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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT HEARS STATEMENTS ON THE UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL’S DISARMAMENT AGENDA “SECURING OUR COMMON FUTURE”

7 August 2018

The Conference on Disarmament this morning held the first public plenary meeting of the third and last part of its 2018 session, hearing from Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, and listening to statements on the United Nations Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, Securing our Common Future, as well as other issues.

Walid Doudech, Permanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that the Conference would discuss the Disarmament Agenda that the United Nations Secretary-General had presented on 24 May 2018 in Geneva.  This was a good opportunity for Member States to expand and enrich the debate, look for ways and means to address the issues on the agenda of the Conference, and have a dialogue in order to reach agreement on a programme of work. 

Mr. Møller said in his introductory remarks that the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament aimed to reinvigorate dialogue, stimulate new ideas and create new momentum.  It focused on practical measures aimed at integrating disarmament into the priorities of the whole United Nations system, laying the foundation for new partnerships and greater collaboration.  The implementation plan for the Agenda, which would lay out specific steps and activities to be undertaken, would be released in September, and also serve as a basis for monitoring the progress.  

Speaking in the discussion today were representatives of Pakistan, Chile, Ecuador, United Kingdom, Austria on behalf of the European Union, China, Morocco, New Zealand, Turkey, Argentina, Belgium, United States, Egypt, India, Switzerland, Japan, Russia, Brazil, Republic of Korea, Austria, Syria, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The third and last part of the Conference on Disarmament’s 2018 session, which started on 30 July, will conclude on 14 September.


The Conference on Disarmament will hold its next public plenary meeting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 August.


Opening Remarks by the President of the Conference

WALID DOUDECH, Permanent Representative of Tunisia to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, said that the Conference would discuss the Disarmament Agenda that the United Nations Secretary-General had presented on 24 May 2018 in Geneva.  This was a good opportunity for Member States to expand and enrich the debate, look for ways and means to address the issues on the agenda of the Conference, and have a dialogue in order to reach agreement on a programme of work. 

Opening Remarks by the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

MICHAEL MØLLER, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, and Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference on Disarmament, recalled that “Securing our common future”, the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, contained three priorities: disarmament to save humanity, disarmament that saved lives, and disarmament for future generations.  The Secretary-General had specifically underlined the importance of partnerships and had called for the reinvigoration of the principal multilateral forums - the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission.  His Agenda, said the Director-General, aimed to be comprehensive but not exhaustive; it proposed solutions and raised questions; and was not intended to replace responsibilities of Member States, nor to impose any specific measures on them.  It aimed to reinvigorate dialogue, stimulate new ideas and create new momentum, and it was therefore very timely that the Conference on Disarmament engaged in this important dialogue, noted Mr. Møller. 

The Agenda was not simply a food for thought paper; it made suggestions for concrete actions linked to the broader international agenda - particularly the Sustainable Development Goals, “our global roadmap for action”.  They focused on practical measures and aimed at integrating disarmament into the priorities of the whole United Nations system, laying the foundation for new partnerships and greater collaboration.  The implementation plan for the Agenda, which would lay out specific steps and activities to be undertaken, would be released in September, and would also serve as a basis for monitoring progress.  Stressing the critical importance of engaging with civil society, Mr. Møller welcomed initiatives aimed at building stronger partnership across disciplines and institutions, noting as an example the “Geneva Dialogues”, where the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research teamed up with other non-United Nations disarmament platforms in Geneva to organize dialogues on the Agenda itself, and to contribute to shaping how the actions in the Agenda were taken forward.  The forthcoming sessions would take place on 15 August on “Disarmament that saves lives”; 29 August on “Disarmament for future generations”; and 5 September on “Strengthening partnerships for disarmament”. 

Mr. Møller commended the President of the Conference for his personal commitment to broadening and deepening the dialogue between the Conference and with civil society, and announced the holding on 17 August of the Third Civil Society Forum, a dialogue between the Conference on Disarmament and civil society hosted by the Director-General.  It would be an opportunity for exchanges on scientific advancements, technological developments and disarmament, with a particular focus on the convergence of the Sustainable Development Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure; Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions; and Sustainable Development Goal 17 on partnerships.  The dialogue would also be an important additional venue to continue the discussions on the Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda and inform implementation efforts, said Mr. Møller, noting that he was “looking forward to a lively discussion on some of these cutting-edge issues that are squarely in front of this august assembly”.  Regarding the Conference on Disarmament, as the Secretary-General had underlined, reinvigorating it required “improved coordination, an end to duplication, better use of expertise, and above all, the political courage to shift positions”.  The Secretary-General had committed to work with Member States and investigate possible ways to achieve this, said the Director-General, and concluded by reiterating support to the Conference as it moved forward on all crucial issues that urgently required its attention.
 
