First Committee Chair, Concluding Session, Says World without Bedrock Treaties Banning Weapons of Mass Destruction Would Be ‘a Gloomy Place’
Approval of 61 Drafts, Requiring 148 Votes, Spotlighted Partisan Divides
The Chair of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today asked delegations to imagine a world without the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention or the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and said the picture would be gloomy.
Upon conclusion of the body’s seventy‑eight session, Rytis Paulauskas (Lithuania) said these agreements and treaties are a significant bedrock “on which our security is built”, and every effort must be made to preserve them and other bedrocks of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.
“We are not working in a vacuum, in isolation or in a bubble of our own,” he added, but are “exposed to the reality of the situation in the world”. He cited the Russian Federation’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine and Hamas’ attacks against Israel, which triggered escalation in the Middle East.
This year, the Committee approved 60 draft resolutions and one decision, requiring 148 recorded votes in all. Over the past five weeks, 151 delegations delivered statements during the Committee’s general debate, followed by 375 interventions during thematic debates across nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, outer space, conventional weapons, other disarmament measures, regional disarmament and the disarmament machinery.
The new draft resolution, “L.51/Rev.1”, would have the General Assembly call upon all States not to use radiological weapons and not to develop, produce or stockpile devices or materials for such use, while desiring to avoid interfering with legitimate uses.
In addition to emphasizing that radiological weapons are a unique category distinct and separate from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the Assembly would urge the Conference on Disarmament to adopt in 2024 a comprehensive and balanced programme of work that includes negotiations on a legally binding multilateral prohibition on radiological weapons use by States.
After the Committee rejected a package of amendments from Iran by a vote of 15 in favour to 60 against, with 78 abstentions, it approved the draft as a whole by a recorded vote of 159 in favour to 5 against (Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Russian Federation, Syria), with 13 abstentions.
Draft resolution “L.29” would, by its text, have the Assembly recognize the intention of States parties to the Bangkok Treaty to continue exploring the possibility of allowing individual nuclear-weapon States to sign the Treaty’s Protocol. Following a recorded vote that retained operative paragraph 2, the draft as a whole was approved without a vote.
In other business, the Committee adopted its draft provisional programme of work and timetable for 2024 (document A/C.1/78/CRP.4).
Also in closing, the Chair commented on the introduction of new resolutions this year, including on lethal autonomous weapons systems, victim assistance and radiological weapons. While the Committee will increasingly deal with challenges in outer space and cyberspace, as well as the risks and opportunities of emerging technologies, the long-standing issues of nuclear weapons, other mass destruction weapons and conventional weapons will persist for the foreseeable future.
“We will be compelled to deal with our traditional agenda” for years to come, he said, urging delegations to “try to build trust and confidence where we jointly can”.
General Statements, Nuclear Weapons
ARRMANATHA CHRISTIAWAN NASIR (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), presented “L.29”, titled “Treaty on the South-East Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (Bangkok Treaty)” (document A/C.1/78/L.29). Since the draft was last presented and adopted by consensus eight years ago, two key updates have been made. Preambular paragraph 9 reflects concerns over the current state of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and calls for countries to fully implement their obligations. On operative paragraph 2, the States parties to the Bangkok Treaty would like to reflect current developments on the signing and ratification by nuclear-weapon States of the Treaty’s Protocol. He deeply regretted that a separate vote has been requested on this paragraph, which was previously adopted by consensus. Based on the principle of transparency and accountability, he requested information on countries that called for the vote. He appealed to all to retain operative paragraph 2 and to support the draft resolution as a whole.
BRUCE TURNER (United States) introduced the draft resolution, titled “Radiological weapons” (document A/C.1/78/L.51/Rev.1). It reflects diverse cross-regional views and earned widespread support. It signals broad support for the view that States should not use radiological weapons nor should they develop, produce or stockpile such weapons, while desiring not to interfere with the legitimate use of such materials. His delegation conducted three rounds of consultations in Geneva and New York, accommodated feedback and made multiple revisions to the text. Iran’s amendments will alter the nature of the draft. Should the amendments pass, the United States will withdraw from its sponsorship of the draft.
SHIVANAND SIVAMOHAN (Malaysia) expressed hope that “L.29” tabled by ASEAN will enjoy the broadest possible support, given its importance to the region. Taking note of the call for a vote on operative paragraph 2, he hoped to better understand the views of delegations on the text, and to continue engaging in constructive dialogue with United Nations’ membership on this vital issue.
