Disarmament Commission Approves Draft Report to General Assembly, Concluding First Substantive Session Held Since 2018
After three weeks of discussion, the Disarmament Commission concluded its 2022 substantive session today — the first since 2018 — with the approval by consensus of its draft report to the General Assembly as well as the reports of its subsidiary bodies.
Kurt Davis (Jamaica), Chair of the Working Group on nuclear non‑proliferation and disarmament, introduced that panel’s draft report on recommendations for achieving those objectives (document A/CN.10/2022/CRP.2/Rev.1), noting that the Working Group was able to use the Chair’s non-paper from 2018 as a basis for its discussions. The breadth of the proposals made means that the 2023 session is faced with a “formidable” task in terms of reaching consensus.
Szilvia Balazs (Hungary), Chair of the Working Group on Outer Space, then introduced its draft report on preparations of recommendations to promote the practical implementation of the transparency and confidence-building measures in related activities with the goal of preventing an arms race in that realm (document A/CN.10/2022/CRP.3/Rev.1). Given that the last meeting was in 2018, she said the Working Group aimed to re-familiarize delegates with the issues. The Chair’s summary aims to provide a basis for discussions in 2023.
Both texts were adopted by consensus.
Zhangeldy Syrymbet (Kazakhstan), as Commission Vice-President, then introduced the Commission’s draft report (document A/CN.10/2022/L.1) comprising four sections: introduction, organization and work of the 2022 substantive session, documentation, and conclusions and recommendations. He outlined several technical updates to section II before the Commission adopted the report, as orally revised.
In closing remarks, Commission Chair Xjolisa Mfundiso Mabhongo (South Africa), praised delegates for having demonstrated a high level of engagement in plenary and Working Group meetings. The Disarmament Commission had indeed played its critical role by successfully resuming its work as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. “Despite the difficult international security landscape, Member States have continued in their effort to advance the global disarmament agenda and endeavoured to take forward multilateral disarmament,” he stressed. “I am confident that our work in the Disarmament Commission this year has greatly contributed to restoring trust among States and rebuilding confidence in multilateral disarmament,” he said.
Several delegates offered reflections on the session, with the representative of the Netherlands welcoming that the Commission is still “alive and kicking”. Noting that space and space technology are international matters by definition, he said that space simply cannot be claimed at a national level. The use of space assets also is no longer the prerogative of major Powers. He underscored the importance of stakeholders joining its work, including non‑governmental organizations, several of which had made important contributions this year. He denounced the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, which has been globally condemned and which threatens cooperation on nuclear disarmament. He called again on the Russian Federation to end its needless violence.
The representative of Austria said the Commission had lived up to its billing as a deliberative body, adding that its final report and those of the working groups provide a good foundation for the continuation of work during the final year of its cycle in 2023. He voiced concern over actions of one delegation on the consensus principle in the form of a veto against procedural reports. Such attempts to undo the most important aspects of Working Group II undermine the quest for consensus and the work of the Commission. Inputs by non-governmental organizations are essential. He then listed presentations made by the Secure World Foundation; Stockholm International Peace Institute; United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs; Fondation pour la recherche stratégique; Center for International Security at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Astroscale Japan; United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research; and the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre, among others. He denounced the Russian Federation’s purging of references to civil society engagement and efforts to downplay their role in the Commission’s processes as brazen attempts to create an alternative reality around the war it is waging in Ukraine. “Truth and facts will always prevail,” he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the Commission held no official meetings for three years, due to the failure to issue visas to participants from several countries. He rejected destructive attempts to politicize the Commission’s discussions, citing comments by his counterparts from the Netherlands and Austria. “We view in these attempts an aspiration to divert the attention of the Commission from the tasks at hand to something absolutely inappropriate,” he said, which do not fall under the Commission’s purview. On disarmament matters, he said all States aimed to build confidence and remove concerns. Noting that there were potential areas for compromise, as seen in the Chair’s paper from Working Group I, he said the Russian Federation will continue working on this matter in 2023, with a view to taking consensus-based decisions.
“The Russian Federation has tirelessly made contributions to rid the world of the threat posed by nuclear weapons,” he said, and is fully dedicated to the goal of a nuclear‑weapon-free world. Progress can be achieved only through consensus-based decisions and a balanced, gradual reduction approach, based on indivisible security, mutual consideration of all concerns and the need to maintain strategic stability. On outer space issues, he said many delegations reaffirmed the need to adopt an international legally binding instrument on the prevention of arms race in outer space and there is a strong foundation on which to build. He pointed to a draft treaty on the placement of weapons in outer space tabled by the Russian Federation and China, submitted to the Conference on Disarmament. His country is also ready to continue work on transparency and confidence-building measures, for which Working Group I will draw up recommendations to achieve the goal.
The representative of Argentina described the Commission’s work as a tremendous diplomatic exercise, adding that there is a good foundation on which to continue disarmament-related work. The Working Group on outer space meanwhile heard interesting presentations on the issue and touched on critical international instruments. He expressed his country’s readiness to take them forward towards new regulations in that area, calling for pragmatic and creative solutions.