Statements

Pakistan shared the Secretary-General’s hope that his Agenda for Disarmament would reinvigorate dialogue and negotiations on international disarmament, stimulate new ideas and create a new momentum, and was pleased that the highest priority was attached to the disarmament of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as to the “over-accumulation of all other types of arms”, and the need to “prevent the weaponization of new technologies”.  Pakistan stressed the importance of the total elimination of nuclear weapons within a re-energized collective security system, and emphasised that the key motives that drove States like Pakistan to possess nuclear weapons must be recognized and addressed: threats from larger military forces, both nuclear and conventional, and from new types of destabilizing weapon systems; the existence of disputes with more powerful States; and discrimination in the application of international laws and norms, including the failure of the United Nations collective security system to guarantee the peaceful coexistence of all States.  Those motivations, said Pakistan, were different from those States that retained nuclear weapons as a matter of prestige, either to maintain or to attain the status of a global power. 

Any arms control, non-proliferation or disarmament treaty that diminished the security of any State would be a non-starter, as evidenced by the failure to kick off the negotiations on a treaty cutting off the production of fissile material.  Real progress on disarmament could only be achieved by addressing the security concerns of all States, while it was imperative to reconsider the negative effects generated by misguided policies of discrimination and double standards driven by strategic commercial considerations.  Noting that the threat to regional and international peace and security, and the mistrust between States, were on the rise, Pakistan urged the Secretary-General to call upon Member States to, inter alia, prevent the emergence of new domains of strategic competition and conflict; ensure the security and sustainability of outer space activities; rein in the new types of destabilizing strategic weapons; address the excessive accumulation and illicit trade in conventional arms; rethink unconstrained military spending; and prevent malicious activity in cyberspace.  “Ultimately, the responsibility for taking cognizance of all these urgent and important issue falls upon us, the Member States.  The Secretary-General can only help us in pointing risks and challenges, and make us aware of the grave consequences associated with them.  We have to take charge of addressing these matters ourselves,” concluded Pakistan.

Chile shared the frustration of many at the continued stalemate that the Conference on Disarmament continued to experience, and was “prudently optimistic” about the adoption of the decision CD/2119 earlier this year which had created subsidiary bodies.  Chile did not believe that the work of those bodies replaced the obligations of the Conference to agree on a programme of work with a negotiating mandate, but appreciated the symbolic value of a step in the right direction and harboured the hope that this mechanism would contribute, through its discussions, to the achievement of a necessary basic agreement which would allow to build confidence and progress towards total and complete disarmament.  Chile was concerned about the status of the main items on the Conference’s standing agenda, and lamented that the only way to negotiate an international nuclear weapons ban treaty was to do so outside of this body.  This regrettable situation had been caused by a lack of will of a small number of countries that continued to deny the increasingly irrefutable evidence that there were no lawful weapons of mass destruction and that no country or organization would be able to cope with humanitarian consequence of such weapons.  That was why Chile had taken an active role in the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which it hoped would come into force in the near future. 

Another issue of concern was the lack of agreement on negative security assurances which were a vital step in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons on a path to their total elimination, while the continued high levels of alert maintained by key nuclear powers considerably increased the risk of the use of nuclear weapons, with catastrophic and irreversible consequences for the people and the planet.  Chile valued and shared the priorities that the Secretary-General had outlined in his new Agenda for Disarmament, which was broad-ranging and holistic.  Chile underscored the humanist approach needed to realign the international security priorities, recalling that in 2017, the global military expenditure was 80 times higher than global expenditure on humanitarian aid, whilst efforts to eradicate poverty and make progress on education, health, and the fight against climate change faced the shortage of resources.  The Agenda for Disarmament brought back the focus on individuals’ humanity and future generations; in order to tackle today’s challenges, disarmament, security and sustainable development must be addressed holistically and through collective action at all levels.  This action was vital for the fulfilment of the commitments under the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, which would not be achieved without a steadfast commitment of all countries and effective cooperation though existing international mechanisms.

Ecuador was aware of the difficulties faced by the Conference on Disarmament to adopt a programme of work in recent years, negotiate substantive issues, and to find political will and a common ground.  Ecuador commended every effort of the Secretary-General in the area of disarmament, including his new agenda, and fully agreed with his evaluation about the delicate situation in the world which required new and innovative solutions. The existence of the weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, continued to be the greatest threat, with potentially devastating effects for the planet.  With this in mind, Ecuador welcomed the deployment of the Secretary-General’s personal efforts and the greater involvement of the United Nations bodies in disarmament, and supported the strategies which strove to find various mechanisms for confidence-building and risk reduction, consolidate the principle of the non-use of nuclear weapons, strengthen the nuclear weapons free zones, and to improve technical standards for nuclear weapons verification. 