Mr. NAMEKAWA (Japan) said that he co-sponsored “L.51” because his country sees value in calling on States not to use radiological weapons. However, the latest amendments — proposed by Iran — would change the material meaning and intent of the text. Additionally, a unilateral proposal before the voting is not productive. To that end, Japan will vote in favour of the resolution but against the proposed amendment. Should Iran’s amendments pass, Japan would request the Secretariat to be withdrawn as a co-sponsor of the resolution and would, therefore, vote “no” on the text as a whole as amended.
PĒTERIS FILIPSONS (Latvia), speaking on behalf of a group of States, said that the countries co-sponsored “L.51/Rev.1”, titled “Radiological weapons” (document A/C.1/78/L.51/Rev.1) as a practical initiative to address the threat of these weapons. The group recognized the advantage of focusing on the prohibition of using these weapons, which would avoid complexities that would arise in a “broader-scope negotiation”. However, Iran’s amendments go in the opposite direction and would substantially change the resolution’s meaning and intent. Iran’s unilateral repeated amendments, which disregard the sponsors’ good-faith effort to seek compromises, undermine the significance of weeks of informal consultations. If the amendments pass, the group would request to be withdrawn as co-sponsors.
THOMAS FETZ (Canada) said that his country co-sponsored “L.51/Rev.1” but would withdraw its co-sponsorship should the hostile amendments submitted by Iran pass. Canada supports “Rev.1” as this initiative could fill a gap in the current legal framework and possibly help revitalize the Conference on Disarmament. This resolution could be a key step in building a norm against the use of radiological weapons by States, and it could move the process closer to negotiating a treaty on this matter in the Conference on Disarmament.
TOR HENRIK ANDERSEN (Norway), also speaking for Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, said the “Rev.1” text of “L.51” addresses concerns from a wide range of Member States, rendering Iran’s latest amendments unnecessary — as it would change the meaning and intent of the resolution. Citing strong Committee support for the “Rev. 1” text, he called on Member States to vote for it and against Iran’s amendment. It is unfortunate that the delegations, as co-sponsors, are procedurally required that, should Iran’s amendments pass, they would request to be withdrawn as sponsors of the resolution, as amended. While acknowledging the right of all delegations to propose amendments, he said that the repeated proposal of amendments that are inconsistent with the sponsors’ aims would be an unfortunate practice and precedent for the Committee. The unilateral proposal of a repeated amendments undermines the weeks of informal consultations held throughout the session.
Action, Nuclear Weapons
The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of vote before the vote, said that Iran’s amendments would materially alter the text to reinforce divisions and perpetuate the paralysis. Noting that Iran has proposed the same amendments for the second time, he said that co-sponsors cannot support it because Tehran’s approach fails to consider the desires of many. If the amendments are defeated and the resolution as drafted goes forward, “we will have given impetus to the international community to take tangible action now,” he said.
The representative of Iran, explaining its vote on “L.51/Rev.1”, recalled the extensive scope of General Assembly resolutions spanning from 1969 to 1992, adopted without dissenting votes. They included the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of radiological weapons. Given these historical precedents and achievements, it is vital to refrain from adopting a partial or reductionist approach. He called for establishing a legally binding instrument through the Conference on Disarmament. The draft resolution falls short of the comprehensive scope required. Iran introduced these amendments during informal consultations, not at the last minute, but there was no flexibility from the co-sponsors. His delegation is using its legal and legitimate right, according to the rules of procedure, and it is regrettable to hear unconstructive statements from some delegations.
The representative of Canada said that his country cannot in good faith vote in favour of Iran’s amendments. He expressed serious procedural concerns with Iran’s repeated use of hostile amendments at the First Committee and disagreed with their substance. Canada supports “L.51/Rev.1”, which reflects a realistic incremental approach that would first build a norm against the use of such weapons.
The representative of Spain, speaking for the European Union in its capacity as observer, explained his intention to vote against the amendments to “L.51”, commending the co-sponsors’ efforts to accommodate diverse views through revisions. All States have the right to propose amendments, but repeated tabling of the same non-consensual amendments disregard the methods of work and the value of consultations and drafts — constituting a bad precedent for the Committee.
The representative of Australia, expressing support for the text, said that she will vote in favour. She voiced concern, however, about the proposed amendments, stressing that her country will not remain silent while a Member State seeks to disrupt the work and the working practices of the Committee. Noting that the proposed amendments would change the meaning and the intent of the text, she said that Australia cannot support it.
The representative of the Russian Federation, explaining the delegation’s vote against “L.51/Rev.1”, said the document is a negative precedent, undermining the First Committee’s work. Since the beginning, the American initiative did not enjoy consensus. During consultations, a large number of amendments were proposed condemning Iran for enjoying its sovereign right to bring amendments to draft resolutions at any time and at any stage of consideration. He underscored that the draft is contradictory and was not broached during the Conference on Disarmament or its debates. The Conference is not a General Assembly body, but the United States is trying to use the Assembly’s authority to impose a contradictory initiative on the Conference.
