Collective Action Must Swiftly Address Potentially Catastrophic Impact of Nuclear Terrorism, Panellists Tell First Committee, as Thematic Debate Begins

Amid rising terrorist threats and rapid technological advances, the potential “catastrophic” impact of nuclear terrorism required the international community to urgently band together to prevent nuclear and other toxic materials from falling into the wrong hands, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) heard during a thematic discussion and debate.

Expert panel members joined Kim Won-soo, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, to exchange views on the current state of affairs in the field of arms control and disarmament and the role of international organizations with mandates in the field. Several representatives spoke of the need to step up efforts in the area of nuclear security to enhance preparedness in the face of terrorist threats.

Drawing attention to the possibility of a terrorist attack using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials, Mr. Kim said that non-State actors would do everything possible to acquire and use such weapons. Highlighting the operation capacity and readiness of the Secretary-General’s mechanism for investigating allegations of the use of chemical, biological and toxin weapons, he said regular budget support should be examined.

Elaborating on that point, Xolisa Mfundiso Mabhongo, Director of the New York Office of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the impact of nuclear terrorism would be catastrophic for any country and could have cross-border effects. While an array of tools existed for the international community to address this potential problem, much needed to be done. As a result, countries were seeking the Agency’s help in minimizing the risk of nuclear and other radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists.

Providing a snapshot of the current arms control and disarmament landscape, Michael MA�ller, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, said action was needed now, given the rapid pace of technological advances. A treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons was seen as most ripe for negotiation, he said, and it would go far to promote nuclear security.

In the face of growing fears of chemical, biological and nuclear attacks by terrorists, an atmosphere of working towards a common understanding needed to be created, he continued. The narrow interpretation of consensus in the Conference on Disarmament, namely unanimity, was no longer practical. Currently, a single State could halt progress before real work could begin. Negotiations also did not have to be aimed at immediately concluding a legally binding treaty.

Sharing a similar view was Patrick Grenard, Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary at the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. He warned that trust and confidence was declining between many States on critical global security issues. That was particularly troubling when considering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, where the consequences of mistrust and hostility could yield catastrophic results. The world must never lose sight of the fact that it was in the common interest of all States to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, he said, underlining all stakeholders’ shared responsibility to act.

But, over recent years, there had been some diplomatic success stories, said Chen Kai, Director of External Relations at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Pointing to the positive outcome resulting from effective international coordination, he cited the removal of the remaining chemical weapon precursors in Libya was a successful example of effective preventive action to safeguard chemical weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

In opening remarks, the General Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) drew attention to the trade-off between a nation’s security and the needs of its most vulnerable. It was “unconscionable” that funds were diverted away from development towards weapons, he said, adding that global military spending stood at $1.7 trillion annually as hundreds of millions of people lived in poverty.

For its part, the First Committee had a critical role to play in the attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he added, highlighting in particular the cross-cutting impact of Goal 16, which recognized the importance of reducing the illicit flow of arms and promoting the rule of law.

Following the panel discussion, the Committee began its thematic debate on topics under its nuclear weapons cluster and heard the introduction of the two draft resolutions, on “Nuclear-weapon-free southern hemisphere and adjacent areas” and on “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: Accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments”.

During the thematic debate, some speakers echoed the messages conveyed by some of the panel members. The delegate from Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), expressed concern about nuclear terrorism in his region, given its strategic location, porous borders and socioeconomic realities, all of which could potentially make countries in the region soft targets.

He went on to say that the dynamics of the global security environment had changed radically and dramatically in recent years. In addition, the challenges posed by non-State actors and the heightened risk of their gaining access to nuclear related materials had reinforced CARICOM’s conviction that the international community must do more to ensure that the goal of complete nuclear disarmament was achieved.

Also participating in the thematic debate were the representatives of Indonesia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Brazil (also on behalf of Indonesia, New Zealand and South Africa), Sweden (on behalf of the De-Alerting Group), Venezuela (on behalf of the Union of South American Nations), Egypt (on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition), New Zealand (also for Australia and Mexico) and Tunisia (on behalf of the Arab Group). The representative of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean also spoke.

