Secretary-General Deplores Reversals in Disarmament Efforts, as General Assembly Commemorates International Day for Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons
Resources Would Be Better Spent Financing Development, Assembly President Stresses
The only way to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons is to eliminate nuclear weapons themselves, the Secretary-General of the United Nations told delegates today, as the General Assembly met in plenary for a high-level commemoration event.
Commemorating and promoting the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out in his opening remarks that not only has progress towards eliminating nuclear weapons come to a halt, but there have been reversals of what has been achieved so far. Relations between nuclear-armed States are mired in mistrust and dangerous rhetoric is on the rise, he said.
Encouraging the United States and the Russian Federation to extend their Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START Treaty), he also called upon all States parties to that instrument to work together at the 2020 Review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) so as to ensure that the non-proliferation regime is able to maintain its fundamental goals and prevent nuclear war.
That Treaty remains the cornerstone of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, he continued, emphasizing that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons represents the international community’s concerns around such armaments. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty remains a long-overdue measure to prevent the development of nuclear weapons, he added.
Recalling last month’s expiration of the landmark Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, he said: “I worry that we are slipping back into bad habits that will hold the world hostage to the threat of nuclear annihilation.” Calling upon nuclear-weapon States to engage in urgent dialogue, he said that a key priority of his disarmament agenda is to help States return to unity.
Applauding that ambitious agenda in his own opening remarks, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria), President of the General Assembly, recalled his recent visit to Hiroshima, Japan, where he had the rare opportunity to listen to a survivor of the atomic bombing of that city during the Second World War, saying the experience reaffirmed his commitment to disarmament. Pointing out that the resources devoted to nuclear weapons would be much better directed towards financing for development, he urged delegates to learn from and listen to each other as the 2020 review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty approaches. Multilateralism is the only way forward in this matter, he stressed.
Speakers shared their views in the ensuing debate, with non-nuclear-weapon States calling for commitments from those in possession of atomic bombs. Jackson Mthembu, Minister in the Presidency of South Africa, recalled his country’s experience as the only one to have developed and then voluntarily eliminated its nuclear arsenal in the 1990s, saying that former President Nelson Mandela was part of the inspiration for doing so. Calling upon the United Nations, Member States and civil society to promote awareness of the threat posed by nuclear weapons, he expressed regret to note that more than 14,000 nuclear weapons remain in existence despite disarmament efforts.
Alexander Schallenberg, Austria’s Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, warned about current challenges to the non-proliferation regime, such as continuous investment in modernizing arsenals. With the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme “hanging by a thread”, all Member States should sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, he emphasized.
Some speakers, including the representatives of Ireland and the Maldives, announced that they will sign that Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Vladimir Makei, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, proposed the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Europe.
Many speakers discussed the long-awaited nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, with Jamal Fares Alrowaiei (Bahrain) noting, on behalf of the Group of Arab States, that the creation of such a zone is outlined in reviews of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Some States say that possession of such weapons preserves peace, but the threat of proliferation remains a grave concern, he said. Even with the Middle East currently facing tension and instability, many countries have committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he added, while pointing out, however, that Israel has not complied.
Maged A. Abdelaziz, Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States, expressed commitment to the forthcoming November conference intended to establish a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East, calling upon nuclear-weapon States to provide technical and constructive support to ensure its success. He also called upon Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon State and encouraged all possessor States to sign the instrument.
Gholam Hossein Dehghani, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs, associated himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, saying that the entry into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is especially important in the Middle East, where nuclear weapons belonging to one State jeopardize the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Israel must be compelled to join the Treaty, he added, stressing that a nuclear-weapon-free world is long overdue.
He went on to condemn the withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, saying that country is seeking to stay “at the top of the pack” and has an extensive programme for modernizing its nuclear arsenals. Such irresponsible policies must end, he said, calling upon nuclear-weapon States to fulfil their explicit obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Patrick Mugoya, Permanent Secretary in Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke on behalf of the Group of African States, expressing concern at the failure to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, while reiterating the African Group’s commitment to the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty. Describing that instrument as a “shield for African territory”, he also stressed the importance of respecting the inalienable right of States to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and underlined the central role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in that regard.
Several speakers pointed to the benefits of nuclear technology, emphasizing that all countries have a right to enjoy advances in such areas as energy, medical treatment and agriculture, all of which can promote progress towards attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, emphasized that the peaceful use of nuclear energy is essential to socioeconomic development, while expressing concern over the military doctrines of some nuclear-weapon States. The United States in particular does not seek ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, he noted.
