The 69th United Nations First Committee

By |2014-11-12T09:44:31-08:00November 12, 2014|

During the 69th Session of the First Committee, states discussed effective measures or rather the lack of effective measures associated with nuclear disarmament. In her opening statement to the First Committee, Ms. Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security of the US, claimed that the US is committed to Article VI of the NPT. She specified that the US is striving to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, and it would be a mistake for states to question the US’ commitments. She further cited that the US “has made clear of its readiness to discuss further nuclear reductions with the Russian Federation, but progress requires a willing partner and a good environment.”

If the US and the other Nuclear Weapon States were truly committed to their Article VI commitments, then they would demonstrate their convictions on engaging in good faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament. However, many states and NGOs have argued that the US and other Nuclear Weapon States are not following through with their commitments as detailed in the legal arguments set forth by the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Expressing the importance of the lawsuits by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the delegation of Fiji, on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, reminded delegations that the “Republic of the Marshall Islands is taking action before the International Court of Justice aimed at holding all nuclear-armed states to account for their failure to engage in good-faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament, as required by the NPT and customary international law.” In addition, the delegation of Palau proclaimed that it “stands in solidarity with the Republic of the Marshall Islands – a nation heavily affected by these tests – in its legal proceedings before the International Court of Justice aimed at compelling the nuclear-armed states to fulfill their legal obligation to disarm.”

Conveying the lack of progress in implementing Article VI commitments, Mr. Breifne O’Reilly of the Irish delegation noted that the continuing failure to achieve progress on nuclear disarmament militates against our efforts to pursue non-proliferation. Moreover, he referred to the New Agenda Coalition’s working paper to the 2014 NPT PrepCom on effective measures related to nuclear disarmament to illustrate the different possible paths associated with nuclear disarmament. He further questioned whether the Nuclear Weapon States’ decisions to upgrade and modernize their nuclear weapons are consistent with their commitments set forth in the 2010 NPT Action Plan.

Interestingly, the delegation of Palau announced that it is time for the international community to support a ban on nuclear weapons. A ban treaty would “put nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as chemical and biological weapons, which have been comprehensively prohibited. A nuclear weapons ban would also be an effective measure towards the fulfillment of Article VI.” In addition, the delegate claimed that negotiations on a ban treaty could even begin without the nuclear-armed states. Finally, this treaty could establish a normative effect and represent a step towards creating a world free of nuclear weapons.

As states discussed effective measures on nuclear disarmament, New Zealand presented a joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons on behalf of 155 states. H.E. Ambassador Dell Higgie of New Zealand noted that there is a growing amount of political support amongst states and civil society for a humanitarian focus on nuclear disarmament.

For the first time ever, Sweden joined New Zealand’s joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. In a surprisingly strong statement, H.E. Ambassador Grunditz informed delegations that Sweden “firmly believes that the humanitarian perspective can contribute to next year’s NPT Review Conference by providing new energy to the debate, impetus to accelerate disarmament, and information to new generations on the dangers of nuclear weapons.”

Although numerous states endorsed New Zealand’s joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, 20 states signed Australia’s statement. In contrast to New Zealand’s joint statement, the Australian joint statement noted that the elimination of nuclear weapons is only possible if states were to engage in constructive engagements with the Nuclear Weapon States. Moreover, the delegation of Australia argued that several practical contributions to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons would include: unblocking the Conference on Disarmament, begin negotiations for a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), and bring into the entry of force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Key Resolutions

The First Committee approved several key resolutions related to nuclear disarmament. These resolutions include the following:

  1. A/C.1/69/L.21 Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations, Lead Sponsors: Austria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Slovenia and Switzerland
  1. A/C.1/69/L.22 Decreasing the Operational Readiness of the Nuclear Weapons Systems, Lead Sponsors: Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, and Switzerland
  2. A/C.1/69/L.44 Follow-up to the 2013 high-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament, Lead Sponsor: Indonesia, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement
  3. A/C.1/69/L.47 Women, Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Arms control: Leader Sponsors: Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Finland, France, Guatemala, Guyana, Ireland, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, and United States of America

