First Committee Delegates Call for Cooperation to Prevent Nuclear Arms Race, Stem Tide of Illegal Weapons, as General Debate Continues

Ineffective Global COVID‑19 Response Displays Ill‑Preparedness for Potential Nuclear Explosion, Ireland’s Delegate Stresses

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) continued its general debate today, with delegates calling for action to end gun trafficking, address the grave humanitarian impact of such conventional weapons as cluster munitions and anti‑personnel mines, and to avoid a regional arms race in the Middle East.

Speakers from across the Middle East called for the creation of a regional nuclear‑weapon‑free zone and for Iran and Israel’s full compliance with their respective obligations.  Saudi Arabia’s representative said regional peace and stability hinge on avoiding an arms race and on Iran’s compliance with international agreements on its nuclear programme.  Turning to the conflict in Yemen, he said the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons also jeopardizes regional stability.

Yemen’s delegate said an Iranian‑backed Houthi coup has resulted in prolonged conflict in the country.  The wide use of mines by militias has had devastating effects on civilian populations, he noted, warning the Committee that groups using these weapons are also augmenting arsenals of small arms and light weapons.

Similarly, Sudan’s representative shared concerns about the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, highlighting a national programme that has confiscated and destroyed some 300,000 firearms over the past year.  Given the nature of the illicit arms trade, regional efforts should focus on border control, information sharing and the dissemination of best practices.

Lesotho’s delegate said the killing of innocent people in conflict‑ridden areas is a stark reminder of the need for collective action to build a safe, secure and free world.  Terrorist groups and other non-State actors have conducted massacres not with their bare hands, but with weapons they did not manufacture.  Yet, discussions rarely address how these weapons end up in their hands.  “It is time to critically address that matter if we are to make progress in the disarmament field,” he said, calling for greater international cooperation to implement the Programme of Action on Small Arms, including through predictable funding.

Several delegates raised concerns about the use of cluster munitions, including Armenia’s representative, who said observers have reported their use in Nagorno‑Karabakh.  Echoing a common view, Switzerland’s delegate, whose country serves as Chair of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, called on all parties to refrain from using them.

However, the representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic cautioned that threats posed by such weapons extend decades after a conflict ends.  Describing demining initiatives woven into national sustainable development plans, he said civilians in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic continue to die as a result of unexploded ordnance left behind from the Viet Nam War, which ended some 40 years ago.

Throughout the day, speakers continued to call for increased cooperation to ensure the effectiveness of nuclear disarmament agreements, with Ireland’s representative noting that ineffective global responses to the COVID‑19 pandemic clearly display how ill prepared the world is to face a potential nuclear explosion.

Tensions among nuclear‑weapon States surfaced as China’s representative urged the United States, “the biggest threat to global strategic security and stability”, to fulfil its special responsibilities for nuclear disarmament.  For its part, he said, China will take forceful countermeasures in defence of its national interests when necessary if the United States goes down the path of deploying land-based intermediate‑range missiles in Asia.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, several delegates, from both nuclear‑weapon States and those free of atomic bombs, exchanged divergent views on such issues as the soon expiring New START Treaty and the recent use of chemical weapons and other banned armaments.

The First Committee will reconvene on Wednesday, 14 October, at 9 a.m., to continue its general debate.

General Debate

The representative of Ireland, associating himself with the European Union and New Agenda Coalition, said the COVID‑19 pandemic adds to the relevance of biosecurity issues and called for strengthening the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction.  The pandemic underscores the need for international cooperation to avoid global catastrophes.  Noting that conflict worldwide is increasingly unbiased, and that civilians bear the brunt, he said Ireland prioritizes addressing the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas.

The representative of Armenia said radical tendencies and the rise of hate speech have infiltrated the international security agenda.  Attempts to alter the military balance must be rejected at all levels, he said, adding that the use of force is a clear demonstration of a lack of willingness to cooperate and engage in dialogue.  Azerbaijan recently violated international agreements in Nagorno‑Karabakh through premeditated attacks that targeted infrastructure and caused large‑scale civilian casualties, and Turkey remains largely involved, providing support for expanding the “territory of hostilities”, he said, adding that observers reported that Azerbaijan’s military used cluster munitions.

