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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES NEW TYPES OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION, A COMPREHENSIVE PROGRAMME OF DISARMAMENT, AND TRANSPARENCY IN ARMAMENTS

12 June 2019

The Conference on Disarmament today discussed items 5, 6 and 7 of its agenda concerning new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons, a comprehensive programme of disarmament, and transparency in armaments.

The President of the Conference on Disarmament, Ambassador Jorge Valero of Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), said two panellists would make presentations that would be followed by an informal discussion.

Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that Belarus had been the coordinator of subsidiary body 5 last year, which had held an in-depth discussion on the agenda items 5, 6 and 7. During the expert sessions, questions related to the development of science and technology as well as risks related to weapons of mass destruction, cybersecurity and weaponization of artificial intelligence, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and then having them falling into the hands of non-State actors, and on general and complete disarmament, trust building measures and transparency, inter alia, had been discussed. This list was far from complete related to threats that were discussed by experts and delegations. Belarus would like to see the Conference on Disarmament actively participate in the prevention of new developments of science and technology for destructive purposes.

Kerstin Vignard, Deputy Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, said two concurrent processes would get underway later this year following the adoption of two General Assembly resolutions. The first resolution established the sixth United Nations group of governmental experts on information and communications technologies. The second resolution was the Russian-led resolution that had established an open-ended working group, which also had consultative mechanisms built into it, focusing on an intersessional meeting of industries, non-governmental organizations and academia. Both processes offered an opportunity for the international community to strengthen and operationalize norms, rules and principles on responsible behaviour in cyberspace, increase cooperation, and contribute to the peaceful settlement of cyber conflicts.

After an informal discussion on the panellists’ presentations, the Conference returned to a formal setting.

Iran, speaking on behalf of the Group of 21, said nuclear disarmament continued to be the highest priority of the international community. The Group of 21 reiterated its deep concern at the danger posed to the survival of humankind by the continued existence of nuclear weapons and of their possible use or threat of use, and underscored the urgent need to commence negotiations on this issue in the Conference, without further delay. As the highest priority, the Conference should start negotiations on a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, including a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the possession, development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of nuclear weapons, leading to the global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, with a specified framework of time.

The next plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament will be held on Thursday, 13 June, at 10 a.m., to discuss the draft programme of work presented by the Venezuelan presidency.

Statements

JORGE VALERO, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said this would be a thematic session related to items 5, 6 and 7 of the Conference’s agenda. In that context, two panellists would make presentations that would be followed by an informal discussion.

YURY AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that last year, as part of the work of subsidiary body 5, an in-depth discussion on the agenda items 5, 6 and 7 had taken place and a report had been issued. During the expert sessions, questions related to the development of science and technology as well as risks related to weapons of mass destruction, cybersecurity and weaponization of artificial intelligence, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and then having them falling into the hands of non-State actors, and on general and complete disarmament, trust building measures and transparency, inter alia, had been discussed. This list was far from complete related to threats that were discussed by experts and delegations.

While overall, discussions had shown that Member States had different views on these issues and the Conference on Disarmament’s role, no country had put in question the need to assess risks related to developments in science and technology; the need to strengthen the responsibility of researchers when they carry out experiments; and the need to find the right balance between the development of science and technology for peaceful purposes and preventing the harmful use of technology, including dual-use technologies. These needs had indeed been at the centre of discussions.

Belarus, as the coordinator of subsidiary body number 5, and as a country that considered this issue to be very important for the Conference on Disarmament, would like to see the Conference actively participate in the prevention of new developments of science and technology for destructive purposes. Given the rapid progress in science and technology, the questions that had been discussed by subsidiary body number 5 could be considered to be cross-sectorial - they involved all questions related to disarmament and non-proliferation. It was high time to stop dividing the Conference on Disarmament’s agenda into key issues and other issues. The challenges considered under agenda items 5, 6 and 7 should be considered on an equal footing with questions pertaining to nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, national security assurances, and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The preventive steps that could be taken by the Conference in reaction to such threats would be a significant contribution to non-proliferation and international security. Steps strengthening transparency and confidence building measures would help reduce tensions. Just like it was the case for questions related to nuclear disarmament, the optimal approach was consistent and progressive progress that would require simple, effective and tangible decisions.