The First Committee will meet again at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, 14 October, to continue its thematic debate on nuclear weapons.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) met this afternoon for a panel discussion on “Current state of affairs in the field of arms control and disarmament and the role of international organizations with mandates in this field,” to begin its thematic debate on nuclear weapons and to hear the introduction of draft resolutions. For background, see Press Release GA/DIS/3545 of 3 October.

Opening Remarks

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, said the quantity of arms around the world had risen in recent years and new threats had emerged, making the work of the Committee ever more vital than ever before. Global military expenditure stood at $1.7 trillion annually as hundreds of millions of people lived in poverty. It was unconscionable that funds were being diverted away from development towards weapons.

Turning to the Sustainable Development Goals, he said the First Committee had a critical role to play in the attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 16 had a particularly cross-cutting impact, as it recognized the importance of reducing the illicit flow of arms and promoting the rule of law. The critical role of the Committee in transforming the world should not be in doubt, he said. Coming from the Asia-Pacific region, which had been greatly affected by nuclear testing, he underlined a need to curb those tests. Put simply, there were no more justifications for nuclear tests, he said, encouraging those who had not yet done so to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

Concerning the disarmament machinery, he said a lack of political will and trust had led to the current stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament, whose work was far too consequential for a deadlock to exist. Significant work had been made in aligning the General Assembly’s work with the 2030 Agenda and the body would continue to enhance the synergies with the Committee in that area. In conclusion, he wished the Committee every success in its session and said it could count on the support of the President of the General Assembly during its deliberations.

Panel Discussion

The Committee then engaged in a high-level exchange on the “Current state of affairs in the field of arms control and disarmament and the role of international organizations with mandates in this field”. The panel featured: Kim Won-soo, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; Michael MA�ller, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament; Xolisa Mfundiso Mabhongo, Director of the New York Office of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Chen Kai, Director of External Relations at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); and Patrick Grenard, Special Assistant to the Executive Secretary at the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

Mr. KIM underscored the threat of an attack using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials, saying non-State actors would do everything possible to acquire and use such weapons. The international community needed to step up its efforts to enhance preparedness and prevention. On radiological threats, the comprehensive review of Security Council resolution 1540 (2004) could help to strengthen protection of radiological sources from non-State actors. Highlighting the operation capacity and readiness of the Secretary-General’s mechanism for investigating allegations of the use of chemical, biological and toxin weapons, he said regular budget support should be examined.

MR. MA�LLER, providing a snapshot of the situation of arms control and disarmament, said that over recent years, frustration had turned into disillusionment, with Geneva no longer being associated with successful negotiations. But, increasingly, efforts were being made to revitalize discussions, with Member States making some innovative proposals. Given the rapid pace of technological advances, including the further perfection of nuclear weapons, action was needed now. A treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons was seen as most ripe for negotiation, he said, and it would go far to promote nuclear security.

The Open-ended Working Group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations was an important step towards revitalizing such negotiations, he said. The Conference on Disarmament would be the natural place to negotiate a new treaty, but it was up to Member States to decide whether that should remain the case. Amid growing fears of chemical, biological and nuclear attacks by terrorists, an atmosphere of working towards a common understanding needed to be created. The narrow interpretation of consensus in the Conference on Disarmament, namely unanimity, was no longer practical. Currently, a single State could halt progress before real work could begin. Negotiations also did not have to be aimed at immediately concluding a legally binding treaty. Moreover, he civil society could play a greater role in disarmament negotiations, as had been the case in international agreements on climate change and sustainable development.

Mr. MABHONGO said that the impact of nuclear terrorism would be catastrophic for any country and could have cross-border effects. While an array of tools existed for the international community to address this potential problem, much needed to be done. While it remained a national responsibility, the IAEA played a central role in helping Member States fulfil this duty. Specifically, countries were seeking the IAEA’s help in minimizing the risk of nuclear and other radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists. In that regard, the IAEA provided services to States to establish the necessary infrastructure to protect nuclear and other materials from theft and diversion, to safeguard nuclear installations and transport against sabotage, and to combat illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials. It was also active in helping States’ efforts to strengthen computer security at nuclear facilities.