The Committee then turned to two drafts — one on nuclear weapons and another on other weapons of mass destruction — on which voting had been postponed.
On the draft resolution titled “Treaty on the South-East Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (Bangkok Treaty)” (document A/C.1/78/L.29), submitted by Indonesia on behalf of ASEAN, a recorded vote was requested on operative paragraph 2, which would have the General Assembly recognize the intention of States parties to the Bangkok Treaty to continue exploring the possibility of allowing individual nuclear-weapon States to go ahead with the signing of the Protocol to the Treaty.
The Committee retained that provision by a recorded vote of 169 in favour to none against, with 4 abstentions (Belarus, Israel, Russian Federation, South Sudan).
It then approved without a vote “L.29”, by which the Assembly would welcome the commitment and efforts of the Commission for the South-East Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone to further enhance and strengthen the implementation of the Bangkok Treaty by implementing the 2023-2027 Plan of Action.
The representative of Singapore, speaking on a point of order, noted a request by ASEAN to identify the delegation or delegations that had called for a vote on operative paragraph 2. Noting that the Chair had said the issue would be addressed under the working methods process, he asked the Chair on what basis under the rules of procedure he could justify a process that is not transparent and does not allow Member States to know who had requested the vote.
The Chair said he would continue to put “L.51/Rev.1” to the vote and then respond to the request.
The representative of Singapore asked if he could speak on “L.29” after the vote on “L.51”.
The Chair confirmed.
The Committee then turned to the draft resolution, titled “Radiological weapons” (document A/C.1/78/L.51/Rev.1), submitted by the United States.
By the text, the General Assembly would call upon all States not to use radiological weapons and not to develop, produce or stockpile devices or materials for use as radiological weapons, while desiring to avoid interfering with legitimate uses of radioactive materials. It would emphasize that radiological weapons are a unique category of weapons distinct and separate from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The Assembly would also urge the Conference on Disarmament to adopt in 2024 a comprehensive and balanced programme of work that includes the commencement of negotiations to conclude a legally binding multilateral prohibition on the use of radiological weapons by States.
The representative of Iran proposed oral amendments to “L.51/Rev.1”. According to the proposal, the title of the resolution would read: “Prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of radiological weapons”.
Operative paragraph 1 would read: “Calls upon all States not to develop, produce or stockpile and use radiological weapons”.
Operative paragraph 4 would read: “Urges the Conference on Disarmament to adopt in 2024 a comprehensive and balanced programme of work, as an initial step, which includes the start of negotiations on a legally binding multilateral prohibition on the development, production or stockpiling and use of radiological weapons by States”.
The Committee rejected the amendments by a recorded vote of 15 in favour to 60 against, with 78 abstentions.
A recorded vote was requested on preambular paragraph 8, which would have the Assembly reaffirm the need to ensure the equal, full and meaningful participation of underrepresented groups and reflect gender perspectives and diverse participant perspectives in the negotiation process.
The provision was retained by a recorded vote of 109 in favour to 4 against (Belarus, Burundi, Iran, Russian Federation), with 41 abstentions.
The Committee then approved “L.51/Rev.1” as a whole by a recorded vote of 159 in favour to 5 against (Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Russian Federation, Syria), with 13 abstentions.
The representative of Singapore, raising a point of order regarding the conduct of voting on “L.29”, said that he was disappointed that a vote had been called on operative paragraph 2. Recalling a specific request for information about a delegation — or delegations — that have requested this vote, he noted that the Chair was unable to provide that information. In this regard, he reiterated his request for clarification about how Member States could justify the practice when a vote can be called and the identity of the delegation — or delegations — requesting it is not provided to the interested countries.
The Chair, responding, said that, in the morning, he met with 10 representatives of ASEAN and provided the requested response, stressing that transparency in the Committee can be ensured in “many different ways”. Noting that he does not agree with certain practices of the Committee relating to the non-disclosure of the names of delegations that requested the vote, he said that such ambiguity allows for forming certain practices. “It is definitely not the Chair’s intent to defend the ones who requested the vote,” he stressed.
The representative of Singapore, taking the floor again, said that although his delegation intended to put forward a procedural motion to take a decision on this matter, it will continue to work within the context of the Committee’s work programme.
