By Santo D. Banerjee
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – Six days after the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years – opened for signature on September 20, the General Assembly held a high-level meeting to commemorate the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
Ministers and representatives of 46 Member States, delegations, the United Nations system and civil society took the floor on September 26 against a backdrop of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, stressing the urgent need for firm political will to advance towards the total elimination of all nuclear weapons by taking to an inclusive, step-by-step approach.
Turning to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), several speakers appealed for the remaining Annex II countries that had yet to sign or ratify that instrument to do so. Delegates from the Middle East, noting that Israel was not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, expressed frustration that a nuclear-weapon-free zone had yet to be established in the region.
The General Assembly declared the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in December 2013, in resolution A/RES/68/32 as a follow-up to the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on nuclear disarmament on September 26, 2013.
The resolution, among other things, calls for the "urgent commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament for the early conclusion of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer and use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction."
The resolution declares September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons devoted to furthering the objective of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, including through enhancing public awareness and education about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons and the necessity for their total elimination, in order to mobilize international efforts towards achieving the common goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world and furthermore "decides to convene, no later than 2018, a United Nations high-level international conference on nuclear disarmament to review the progress made in this regard."
According to Unfold Zero, the UN has previously held high-level meetings on nuclear disarmament, but these were not much more than talk-shops. "In contrast, the 2018 event will be the first time the UN General Assembly has held a high level conference on nuclear disarmament. Such an event carries with it the expectation of deliberations to reach an agreement or agreements on concrete nuclear disarmament measures."
Unfold Zero adds: The 2018 UN Conference, and its preparatory process, provide a unique opportunity for civil society and like-minded governments to elevate the issue of nuclear disarmament globally and build political pressure on the nuclear-reliant States to agree to specific nuclear disarmament proposals.
Recalling that nuclear disarmament had been a principled objective of the United Nations from the very first Assembly resolution in 1946 to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Secretary‑General António Guterres said: "The only world that is safe from the use of nuclear weapons is a world that is completely free of nuclear weapons."
In opening remarks, he noted, however, that the universally held goal of disarmament had been challenged of late, including by a series of provocative nuclear and missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Unequivocally condemning Pyongyang’s actions, he welcomed the Security Council’s firm response and its desire for a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution.
Guterres emphasized significant steps by the nuclear-weapon States – especially the Russian Federation and the United States – to cut back their arsenals. However, subsequent expensive modernization campaigns and the absence of planned arsenal reductions made it hard to see how disarmament could move forward, he said.
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia) described the Treaty as a sign of determination. Pledging to do everything possible during his term in office to realize the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world, he said discussions that had led to that instrument’s adoption should continue to ensure that all the differing views of Member States were properly addressed.
"Thousands of nuclear warheads continue to exist. They are being stored across three different continents. In fact, more than half of the world’s population lives in countries which have nuclear capabilities, or are member of nuclear alliances," the General Assembly President said.
He added: "The effects of nuclear weapons are almost unimaginable. I say 'almost', because, unfortunately, some people have experienced them. We have seen the photographs of the destruction. We have heard the testimonies of survivors. We have been told about the long-term irreparable damage to people, and the environment around them."
In the ensuing debate, speakers underlined the humanitarian and environmental consequences of an accidental or deliberate detonation of nuclear weapons, with some highlighting how money spent on producing, maintaining and modernizing them could be better invested in sustainable development.
Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Jorge Arreaza, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, urged Member States to support convening an international high-level meeting and a conference on nuclear disarmament at the United Nations no later than 2018. Emphasizing the need for a new comprehensive and systematic approach to disarmament, he said: "As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of proliferation exists." Because any use of nuclear weapons was a crime against humanity, he said, their total and absolute elimination must be achieved.
The Non-Aligned Movement, since its creation, had stood at the forefront of nuclear disarmament, he said, underlining its strong condemnation of the development of nuclear weapons programmes. In making efforts to stop their spread, he reaffirmed support for using multilateral diplomacy in the negotiations to reach disarmament and non-proliferation goals.
India's Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated his country’s commitment to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. "There is a need for a meaningful dialogue among all States possessing nuclear weapons to build trust and confidence" and to reduce the salience of such weapons in international affairs and security doctrines, he said.
