After 3-Year Gap, Disarmament Commission Opens 2022 Session amid Rising Geopolitical Tensions, as Mistrust among Key Powers Deepens
Trust Deficit Feeds Conflict-Zone Instability, Drives Relentless Expansion of Military Budgets, Chair Stresses
Meeting after a three-year hiatus, the Disarmament Commission opened its 2022 substantive session today amid rising geopolitical tensions and concerns over deepening mistrust between some of the world’s largest military Powers.
The session marks the first time since 2018 that the Commission has been able to progress to its substantive work, having spent the subsequent years mired in procedural gridlock over such matters as non-issuance of visas by the Host Country. (See Press Release DC/3827.)
“Behind manifestations of many of the serious challenges to international peace and security lies a serious lack of trust,” Xolisa Mfundiso Mabhongo (South Africa), Chair of the 2022 substantive session, in opening remarks. Noting that the trust deficit feeds instability in conflict zones, he said it also impedes progress on nuclear disarmament and drives the relentless expansion of military budgets, spurring dangerous military competition, such as modernization of nuclear arsenals and the militarization of outer space.
Expressing hope for progress in the efforts of the Commission’s various subsidiary bodies, he spotlighted the work of Working Group I, which focuses on “Recommendations for achieving the objectives of nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation of nuclear weapons”. However, the agenda item on transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities, first considered in 2018, has since been considered formally in only one session, he noted. Meanwhile, nine years have elapsed since the Group of Governmental Experts on outer space transparency and confidence-building measures concluded its work, he said, pointing out that significant technological, military and political developments have been registered since then. “It is therefore my hope that this year’s session will signal a renewal of the Commission’s engagement on this item,” he emphasized.
Recalling that the Commission adopted 16 sets of recommendations on various items in the first two decades of its existence, he said that, in 2007, also approved consensus recommendations on confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons. That marked the first time since 1999 that the Commission was able to reach agreement on a substantive outcome, he noted, stressing that it proved thereby that it remains viable as one of the pillars of the disarmament machinery and capable of contributing to international security and multilateral diplomacy. He went on to underscore the importance of the 2022 session, reaffirming that the United Nations disarmament machinery is intended to help build trust and confidence while elaborating global disarmament norms.
Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, commended efforts to resolve contentious issues relating to the organization of the Commission’s annual sessions. Affirming that nuclear disarmament remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations, she described the current global landscape as a stark reminder that the danger of a nuclear weapon being used is very real. The possession of such weapons endangers the international community’s collective security, she emphasized, while expressing concern about the continued fraying of the disarmament and non-proliferation regime. The erosion of arms control “must be halted”, she stressed, noting that, even before the coronavirus outbreak and the current global crisis, prolonged stagnation had long hobbled the disarmament machinery.
She went on to note that people’s daily-life dependence on outer space has continued to grow, with extra-terrestrial systems now vital for understanding and solving such global challenges as climate change. She warned, however, that, after decades of remarkable cooperation, outer space is once again devolving into an arena for geopolitical and strategic competition. A growing number of States are treating that realm as a potential domain of active hostilities, she said, underlining that the implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space is a salient priority. The Commission has an opportunity during the current session to review, consolidate and further elaborate upon such measures, she added. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s proposal to hold a multi‑stakeholder dialogue on outer space as part of the Summit of the Future, she said that its aim is to move towards a global regime to coordinate traffic and agree on principles for the future governance of outer space activities.
Throughout the first day of the substantive session, many delegates sounded the alarm over the rapidly escalating military conflict in Ukraine. Several voiced regret that the Commission was unable to convene for three successive sessions, especially in a time of spiking global tensions. Other speakers expressed their broader concern that little has been achieved in the way of compelling the world’s most heavily armed nuclear-weapon States to reduce or abandon their arsenals.
Indonesia’s representative, speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, underlined the absolute validity of multilateralism as the core principle in the field of disarmament. Reiterating the Movement’s concerns over the lack of progress by nuclear-weapon States towards fulfilling their obligations with regard to complete disarmament, he warned against making disarmament conditional on confidence‑building measures or so-called “strategic stability”. Non‑proliferation efforts must run parallel to work on the disarmament track, he affirmed, while underlining the importance of humanitarian considerations in accordance with international law. The Movement supports the development of a universal, non-discriminatory and legally binding instrument to protect non-nuclear-weapon States against the threat or use of nuclear weapons, pending their complete elimination. He went on to underline the important right of all States to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, saying no restrictions should be imposed on materials or technologies needed by developing countries in that regard. He also expressed concern over Israel’s absence from Middle East disarmament processes.
Egypt’s representative, speaking for the Group of Arab States, was among the speakers who expressed concern over the current global security landscape and emphasized the imperative to urgently eradicate all weapons of mass destruction. “Nuclear‑weapon States clearly washed their hands of any timetables to implement their commitments” under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he said, adding that the lack of progress is regrettable. He went on to stress that the resolution adopted by the 1995 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — calling for the creation of a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East — remains valid and should be fully implemented. He said all Arab States have committed to that process, while pointing out that Israel still has not. The Arab Group calls upon Working Group I to recognize the importance of such regional zones and urged Israel to engage actively, he said, further calling for the launch of negotiations towards an internationally legally binding instrument requiring the nuclear-weapon States to provide critical guarantees to non-nuclear-weapon States.
Cambodia’s representative, speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, recognized the unique role of the Disarmament Commission, with its universal membership, in building trust and confidence among Member States. Stressing that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are best addressed through multilateralism — with all countries carrying out their obligations responsibly — he expressed deep concern about the potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and the risks posed by their continued existence. As such, ASEAN deplores the conduct of nuclear tests and recognizes the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as the cornerstone of the global non‑proliferation regime, he said, calling on all States parties to renew their commitment to its urgent and full implementation. At the same time, he expressed strong support for the historic 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and affirmed ASEAN’s commitment to the concept of regional nuclear-weapon-free zones.
Latvia’s representative, speaking also for Estonia and Lithuania, cited the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine as a critical threat to global security and stability. Noting that the Baltic States advocate for a progressive yet pragmatic approach to nuclear disarmament and support the common goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, he emphasized the need for strategic stability and accounting for security realities. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation’s recent steps — including putting its nuclear forces on high alert — further complicate the security environment, he stressed, calling on Moscow to act in line with the letter and spirit of the joint statement issued in early 2022 by the five nuclear‑weapon States on preventing nuclear war. He went on to underline that it is in everyone’s interest to pursue transparency and confidence-building measures to promote responsible behaviour in outer space.
Before the start of the substantive session, the Commission held a brief organizational meeting to elect Mr. Mabhongo as Chair, by acclamation. It also elected Zhangeldy Syrymbet (Kazakhstan) as Vice-Chair and approved both the draft agenda of its organizational session (document A/CN.10/L.87) and the draft agenda of its substantive session (document A/CN/10/L.88). Members further decided to consider 2022 as the second year of the Commission’s three-year work cycle.
The Commission’s 2022 session will run until 22 April, after which its members are tasked with submitting a substantive report to the seventy-seventh session of the General Assembly.