“Nuclear weapons are the most destructive power ever created — they offer no security, just carnage and chaos,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, opening the plenary meeting to mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Addressing more than 70 leaders, ministers and representatives of Member States, he asked them to free themselves from the idea that nuclear disarmament is “an unattainable dream”, because achieving a world without such weapons — the oldest objective of the Organization — would offer “the greatest gift to future generations”.
Csaba Kőrösi, President of the General Assembly, invited States who remember the unimaginable suffering caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to reflect on viable solutions to put an end to such horrible weapons that have no place in the modern world. He expressed regret that the war in Ukraine and the critical situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant have undermined, in a few short months, the declaration made in January by the five nuclear Powers, which affirmed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” and caused the failure of the tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Tension is at its highest point, with the war in Ukraine having raised the credible risk of a global nuclear disaster, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has shown.
Mr. Guterres and Mr. Kőrösi presented their ideas for breaking the deadlock and restoring legitimacy to the multilateral non-proliferation regime — which is essential for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The Secretary-General, citing his Joint Agenda, called on countries to consider nuclear disarmament modalities based on a common understanding of new risks, including those related to the evolution of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, and to dispel the vagueness surrounding the distinction between strategic and other weapons. Mr. Kőrösi cited the question of relying on the existing architecture to safeguard and activate the non-proliferation treaties. The multilateral framework exists to ensure the eventual elimination of the 13,000 nuclear warheads, he stated.
Stressing the risks of Armageddon and apocalypse that would result from a single nuclear detonation, both men underlined how there can be neither peace nor trust without the elimination of such weapons. The NPT entered into force in January 2021 after being supported by civil society — with the creation of zones free of nuclear weapons and the right of Treaty adherents to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Several speakers subsequently called on nuclear-weapon States to assume their nuclear disarmament responsibilities under Article VI of the Treaty and to grant negative security assurances, by which they would legally undertake not to use such arms.
India’s delegate stressed that a revitalized Conference on Disarmament is necessary for negotiating a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons that would have the force of law. The African countries signatory to the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, also known as the “Pelindaba Treaty” — which made the continent a nuclear-weapon-free zone — and the Arab States engaged in a process of negotiation for the creation of such a zone in the Middle East extolled the merits of these useful instruments for restoring regional confidence. Namibia’s representative said the zones are regional shields against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The representative of Lebanon — which will chair the next conference in November in New York to negotiate a legally binding instrument on a Middle East without weapons of mass destruction — invited all the States of the region to participate in its work.
Representatives of developing countries that are parties to NPT warned against interpretations that could call into question their inalienable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, also calling for increased cooperation with IAEA and civil society actors, the latter having made their voices heard during the day.
China’s delegate — the only member of the permanent five (P5) nuclear-weapon States to speak — denounced the strengthening of rivalries and cooperation on nuclear submarines, affirming that his country’s doctrine is based on no first use of such weapons and rejection of any competitive arms race.
The representative of Pakistan voiced regret that his proposals to guarantee a stable and nuclear-weapon-free South-East Asia had never been adopted. He noted that nuclear capabilities were introduced in South-East Asia by a certain State in 1974, which also detonated the first explosions there on 11 May 1998. The representative of Iran denounced the withdrawal of the United States from several treaties and conventions relating to disarmament, with that position representing the main obstacle on the road to nuclear disarmament.
Many delegations requested that the eight States yet to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) do so as soon as possible so that it can enter into force. The President of the General Assembly further noted that tests on the Korean Peninsula represent a threat to both regional and international peace and security. The representative of Austria, which hosted the first Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in June, described the Vienna Action Plan as “realistic and ambitious”.