Fearing Nuclear Stand-off on Korean Peninsula, First Committee Speakers Suggest Fresh Approaches to Global Security Governance

Amid fears of a nuclear stand-off, several speakers addressing the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) today drew attention to the danger of reaching a “point of no return”, and recommended ways to diffuse tensions.

The situation on the Korean Peninsula remained at the forefront of discussions, with several delegates, including the Republic of Korea’s representative, denouncing recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Such reckless provocations posed the gravest threat to the global non‑proliferation regime and to international peace and security, he said, adding that it must be stopped before crossing the point of no return.

Others rejected the “false equivalency” that had been drawn between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s activities and those of nuclear‑weapon States.  The United Kingdom’s delegate, also speaking for France and the United States, underscored that there was no comparison between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea illegal weapons of mass destruction programmes and the long-standing joint activities of nuclear‑weapon States with allies, which were transparent and defensive in nature.

He went on to say that the current sanctions and “pressure campaign” was aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and not at regime change or an accelerated reunification with the Republic of Korea.  The credibility of the global security architecture, particularly the non‑proliferation regime, would be at stake if the scale of the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea today was overlooked, he stressed.

Meanwhile, China’s speaker condemned a “certain big Power”, which had continued to increase its military expenditure in pursuit of its own absolute security.  Such new challenges called for a fresh approach to security governance, he said, adding that multilateralism could be truly achieved when the big Powers were kept on an “even keel”. 

Defending his country’s nuclear weapons programme, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said it had chosen to possess nuclear weapons to confront the United States’ hostile policy and continued threats.  Moreover, it had no intention of using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against any other country.

Other speakers provided examples of how to de-escalate conflict.  Haiti’s delegate said the peace agreement in Colombia had served as an example to others, demonstrating that violence did not always settle disputes.  Elaborating on that brokered peace, Colombia’s speaker said that after decades of fighting, talks between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC‑EP) had triggered a massive surrendering of weapons, which now no longer threatened its citizens.

Several speakers also highlighted the role of women in disarmament, with representatives of Spain and Trinidad and Tobago emphasizing the importance of the women, peace and security agenda.  The issue was particularly pertinent as women played a crucial role in addressing violence in their communities, stressed the representative of Trinidad and Tobago, while the delegate of the United Arab Emirates asked for a major gender mainstreaming in all disarmament and international security measures.

Also delivering statements today were representatives of Angola, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Libya, Nicaragua, Sudan, Ghana, Botswana, New Zealand and Maldives.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, United States, Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom.

The Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 9 October, to continue its debate on all disarmament and related international security questions.

Background

The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) continued its general debate today.  For background information, see Press Release GA/DIS/3571 of 2 October.

Statements

MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq), Chair of the First Committee, commended the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  He also recognized the contribution of the First Committee in convening in 2017 the United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.

MATTHEW ROWLAND (United Kingdom), also speaking on behalf of France and the United States, addressed a range of concerns about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent activities, which were destabilizing the strategic situation in East Asia and challenging norms established by the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.  Tightening sanctions aimed at reducing available resources to support its related weapons programmes and impeding its ability to acquire key technologies were meant to convince the Government to abandon its prohibited activities, not to punish its people or economy.

He rejected any false equivalency between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s illegal weapons of mass destruction programmes and the long-standing joint activities with allies, which were transparent and defensive in nature.  The “pressure campaign” was aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, not at regime change or an accelerated reunification with the Republic of Korea, he said.  Calling on countries to use all available leverage to compel the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to abandon its destructive path, he said the Security Council resolution obligations of Member States were the floor, and not the ceiling, of what nations could be doing.  The credibility of the global security architecture, particularly the non‑proliferation regime, would be at stake if the scale of the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea today was overlooked.

CHO TAE-YUL (Republic of Korea) said the work of the First Committee had been complicated by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the only country that had conducted nuclear tests in the twenty‑first century.  Such reckless provocations posed the gravest threat to the global non‑proliferation regime and to international peace and security, he said, adding that it must be stopped before crossing the point of no return.  Should it change course, the Republic of Korea stood ready to help it build a brighter future.  The world was far from being free from nuclear weapons and practical measures were needed.  As a country under constant threat from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it was only logical for it to support a progressive approach to nuclear disarmament based on the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.  Further, the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty and the early launch of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off convention should be a priority.