Mr. CHEN said an important area of cooperation with the United Nations was on matters relating to preventing and responding to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. The reconfirmation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the most recent report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism was disturbing and a matter of serious concern to the international community. The use of chemical weapons by anyone was reprehensible and contrary to norms established by the international community. In March, the Government of Iraq had shared information about alleged chemical attacks on its territory and a technical assistance visit had confirmed the use of such weapons by non-State actors. OPCW was paying increasing attention to that matter. The removal of the remaining chemical weapon precursors in Libya was a successful example of effective preventive action to safeguard chemical weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

Mr. GRENARD said some truly historic achievements in international diplomacy had been seen in recent years. Meanwhile, trust and confidence was declining between many States on critical global security issues. That was particularly troubling when considering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, where the consequences of mistrust and hostility could result in a catastrophe. The world must never lose sight of the fact that it was in the common interest of all States to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction. Having experienced the horrors of such weapons on too many occasions, the world had a shared responsibility to act, he said. The Test-Ban Treaty had been negotiated and concluded in that context. Recalling that 20 years ago, common security and multilateralism trumped narrow self-interest and zero-sum defensive postures, he said “we need to return to that spirit”.

Following an informal interactive discussion, a representative of the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean delivered a statement, saying that, of the world’s five nuclear-weapon-free zones, his region was the only one with an intergovernmental organization in place to ensure compliance with obligations including the total prohibition of nuclear weapons. The Agency served to enhance the region’s role in the international disarmament debate. That aspect had been reinforced by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States at its recent summit meetings and demonstrated in several ways, such as the region’s very active participation in meetings of the Open-ended Working Group in Geneva, he said, underscoring the importance of the Agency’s activities in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation education.

Thematic Debate on Nuclear Weapons

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the step-by-step approach adopted by the nuclear-weapon States had failed to make progress towards the total elimination of such arms. “It is time to take a new and comprehensive approach on nuclear disarmament,” he said. The United Nations high-level international conference on nuclear disarmament, to be convened no later than 2018, would be an opportunity for the General Assembly to review progress on disarmament and make concrete recommendations, he said, proposing the establishment of a preparatory committee for that event.

The Non-Aligned Movement, he said, rejected the assertion by nuclear-weapon States that their stockpile maintenance and stewardship programmes were consistent with the objectives of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Test-Ban Treaty. There was an urgent need to conclude a universal, unconditional, non-discriminatory and legally binding instrument to assure all non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, pending the total elimination of such arms. He welcomed the growing focus on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and called on States possessing them to immediately reduce their operational status, including through de-targeting and de-alerting. Non-proliferation policies should not undermine the right of States to import or export nuclear material and technology for peaceful purposes.

ANTONIO DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), speaking also for Indonesia, New Zealand, South Africa, introduced a draft resolution titled “Nuclear-weapon-free southern hemisphere and adjacent areas”. The establishment of such zones was a significant interim measure to promote cooperation among Member States and the international community. “Seventy years after the General Assembly’s first resolution sought the elimination from national arrangements of atomic weapons, they continue to pose a global threat to peace and security,” he said. “It is incumbent on all States to change this bleak scenario and move beyond the nuclear status quo.”

EVA WALDER (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the De-Alerting Group, reiterated a call that States maintaining nuclear weapons on high alert took practical steps decreasing their operational readiness. De-alerting was not an alternative to disarmament, but constituted an interim measure to be pursued alongside efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. It was still an unfulfilled commitment that had been part of the 13 practical steps agreed to at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and confirmed in 2010. “We know that de-alerting is possible,” she said, noting that some States had lowered the operational readiness level of non-strategic nuclear weapons and some other nuclear-weapon States did not keep such weapons on high alert. A wide range of practical measures had been proposed by experts, including the report of the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction. For its part, the De-Alerting Group had put forward recommendations in a working paper to the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and to the current session’s Open-ended Working Group and would also table a resolution titled “Decreasing the operational readiness of nuclear weapons”, which would contain some technical updates.

ALFREDO TORO CARNEVALI (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), said that as long as nuclear weapons existed, there would be a real risk of their use and proliferation. In that regard, priority must be given to the negotiation of a convention that would completely ban such weapons. While expressing concern about their catastrophic consequences, he reiterated the Union’s support to pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap to achieve a nuclear-free world. He also welcomed the General Assembly’s decision to hold a high-level conference to identify further measures and actions.