The representative of Yemen, associating himself with the Arab Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, called for establishing a Middle East nuclear‑weapon‑free zone, saying that Israel rejects non‑proliferation agreements, further perpetuating instability and a regional arms race.  For its part, Yemen continues to be affected by conflict stemming from the Iran‑backed Houthi coup.  The wide use of mines has had devastating effects on civilian populations, he said, warning that militias using these weapons are also augmenting arsenals of small arms and light weapons.  As such, he called for support for the Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

The representative of Saudi Arabia, associating himself with the Arab Group, said regional peace and stability hinged on avoiding an arms race.  Saudi Arabia regretted to note that obstacles remained in creating a Middle East nuclear‑weapon‑free zone.  Voicing concern over Iran’s failure to comply with its commitments, he underlined the importance of an international agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme, which would help to integrate the country into the global community.  Turning to concerns about the spread of conventional weaponry, he said a stringent approach must address the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons, including in the conflict in Yemen, where militias continue to grow their stockpiles.

The representative of Switzerland called on the Russian Federation and the United States to extend the New START Treaty without delay, alongside new agreements to achieve deeper cuts, gradually drawing in other nuclear‑weapon States and covering the various categories.  The Group of Governmental Experts on Autonomous Weapons should work towards a common understanding on how to ensure the necessary human control over such weapons systems, she said, adding that the development of new hypersonic weapon systems can alter the strategic balance.  As the current Chair of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Switzerland is deeply concerned about the reported use of such weapons in Nagorno‑Karabakh and calls on all parties to refrain from using them.  On cyberspace security, she said respect for existing rules of international law and voluntary norms should be a priority.

The representative of Poland said that while the global arms control system has deteriorated, there is hope that ongoing talks between Moscow and Washington, D.C., will extend the New START Treaty and create plausible conditions for negotiations on broader arms control arrangements, with the dialogue extending to include China.  Condemning the recent attempt to poison Russian opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny in the Russian Federation, she said that any use of chemical weapons must be investigated and perpetrators held accountable.  For its part, the General Assembly must send a strong signal of international support for the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and of Their Destruction and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The representative of North Macedonia, associating himself with the European Union, said that the General Assembly should duly reflect the positive changes that have taken place in the Western Balkans since 2018, including improved relations between his country and Greece.  The region still faces challenges, and unresolved political disputes have the potential to take it back into recent history, but the solution lies in overcoming historical myths and ideologies of domination.  It is time to replace distrust with a new era for the Balkans through the promotion of a culture of good neighbourliness, cooperation and European integration.

The representative of Germany, associating himself with the European Union, cited a range of worrisome incidents, including the use of a nerve agent against Mr. Navalny and chemical weapon attacks in Syria.  Calling on the Russian Federation to provide an explanation for Nr. Navalny’s poisoning, he also called on stakeholders in the Syrian conflict to comply with international obligations on chemical weapons.  Turning to nuclear arms control, he called on Washington, D.C., and Moscow to demonstrate leadership and extend the New START Treaty.

The representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), voiced strong support for international disarmament efforts, including those addressing the impact of cluster munitions and unexploded ordnance.  Civilians in Lao People’s Democratic Republic continue to be killed and injured by unexploded bombs, which remain relics of the war in Viet Nam that ended decades ago, he said, highlighting the Government’s efforts to integrate demining initiatives into national sustainable development strategies.

The representative of Lebanon, associating herself with the Arab Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, said the world continues to live in the shadow of a nuclear catastrophe, and the United Nations primary mission must be ridding the world of atomic bombs.  The nine States with such weapons spent $73 billion on their arsenals in 2019, she said, noting that if only a small portion of that was used for health infrastructure, the COVID‑19 pandemic would not pose such an immense challenge.  Still, the international community must not overlook the threat posed by the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons, she said, calling for action to avoid future conflicts like that inflicted on Lebanon by Israel.