ISMAEL ABRAÃO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) said the international community should give priority to nuclear disarmament and emphasize the need for concrete measures that would reflect its commitment to the complete elimination of such arms, in accordance with the obligations of the nuclear‑weapon States under the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.  Such efforts should culminate in the complete, non‑discriminatory and multilaterally verifiable ban on nuclear weapons, as was the case with Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), associating himself with the European Union, raised a number of security concerns, including the worsening of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, which required a diplomatic solution, and terrorist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Daesh) operating in the Middle East, Europe, North America and other regions.  For its part, Georgia’s law enforcement agencies had detected attempts to smuggle nuclear and radioactive materials through territory currently under foreign occupation and were now working to promote integrated regional approaches.  In fact, the Russian Federation’s military presence in Georgia’s occupied territories continued to build up, hindering efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict.  To tackle some current weapons-related challenges, he expressed support for instruments such as the Arms Trade Treaty, Chemical Weapons Convention and the Test‑Ban Treaty.

CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LÓPEZ (Colombia), emphasizing that conventional weapons caused the highest number of casualties worldwide, called for stricter controls to prevent their illicit trafficking.  For its part, talks between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC‑EP) had triggered a massive surrendering of weapons, which now no longer threatened its citizens, he said, expressing hope for broad support in the Committee for the draft resolution on small arms and light weapons, which his country had co‑sponsored.  After decades of conflict, Colombia was making progress in areas such as demining.  On global security, he condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent testing and hailed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a milestone in disarmament history that would contribute to peace and security.  He expressed support for the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and highlighted progress in implementing Security Council resolution 1540 (2004), notably the peer review exercise involving Colombia and Chile.

WANG QUN (China) said global strategic stability was being eroded, as a “certain big Power” had continued to increase its military expenditure in pursuit of its own absolute security.  Such new challenges called for a fresh approach to security governance, he said, adding that multilateralism could be truly achieved when the big Powers were kept on an “even keel”.  The United Nations needed to play a key role in the multilateral disarmament machinery, demonstrated by recent positive outcomes from the Disarmament Commission and the Open‑ended Working Group on the fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.  The multilateral disarmament machinery was not outdated, but should be revitalized instead of “starting up new kitchens”.  Turning to other issues, he said China had contributed to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, in cooperation with the United Nations, and had made efforts for a negotiated settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions.  China’s priorities included cybersecurity, the peaceful use of outer space, and providing humanitarian and demining assistance.

AMRITH ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, recalled his country’s long record of opposing nuclear weapons, including its support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Having experienced a decades-long conflict in the past, Sri Lanka recognized the senseless destruction small arms and light weapons caused and had established a national commission to address their proliferation and illicit trade.  While Sri Lanka agreed in principle with similar international measures dealing on the latter, he stressed the importance of ensuring that those activities did not affect States’ rights to legally procure and possess such weapons for their self-defence.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, condemned threats certain States were making to destroy other countries, calling for a firm commitment to put into practice relevant non‑proliferation instruments.  He called upon nuclear‑weapon States to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adding that the total elimination of such arms was the only guarantee against their use or threat of use.  Unconditional legally binding guarantees must be honoured, military doctrines of nuclear‑weapon States must be removed and Non‑Proliferation Treaty principles must be observed, including the sovereign right of States to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.  The prevention of an arms race in outer space was also a priority on the disarmament agenda, he said, emphasizing that the Russian-Chinese proposal was a good start.  Congratulating the Russian Federation for the destruction of its last stockpiles of chemical weapons, he emphasized that multilateralism was the most effective path toward disarmament.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s activities were in flagrant violation of Security Council resolutions, posing grave threats to global international security.  Underscoring the Non‑Proliferation Treaty’s role as the foundation to promote nuclear disarmament, he welcomed the constructive atmosphere of the preparatory committee of the instrument’s 2020 Review Conference.  As a non‑nuclear‑weapon State, Spain appealed to countries with higher stockpiles to move toward the objective of a nuclear‑weapon‑free world.  However, Spain disagreed with the approach taken by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, as the international community needed to promote a process that considered nuclear‑weapon States’ security issues.  The first step should be the entry into force of the Test‑Ban Treaty, including the remaining eight Annex 2 countries.  Turning to the issue of gender perspective in disarmament, he remarked on the low number of women in the First Committee, adding that Spain was proud to be among countries leading the women, peace and security agenda.

JALAL ALJAEDI (Libya), associating himself with the African Group, Arab Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, said national efforts included enforcing provisions of international treaties and conventions with a view to eliminating weapons of mass destruction.  Calling on nuclear‑weapon States to work towards eliminating their arsenals, he welcomed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and urged countries to sign it.  He expressed disappointment that no agreement had been reached on establishing a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East.  For its part, Libya had destroyed all its chemical weapons in cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  On regional concerns, he said multilateral cooperation and Syria’s political will were fundamental in achieving peace and to achieve the goals of disarmament.

