‘Multilateralism Not Living Its Finest Hour,’ With Geopolitical Fractures Opening, Global Regimes Eroding, Regional Conflicts Spreading, First Committee Told
Briefers on UN Disarmament Machinery Forthright amid Continuing Gridlock
The UN disarmament machinery is paralyzed by widening geopolitical fractures, erosion of international regimes and the proliferation of regional conflicts, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) heard today, as it concluded its series of thematic debates for the session.
“Multilateralism is not living its finest hour,” said Brazil’s representative. He joined other speakers, in a segment begun yesterday, deploring the failure of the Conference on Disarmament, the sole body mandated to negotiate legally binding agreements on disarmament. He underscored the lack of inclusiveness in the 65-member Conference and proposed that observers enjoy similar rights as members. It is time to carry out negotiations within an expanded Conference without artificial compartmentalization, he said.
The stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament is first and foremost “a product of the prevailing international climate of mistrust and lack of political will among its members”, said Australia’s delegate. She shared the frustration of many that the Conference has been unable to commence negotiations on the pressing matters on its agenda for more than two decades, particularly the very long overdue fissile material cut-off treaty.
The representative of Hungary, the current Conference President, admitted that the body failed to fulfil its mandate to negotiate in 2023, as, sadly, she said, has been true for a while. However, she noted substantial deliberations, including on artificial intelligence (AI) in the military domain, prevention of an outer space arms race, nuclear verification, transparency of nuclear doctrines and nuclear arsenals and negative security assurances.
“Machinery works only if parts work,” she said, calling for greater synergies with other bodies, including the First Committee and the Disarmament Commission.
The representative of Kazakhstan, Chair of the UN Disarmament Commission, regretted that, overall, discussions were overshadowed by the latest geopolitical tensions, controversies and contradictions. Despite best efforts, many States held onto national positions and showed little flexibility and willingness to make concessions or find middle ground to achieve compromise.
The division between nuclear-weapon States and non-nuclear-weapon States seemed as deep as ever, he said. States were particularly divided on nuclear risk reduction, reference to States bodies with nuclear weapons outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a Middle East zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
The Chair of the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters said that global military spending continued its decades-long climb, reaching an all-time high of $2.4 trillion in 2023. It reflects a “trust deficit” among and within countries, putting millions of people at direct risk of armed violence. She urged the UN to have further discussions on considering security more broadly to include climate change, gender equality, crime and poverty, along with real and perceived military threats. She called for a study on the social, cultural, economic and environmental consequences of military spending.
The Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) said the Institute’s work is in high demand. Its five programmes are on weapons of mass destruction, conventional arms and ammunition, security and technology, gender and space security. UNIDIR is also pursuing two special research projects — one on managing exits from armed conflict and why people join or leave armed groups, and a second on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Friday, 27 October, to begin action on all draft resolutions and decisions.
UN Disarmament Machinery
Briefing the Committee, MARGIT SZŰCS (Hungary), President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that the Conference managed to agree on a final report consensus, and she expressed hope that a resolution on the report will be adopted. Acknowledging the work of her five predecessors, serving also in 2023, she said that it was the body’s duty, under her presidency, to draft the final report. The Conference is mandated to negotiate, but sadly, that has not been the case for a while. Although it did not fulfil its mandate, it had substantial deliberations, during more than 60 meetings, including 54 formal sessions, covering all seven agenda items.
Topics discussed include artificial intelligence (AI) in the military domain, responsible use of AI, prevention of an arms race in outer space, the Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace, transparency, nuclear verification, transparency of nuclear doctrines and nuclear arsenals, negative security assurances, a possible fissile material cut-off treaty and nuclear-weapon-free zones. It also discussed the role of gender in disarmament, participation of youth and the Conference’s revitalization. There were no observers in the Conference this year. This is something to reflect on, to ensure inclusivity.
Turning to the effective functioning of the Conference, she said that a retreat was held with support from the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), to brainstorm short-, medium- and long-term measures to revitalize the Conference. Geopolitical divisions surfaced but the Conference served as a multilateral forum to discuss key issues. “Machinery works only if parts work,” she said, calling for greater cooperation and coordination with other machinery bodies, including the First Committee and the Disarmament Commission.