The representative of China urged the United States, “the biggest threat to global strategic security and stability”, to fulfil its special responsibilities for nuclear disarmament, extend the New START Treaty and reduce its nuclear arsenal.  China will take forceful countermeasures in defence of its national interests when necessary if the United States goes down the path of deploying land‑based intermediate‑range missiles in Asia.  The United States description of China as the world’s third largest nuclear Power and proposal for trilateral talks are just tricks to shift global attention away from its quest for military supremacy.  China has not and will not engage in a nuclear arms race, nor, given the gap between the size of its arsenal and those of the United States and the Russian Federation, will it join such talks.  China has always advocated the prohibition and destruction of atomic bombs, remaining committed not to threaten to use them against non‑nuclear‑weapon States.  Given the deadlock between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States, he urged the latter to respond to Pyongyang’s security concerns.  Calling for international data security rules, he urged the United States to stop impeding global efforts for a legal instrument on outer space based on proposals made by Beijing and Moscow.

The representative of Sudan, describing the challenges of being a victim of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, said the Government has for more than a year been waging a campaign to eliminate illicit firearms in conflict‑affected areas, particularly Darfur.  Towards the end of September, some 300,000 confiscated firearms have been destroyed, he said, adding that phase four of the campaign will see increased gun control.  Regional efforts should focus on border control, information sharing and the dissemination of best practices.  During its current presidency of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti‑Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Sudan pledges to focus on universalization of the instrument, stockpile destruction, demining, victim assistance, compliance with the Convention and implementation of the Oslo Action Plan.

The representative of Cuba, associating herself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, said nuclear stockpiles continue to threaten humanity and the international community cannot remain silent in the face of the United States atomic ambitions.  Washington, D.C., is instigating arms races while withdrawing from international agreements, she stated, adding that nuclear energy must only be used for peaceful purposes to advance the development of States.  As the world strives to achieve the total elimination of atomic bombs, nuclear‑weapon States must provide assurances that they will not use such weapons against non‑nuclear‑weapon States.

The representative of the United Arab Emirates, associating herself with the Arab Group, expressed concern over a lack of compliance with non‑proliferation efforts worldwide and called for transparent approaches in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  She urged Iran to enhance confidence on the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme and to abide by obligations under international agreements.  The United Arab Emirates also prioritizes the role of women in achieving innovative solutions to global disarmament initiatives.

The representative of Qatar reaffirmed calls for a global ceasefire as part of efforts to address the COVID‑19 pandemic.  She rejected the use of chemical weapons in Syria, stressing that the use of toxic materials in conflict is a war crime and that Qatar remains committed to stability in the Middle East.  Turning to cybersecurity, she said Qatari news agencies had suffered from hacking attacks in recent years that have served to escalate conflict in the region.

The representative of Lesotho, associating himself with the African Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, said that it is most disheartening that terrorist groups and other non‑State actors have carried out massacres and wreaked immense destruction not with their bare hands, but with weapons that they did not manufacture.  How these weapons end up in their hands is a topic not often discussed.  “It is time to critically address that matter if we are to make progress in the disarmament field,” he said, describing the merciless killing of innocent people in conflict‑ridden areas as a stark reminder of the need to act collectively to ensure a safe, secure and free world.  He also called for greater international cooperation to implement the Programme of Action on Small Arms, including through predictable funding.

The representative of South Africa, associating himself with the African Group, Non‑Aligned Movement and New Agenda Coalition, said greater efforts are needed to achieve equal, full and effective participation of women in all decision‑making processes related to disarmament.  Noting that global military expenditure is growing at an alarming rate, he said advancing peace and prosperity will prove a better investment.  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme remains one of most important diplomatic achievements in the area of nuclear non‑proliferation since the signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty, he stated, expressing regret over the withdrawal of the United States and reimposition of sanctions against Tehran.

