibility in this regard.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said new technology is both facilitating development and, in defence sectors, inventing new and ever more deadly weapons. Defence spending could instead be channelled into development initiatives, she said, emphasizing that geopolitics cannot be understood as a zero-sum game, with “power” reflecting who has the best, strongest and most deadly weapons. The United States and the Russian Federation must trust and cooperate with each other while making greater use of soft power in their diplomacy. Unlike the situation during the cold war that actually led to more parties possessing nuclear capabilities, she said trust-building measures must encourage Moscow and Washington, D.C., to settle their differences.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia), expressing regret over the Treaty’s termination, described that development as “a major step backward in the maintenance of international peace and security”. Warning that the instrument’s absence could exacerbate the great strain already on the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime and spur instability, he called upon the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to uphold a rules-based system driven by multilateralism and meaningful negotiation. Major States that were party to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty are also party to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and remain subject to its obligations. As a party to major international non-proliferation treaties, Indonesia supports all efforts to limit, reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. He expressed hope that the relevant parties will negotiate a new, more effective instrument to replace the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, welcoming early discussions on the future of a new START Treaty and other arms control agreements.
ZHANG JUN (China) said the Russian Federation and the United States should have properly handled their differences over treaty compliance through dialogue. However, the United States’ withdrawal will have negative effects that extend far beyond the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. It is unacceptable to use China as an excuse for the United States to leave the Treaty, he said, rejecting the baseless accusations made today. Prominent destabilizing factors are threatening international security, and multilateralism is the key to addressing these challenges. All countries must work towards building a sustainable common future for all humankind and refrain from taking action that could threaten other States’ security. The United States’ withdrawal intends to destroy the Treaty and assert unilateral actions, including by deploying missiles. For its part, China is in compliance with relevant treaties. All countries possessing the largest nuclear arsenals should urgently fulfil their disarmament obligations, he said, encouraging Moscow and Washington, D.C., to return to dialogue, reduce their arsenals and create conditions for advancing disarmament goals, including through extending the current New START Treaty. For its part, China pursues a national defence policy, has participated in multilateral arms control and opposes any kind of arms race.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), Council President for August, spoke in her national capacity to stress that arms control and disarmament commitments must be verified and observed by all sides in good faith. Recalling that almost 3,000 missiles have been removed and verifiably destroyed under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, she expressed regret over the failure of United States efforts to preserve it. “Erosion of this significant element of the European security architecture constitutes yet another challenge for international security,” she stressed, emphasizing that the Russian Federation bears the sole responsibility for the instrument’s demise and voicing regret that the country has shown no willingness nor taken steps to ensure its implementation in an effective, verifiable and transparent manner. Poland, like other allies, supported the United States decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, she said, calling it “a logical and understandable reaction to Russia’s actions”.
The representative of the Russian Federation took the floor a second time, explaining that the United States has repeatedly refused to answer Moscow’s requests for clarifications on queries about the 9M729 missile. His country also invited the United States to attend a meeting focused on this missile, yet no representatives from Washington, D.C., were present. Because of the United States exit from the Treaty and deployment of similar missile systems on the Russian Federation’s borders, Moscow was compelled to develop the 9M729 missile. Today’s meeting has been predictable to the point of boredom, despite facts and common sense, by accusing the Russian Federation again. “We are living in a real world, not a virtual one,” he said, adding that until these Western fables are dispelled, no progress will be made.