Those were not new strategies, said Ecuador, and stressed that they had to complement the efforts to negotiate a legally binding treaty for the elimination of nuclear weapons, for which the political will of all States – and in particular the nuclear weapons States – was needed.  The second pillar of the Agenda referred to the need to reduce the number of conventional weapons in the world, which caused the largest number of civilian casualties, and stressed the obligation of suppliers of such weapons to do more to prevent the catastrophes that the world was currently witnessing.  The control of the flow of small weapons should be better funded to prevent their falling into the wrong hands, and there should be international standards to stop the sale of such weapons to non-State actors and to actors committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The weapons-producing countries should be bound by those standards, stressed Ecuador.  It was also important to further the understanding of new technologies and develop strategies to deal with new challenges that they posed.

United Kingdom reiterated the commitment to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons and said that, as a Nuclear Weapon State under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the United Kingdom would retain an independent nuclear deterrent for as long as the global security situation demanded.  However, the United Kingdom retained only the minimum nuclear forces necessary to deter any aggressor and had cut its nuclear stockpiles by over half since their peak in the late 1970s.  An assurance has been given that the United Kingdom would not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against any Non-Nuclear Weapons State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons which complied under its obligations under this Treaty, while by ratifying protocols to the relevant treaties establishing nuclear-weapons-free-zones, the United Kingdom had made legally binding assurances to States in Africa, South and Central America, the South Pacific, and Central Asia.

The actions taken at a national level were an important signal of the commitment to disarmament, said the United Kingdom, but it was clear that the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons could only be achieved through a multilateral process.  As the Conference on Disarmament and the Non-Proliferation Treaty remained the cornerstones of that process, the United Kingdom would continue to play an active role in the step-by-step process of multilateral disarmament, including promoting the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.  Nuclear disarmament, however, could not be discussed in a vacuum, and all States had a responsibility to comply with their international commitments, whether on nuclear, chemical, biological or conventional weapons, and to support the rules-based international system.  All Member States of the Conference on Disarmament had subscribed to the objective of general and complete disarmament under effective international control; in this process, the essential security interests of all States must be respected and that was why the Conference worked by consensus.  Making progress towards that goal required courage and imagination to bridge the divides that existed, concluded the United Kingdom.

Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that in his new Disarmament Agenda, the United Nations Secretary-General encouraged the Conference on Disarmament to live up to its potential as the world’s single multilateral disarmament negotiating body and stressed that the ongoing substantive discussions in the five subsidiary bodies should lead to concrete and much-needed outcomes.  The European Union shared the Secretary-General’s concern over the current security environment and concurred that dialogue, transparency and confidence-building measures and disarmament education were necessary.  The European Union believed that the continued non-compliance by some States with their non-proliferation obligations was a source of concern, and there was a need for accountability and ending impunity for such violations.  Strongly condemning the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, the European Union warmly welcomed the decision of the Special Session of the Conference of States parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention on addressing the threat posed by the increasing use of chemical weapons by reinforcing international verification and attribution capacities and looked forward to the implementation of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons attribution arrangements on Syria.  In the same vein, the European Union strongly supported the Secretary-General’s Mechanism for investigation of alleged use of chemical and biological weapons and looked forward to his proposal to develop a stronger international capacity.

The European Union had repeatedly stressed the need for concrete progress towards the full implementation of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with the ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons; continued to actively promote universalisation and prompt entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and advocate immediate negotiations in this Conference on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty; and supported international efforts on nuclear disarmament verification and the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.  Also, the European Union supported efforts towards the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and underlined the importance of maintaining pressure through sanctions, while keeping channels of communication open, and continued to encourage the two nuclear weapon States with the largest arsenals to extend the new START treaty.  With regard to activities in outer space and in cyber space, the European Union supported the implementation of the consensus recommendations of the United Nations Group of Government Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities, which had concluded, inter alia, that voluntary political measures could form the basis for the consideration of concepts and proposals for legally binding obligations. 

The European Union welcomed the outcome of the Review Conference of the United Nations programme of work against illicit small arms and light weapons in June 2018 in New York, and highlighting its importance for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a dedicated funding facility to support small arms and light weapons control, and also stressed the need to step up national, regional and international efforts against illicit small arms and light weapons which fuelled terrorism and organized crime, triggered conflict and hampered development in many parts of the world.  The European Union was finalizing the review of its 2005 small arms and light weapons strategy which would cover illicit manufacture and diversion of firearms, small arms, light weapons and their ammunitions, with the focus of joint efforts on prevention and reduction of illicit small arms and ammunitions trafficking, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal 16.4.  The European Union remained a storing and reliable partner of the United Nations, which would contribute to the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament in line with its priorities.