When talking of the development of weapons of mass destruction, the creation of a mechanism that would monitor and assess the impact of new developments in science and technology on security was a possible preventive measure. Noting that this would be a novel approach for the United Nations, he said the same issue was being examined by the Commission on the Future of Labour.

Many researchers believed that artificial intelligence technologies may become absolute weapons of mass destruction, and this issue was being discussed by other fora, he added. Could the Conference look at these issues and ensure that there were no unacceptable risks for global security. Mr. Ambrazevich said he believed that it could do so. Further, the issues related to ensuring that non-State actors did not acquire weapons of mass destruction could also be considered by the Conference on Disarmament.

Under agenda item 6, there was an initiative on the development of an international convention to combat acts of chemical and biological terrorism. The added value of such an initiative would be the development of clear and uniform rules and regulations that could help prevent non-State actors from obtaining biological and chemical weapons, especially in a conflict context, and destroy such weapons requisitioned from non-State actors. If the Conference on Disarmament could agree on such standards and norms, this would represent a direct contribution that it could present to the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Turning to questions of transparency, Mr. Ambrazevich pointed out that it could help bring the world closer to complete and comprehensive disarmament. During the high-level segment that had taken place this year, Belarus had proposed several steps that could be discussed by the Conference on Disarmament. The Conference could present a request to the Secretary-General of the United Nations related to the preparation of a comprehensive report on the risks and challenges posed by new technologies with regards to international security and non-proliferation. The Conference on Disarmament could also look at the national experiences of different countries in that regard, including by examining measures aiming to address these issues, and assessing their effectiveness as well as avenues to make them more systematic and potentially universalize them. As a result of this process, the Conference on Disarmament could come up with rules and principles to prevent the harmful use of new developments in science and technology.

Mr. Ambrazevich further suggested the study and systematization of national measures to combat efforts by non-State actors to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Taking such actions within the mandate of the Conference on Disarmament would be a significant contribution to United Nations activities related to non-proliferation and counter-terrorism in general.

In September 2019 in Minsk, an international conference would be organized under the title of combatting terrorism with the use of innovative methods and new and future technologies. The conference was being organized by Belarus, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Belarus would present the results of this conference to the Conference on Disarmament.

KERSTIN VIGNARD, Deputy Director of United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, said two concurrent processes would get underway later this year as per the adoption of two General Assembly resolutions. The first resolution established the sixth United Nations group of governmental experts on information and communications technologies. It included two consultation mechanisms: one was a regional consultative mechanism, and the other would consult with all United Nations Member States. Another new element included in that resolution invited States to submit views related to international law which would be annexed to the group of governmental experts’ report. The second resolution was the Russian-led resolution that had established an open-ended working group, which also had consultative mechanisms built into it, focusing on an intersessional meeting of industries, non-governmental organizations and academia. Both processes offered an opportunity for the international community to strengthen and operationalize norms, rules and principles on responsible behaviour in cyberspace, increase cooperation, and contribute to the peaceful settlement of cyber conflicts.

Until now, there had been limited opportunity for States to participate, not to mention other stakeholders, and, as a result perhaps there was a perception that this topic was a domain for a limited number of States. Current events around the world showed it was not the case. Multi-stakeholder engagement was growing in magnitude and in impact. There was increasing recognition and acceptance of the crucial role of non-State actors in these discussions, and their even more crucial role in operationalizing the discussions’ outcomes. While most recommendations related to these issues were directed to States, one could not address supply-chain security issues or vulnerability disclosure without working closely with the private sector, for instance. On the other hand, many States were not fully at ease, or even used to, the multi-stakeholder approach to international security issues.

In that regard, a few sticking points had been identified, notably, how to articulate the changing nature of threats, such as digital siege of cities, cyber-enabled electoral interference, massive attacks on financial systems, technological advances in machine learning, the internet of things and G5 networks, and the attack surfaces that they provided. The undermining of agreed upon norms and understanding of how international law applied to these issues were also sources of concern, as was the need to keep the two processes focused on First Committee issues, and avoid veering into discussions on other issues, such as human rights and terrorism, which were already being addressed by other United Nations committees and bodies.