AKAN RAKHMETULLIN (Kazakhstan), Chair of the UN Disarmament Commission, regretted that, overall, discussions were overshadowed by the latest geopolitical tensions, controversies and contradictions. Despite best efforts, many States held onto national positions and showed little flexibility and willingness to make concessions or find middle ground to achieve compromise. The division between nuclear-weapon States and non-nuclear-weapon States seemed as deep as ever. States were particularly divided on nuclear risk reduction, reference to non-NPT States bodies with nuclear weapons and a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. A serious lack of trust lies behind serious challenges to international peace and security, which must be overcome with confidence-building measures and intensive, good faith and inclusive diplomacy.
He said that the expansion of nuclear weapons as coercion tools must be halted, alongside increases in military budgets, growing stockpiles and rapidly intensifying military competition. The militarization of outer space must be prevented at all costs. He called for responsible development and deployment of AI in the military domain, especially regarding nuclear arsenals and its use in outer space with satellites. He also urged the integration of a gender perspective in the Commission’s work. Women and girls should be at the heart of disarmament policy. Additionally, civil society provides valuable advice and ideas, spurring the international community to action. Non-governmental organizations have proven beyond doubt to be dynamic partners as triggers of innovative synergies and new paradigm shifts. The youth are the pillars of tomorrow and must be engaged in every step.
ELISSA GOLBERG (Canada), Chair of the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, said that global military spending continued its decades-long climb, reaching an all-time high of $2.4 trillion in 2023, with no signs of abating. It reflects a “trust deficit” among and within countries, putting millions of people at direct risk of armed violence. It also will have socioeconomic and environmental implications. It does not need to be this way, with genuine commitment to diplomacy and reinvestment in bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral action and a more holistic conception of security, which prioritizes the needs of people and the planet. The upward trend in military spending can be halted if not reversed, she said. This will require political courage and a transformative mindset.
The Advisory Board presented an actionable vision and strategy in its 2023 report, she said. Cultivating a climate more conducive to achieving greater human security is at the head of this vision. It also presented three pathways to slow military spending. The UN should play a key role in furthering discussions on considering security more broadly to include climate change, gender equality, crime and poverty, along with real and perceived military threats. It is imperative to enhance transparency and confidence-building and strengthen research and reporting. She called for a study on the social, cultural, economic and environmental consequences of military spending. The last such report was requested more than three decades ago. A lot has since changed. It’s time to conduct such a study.
ROBIN GEISS (Germany), Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), provided an overview of the Institute’s 2023 activities and 2024 priorities. As the twenty-first century is marked by a cascading crisis and complex security dilemmas, UNIDIR’s work is in high and growing demand. Its five programmes are on weapons of mass destruction, conventional arms and ammunition, security and technology, gender and space security. UNIDIR is also pursuing two special research projects — one on managing exits from armed conflict and why people join or leave armed groups, and a second on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. It is investing significantly in research on nuclear and conventional weapons, AI, gender and security, cybersecurity and chemical and biological defence.
Dialogues are also core to UNIDIR’s mission. UNIDIR regularly organizes regional workshops and three annual flagship events: the Innovations Dialogue, Outer Space Security Conference and Cyber Stability Conference. So far this year, it has organized 105 events with more than 9,300 participants including State representatives, civil society, industry, experts and researchers. UNIDIR has issued 89 publications this year that have been downloaded across 190 countries. It has also developed policy portals on cyberissues, AI and space to further disseminate its work. For 2024, nuclear risk and converging technologies are key focuses, alongside biological risks and responsible AI in the military domain.
DEMI HEATHER SEE DELLA-PORTA (Australia) said that the stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament is first and foremost “a product of the prevailing international climate of mistrust and lack of political will among its members”. She shared the frustration of many that the Conference has been unable to commence negotiations on the pressing matters on its agenda for more than two decades, particularly the very long overdue fissile material cut-off treaty. The Conference remains an important forum for building trust and understanding. Australia is concerned by the abuse of the consensus rule by some in the Conference. This year, the Conference was unable to admit observers due to the Russian Federation’s insistence on considering them one by one. This is against the most fundamental principles of inclusivity and must not be repeated in 2024.