China welcomed the discussion on the Secretary-General’s new disarmament agenda which China believed would help build consensus among all delegations and would bring fresh vigour to the work of the Conference.  Improvements on the international security scene during the last century had helped move forward the process of arms control and disarmament, which in turn contributed to international peace and stability.  Advancing disarmament was one of the major goals for which the United Nations had been created, recalled China, noting that the current global security situation was fraught with complicated challenges.  Major powers were experiencing greater tension in their relations, while competition for geopolitical gains was heating up against the backdrop of mounting regional conflicts.  Inadequate or non-existent rules in outer space and cyber space were causing greater concerns.  Those events had thrown into sharper focus the importance of the international disarmament process.  Against this background, the Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda had a positive significance in many respects, and had brought disarmament back to the centre of the United Nations’ efforts.  It was an agenda firmly oriented towards peace and development, in line with the “people first” concept, and had listed opportunities and challenges for arms control in such a shifting international environment.  This systematic and comprehensive document must be analysed in depth by each delegation, stressed China, and then offered its preliminary reactions.
 
A world free of nuclear weapons remained an aspiration of the international community; this complex goal could not be achieved overnight.  The Agenda’s action plan on nuclear disarmament was guided by a gradual approach, stressing the importance of nuclear weapons free zones and reducing risks, an approach that China valued.  Concerned about a major power’s efforts to go ahead with creating a space force, China said that the negotiations to conclude a legal instrument to prevent the weaponization of and an arms race in outer space were of utmost priority.  In the context of conventional weapons, China expressed appreciation for the concept of saving lives and relevant measures contained in the Secretary-General’s agenda, and reiterated the importance of conventional arms control, and resolving the humanitarian concerns caused by illicit transfer and misuse of conventional weapons.  This required addressing the root causes and manifestations of the problems, resolving disputes through diplomatic means, upholding the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, and refraining from transferring weapons to countries and regions in turmoil and non-State entities. 

The Secretary-General’s Agenda contained constructive suggestions such as dialogue among all States on new weapon technologies, the formulation of norms for responsible behaviour in cyberspace, and good offices to prevent conflicts in cyberspace, and those suggestions should be fully recognized.  It was necessary to keep up with the time and discuss the expansion of the Conference’s membership to reduce politicization and reinvigorate it.  As a personal initiative from the Secretary-General, continued China, the Agenda for Disarmament naturally did not tally with the views and suggestions of States, but it showed the great importance that the Secretary-General attached to disarmament.  The international community should seize this opportunity to push for the early convening of the Fourth Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly devoted to disarmament, and work out a new blueprint for the cause of disarmament in the new century.

Morocco informed the Conference on Disarmament of the sixteenth Regional Meeting of the national authorities of States parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention which had taken place from 19 to 21 June 2018 in Marrakech.  The meeting had focused on the national implementation of the Convention and consolidating the coordination between governmental services in charge of its implementation, and it had ended in a number of recommendations, including on strengthening the cooperation between national authorities and customs services for an effective trans-border control of toxic chemical weapons, and the establishment of a regional training centre, training of first responders to chemical incidents and developing a training guide for the training centres.  For African States, stressed Morocco, the priorities were the effective assistance and protection from chemical weapons, at national and regional levels.  As the African Group coordinator, Morocco underlined the critical importance of the regional approach taken by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was an important asset to entrench the principle of universality of the Convention, and an important tool to be in closer touch with reality, identify the challenges facing States parties and help them to identify their needs in terms of assistance and cooperation, which were specific to each region and sub regions.

New Zealand thanked the President for a very constructive suggestion for the Conference on Disarmament to hold a debate on the Agenda for Disarmament, which the Secretary-General had launched recently in Geneva.  New Zealand shared the Secretary-General’s view that the new reality of the dangerous times in which we lived required “disarmament and non-proliferation to be put at the centre of the work of the United Nations”.  It was the view of New Zealand that each United Nations Member State had the moral, if not legal, responsibility to move forward with strengthening the rules that gave protection to civilians in situations of conflict became all the more urgent during times, as at present, of heightened danger.  Noting that in his Agenda the Secretary-General had decided to address the international humanitarian law-related implications of weapons of mass destruction and all the humanitarian consequences underlying them as a rather abstract comment in part I, New Zealand emphasised that, as for so many members of the international community, a key factor in the abhorrence and rejection of all three weapons of mass destruction was anchored in the view that their use was incompatible with the fundamental precepts of international humanitarian law. 