The representative of Australia welcomed efforts in Working Group I to advance nuclear risk reduction, which entails practical steps that particularly nuclear States can take. Risk reduction is an important element of disarmament and within the Commission’s mandate and she expressed hope of advancing this work. Australia is a strong supporter of the “responsible behaviours approach” to prevent an arms race in outer space. She appreciated hearing from experts from international organizations and non-governmental groups, who enriched the discussions, and voiced disappointment that the procedural report did not fully reflect their contributions. Efforts to remove references to their presentations amount to politicization of the Commission’s work.
The representative of Ireland underscored the importance of the Commission having resumed its work after its enforced break. Associating himself with comments by the representatives of Austria and the Netherlands, he voiced concern about attempts to excise inputs by non-governmental organizations in Working Group II, whose expertise Ireland values and which must form a key part of the Commission’s work.
The representative of Japan called for realistic and pragmatic measures to rid the world of nuclear weapons, stressing that the review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons must achieve a meaningful outcome. He said Japan will spare no effort towards that end. It will work to maintain outer space as a safe and secure environment and his delegation looked forward to discussions on reducing risks through a responsible behaviours approach.
An observer for the State of Palestine clarified that the only security threat is the existence of nuclear weapons. She underscored her delegation’s commitment to a world free from those arms, which are illegal, and to a nuclear‑weapons-free zone in the Middle East. She welcomed the upcoming third conference on the establishment of such zone.
The representative of the United States highlighted opportunities for the Commission to move beyond words and take action. Her country will work to defend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its special place in the hierarchy of non‑proliferation instruments, she said, welcoming the August review conference. Noting that the open-ended working group related to resolution 76/231 meets in Geneva in May, she said the meetings will allow the international community to build an understanding for the development of norms and behaviours that would be observable. She expressed hope that all would participate in that work. More broadly, she said “the United States is not afraid from hearing dissenting views”, explaining that the Commission would not otherwise make progress on establishing norms.
To comments by her counterpart from the Russian Federation, she said the United States has a proven track record of adhering to the Headquarters Agreement, and in line with that document, will continue to process in a timely manner applications for all individuals, including those coming to New York for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference. She urged delegates to submit their applications at least eight weeks prior to conferences, noting that the United States formally relayed this information to the Russian Federation in March. Over three decades, the Russian Federation has invaded two neighbours and increasingly demonstrated obstructionist behaviour. She called on the country to immediately halt attacks on Ukraine and to cease all further aggression against that country.
The representative of Cuba voiced hope of adopting consensus-based recommendations to send to the General Assembly before the conclusion of the current cycle, adding that her delegation will work towards that end and advocate for the prompt negotiation and adoption of a “no first placement of weapons in outer space” text and for the prevention of an arms race.
The representative of Iraq welcomed frank and transparent discussions in both working groups, expressing regret over the refusal of an initiative for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. He reiterated the importance of demonstrating greater political will and good‑faith dialogue on the matter.
The representative of Syria expressed hope that the tenth Nuclear Non‑Proliferation Treaty review conference in August will allow for consensus on a document to carry out commitments made, notably related to the implementation of resolution 1995 on the Middle East, which remains applicable until it is implemented. On outer space matters, he expressed support for a binding and verifiable instrument.
The representative of Egypt said his delegation has worked in accordance with resolution 1995 on the Middle East, which is an integral part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He expressed hope of seeing this work completed and the adoption of criteria for responsible conduct in outer space. He also voiced hope that disarmament mechanisms will remain effective, given current tensions.
The representative of Colombia expressed hope that the Commission can achieve consensus on recommendations for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
The representative of the Russian Federation, exercising the right of reply, then denounced unfounded accusations against his country about the conduct of its special military operation in Ukraine, for which it has repeatedly explained the reasons. He clarified that, since 2014, the Kyiv regime — with assistance from Western countries — has carried out a massive aggression against civilians in Donbas who did not accept the state of affairs following the coup d’etat. He asked that the Commission’s work not be politicized and called for consensus-based decisions.
The representative of Ukraine, also exercising the right of reply, insisted that the Russian Federation is not conducting a special operation. It launched a war against Ukraine. “It was not Ukraine’s choice,” he said. “Ukraine is protecting its territory,” and it is not going to invade any other country. “This is propaganda,” he insisted, suggesting that Russian politicians had become victims of their own propaganda, as the behaviour of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s territory amount to mass atrocities. Russian forces have long surpassed the brutality of the Nazis in the 1940s.
The representative of the Russian Federation responded that his country has not declared war against any other country. “We are not in a state of war with any State,” he said. Rather, it is carrying out a special military operation to achieve de-militarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine.
The Commission also met separately to approve, by consensus, the reports of its two Working Groups.
* The 378th to 380th Meetings were not covered.