There is a need to galvanize action to swiftly and permanently rid the world of atomic bombs, especially as the global community grapples with the coronavirus, delegates said today during the General Assembly’s high-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
“With our collective determination, I am confident that we can deliver on this commitment,” said Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, opening the day-long meeting. Noting that more than 15,000 atomic bombs remain operational, collectively making the world less safe, he said atomic bombs are not compatible with the collective view of the future, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic forced all States to reflect on the kind of world they want. He recalled that the General Assembly’s very first resolution, adopted in 1946, called for global nuclear disarmament after the horrific use of such weapons more than 76 years ago, when two atomic bombs devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing nearly 300,000 people.
Secretary-General António Guterres agreed, saying: “Your predecessors in this Assembly understood the fatal flaw behind the use of these weapons; the only inheritance for the victor would be a broken and barren world.” He warned that mutual distrust could lead to mutual destruction, and even eradicate all life on the planet because ultimately, nuclear conflict has no victors, only victims. Even now, the nuclear risk has reached levels not seen in almost four decades, he said, noting, however, that signs of hope have emerged, including the entry-into-force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in January. Encouraging collective action, he said: “Let’s seize the opportunities this year will present to move closer to our goal of eliminating these weapons.”
Japan’s representative urged States to ensure that the tragedy of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not be repeated. As the only country to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan underlines the need to communicate the realities of atomic bombings across generations and beyond national borders, he said.
President David Kabua of the Marshall Islands recalled that the testing of atomic bombs was conducted in his country from 1946 to 1958 while it was a ward of the United States under the United Nations trusteeship system, which authorized the tests. Long-term effects lingered in the lives, health, culture and environment of the islands for decades, he said, calling for concrete, time-bound disarmament outcomes at the global level.
Many delegates urged States to make these commitments by, among other things, adhering to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, with its three pillars — disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful use of atomic energy. Many recognized the important safeguard systems of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and encouraged nuclear-weapon-States to join or ratify all relevant conventions to make them operational, including the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which opened for signature in 1996 but has yet to enter into force.
Jeyhun Aziz Oglu Bayramov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said nuclear disarmament has historically been the membership’s highest priority. Convening the United Nations High-Level International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament, as mandated by General Assembly resolutions, would provide an important opportunity to review the progress made and further promote that noble objective, he said, adding: “It is time to take a new and comprehensive approach on nuclear disarmament.”
Libya’s delegate emphasized, on behalf of the Arab Group, the need to work harder towards establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Fiji’s representative, speaking for the Pacific Islands Forum, called for an end to all actions inconsistent with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, such as developing new types of weapons.
Gabon’s representative reiterated the African Group’s commitment to the Treaty of Pelindaba. He also called upon States to engage constructively on implementation of the 1995 resolution to free the Middle East of nuclear weapons, which “creates an equitable, sustainable and non-discriminatory security architecture in the region.”
President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera of Malawi echoed the frustration of many non-nuclear-weapon States with the slow pace of disarmament, saying a world free of such weaponry feels increasingly like a pipe dream. Recalling that four of the Security Council’s five permanent members recently engaged in a “public war of words over nuclear submarines”, he said he remains concerned about the continued proliferation and stockpiling of atomic bombs and the nuclear ambitions of States wishing to follow suit.
Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón, Mexico’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, was among several speakers who expressed concern about ballooning military budgets, pointing out that the nuclear-weapon States spent $72.6 billion in 2020 to modernize their arsenals and develop new weaponry as the world grappled — and still struggles — to contain COVID-19.
Some speakers voiced concern that the nuclear-weapon States, including some of the five permanent Council members, are violating their treaty agreements by modernizing and enlarging their arsenals. Many agreed that the funds spent on updating arsenals would be better spent on realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, because the far-reaching impact of COVID-19 reversed the hard-won development gains of many countries.
China’s representative, expressing full support for disarmament goals, said the current security landscape continues to espouse a cold war mentality. China, for its part, maintains its commitment not to be the first to use atomic bombs, and not to use them — or threaten their use — against non-nuclear-weapon States or in nuclear-weapon-free zones.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan said nuclear weapons are a “political choice”, recalling the decision by his country’s Government in 1991 to shut down what was then the world’s fourth largest atomic arsenal. Furthermore, the Central Asia region has been a nuclear-weapon-free zone since 2006, the first located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere, he noted, urging others to join it.
Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, summed up a common call, emphasizing that there is work to be done with nuclear weapons still proliferating around the world 51 years after the Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force.
Pedro Brolo Vila, Guatemala’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, struck a similar note, noting: “Seventy-six years have passed since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; these events confirmed to the world that these weapons should never have been invented.”
Also delivering statements were Heads of State and Government, ministers and other speakers representing Nigeria, Kiribati, Guyana, Fiji, Namibia, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Bangladesh, South Africa, Honduras, Ecuador, Indonesia, Lesotho, Ireland, Venezuela, Malta, Suriname, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Algeria, New Zealand, Argentina, Jamaica, Malaysia, India, Mauritius, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Uruguay, Turkey, Panama, Cambodia, Uganda, Thailand, Iran, Iraq, Niger, Qatar, Austria, Lebanon, Mongolia, Viet Nam, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Dominican Republic, Jordan, Comoros, Albania, Samoa, Brazil, Philippines, Morocco, Timor-Leste, Ghana, United Republic of Tanzania, Paraguay, Bolivia, Nepal and Burkina Faso.
Observed annually on 26 September since 2013, the International Day offers Member States an opportunity to take stock of global disarmament efforts and to turn promises into progress.
The General Assembly will meet again tomorrow, 29 September, to begin its general debate.