The Agenda for Disarmament included eight action points on nuclear disarmament, in which the Secretary-General had made the case for renewed dialogue to help Member States “return to a common vision and path leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons” and appealed for the preservation of the norm against the use of nuclear weapons and for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty finally to enter into force.  New Zealand strongly supported the Secretary-General’s objectives in this regard and fully shared his view that “it is in the interest of national, collective and human security, as well as the survival of humanity, that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances”.  New Zealand further endorsed the Secretary-General’s observations in his Agenda regarding chemical weapons, and welcomed his action point regarding the need for the United Nations Security Council to provide for attribution and accountability for the horrific use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic.  The Conference on Disarmament must take a lion’s share of responsibility for the decades of paralysis.  New Zealand did not see any basis for optimism that the decision the Conference had taken earlier this year to establish a number of subsidiary bodies would prove instrumental in enabling it to meet its mandate, any more than similar bodies had done so in previous years.  New Zealand echoed the Secretary-General’s wish that the Agenda for Disarmament would be able to serve as a catalyst for new ideas and new ways of working together, so that disarmament would be restored to the centre of the international community’s common efforts for peace and security.

Turkey recalled that in the second half of August, with the beginning of the Turkish Presidency, the Conference on Disarmament would work on the preparation and adoption of its annual report to the United Nations General Assembly.  As the sixth and last President of the Conference on Disarmament in 2018, Turkey expected to distribute the first draft of the annual report in the week starting on 20 August, and, with a view to producing a factual and balanced annual report, invited all interested Member States to hold informal consultations during which they could express their preliminary views.  Turkey thanked the Secretary-General for his Disarmament Agenda, which was important, critical and timely, and taken out of necessity, given the stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament and the slow pace in other disarmament fora.  In this vein, Turkey fully welcomed the putting of disarmament and non-proliferation efforts at the centre of the United Nations and assigning new roles to disarmament, such as maintaining peace and security, protecting civilians and promoting sustainable development.  Noting that of the 40 distinct actions in the Agenda, 16 had been assigned to United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and 10 to the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, Turkey stressed the importance of strengthening their institutional capacities to enable them to assume those important responsibilities.

Turkey urged more focus on weapons of mass destruction and new technologies in the Agenda’s implementation plan, supported efforts to strengthen the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention, and stressed that there was a vast space for public diplomacy in strengthening the norm against all kinds of weapons of mass destruction.  Maximum protection of civilians in all conflicts should be a priority for all, said Turkey, and urged that in various platforms, ways to strengthen international humanitarian law should be explored.  A grave concern was the use of armed unmanned aerial vehicles by terrorist organizations, said Turkey, which noted the exploring of common standards for the transfer, use and holding of drones.  The suggestions in the Secretary-General’s Agenda on tackling small arms and light weapons, maintenance of excessive stockpiles, promotion of regional dialogue and confidence building, were other strong points of the initiative. 

Argentina stressed that it was absolutely vital for the Conference on Disarmament to have a sustainable approach towards adopting a programme of work and avoiding stagnation which undermined the credibility of the Conference and its members.  The valuable work undertaken by the Way Ahead Working Group in 2017 had led to the establishment of the five subsidiary bodies this year, allowing for a more in-depth dialogue.  Argentina hoped that the reports by subsidiary bodies would help identify the common issues and thus be a solid argument for extending the mandate of the subsidiary bodies to the 2019 session.  The debate on some of the Conference’s traditional issues, such as fissile materials or the prevention of an arms race in outer space, had been tackled on a more technical level on other fora.  In this context, Argentina agreed with the Secretary-General who in his agenda had raised the need to improve coordination and synergy between the main disarmament bodies.  Resolution 71/259 establishing the high level preparatory group for the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty paved the way for this kind of exchange, as it required the Secretary-General to transmit the Group’s report to the Conference on Disarmament before its 2019 session.  The upcoming presidencies of the Conference should envisage holding a public debate on this, and other reports.

Belgium welcomed the Secretary-General’s will to breathe new life in the debate on disarmament, including by identifying a number of points for concrete action.  Belgium joined the appeal to all States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and so enable its entry into force and remarked that the irreversible and legally-binding end to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear testing programme could be rendered through the signature and the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty by this State.  Belgium also welcomed the Secretary-General’s support to the commencement and early conclusion of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty which was an indispensable step on the way towards a nuclear weapons free world. 