The representative of Haiti said her country is facing a rapid influx in illicit weapons used by gangs to terrorize civilians.  Further, drug traffickers are exploiting structural weaknesses within the national police force to transform swaths of the country into lawless zones.  Illegal weapons have been introduced via sea and land borders, she said, adding that the Government is revitalizing disarmament initiatives in the capital.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said, in response to unsubstantiated anti‑Russian claims made by several Western delegations, that Moscow does not want to see OPCW become a puppet in the hands of certain States that seek to use it to punish those whom they do not like.

The representative of Azerbaijan said, replying to groundless arguments made by her counterpart from Armenia, that national armed forces are fully capable of repulsing aggression on its own.  The sooner that Armenia withdraws from Nagorno‑Karabakh, the earlier the conflict will be resolved.

The representative of Turkey, refuting allegations made by Armenia’s representative, said that Azerbaijan has a right to self‑defence.  Allegations of Turkish involvement are baseless and part of a disinformation campaign that seeks to portray Armenia as the victim while it continues its illegal occupation.

The representative of Iran categorically rejected the allegations made by his counterpart from Saudi Arabia, adding that Tehran cooperates with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  He also called for a halt to nuclear assistance to Saudi Arabia.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, responding to Australia’s delegate, said that no one can dispute a sovereign State’s right to self‑defence.  Dialogue between his country and the United States is unnecessary so long as there is no significant shift in the latter’s position.

The representative of the United States said China is engaging in a rapid nuclear and missile build‑up while refusing to join talks that could prevent a three-way arms race.  Trilateral talks would address the question of arsenals and establish trust.

The representative of Saudi Arabia said the international community must take a serious stand vis‑à‑vis Iran and its “long evil reach” in the region.  Despite Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reach out to Iran in the spirit of good neighbourliness for more than 40 years, Tehran has failed to respect international norms.

The representative of China said the United States delegate’s remarks were full of ideological bias.  China’s widely recognized contributions to global security and disarmament cannot be covered up by lies.  The United States and the Russian Federation account for 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons, making it unreasonable to expect China to join trilateral talks.

The representative of Iran, in a second intervention, said that Tehran’s nuclear activities are transparent for the IAEA and the international community.  He added that Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for atrocities in Yemen, where a humanitarian crisis has been allowed to continue.

The representative of Germany renewed his country’s request for the Russian Federation to shed light on the poisoning of Mr. Navalny with a military‑grade nerve agent.  Quoting Bob Marley, he said that “you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time”.

The representative of the Russian Federation, taking the floor for a second time, said investigating the Navalny case cannot begin in without evidence, requiring Germany’s cooperation.  It is wrong for the United States to suggest that all arms control problems stem from China’s refusal to join talks.  Such United States nuclear allies as France and the United Kingdom should be involved in talks, as their arsenals are bigger than China’s.

The representative of Saudi Arabia, taking the floor for a second time, said Iran wants to destabilize Yemen.  In addition, Riyadh is confronting terrorism in Yemen at the request of that country’s Government.

The representative of Germany, in a second intervention, said Russian doctors in a Russian hospital took life‑saving measures on Mr. Navalny, a Russian national, on Russian soil.  As such, all evidence for a criminal investigation must be at Moscow’s disposal, he said, renewing a plea for Moscow to engage in a serious investigation.

The representative of the United States, making a second intervention, said it is fully complying with the New START Treaty and has conveyed to Moscow proposals for a new path forward.  Dismantling the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces Treaty as a result of Russian violations does not mean the United States is walking away from arms control efforts.

The representative of China, taking the floor for a second time, said the United States has consistently walked away from international obligations and lowers the threshold for using nuclear weapons.  For its part, China adopts a constrained approach to the development of nuclear weapons and maintains its capabilities at the minimum level for its security.

 Also delivering statements today during the general debate were representatives of Ecuador, Austria, Spain, Algeria, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, Bahamas, Fiji, Colombia, Kuwait, Belarus, Libya, Australia, Namibia and Nigeria.

Source: United Nations

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