Karen Cummings, Guyana’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated: “We cannot afford for our planet to be used as a nuclear playground.” Moreover, the $2 trillion currently invested in maintaining and modernizing nuclear weapons reduces funding for development, she said, pointing out that the maintenance of nuclear weapons remains inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations. “This is our opportunity to deliver,” she said, adding: “Our planet and our peoples expect and deserve no less.”
Wu Jianjian (China) said the complete elimination of nuclear weapons serves the common interest of humankind, adding that his delegation voted in favour of all related resolutions tabled by the Non-Aligned Movement. China adheres to the policy of non-first-use of nuclear weapons and pursues a nuclear programme for self-defence purposes, he said, emphasizing that his country stands by its commitment to efforts to end nuclear testing and advance disarmament initiatives through a step-by-step approach.
Vijay Gokhale (India), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, underlined the need for a meaningful dialogue among all nuclear-weapon States, with a view to building trust and confidence while reducing the salience of such arms in international affairs and security doctrines.
An important thread in today’s commemoration was provided by representatives of countries in which the detrimental effects of nuclear hazards are already obvious. Inia Seruiratu, Fiji’s Minister for Defence, National Security and Foreign Affairs, reiterated calls to end all nuclear testing in the Pacific. Highlighting the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, he said people of the Pacific are among the few who suffer the terrible health consequences of exposure to fallout from nuclear testing, mostly different kinds of cancer. Reminding delegates that people were living in the Pacific when it was used as a nuclear testing range, he condemned the inhumanity with which they were disregarded as human beings.
Yerzan Ashkibayev, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said his country has “the moral right to always be at the forefront of international efforts to ban lethal weapons”. As a country in which the first Soviet atomic bomb was tested 70 years ago, Kazakhstan continues to call upon the international community to pursue the goal of a world free of nuclear threats by 2045, he said, recalling that his country voluntarily abandoned the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal and, with other Central Asian States, created an unprecedented nuclear-weapon-free zone. Unfortunately, it remains the last such zone created, he pointed out.
Koro Bessho (Japan) noted that the world is approaching 75 years since nuclear weapons were used for the first time, in his country. Citing Japan’s tireless efforts to advance practical measures, in cooperation with both nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon States, he said it recognizes the importance of building bridges and establishing trust among countries with divergent interests, noting that his county established a “group of eminent persons” to enable the substantive advancement of nuclear disarmament. He emphasized that rebuilding civility in discourse is essential to creating a solid foundation for a safe world, saying that the Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda demonstrates the active engagement of the United Nations in that regard. Paying tribute to the long-standing efforts of atom bomb survivors to convey their reality to the world, he stressed the importance of engaging younger generations in the discourse.
Meri Joyce of Peace Boat, a Japan-based non-governmental organization, applauded young people for taking the lead in disarmament affairs. Noting that Peace Boat is connecting youth with experts and survivors, she highlighted one initiative in which young people are collaborating with hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to ensure that their experience is passed on to future generations. The historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons expressly refers to the suffering of the hibakusha, she recalled, urging trust-building and dialogue in regions facing clear and present nuclear threats, including North-East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East.
Michiko Takeuchi of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, noted that her organization received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. Recalling the horrors that her family faced during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, she underlined the need to tackle the interconnected existential threats of atomic bombs and climate chaos, calling upon the international community to cut carbon emissions drastically and eliminate nuclear weapons.
Pietro Cardinal Parolin, observer for the Holy See, highlighted “worrying signs of the erosion of multilateralism”, as illustrated in the lapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; the failure to achieve the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; the inability of the Conference on Disarmament even to begin negotiations; and the instabilities at play in the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Calling for concrete steps to preclude the weaponization of outer space, he emphasized that the Middle East should not be put at further risk of destabilization.
Also speaking today were Heads of State and Government, as well as senior officials, representing Samoa, Costa Rica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Cambodia, Austria, Algeria, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana, Maldives, Thailand, Guatemala, Argentina, Nicaragua, United Republic of Tanzania, Iraq, Kenya, Honduras, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, Sweden, New Zealand, Brazil, Malaysia, Morocco, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Côte d’Ivoire, El Salvador, Ukraine, Uruguay, Ecuador, Peru, Philippines and Egypt.
The General Assembly declared 26 September the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons in its resolution 68/32 of 5 December 2013, devoting the observance to the furtherance of that objective – including through enhanced public awareness and education – in order to mobilize international efforts towards achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.
For information media. Not an official record.