In regards to L. 21 entitled Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament

Negotiations, this resolution focused on the work of the Opened-Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament, which was held in Geneva throughout 2013. The resolution specified that the 70th UN General Assembly would examine whether it would be necessary to reconvene the group. 152 states voted in favor of it, 4 voted against it, and 22 abstained from voting on the resolution. Among the states, which voted against the resolution were the US, UK, France, and the Russian Federation, which also boycotted the 2013 Session of the OEWG in Geneva. Moreover, in the US, UK, and France’s joint statement against the resolution, the states claimed that they were concerned about the resolution’s inconsistency to the 2010 NPT Action Plan. In addition, they argued that the resolution contains limited references to the urgency for the early commencement of the FMCT and detracted from the consensus approach, which was embodied in the 2010 NPT Action Plan. They were further displeased that the OEWG solely focused on nuclear disarmament instead of examining nonproliferation issues as well.

In terms of L. 22 entitled Decreasing the Operational Readiness Status of the Nuclear Weapons System, this resolution focused on nuclear de-alerting. 163 states voted in favor of the resolution, 10 states abstained from voting, and 4 voted against the resolution. In a joint statement against the resolution, the US, UK, and France strongly argued that the dynamic relationship between security and alert status of the nuclear weapons systems is much more complicated than the co-sponsors of the resolution suggested in the resolution. They further asserted that their command and control systems are robust and safeguarded. Thus, they claimed that the risks of accidental launch or mistakes are minimum.

Regarding L. 44 on the follow-up to the 2013 high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament in the General Assembly, this resolution requires the UN General Assembly to establish an international conference on nuclear disarmament by 2018 and calls for the establishment of a nuclear weapons convention. 135 states voted in favor of the resolution, 24 voted against it, and 18 abstained from it. As part of their joint statement against the resolution, the delegations of UK, France, and US noted that the HLM did not engage in substantive discussions on neither nuclear nonproliferation nor noncompliance issues. They were further concerned about the lack of references to the 2010 NPT Action Plan in the resolution. The states also claimed that if the conference were to be convened in 2018, then it may detract from the success of the upcoming 2015 NPT Review Conference. Finally, the three states contended that all states should engage in the steps-by-steps approach, which includes negotiations and early commencement of the FMCT, and the immediate entry into force of the CTBT.

The First Committee further adopted L.47 entitled Women, Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Arms Control. The resolution requires the UN General Assembly “to provide equal opportunities for women in all decision making, as related to the prevention and reduction of armed violence and armed conflict. It also urges states to strengthen the effective participation of women in disarmament-related organisations at the local, national, subregional and regional levels.”

Originally, preambular paragraph 8 contained the phrase “serious acts of violence against women and children.” This section was deleted and orally revised to “noting the imminent entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty and therefore encourages States parties to fully implement all the provision of the Treaty including the provisions on serious acts of gender-based violence.”

Due to the changes in the preambular paragraph, delegates called for a vote instead of adopting the resolution without a vote. 139 states voted in favor of the revised text and 24 abstained from voting. As a result of the section about the Arms Trade Treaty, Iran, India, Syria and Armenia abstained from the vote. Luckily, as a whole, 171 states approved the resolution, and numerous states commended the resolution.

Overall, substantial discussions were held on nuclear disarmament by progressive states and the Nuclear Weapon States. In addition, drawing upon US, France and the UK’s responses to several substantial resolutions on nuclear disarmament, there are concerns on whether the P5 will continue to impede the process of establishing a world without nuclear weapons. The discourse about building blocks merely shows their unwillingness to support any bold steps and fulfill their Article VI commitments. Therefore, the non-nuclear weapon states and members of civil society are tasked with creating a ban treaty.