FLAVIO SOARES DAMICO (Brazil) stressed that unless there is a high level of strategic stability or an asphyxiating military burden, there are not many incentives to disarm without the involvement of leaders. Multilateralism is not living its finest hour. The international scenario is rapidly deteriorating, with geopolitical fractures opening, international regimes being eroded and regional conflicts proliferating. Delegations are attached to the first special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament (SSOD-I) and rightfully fear the risk of throwing away the baby with the bathwater. Any effort to build upon SSOD-I has to come with guardrails to indicate that fundamental past understandings shall not be compromised.
Noting that the UN membership funds the nominally independent Conference on Disarmament, he urged better oversight. It is vexing that members have to apply for observer status. That is taxation without representation. It is time to carry out negotiations within an expanded Conference where observers enjoy similar rights as members, and end this artificial compartmentalization. “Isn’t security indivisible?” he asked.
Right of Reply
The representative of Armenia, in exercise of the right of reply, rejected remarks made by his counterpart yesterday, Azerbaijan. Baku blocked the Lachin corridor in December last year, using starvation as a method of warfare, but denied its involvement and attributed the blockade to environmental activities. After the International Court of Justice issued an order for the freedom of movement, Baku invented another justification. Baku brought up counter-allegations for their violations of arms control arrangements. Azerbaijan chose the use of force instead of a peaceful resolution. Its armed forces target civilians, hospitals and schools. It is well known that the tactic of that country is to justify, deny and whitewash crimes committed against people in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The representative of Iraq, in right of reply, condemned events in Gaza as genocide by any criteria, part of a war crime by the Israeli entity starting on 7 October when tragic scenes occurred. He rejected Israel’s lies to propagate and justify the massacre against civilians in Gaza. These bloody, violent scenes can never be justified. The Israeli entity has continued to ignore dozens of international resolutions and has refused to commit to international efforts to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. This shows its intentions and lays bare its insistence on nuclear supremacy in the region. He reiterated the right of Palestinians to live on their territory without settlements and without fear of becoming refugees or displaced. He stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire and opening of border crossings to ensure humanitarian access. There also needs to be a prisoner exchange in a secure fashion for people detained.
The representative of Iran, in right of reply, said that he was compelled to respond to remarks made by his counterpart from the Israeli war machine. He rejected those groundless allegations and condemned heinous crimes committed by the regime in the occupied territory. He stressed the need to uphold the right of the oppressed Palestinian people. The fundamental solution proposed by Iran is the end of the occupation of Palestine, the return of all refugees and the holding of a referendum with the participation of all inhabitants on this land to determine its political system.
He also rejected claims by the United Kingdom two days ago and urged London to stop unwarranted interference and end its support for the Zionist regime. He also highlighted the destructive role the United States plays in the Middle East. To genuinely enhance regional security, Washington, D.C. must halt its blind support for the Israeli regime, fulfil its obligations regarding weapons of mass destruction and compensate for its destruction of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The representative of the Russian Federation, in right of reply, rejected accusations by Georgia as “utterly baseless”. The Saakashvili regime’s “criminal, barbarous attack” on South Ossetia in August 2008 and the preparation for a similar action against Abkhazia were the culmination of many years of Tbilisi’s violent policies against these two small nations. The situation left them no choice but to ensure their security and right to existence through self-determination as independent States. Russian recognition of their independence was based on the freely expressed will of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples. The legitimate, well-justified Russian military presence in these two republics draws from relevant bilateral treaties and safeguards them from Tbilisi’s possible steps that would risk repeating the catastrophic events of 8 August 2008. Additionally, Russian actions in the Black Sea region are a response to the rogue policy of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) States, including the construction of naval bases on Ukrainian territory.