On the use of chemical weapons, Belgium welcomed the Secretary-General’s commitment to building new leadership and unity in restoring respect for the global norm against chemical weapons and his support for new and impartial mechanisms to identify perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic.  Belgium called for the swift implementation of the decision of the Fourth Special Session of the Conference of the States parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention that should lead to an operational attribution mechanism.  Belgium welcomed the Secretary-General’s announced actions to address armed violence and the diversion of weapons, stressed the importance of mainstreaming the fight against illicit small arms and light weapons and their ammunition in post-conflict and reconstruction operations, and called for the universalisation of the Arms Trade Treaty as an essential instrument to regulate the international trade in conventional arms.  Belgium welcomed the whole-of-system approach promoted by the Secretary-General on improvised explosive devices, and – also in the context of mine action - urged the Secretary-General to place victim assistance at the top of the United Nations mine action priorities.

United States noted that the United States had submitted a written response to the letter by China and Russia regarding the United States’ analysis on the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, and which would soon be circulated as a Conference on Disarmament document.  As for the outcomes of the July 16 Helsinki meeting between President Trump and Russian President Putin, the United States said that the aim had been to have a conversation about the United States-Russia relations, which were at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, and to explore Moscow’s willingness to address the very real issues that had led to this very place.  Better relations between those two countries was in the interest of the entire world, and the United States was clear-eyed about the challenges Russia presented to its national interests and those of its allies and partners.  No agreements had been reached in Helsinki, beyond for the two sides to keep talking on the entire range of issues that the Presidents had discussed.  As the two preponderant nuclear powers, the two States had a duty to manage their relationship responsibly, said the United States and added that another round of strategic stability talks would take place in the future.  President Putin had suggested a working group of academics and former officials from both countries to work on the political issues, and had reiterated interest in working groups on cyber and counterterrorism, on which the United States had not yet made a decision.  The Presidents had reviewed key international issues, including the situation in Syria, the concerns about Iranian activities in the region, denuclearization of “North Korea” and the situation in Ukraine. 

United Kingdom said that the decision of the Secretary-General to launch the Disarmament Agenda in Geneva was a recognition of the importance of Geneva in the disarmament world and its added value in being able to link the disarmament community to the humanitarian, human rights and development work that was taking place here.  The area ripest for the progress was part III of the Agenda titled “Disarmament that saves lives”, said the United Kingdom, which welcomed in particular the call for disarmament and arms control to be better integrated into the United Nations’ wider peace and security agenda, and agreed on the need to further study how arms control instruments could be best applied in the conflict cycle to prevent conflict or the return to conflict.  The United Kingdom welcomed the recognition that norms against chemical weapons use had been challenged in recent years by their repeated use – so far with impunity – in Syria, as well as in Malaysia and the United Kingdom, and strongly supported the commitment to building the capacity of the Secretary-General’s Investigative Mechanism into the alleged use of biological weapons.  The section dealing with nuclear issues appeared to offer no new ideas beyond the use of the Secretary-General’s good offices to explore new approaches and measures to reduce risks and build confidence.  “Unsurprisingly”, said the United Kingdom”, “we do not support the sections on the Ban Treaty, which will never become a multilateral norm and never constitute customary international law”.  On the issue of increased automation of weapons, the United Kingdom welcomed the Secretary-General’s insistence that humans must remain in control of the use of force at all times, and echoed the call for the equal, full and effective participation of women in disarmament processes. 

Egypt said that in the current security landscape, disarmament measures assumed an indispensable role in preventing the international community from drifting into a new arms race that could extend conflict into other domains such as in outer space.  It was unfortunate that the Conference on Disarmament had been stagnating for more than two decades, said Egypt, which fully shared the Secretary-General’s view that nuclear disarmament and the total elimination of nuclear weapons remained among the highest priorities for the United Nations.  The step-by-step approach essentially promoted by nuclear weapons States had failed to produce systematic and concrete results towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, Egypt said, stressing that the commencement and early conclusion of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty could significantly contribute to the goal of nuclear disarmament, provided that it encompassed within its scope the existing stocks of fissile materials.  By establishing a norm against nuclear weapons, non-nuclear weapons States had practically contributed to the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Agenda, by adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

Outer space must be preserved as a domain to be used solely for peaceful purposes, and any use of force in this fragile environment would likely bring lasting and devastating impacts, emphasised Egypt, which welcomed the readiness of the United Nations Secretariat to deepen engagement with Member States on the elaboration of effective measures to prevent an arms race in outer space.  Egypt welcomed the engagement of the United Nations with Member States to foster the practical implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures, with the understanding that there were no substitutes to legally binding instruments.  Egypt urged the Secretary-General to work with States in the Middle East to establish a zone free of nuclear and any other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of the resolutions adopted by the Review and Extension Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which remained valid until fully implemented.