Turning to the weaponization of artificial intelligence, while acknowledging that there was a fierce global strategic competition on artificial intelligence, Ms. Vignard said that it was not about arms per se. She expressed scepticism about the concept of an “artificial intelligence arms race”. Artificial intelligence arms control should be thought about more deeply, however, and there was perhaps a need to consider whether military applications of artificial intelligence outside of weapons systems (for military decision support tools and image recognition, for instance) could create conditions of risks or instability that were usually addressed by arms control. Arms control measures served a variety of purposes, including address risks and increase the safety of systems, she recalled. These seemed desirable goals for the military application of artificial intelligence. It was also perhaps necessary to consider what artificial intelligence-related confidence building measures might look like. In a world in which it was easy to produce and disseminate fake written, audio and video content, it might also be necessary to seek digital stability measures to help slow down possible crisis escalation. Last week, researchers were able to alter the audio of a video clip to insert words in someone’s mouth, she said.

The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research would convene its first innovation dialogue in August, with the goal of considering both the potential beneficial application as well as the challenges and risks of emerging technological innovations, and promoting multi-stakeholder engagement.

Iran, speaking on behalf of the Group of 21, stressed that the Conference on Disarmament was the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum mandated by the First Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly Devoted to Disarmament. The Group of 21 underscored the need to redouble efforts to reinforce and revitalize the Conference on Disarmament and preserve its credibility through the resumption of substantive work including, inter alia, the negotiations on nuclear disarmament. The Group of 21 reaffirmed its working paper on nuclear disarmament contained in the document CD/2135, and all other working papers submitted to the Conference in 2018.

Nuclear disarmament continued to be the highest priority of the international community. The Group of 21 reiterated its deep concern at the danger posed to the survival of humankind by the continued existence of nuclear weapons and of their possible use or threat of use and underscored the urgent need to commence negotiations on this issue in the Conference, without further delay. As the highest priority, the Conference should start negotiations on a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, including a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the possession, development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of nuclear weapons, leading to the global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, with a specified framework of time.

The Group of 21 welcomed the formal proclamation, for the first time in history, of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace, on the occasion of the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, held in Havana, Cuba, on 28 and 29 January 2014. Hopefully, this proclamation would be followed by other political proclamations as zones of peace in other regions of the world. The Group of 21 reaffirmed the importance of the multilateral disarmament machinery. It noted the report of the Open-Ended Working Group mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to “develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons.” It also took note of the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 7 July 2017 at the United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination, pursuant to United Nations General Assembly resolution 71/258 held in New York from 27 to 31 March and 17 June to 7 July 2017.

The Group of 21 reaffirmed that the total elimination of nuclear weapons was the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Pending the achievement of the complete elimination of such weapons, the Group of 21 reaffirmed the urgent need for the conclusion of a universal, unconditional and legally binding instrument to effectively assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons as a matter of high priority. The Group if 21 expressed concern that despite the commitment of the nuclear weapon States and long-standing requests by non-nuclear-weapon States to receive such legally-binding assurances, no tangible progress had been achieved. The Group of 21 also called for the commencement of negotiations in order to reach agreement on an international convention prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances in accordance with United Nations General Assembly resolution A/RES/73/74.

The Group of 21 expressed it deepest concern over the immediate, indiscriminate, and massive death and destruction caused by any nuclear weapon detonation and its long-term catastrophic consequences on human health, the environment, and other vital economic resources, thus endangering the life of present and future generations.

The Group of 21 called on all nuclear weapon States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to implement their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties were committed under article VI. The Group expressed its disappointment that the Conference on Disarmament had not been able to undertake substantive work on its agenda. It took note of various efforts to reach consensus on a programme of work and all subsequent decisions, efforts and proposals towards this end. Promoting the work of the United Nations disarmament machinery hinged on the need to exercising political will, taking into account the collective security interests of all States.

The Group of 21 reiterated the importance of the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, and acknowledged the decision of the General Assembly 73/546 that entrusted the Secretary-General to convene a conference to elaborate a treaty to that end. The Group called on all States to actively support this conference and contribute to its success.

States parties of the Group of 21 to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty expressed their disappointment and deep concern that three States parties - including two States that bore special responsibility as Non-Proliferation Treaty depositary and co-sponsor States of the 1995 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference resolution on the Middle East - had blocked consensus on the draft outcome document of the ninth Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, including the process to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.

JORGE VALERO, President of the Conference on Disarmament and Permanent Representative of Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said a revised version of the programme of work would be circulated. Proposals would be considered with a constructive spirit and the presidency would continue to conduct broad consultations.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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