The representative of Kuwait, in right of reply, turned to the escalation in Gaza and other occupied Palestinian territories and denounced the war against the State of Palestine and Palestinian people by Israel, as well as the stopping of supplies from entering Gaza, such as food, electricity and fuel, and the targeting of civilians, hospitals, mosques and other civilian infrastructure. This has led to the loss of more than 7,000 people, including more than 2,000 children and 29 UN staff members, under the pretext of self-defence. The Israeli regime disregards all relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. The international community must intervene.
The representative of Azerbaijan, in right of reply, refuted Armenia’s “distortion” as part of a disinformation campaign directed at the international community. Azerbaijan’s letter to the Secretary-General on 27 September presented detailed information, including photographs of seized military equipment and weapons that Armenia’s armed forces deployed in the “Karabakh region of Azerbaijan”. Armenia used civilian objects and infrastructure in the Karabakh region to conceal the location of weapons and ammunition. He reiterated that Armenia’s constant abuse of the law in Azerbaijan the past three years, including the transfer of illegal weapons and landmines that claimed innocent lives, necessitated establishing a border checkpoint within its international recognized territory to ensure border security.
He said that the main condition for regional peace and stability is Armenian renunciation of its claims against Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, in words and deeds. He demanded clear, consistent communication from Armenia in accordance with an inter-State normalization process. Instead of neglecting a historical opportunity, Armenia should stop falsifying facts and comply with international obligations.
The representative of Israel, in right of reply, said he was responding to remarks made by Iraq and to the attempt by the representative of the Iranian regime to legitimize Hamas’ monstrous behaviour. Nineteen days after horrific attacks against his country by Hamas — massive intentional murders of civilians, rapes, beheadings and unimaginable brutality — Israel still awaits to hear members of the Arab Group condemn Hamas’ atrocities and to call for the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas. “When ISIS kidnapped and massacred your [Iraqi] people, how did you respond,” he asked. “You have chosen not to condemn the beheadings, rapes, shootings, stabbings, murders of 1,400 Israelis, some of whom were burned alive.” Actions of terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, are an affront to the basic values of humanity and threaten peace and security of the entire Middle East, not just Israel.
The representative of Armenia, again in right of reply, reiterated that Armenian armed forces were not involved in Azerbaijan’s recent aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh on 19 September. It was clear aggression against the civilian population with the intent of ethnic cleansing, resulting in the region’s total depopulation. It is very cynical to say that there are opportunities for return and integration, after committing this ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians had to flee their homes because of actions by Azerbaijani armed forces around the region, including in Shahumyan and Baku. They have not had the chance to return in decades.
The observer for the State of Palestine, in right of reply, asked how many more innocent children have to be killed to satisfy the criminal mindset of the Israeli war machine. How much longer will people in Gaza have to endure this bloodshed? When will Israel uphold international law? When will that country be held accountable for all its crimes over the past seven decades? When will it end its military occupation, and who allowed Israel to give lessens in the First Committee while using prohibited weapons against civilians. A lot of questions are running through my mind, he said. Which mother would choose to be the mothers in Gaza that had no choice but to write the name, age and address of their children on their bodies in the hope that they could be recognized when death knocks on their door. He said he is struggling to find answers to these questions.
The representative of Iraq, again in right of reply, stated that his country has had to courageously confront “ISIS gangs” and violence. Iraq fought terrorism on behalf of the world and won. Are crimes perpetrated by terrorists like ISIS a pretext or justification for barbaric aggression, using deadly weapons against unarmed children, old people and women? “We see, daily, pictures that frankly break one’s heart”, he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation, in right of reply, categorically rejected allegations that his country was obstructing the participation of observers in the work of the Conference on Disarmament. These distort the actual state of affairs. At two parts of the 2023 session, a number of members representing Western States rejected the consideration of requests from some States that wished to participate as observers. This is unjustifiable from the standpoint of procedure. The position of the collective West is responsible for not allowing 40 countries to participate in the work of the Conference in 2023. The Conference encountered cases of sabotage by the West, including attempts to block Syria and Venezuela from leading the Conference. The greatest concern is antipathy shown by the West to any initiative seeking to produce legally binding agreements that would strengthen international security.