India was pleased that the President had chosen to dedicate today’s plenary meeting to a discussion on the United Nations Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda, which was a timely and relevant initiative.  The Agenda was comprehensive, broad-ranging and balanced, addressing weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons, and India welcomed the Secretary-General’s willingness to work directly with Member States to facilitate dialogue among governments, including through the creation of informal platforms to explore new approaches and measures to reduce risks and build confidence.  “In a changing world, finding new forums and formats to discuss and move forward in disarmament will be as important as leveraging existing forums”, said India.  As a responsible State that possessed nuclear weapons, India had on several occasions reiterated the need for meaningful dialogue among all nuclear armed States to build trust and confidence and to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines.  There was also a need to bridge the growing divide on disarmament through dialogue and a renewed commitment to multilateralism, in line with the Secretary-General’s call that “all States, nuclear and non-nuclear, must work together to bridge the gulf that divides them”.  India also agreed with the Secretary-General when he had referred to the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty as the oldest outstanding priority on the nuclear disarmament agenda.

Switzerland said that the Secretary-General’s Agenda was a vital document, and that no other Secretary-General in the past had looked into the definition of disarmament in such a detailed way and explored how disarmament efforts contributed to achieving the United Nations goals.  A significant development was the role of disarmament in prevention, not only of conflicts waged using weapons of mass destruction but of regional or intra-State conflicts as well.  This preventive dimension was a part and parcel of the Secretary-General’s call to reflect on rapid science and technology development, and Switzerland welcomed the view of disarmament as an important measure to reduce the effects of conflict that could not be prevented, and as such played a vital role in civilian protection.  Disarmament activities played an important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, stressed Switzerland.  The Secretary-General’s Agenda dealt with disarmament in a holistic way and reminded of the importance and potential impact of disarmament activities for the realization of common goals shared by many States, and it was important for States to take full ownership of this document.  The Agenda had highlighted the importance of the Conference on Disarmament as the main multilateral forum for disarmament and the importance it had in surmounting the challenges identified in the Agenda.  Partnerships must be strengthened to make progress on disarmament, concluded Switzerland.

Japan welcomed the Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda and his trip to Nagasaki this week, a testament to his commitment to engage more actively in disarmament fora.  Japan appreciated the attempt to view disarmament in a comprehensive manner and said that Japan would continue to work hard with other stakeholders in the area of conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons.  In this vein, the Fourth Conference of States parties to the Arms Trade Treaty would start on 20 August in Tokyo.  Japan emphasised the importance of the role of young people in disarmament and recalled that it had been promoting, since 2013, an effort to transmit the realities of atomic bombings to future generations and foster youth’s critical thinking.  Japan wondered to what extent today’s discussion was relevant to the Conference on Disarmament, without talking about the Conference.  The Conference on Disarmament would require improved coordination, an end to duplication, and above all, political courage to shift positions.  Japan had actively participated in all sessions of the five subsidiary bodies and said that reasonable ambition and a certain level of formality should be sought as those bodies entered their final phase of agreeing on reports.

Russia recalled that any delegation – as well as the President - had the right to submit in a plenary session any issue concerning the work of the Conference on Disarmament, and wondered why delegations were never asked for their opinion on the President’s proposal to dedicate a plenary meeting to a discussion on the Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda.  Russia also recalled that, according to the practice, the introduction of any new initiative should be preceded by informal consultations, during which participants could freely share their thoughts that would be constrained in a public meeting, in which everyone spoke on record.  Russia further noted that there was a need to define what the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament was, noting that, since it had not been adopted by the General Assembly, it reflected the Secretary-General’s personal views on disarmament issues.  The Conference on Disarmament was not a part of the United Nations Secretariat, which would “immediately salute and start implementing the instructions of the Secretariat’s highest official”.  The discussion should had been on how the Secretary-General’s document should help the Conference on Disarmament to restore its efficiently.  Instead of dealing with its main priority - the development of a balanced programme of work – the Conference was “wasting its time on a scholastic exercise of a dubious practical application”.  Without relaunching the negotiations, the Conference on Disarmament would not be able to make a contribution to anything.

WALID DOUDECH, Permanent Representative of Tunisia and President of the Conference, responding to the comments made by Russia concerning the holding of this debate, said that he had not imposed the topic of the Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda, rather, he had proposed a debate, with a view to facilitating the work of the Conference and the adoption of a programme of work, which was the responsibility of the President.  The President further clarified that delegations were free to engage, or not, in this discussion, and added that each delegation also had an opportunity to express their views in informal consultations which the President had been carrying out since the beginning of his mandate.