He went on to express commitment for the balanced implementation of disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy, regretting the lack of an agreed outcome document at the 2015 Review Conference. Describing the proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace as a historic decision, he said the region had aimed at blocking the use of force on its territory. “There is an urgent need to begin negotiations for new international legal documents governing fundamental issues of disarmament and non-proliferation,” he said, calling upon those who had not yet signed the Test-Ban Treaty to do so as a demonstration of their political will.

TAREK MAHFOUZ (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the New Agenda Coalition, introduced its annual resolution, “Towards a nuclear-weapon-free world: Accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments”, which focused on a number of issues. It emphasized the compelling evidence that had been presented at the Conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and welcomed the efforts of the Open-ended Working Group. Reiterating that each article of the Non-Proliferation Treaty was binding on all States parties and that they should be held fully accountable for their obligations, the draft text called upon nuclear-weapon States to fulfil their commitment to reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons in a verifiable and transparent manner. The resolution further underlined the recognition by States parties to the Treaty of the legitimate interests of non-nuclear-weapon States in constraining nuclear-weapon States in their development and improvement of such weapons.

The resolution, he said, stressed the fundamental role of the Treaty in achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and called upon all States parties to promote its universality, urging India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States promptly and without conditions and place their nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. It urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fulfil its commitments under the Six-Party Talks, abandon all nuclear weapons and its existing nuclear programmes and rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Further, nuclear-weapon States should include concrete and detailed information on implementing their obligations and commitments on nuclear disarmament in their reports in 2017 to the first Preparatory Committee of the Treaty’s 2020 Review Conference.

COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said urgent action must be taken to ensure that nuclear weapons did not remain a feature of the global security landscape. Given the Caribbean Community’s strategic location, porous borders and socioeconomic realities, countries in the region could become soft targets for nuclear terrorism.

Nuclear weapons, he said, provided a false sense of security and were not effective tools for deterrence. Instead, they encouraged some non-nuclear-weapon States to alter their nuclear status. Rather than making the world a better, safer place, nuclear weapons heightened global security risks and increased the likelihood that they could fall into the wrong hands. As such, the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons remained a grave threat to international peace and security. Given the recent changing dynamics of the global security environment, international community must do more to ensure that the goal of complete nuclear disarmament was achieved and must address the challenges posed by non-State actors and the heightened risk of their gaining access to nuclear-related materials.

DELL HIGGIE (New Zealand), also speaking for Australia and Mexico, introduced a draft resolution titled “Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty” (document A/C.1/71/L.28), saying it had particular significance in 2016, two decades after the instrument had first opened for signature. Its sponsors regretted that they were unable to submit a resolution welcoming the Treaty’s entry into force. They remained convinced of the Treaty’s entry into force and it was appropriate that the text called on States that had yet to sign or ratify it to do so as soon as possible. The text congratulated ratifications by Myanmar and Swaziland and encouraged further progress on developing the Treaty’s verification regime.

RIADH BEN SLIMAN (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, commended the recommendations of the Open-ended Working Group. While all Arab countries had adhered to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and their nuclear facilities were under IAEA safeguards, he was concerned about the ongoing failure to achieve disarmament, since nuclear-weapon States were trying to avoid timetables to fully eliminate such weapons. He rejected efforts made by those States’ pursuing military dogmas aimed at acquiring such weapons. The total elimination of nuclear weapons was the only guarantee that they would not be used.

He noted the failure of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which had been a clear demonstration of a need to redouble collective efforts. During that gathering, the Arab Group had tried to break the status quo that had emanated from the 2010 Review Conference. The Group’s positive proposal had been integrated into the 2010 Review Conference outcome document, but had not achieved its desired result because the United States, United Kingdom and Canada had decided to break with international consensus and turn aside the final document, including the section on the Middle East. The Arab Group supported the need to create nuclear-weapon-free zones throughout the world, including in the Middle East. He reiterated the Group’s condemnation of the threat to international peace and security in the Middle East from Israel’s persistent refusal to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel was the only State in the Middle East that had not joined and that had still refused to submit its facilities to IAEA safeguards. That represented a clear and flagrant threat to peace and security in the Middle

Source: United Nations