JASSER JIMÉNEZ (Nicaragua), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, emphasized that more was spent on weapons today and less on development.  For its part, Nicaragua had signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and was committed to the idea that the only guarantee to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction was their total elimination.  Nuclear‑weapon‑free zones contributed to strengthening international peace and security, he said, regretting to note the failure to create such a zone in the Middle East.  Highlighting that the Non‑Proliferation Treaty was a legally binding international instrument for disarmament, he called on nuclear‑weapon States to fully comply with the instrument’s provisions.  Turning to the issue of illicit arms trade, he said Nicaragua had been proclaimed as “safe and impenetrable” to organized crime, drug and arms trafficking, with the United Nations placing it among the six safest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan) said his country was an active disarmament partner, having joined the Test‑Ban Treaty in 2004 and led efforts towards establishing the African Nuclear‑Weapon‑Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba).  Progress must be made on creating such a zone in the Middle East and all nuclear facilities in the region should submit to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, especially Israel.  Turning to conventional weapons concerns, he said Sudan had suffered from their spread, with further complications stemming from environmental factors, which had led to some tribes arming themselves to protect their resources.  For its part, Sudan was trying to stem the illicit flows, but such initiatives required a commitment from manufacturing countries, who should refrain from exporting them to non‑State entities.  Sudan had also undertaken demining efforts and hoped to declare all eastern states mine-free by December 2017.

PATRICK SAINT-HILAIRE (Haiti), associating with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), called for sustained efforts to control the arms trade and for all States to show political will to peacefully settle disputes.  The peace agreement in Colombia had served as an example to others, demonstrating that violence did not always settle disputes.  The production, circulation and the use of increasingly destructive weapons compromised the chances for international peace and security, he said, stressing that conventional weapons greatly affected developing countries, disrupted public order and led to criminal activities.  Calling on the international community to work to stem the circulation of those weapons, he said Haiti was already taking steps to address that issue.  Condemning recent nuclear testing and ballistic missile launches, he called on all Member States to shoulder their responsibilities with respect to the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

FRED FRIMPONG (Ghana), associating himself with the African Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, expressed concerns about the current state of the disarmament machinery, noting that the Non‑Proliferation Treaty had been continuously subjected to reinterpretations and the first preparatory committee meeting for its 2020 Review Conference had failed to reach consensus on an outcome document.  The latter situation constituted a lack of good faith by some Member States in their commitments towards nuclear non‑proliferation and disarmament.  Turning to small arms and light weapons, he highlighted Ghana’s demonstrated commitment to reducing their proliferation and misuse through its destruction of more than 1,300 illegal weapons in 2016 and its ongoing crackdown on local gun manufacturing and trafficking activities.

CHARLES THEMBANI NTWAAGAE (Botswana), associating himself with the African Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, urged the international community to work in unison and take prompt, decisive action to ensure that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea adhered to the values and principles of the United Nations Charter.  He also reiterated a concern about the lack of progress in achieving a world free of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.  “This status quo can be attributed in part to reluctance and non‑cooperation by some Member States which possess such weapons and regard them as an integral part of their strategic defence architecture,” he said, urging such States to listen to the concerns of the majority and “march in step” with them.  Botswana supported the establishment of nuclear‑weapon‑free zones that would bind Member States to reject nuclearization in their respective regions and supported the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.

DELL HIGGIE (New Zealand) expressed regret that the Conference on Disarmament had been unable to live up to its mandate, particularly since it had been a key actor in previous decades.  However, the desire to make some contribution to safeguarding humanity had been the motivating factor for a large grouping of Member States that had negotiated the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  That motivation had been the impetus behind New Zealand’s signature, she said, noting that while it did not expect the instrument to result in a significant short-term change to the normative situation against nuclear weapons, the signatories had taken a first step in the interest of humanity that advanced global security.  As a strong advocate of multilateralism and the rule of law, New Zealand would continue to support efforts to adopt and implement new norms to safeguard humanity.

PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), aligning herself with CARICOM, said amid a growing movement against nuclear weapons — within the United Nations and with awarding a Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons — her Government looked forward to signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Turning to other concerns, she said small arms and light weapons posed great threats to Trinidad and Tobago and were often referred to as the Caribbean’s weapons of mass destruction.  While committed to the Programme of Action on Small Arms and the Arms Trade Treaty, she regretted to note that the United Nations had not been able to include language on ammunition in relevant instruments.  Highlighting Trinidad and Tobago’s role at the forefront of including women and disarmament in international security issues, she said women played a crucial role in addressing violence in their communities.  Referring to an emerging concern, she warned their vulnerability could lead to conflicts in post‑hurricane environments.

LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), associating herself with the Arab Group and Non‑Aligned Movement, reaffirmed a commitment to support dialogue for establishing a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East, calling on Israel to join the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.  On Iran’s continued nuclear activities, she stressed the need for its full cooperation with IAEA.  The Test‑Ban Treaty was the primary platform for deterring nuclear testing, she said, expressing deep concern that it had not yet entered into force and urging States to maintain the moratorium on tests.  Condemning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s testing activities, she urged it to respect its international obligations.  More broadly, she emphasized the need for gender mainstreaming in disarmament and international security measures.

FARZANA ZAHIR (Maldives), noting that her country had never produced weapons of any kind and had just adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, said it may be far‑fetched to imagine achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, but it was possible.  Countries spending large amounts to develop nuclear weapons should put that money instead into social and economic development.  Strongly condemning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s recent activities, she appealed for redoubled efforts to prevent further tests and to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  She also welcomed the Security Council’s firm action and unity on the issue and its efforts to find a diplomatic solution.

Mr. ROWLAND (United Kingdom) said the world was being confronted by States deliberately flouting the rules-based system for their own gain, including Syria’s use of chemical weapons and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear weapons proliferation.  The current global security environment posed challenges, testing the common values, vision and resolve needed to defend the rules and standards that underpinned collective security and prosperity.  For its part, the United Kingdom had reduced its nuclear weapon capabilities and would continue to do so, he said, noting that it possessed approximately only 1 per cent of the total global stockpile.  As a responsible nuclear‑weapon State, it had been pursuing a step‑by‑step approach to disarmament consistent with the Non‑Proliferation Treaty and its other convention commitments.

However, he said, the United Kingdom had not taken part in negotiating the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and did not intend to sign, ratify or become party to it.  Nor could it accept any argument that the instrument constituted a development of customary international law binding the United Kingdom or other non‑parties.  The instrument failed to address the key issues that must be overcome to achieve lasting global nuclear disarmament and would not improve the international security environment nor increase trust and transparency.  The current unpredictable international security environment demanded the maintenance of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future, he said, adding that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was at odds with the existing non‑proliferation and disarmament architecture and risked undermining the Non‑Proliferation Treaty.  Beyond nuclear weapons, the United Kingdom remained committed to the Arms Trade Treaty and was also committed to the goals of freeing the world of anti‑personnel mines.  He also said the future of international governance of outer space required the establishment of voluntary principles of responsible behaviour.

JA SONG NAM (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) said nuclear disarmament efforts required countries that possessed the largest arsenals to take the lead in dismantling them, rolling back aggressive nuclear doctrines and withdrawing nuclear weapons deployed outside their own territories.  While his Government agreed with the primary focus of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was not in a position to accede while the United States continued to pose a nuclear threat against his country. 

Recalling how the United States had introduced nuclear weapons to the Republic of Korea in 1957, he said his country had opted to possess nuclear weapons to confront the United States’ hostile policy and continued threats, while holding its strategic line of parallel development of its nuclear forces and national economy.  The United States was the only country in the world that had massacred hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians by using nuclear weapons in a real war.  Furthermore, it had attempted to suffocate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by instituting all sorts of systematic measures of discrimination and sanctions.  The nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula had been created by the United States, he said, adding that his Government had no intention of using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against any other country.

Right of Reply

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in exercise of the right to reply, responded to comments made during the debate.  The United Kingdom’s regime had called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear deterrence a threat to the world peace and security, when it was really for self‑defence, to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and to defend itself from the United States, he said.  To the Republic of Korea’s speaker, he said the issue of the Korean Peninsula “is an issue of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States”.

The representative of Syria said the United Kingdom was one of the major terrorist exporters to his country.  British colonialism brought disaster, sabotage, arms and intelligence to terrorists in the entire region.  British policy was poisonous and the United Kingdom was no longer a “super‑Power”, but a follower of another State.

The representative of the United States said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was fooling no one with its rhetoric.  The United States posed no threat to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said, and asked that country to comply with Security Council obligations.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had a choice either to take the path to peace and cooperation or to choose belligerence and cause further suffering to its people.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was portraying itself as a victim when it was the threat itself.  Multiple Security Council resolutions had been adopted unanimously, including all five permanent members, and States had condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s actions year after year in all international forums.  The Republic of Korea had more than enough reasons to make its northern neighbour stop its negative actions, she said, calling on countries to focus on playing a constructive role in solving the crisis.

The representative from the United Kingdom said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea posed a threat to international peace and security, as could be heard from speakers in the Security Council and in the First Committee.

The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, condemning reckless remarks by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea, said the United States had misled the public with its fraudulent claim that sanctions were aimed at reaching a peaceful solution.  The issue was between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States, he said, calling on the United Kingdom to end its cooperation with the United States.

The representative of the United States said that despite the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea claims that the issue was between their countries, it was also an international issue, reflected in repeated condemnations by numerous Member States and Security Council resolutions.

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