Brazil said it had already hailed the United Nations Secretary-General’s Agenda as it provided a sober and comprehensive narrative on current and future challenges and opportunities, and a solid basis for responding to them.  It was a pivotal document to be considered in this body, said Brazil, as the Conference on Disarmament remained instrumental in moving the Secretary-General’s vision forward.  The Agenda could help provide the push and momentum to shift gears and further deepen the work already underway on the different agenda items, towards the return to negotiations.  It explicitly recognized that it was up to international, and particularly multilateral, action to shape and change international conditions, not the other way around, and it also stepped away from the artificial opposition proposed by some between the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and so helped frame the current discussion on nuclear disarmament on the real issues and threats posed by the existence of nuclear weapons.  The Agenda could be seen as a roadmap for the constellation of disarmament fora and institutions, from which the Conference on Disarmament could and should profit.

Republic of Korea would be able to share its concrete views on the Secretary-General’s Agenda later, when its implementation plan would be unveiled, and stressed that today’s exercise was timely and valuable, especially as the initiative served to reinvigorate stalled disarmament processes, in particular, this body’s two-decade stalemate.  The Republic of Korea appreciated the Secretary-General’s noble endeavours to facilitate dialogue among States, provide intellectual resources to the disarmament community and strengthen coordination within the United Nations, and hoped that all political, intellectual and administrative courses of action would contribute to enhancing trust and confidence.  His good offices and mediation based on impartiality and balanced views could prime a disarmament pump by creating conditions conductive to disarmament.  Disarmament could not take place in a vacuum but in the context of security, development and human rights as a whole, and the Republic of Korea welcomed the strong commitment to incorporate a gender perspective in the field of disarmament, as the equal and genuine participation of women in the work of disarmament would make a meaningful impact on disarmament itself.

Austria said that in times of heightened tensions, stepping up disarmament efforts became all the more important, adding that the Secretary-General’s personal commitment underlined the necessity of global disarmament for the benefit of global stability, as well as national and collective security.  Austria also welcomed the action oriented approach of the Agenda and hoped that the Conference on Disarmament could contribute to the implementation of the actions relevant to its own agenda.  Austria remained fully committed to effective multilateralism with the United Nations at its core, and efforts to enhance mutual trust and confidence, and noted that the multilateral system needed to keep pace with the evolution of the global environment.  To uphold the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime, everyone should engage in making it ready for the twenty-first century challenges and needs.  In terms of the Secretary-General’s Agenda, Austria outlined the three main areas of focus in which it would continue its substantive engagement, and outlining the unacceptable catastrophic humanitarian harm, stressed that the prohibition of nuclear weapons was a humanitarian imperative.  In this context, Austria welcomed the Secretary-General’s call on Member States to revitalize their pursuit of the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and his announcement to redouble his efforts to re-energize nuclear disarmament discussions.

Syria remarked that many States and regional groups were still considering the Secretary-General’s Agenda and developing a position on its many aspects and welcomed the renewed priority given to disarmament.  The Secretary-General’s Agenda covered a wide range of issues beyond the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament and its mandate as a negotiating forum, thus it was necessary to have a deep discussion to reach an agreement among Member States.  Syria welcomed the fact that disarmament had been again put at the heart of the United Nations and the agenda for collective security, as stated by the United Nations Charter, and stressed the importance of abiding by priorities in this field, set by the First Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on disarmament.  With regards to the issues on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament, Syria supported the adoption of a treaty on the total elimination of nuclear weapons and a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, on condition that it included the existing stockpiles of fissile materials.  Syria shared the Secretary-General’s concern about the unilateral use of force by some States in a manner that violated the principles of the United Nations Charter, and stressed that the possession and use of military force alone, without the wisdom of international cooperation, could not provide security.  Syria welcomed the proposal by the Agenda for the creation of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, which was also a legal commitment, on the basis of the resolutions adopted by the Review and Extension Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Syria hoped that there would be calls to the only nuclear weapon State in the Middle East to join the treaty and place its nuclear installations under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recalled that the Joint Statement signed by the United States and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in Singapore in June had underlined the commitments of both countries in establishing new bilateral relations and building a lasting peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.  Pressure through sanctions was not an absolute solution to problems, and diplomacy accompanied by pressure never worked.  Confidence-building was the key to the full implementation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea-United States Joint Statement; both parties had to take simultaneous actions and phased steps.  Giving priority to confidence building was the only practical way forward.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea stood firm in its determination and commitment to the implementation of the Joint Statement in a responsible and good faith manner.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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