2024 Session,
390th & 391st Meeting (AM & PM)

Warning Quantitative Arms Race Appears Imminent, High Representative Tells Disarmament Commission Session’s Opening Pursuing Nuclear Weapons Won’t Guarantee State Security

The belief that the pursuit of nuclear weapons can guarantee the security of any State is a dangerous delusion, the United Nations disarmament chief told the Disarmament Commission at the opening of its 2024 annual session, as the body expanded its deliberation into emerging security threats, including the use of artificial intelligence in the military domain.

“The risk of a nuclear weapon being used is higher now than any time since the height of the cold war and the architecture designed to prevent its use is ever more precarious,” warned High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu, noting that the Commission — a specialized General Assembly subsidiary body — is once again resuming its work in a difficult geopolitical environment.

Sounding the alarm over “the qualitative arms race currently under way and the quantitative race that appears imminent”, she said that such pursuits only undermine global security and put humanity one step closer to the brink of annihilation.  First and foremost, there must be demonstrable progress in implementing the existing commitments on disarmament.  The nuclear-weapon States have a responsibility to lead, she emphasized.

Turning to emerging technologies, she said that such advancements often outpace international governance and regulation.  The Commission therefore could consider any gaps in current multilateral discussions and how common understandings could help address such issues, including military artificial intelligence and armed uncrewed aerial vehicles. 

She concluded her remarks by stressing:  “Stronger international cooperation in the field of disarmament is the only answer to the many peace and security threats we now face.” 

For his part, newly elected Commission Chair Muhammad Usman Iqbal Jadoon (Pakistan) recalled that the forum was established by the first special session of the General Assembly on disarmament. It plays a crucial function as a deliberative body to consider and make recommendations on various problems in the field of disarmament and follow up on the relevant decisions and recommendations of the special session. 

“The Disarmament Commission has the solemn responsibility to deliberate on topical issues related to disarmament and recommend measures,” he said. “The present state of world affairs marked by increasing polarization and mistrust requires greater reliance on multilateralism and calls for investing more effort in dialogue.”

When the floor opened for a general exchange of views, several delegations took the floor. 

The representative of Saudi Arabia, speaking for the Arab Group, said that the current transparency and confidence-building measures are not a replacement for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, stressing that their eradication is the only guarantee against the consequences of their use.  All Arab States have joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and have subjected their nuclear establishments to the comprehensive safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he said, urging Israel to do so as well.  He went on to condemn the irresponsible nuclear threats issued by an Israeli minister against Gaza on 5 November.  Such threats emphasize once again the dire need to establish a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

In that vein, the representative of Qatar, speaking for the Gulf Cooperation Council, called on the Secretary-General to continue his efforts to establish such a zone, stating that the 1995 resolution on the matter remains valid until its purpose and goals are achieved.  For its part, the representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reiterated its commitment to preserving the region as a zone free from nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.  Stressing the importance of fully and effectively implementing the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, or the Bangkok Treaty, he said that the establishment and preservation of such a zone enhances global and regional peace and security, strengthens the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime and furthers the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, condemned the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the continued support provided to Moscow by Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran.  He also expressed concern over the rapid, extensive and opaque build-up of China’s nuclear arsenal, calling on Beijing to substantially engage in arms control dialogue and improve transparency.  Acknowledging the Commission’s role as a specialized, subsidiary body for in-depth deliberations on specific disarmament issues, he stressed that upholding the rules-based international order, grounded in the UN Charter, is more important than ever.

The representative of Latvia, speaking also for Estonia and Lithuania, voiced deep concern about the Russian Federation’s decision to deploy nuclear warheads on the territory of Belarus, noting that the decision goes against commitments outlined in the Budapest Memorandum.  Moscow’s decision to de-ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and suspend the New Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms — or START — Treaty is equally alarming. “These actions contradict our ongoing efforts to prevent the further spread of weapons of mass destruction and to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict,” she asserted.

The representative of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, voiced deep concern over the lack of progress in the implementation of nuclear disarmament obligations by nuclear-weapon States, stressing that “the only guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is their total elimination”.  In this regard, the conclusion of a universal and legally binding instrument to effectively assure all non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances is a matter of high priority. 

While supporting such a view, the representative of Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, called for the promotion of international cooperation to give developing countries access to the inalienable right to develop, research, produce and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Speaking on a point of order, the representative of the Russian Federation cautioned that certain delegations, the European Union in particular, are disregarding the rules of procedure and established practice by devolving into a politicized discussion far from the purposes and objectives of this Commission.  

In the organizational session that preceded today’s meeting, the Commission elected Mahmud Mohammed Lawal (Nigeria), Amr Essam (Egypt) and Viviana Sanabria (Paraguay) as Vice-Chairs, along with the new Chair. 

The Commission will continue its general exchange of views on Tuesday, 2 April.  The 2024 session, which runs through 19 April, also features discussions in two working groups — one on recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the other on recommendations on common understandings related to emerging technologies in the context of international security.

For information media. Not an official record.