The Conference on Disarmament was the only appropriate platform for such negotiations, he said. India stood ready to commence talks within that body aimed at developing a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention along the lines of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. India also supported beginning talks on a fissile material cut-off treaty.
Noting that increasing restraints on the use of nuclear weapons would reduce the probability of their use — whether deliberate, unintentional or accidental — he pointed out that India’s resolutions in the First Committee (which deals with disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace that affect the international community and seeks out solutions to the challenges in the international security regime) had received broad support among Member States.
Khalil Hashmi, Director General (Disarmament) in Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said global efforts to regulate, reduce and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons were facing serious challenges. Lack of progress among nuclear-weapon States had negatively impacted global disarmament efforts, eroding international consensus on related issues, as evidenced by the failure of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament.
Pakistan was fully committed to disarmament, he said, emphasizing that progress could be achieved by applying genuine political will. Asking the DPRK to fully comply with all Security Council resolutions and to abandon its nuclear programme, he said, recent nuclear tests underscored a global need to restrain all such activities. Regretting to note the failure, despite his country's efforts, to create a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the region, he called for additional non-proliferation criteria and the CTBT's accelerated entry into force.
Kairat Umarov, Kazakhstan's Permanent Representative to the UN, said that in an interdependent and connected world, nuclear weapons were no longer an asset, but a danger. As a country that had closed its [Semipalatinsk] nuclear test site and renounced its arsenal, Kazakhstan was deeply concerned about testing activities conducted by the DPRK's, the only country in the 21st century to carry out such trials despite international condemnation. Such activities should compel States to ensure the entry into force of the Test-Ban Treaty, he said, calling on the Annex 2 States to ratify that instrument without further delay.
Of the 44 States included in Annex 2 required for entry into force of the CTBT, all have signed with the exceptions of the DPRK, India, and Pakistan. Five of the 44 Annex 2 States have signed but not ratified the CTBT; they are China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States.
Ambassador Umarov said, Kazakhstan intended to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. He highlighted the opening in August in Astana of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) low-enriched uranium bank that would ensure the safe supply of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes.
At its opening ceremonies, the President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan had underscored the harmful consequences of nuclear weapons for humanity, the Kazakh Permanent Representative said. Of the thousands of existing nuclear weapons, 0.5 per cent would devastate the climate and cause a global famine. That, in other words, meant self-destruction, he said.
Numerous delegates condemned the DPRK for violating international law and ignoring Security Council resolutions in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Many appealed for dialogue and a diplomatic solution, and for all sides to refrain from rhetoric that might inflame the situation.
Recalling that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in1945 had claimed millions of lives and caused incomparable human suffering, Ambassador Koro Bessho, Japan's Permanent Representative to the UN, said the DPRK's nuclear tests now posed the most grave and imminent threat to international security. They also presented a challenge to the disarmament and non-proliferation regime. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should abide by all relevant Security Council resolutions and abandon its missile and nuclear weapons development immediately, he said.
For its part, he added, Japan had established an international group of experts to provide recommendations for effective nuclear disarmament, to be presented at the 2020 Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference. With that in mind, Japan intended to present a draft resolution to the First Committee proposing practical and concrete measures to promote nuclear disarmament. Japan would also continue to serve as a bridge between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States in building confidence and work towards the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Asserting that the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons had been developed in haste, Vladimir K. Safronkov, Russia's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, said nuclear-weapon States had had good reasons for not attending the recent conference. The instrument ignored the existing reality and the opinion of nuclear-weapon States, he said, noting that it should have been adopted by consensus instead of through a vote. The focus now should be on creating a favourable atmosphere for progress towards disarmament on the principle of equal, indivisible security for all States without exception.
Raising another concern, he voiced regret over recent attempts to torpedo the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme, stressing that all parties should continue to implement the agreement in good faith. The same approach must be taken with regard to the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the cause of which was not only Pyongyang’s possession of nuclear weapons, but the absence of an overall security mechanism for the region as a whole, he said.
- Javad Zarif, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, cited a range of alarming trends, including that a nuclear-weapon State had recently announced intentions to strengthen and expand its nuclear arsenal to ensure its place "at the top of the pack". That was a clear indication of, and an explicit invitation to, the start of a new arms race, he said, pointing out other concerns, including ongoing efforts by almost all nuclear-weapon possessors to modernize their arsenals, and one nuclear-weapon State’s development of "mini-nukes".