The representative of Egypt, explaining its votes on “L.51/Rev.1”, thanked the United States for its constructive engagement, but the draft resolution’s fundamental concept did not reach the clarity and maturity to which his delegation aspired. There are no known cases of radiological weapons use by States or non-State actors in military confrontations, and there is no agreed definition on what constitutes such weapons. While the draft excluded any interrelationships between nuclear and radiological weapons, considering this proposal under cluster two is questionable. Egypt pleaded for a further “definition-agnostic” approach, but operative paragraph 3 signals an opposite direction.
The draft gives an impression of parity with weapons of mass destruction, a comparison that is not necessarily accurate due to the lack of evidence. The possible humanitarian consequences of radiological weapons cannot in any way be put on par with those of weapons of mass destruction. It is very difficult to support a proposal that prioritizes prohibiting radiological weapons use when nuclear-weapon States continue to reject any prohibition of nuclear weapons use, which is the most devastating and inhumane category.
Previous Conference attempts to address “so-called new types of weapons of mass destruction” have been quite futile, he said. Egypt is inclined to maintaining a focus on outstanding strategic priorities of nuclear disarmament, preventing an arms race in outer space and ending the current Conference impasse. He also expressed concern with preambular paragraph 8 and called for more commonly accepted language on the inclusion of women, youth and other stakeholders. While acknowledging that the oral amendments were based on the outcome of the first special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, Egypt abstained.
The representative of Pakistan said that his country voted in favour of “L.51/Rev.1”. He appreciated Iran’s efforts to make the draft resolution consistent with the call contained in the first special session on disarmament that “a convention should be concluded on prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of radiological weapons”. This was followed by some positive revisions by the main sponsor to improve the text. While Islamabad supports the text’s many elements, including the call on the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a legally binding agreement on radiological weapons, differences exist in views on several related issues. The scope, definitions and other provisions contained in such an agreement should be deliberated and negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament, without prejudice to the contents of “L.51/Rev.1”.
The representative of Saudi Arabia noted that his delegation abstained on “L.51/Rev.1”, clarifying that his Government supports negotiations over a draft international instrument on the prohibition of radiological weapons. It is important for such an instrument to allow for the use of radiological stocks for peaceful purposes as well as to allow all States the same rights and obligations, without distinction. Stressing that radiological weapons are a distinct type of weapon not to be confused with weapons of mass destruction, he called for the initiative to allow States the right to exchange information and materials for peaceful purposes, without hindering economic development or imposing any restrictions on the use and ownership of advanced technology. Negotiations must not be limited to a certain number of States within the Conference on Disarmament.
The representative of Mexico said he voted in favour of the draft resolution “L.51/Rev.1”, emphasizing that a legally binding instrument, contemplated by Member States, must adopt a broad approach. Noting that there could have been widespread agreement against radiological weapons, he pointed out that calls in the General Assembly to continue the process in the Conference on Disarmament are not a solution. Expressing disappointment that the Conference has not been able to fulfil its mandate for 25 years, he said it should prioritize work on other legally binding instruments relating to other pressing issues. He was disappointed over the lack of negotiations and underscored that Member States should not resort to division and mistrust but, rather, to building bridges.
The representative of Brazil, explaining its vote in favour of “L.51/Rev.1”, said that a possible treaty banning radiological weapons shall not interfere with the legitimate use of radiological materials or the existing framework regarding nuclear safeguards and physical safety of such materials. These safeguards should continue to be treated under their appropriate forum, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Substantive discussions on radiological weapons within the Conference on Disarmament should not be at the detriment of other urgent and priority issues, including nuclear disarmament. Brazil will not stand in the way of any negotiating effort capable of instilling momentum to revive the Conference’s mandate. His delegation continues to call for urgent comprehensive reform of the UN disarmament machinery.
The representative of Cuba abstained on “L.51/Rev.1” due to significant shortcomings in the text, including an absence of a direct appeal to States not to develop, produce and stockpile radiological weapons. Her delegation regrets that Iran’s necessary amendments were not approved. Cuba abstained on preambular paragraph 8 due to its ambiguity. The text’s emphasis on use of these weapons should not be applied to future negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament.
The representative of India noted his support for “L.29”, respecting the sovereign choice of non-nuclear-weapon States to establish nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at. As a nuclear-weapon State, India has conveyed an unambiguous assurance that it will respect the status of the South-East Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. He further noted that his delegation supported “L.51/Rev.1”, but its vote is without prejudice to how radiological weapons are defined and any understanding about the scope of a possible instrument on them, binding or non-binding.
The representative of Cameroon, turning to draft resolution “L.51/Rev.1”, preambular paragraph 8, stated that the delegation understands the notion of “gender perspective” to mean masculine and feminine genders only.
The representative of France, explaining the delegation’s vote in favour of “L.51/Rev.1”, supported launching discussions on a legally binding prohibition of radiological weapons-use by States, in the framework of a comprehensive and balanced programme of work at the Conference on Disarmament. Recalling that these weapons constitute a category distinct and separate from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, she stated that conventional weapons do not cover the scope of radiological ones either. She underscored that these discussions must not prejudice the legitimate use of weapons systems and materials defined by existing treaties. She reiterated France’s support for all efforts to prevent the dissemination and illegal procurement of radiological sources.
The representative of Algeria said that his country voted in favour of “L.51/Rev.1”, expressing support for efforts to create a world free of weapons of mass destruction. The draft is a welcome addition to that end.
The representative of the United States, also speaking for France and the United Kingdom, noted they joined consensus on “L.29”, standing by the commitment to intensify discussions with ASEAN on the protocol to find a path forward to signature. On preambular paragraph 9, he would nuance the blanket characterization of a declining commitment to global non-proliferation arms control and disarmament mechanisms. Those States remain steadfast in their commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and other commitments. They regret that others do not share their willingness to engage constructively. On operative paragraph 2, he noted the vote in favour, reiterating that anticipated statements are fully compatible with the object of the Protocol.
The representative of China said that his delegation voted in favour of operative paragraph 2 of “L.29”, stressing that it is willing to take the lead in signing the protocol without reservations.
Noting that he abstained on the amendments and draft resolution “L.51/Rev.1”, he emphasized that the international community has yet to reach consensus on the definition and scope of “radiological weapons”. Although Iran’s amendments tried to fill the existing gap, it failed to address Beijing’s concerns relating to the definition and scope of that class of weapons.
The representative of New Zealand, explaining the delegation’s vote in favour of “L.51/Rev.1” and its vote against the proposed amendments, said her delegation continues to strongly support the four Conference on Disarmament priorities mentioned, particularly nuclear disarmament. She noted the penholders of the original text to, in good faith, revise the draft in response to the tabled amendments, but that flexibility was not reciprocated. On the amendments’ substance, she noted significant practical difficulties, although the idea of a comprehensive prohibition sounds preferable to a treaty solely banning use. Radiological weapons are primarily weapons of fear, spreading contamination from radioactive materials converted from legitimate uses to make “dirty weapons”. Her delegation is not convinced of the additional value of calls for more comprehensive prohibitions, in view of the Conference’s difficulties. Starting negotiations on use would be a profound achievement in itself.
The representative of Indonesia, speaking after the vote, said her delegation voted in favour of “L.51/Rev.1” as the text recognizes the need to address threats of radiological weapons. With the absence of a universally agreed scope on radiological weapons, it is imperative for discussions to encompass a clear definition of those weapons and agreed parameters.
The representative of Iran expressed gratitude to those delegations who supported its amendments to “L.51”, demonstrating a commitment to fairness and inclusivity in the international community.
The Chair noted the delegate could not comment on his own proposal.
The representative of Iran then cited the various shortcomings of “L.51”, noting he voted against it.
The representative of Iraq said that he voted in favour of the draft resolution, noting that it is a crucial step towards achieving paragraph 76 of the plan of action on nuclear disarmament.
The representative of Ghana, explaining its abstentions on “L.51/Rev.1” and the proposed amendments, said the timeframe of consultations on the issue was insufficient and did not allow for in-depth discussions on proposals. She urged for further deliberations and a more comprehensive exploration of the issue within the Committee’s framework for a more well-informed and judicious decision. Her delegation supported the conclusions and reports of the Ad Hoc Committee in 1980, established to agree on a convention prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of radiological weapons.
The representative of Austria, speaking after the vote, welcomed “L.51/Rev.1” for bringing focus to the issue of radiological weapons and fully agrees that this topic needs to be further addressed. However, narrowing it down to the negotiation process within the Conference on Disarmament risks this effort remaining a symbolic one. His country would have preferred a more comprehensive approach to address radiological weapons and functional openness that allows for choosing a forum to discuss those issues, with the use of the deep expertise in Vienna. Austria, however, supported the resolution.
The representative of Syria noted that his delegation voted against “L.51/Rev.1”, while supporting the prohibition of that category of weapons. Recalling that the draft called for the non-development, production and stockpiling of such weapons, which would have been ideal, he nonetheless stressed that the approach ultimately adopted did not account for the many challenges posed by that category of weapons. His delegation, therefore, supported the Iranian amendments. He noted that Syria had previously tabled a draft programme of work during its presidency of the Conference on Disarmament in 2018, but certain Western States impeded it for “well-known political reasons”. He cited a lack of political will as the reason for the Conference’s paralysis.