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would reinforce the disarmament regime, he said, emphasizing that non-nuclear-weapon States would not remain indifferent towards nuclear-weapon States who failed to comply with their explicit disarmament obligations. Noting that Iran was a long-standing member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he said every effort must be made to ensure that instrument’s universalization. Only one country in the area was not party to that Treaty, namely Israel, which had continued to threaten the region and beyond.
Reiterating his country’s commitment to a nuclear-weapon-free world, Sun Lei, Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of China to the UN, pointed out the current uphill battle in the areas of disarmament and non-proliferation. Nuclear weapons were like the sword of Damocles hanging over the world and it was imperative to ban them.
Calling on all sides to embrace a security vision that included cooperation and the promotion of the peaceful use of nuclear energy, he said China’s nuclear strategy was based on the principle of self-defence while respecting a moratorium on testing and a no-first-use commitment.
China’s principled position was in line with the purposes of a prohibition treaty, but disarmament efforts must not diminish the security of States. Rather, disarmament must proceed in a step-by-step manner through existing disarmament and non-proliferation mechanisms to ensure the participation of all countries. Going forward, China would promote disarmament that was carried out in a rational, pragmatic and orderly fashion, he said.
Germany’s representative, underscoring his country’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), said disarmament efforts could only succeed if they took the prevailing security environment into account. With like-minded partners, Germany advocated a step-by-step approach, with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the core of an effort that would include a fresh nuclear arms control agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States, which together controlled 90 per cent of the world’s estimated 15,000 nuclear weapons.
Jerry Matthews Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the UN, said his country had voluntarily dismantled its nuclear weapons programme. There were "no safe hands" when it came to weapons of mass destruction. He expressed deep concern about the catastrophic consequences of detonating atomic bombs, a point highlighted in three international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
Carl Greenidge, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guyana, noting that his country was the first Member State to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, said those arms provided a false sense of security to States possessing them while simultaneously provoking fear and anxiety at the prospect of their use.
Emphasizing the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, he said their continued existence was an affront to development. Money spent to produce, maintain and modernize nuclear weapons could be better directed towards sustainable development, he said.
Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, said today’s high-level meeting offered a reminder of commitments made to eliminate nuclear weapons and a platform for leaders to amplify their political support for a nuclear-weapon-free world. Disarmament initiatives must be a primary catalyst to finally rid the world of nuclear weapons, he said, calling on States possessing them to reduce the role such arms played in their security doctrines. Nuclear disarmament discussions must keep humanitarian considerations at the forefront, he said, emphasizing the significance of efforts towards the entry into force of relevant instruments.
Mohamed Asim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives, said that as the world had seen an increase in the development of dangerous weapons and growing risks of nuclear bomb detonation, whether accidental or intentional, and of terrorist groups acquiring those arms, both nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States should collaborate to stop proliferation and testing, and work towards their total elimination. The DPRK had violated international law, he said, calling on the international community to find a lasting solution to that issue. Underlining the importance of engagement in disarmament efforts, he pointed at recent drives to sign and ratify relevant instruments with that goal in mind.
Egypt's Bassem Hassan said eliminating nuclear weapons hinged on nuclear Powers implementing their obligations to Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and leading efforts to achieve universal adherence to that instrument. Honest, inclusive discussions must be held on the validity of "construed conceptions" of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Current challenges stemmed from the existence of those weapons and a discriminatory nature of the non-proliferation regime.
"It is quite elusive to address non-proliferation while disregarding disarmament," he said, adding that non-nuclear-weapon States had grown impatient over the need to address gaps in the prevailing regime. Noting that Egypt was carrying out its Non‑Proliferation Treaty obligations, he said Arab countries in the Middle East were frustrated by repeated failures to establish a regional nuclear-weapon-free zone. He expressed disappointment over the decision to block consensus on the final document of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference. [IDN-InDepthNews – 1 October 2017]
Photo: Miroslav Lajčák (right), President of the 72nd session of the General Assembly, opens the high-level plenary meeting commemorating and promoting the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Secretary-General António Guterres is on the left. 26 September 2017. United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate