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Conference on disarmament hears statements on subsidiary bodies

Meeting Summaries

Speakers also address the conflict in Ukraine

The Conference on Disarmament today held a plenary meeting under the Presidency of Juan Antonio Quintanilla Román, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva, during which the coordinators of the five subsidiary bodies responsible for examining the items on the Conference's agenda gave presentations on the progress of their work.  Speakers then gave statements in response, and also addressed the conflict in Ukraine.

The five coordinators appointed on 22 February are the Ambassadors of Algeria for Subsidiary Body 1 on the cessation of the arms race and nuclear disarmament; of Spain for Subsidiary Body 2 on the prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters; of Chile for Subsidiary Body 3 on the prevention of an arms race in outer space; Indonesia for Subsidiary Body 4 on effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons; and Belarus for Subsidiary Body 5 on new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons, radiological weapons, a comprehensive programme of disarmament and transparency in armaments.

Statements were made by the following delegations: Iraq on behalf of the Group of 21, Germany (also on behalf of the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction), Russian Federation, France, United States, China, Iran, Pakistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Canada, United Kingdom, Republic of Korea and Japan.

At the end of the session, the President of the Conference presented ideas for reaching consensus on updating the rules of procedure to reflect the equal and active participation of men and women in the work of the Conference. Algeria, Colombia, France on behalf of the European Union and Venezuela spoke on that issue.

The next public plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament will be held at the beginning of the second part of its 2022 session, from 16 May to 1 July.

Updates by Coordinators of Subsidiary Bodies

Algeria welcomed Cuba’s assumption of the Presidency.  As coordinator of subsidiary body 1, Algeria proposed an approach that allowed all delegates to express their views.  The first meeting had been held on 15March, and the topic discussed was the cessation of the nuclear arms race.  Forthcoming plenaries would continue to discuss that topic and reach conclusions.  The coordinator would spare no effort to make the dialogue inclusive, and called on delegates to make constructive statements.

Spain coordinated subsidiary body 2, which discussed prevention of nuclear war.  The coordinator expected higher participation in the body.  Those who had participated did so actively and constructively.  Many delegations had mentioned the document prepared by Switzerland on behalf of the Stockholm Initiative.  On 17 May, a presentation on the benefits of prohibiting fissile material would be held.  In the subsidiary body meetings, delegates read out written statements, but the coordinator called on delegates to speak freely.  Free speech would help the bodies reach consensus and allow for a better understanding of each party’s views.

Chile coordinated subsidiary body 3, which discussed the prevention of an arms race in outer space.  Many delegations had taken the floor, and approximately 10 delegations would take the floor in the coming session.  Most delegations agreed on the need to negotiate a legally-binding instrument.  There were new threats and challenges that needed to be faced.  The coordinator called on delegates to speak freely and to make briefer interventions. 

Indonesia coordinated subsidiary body 4, and congratulated Cuba upon its assumption of the Presidency.  The first session of subsidiary body 4 had been held, and Indonesia thanked all delegates for their active and constructive participation.  23 States had expressed their views regarding negative security assurances.  Based on the discussion, a draft of common points had been distributed to delegates.  The goal of the body was to develop a draft report.  The current security situation made the issue of negative security assurances more important, and Indonesia called on delegates to not politicise discussions.

Belarus coordinated subsidiary body 5, and congratulated Cuba upon its assumption of the Presidency.  Belarus had proposed that new types of weapons of mass destruction and weapon systems be discussed in subsidiary body 5.  Belarus thanked delegates for participating actively and cooperating with the agenda.  Belarus expressed hope that future meetings would also be constructive.

Statements

Iraq on behalf of the Group of 21 stressed that the highest priority on the Conference of Disarmament agenda was nuclear disarmament.  The Group reiterated its deep concern at the danger posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons.  The Group supported past formal declarations calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons from national arsenals.  It welcomed the proclamation in 2014 of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, and the first ever Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons established by the Treaty of Tlatelolco.  It further welcomed the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, known as the Treaty of Pelindaba, which had come into effect in 2009.  The Group stressed the importance of effective implementation of concrete measures leading to a nuclear weapons-free world, and called on States to seize all opportunities toward that end.  The Group of 21 welcomed the establishment of September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, and the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly organized every year to commemorate and promote that International Day.  It noted the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 22 January 2021 and also noted that already, 86 States had signed the Treaty and 59 States had ratified or acceded to it.

The Group called on all States to be involved in the nuclear disarmament process.  The States parties of the Group of 21 to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons expressed concern at the sustained modernisation of nuclear weapons, the continuous improvements in existing nuclear weapons, and the development of new types of nuclear weapons as provided for in the military doctrines of some nuclear-weapon-holding States.  It called on all nuclear-weapon-holding States to refrain from any action that would run counter to the Treaty’s objective of total elimination of nuclear weapons and the cessation of the nuclear arms race.  The Group underscored the urgent need to commence negotiations on nuclear disarmament in the Conference of Disarmament.  Progress in nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, in all aspects, was essential to strengthening international peace and security.  There was an urgent need to conclude a universal, unconditional and legally binding instrument to effectively assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.  The Group was determined to promote multilateralism as the core principle of negotiations.

The Group expressed deep concern that three States parties blocked consensus on the draft outcome document of the ninth Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference including the process to establish a Middle East Zone free of Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction.  It called on all States party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and in particular the nuclear-weapon States, to ensure the early establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction.  The Group of 21 called for unequivocal commitment of nuclear weapon States to completely eliminate nuclear weapons and reduce nuclear danger.  It also called for negotiation in the Conference on Disarmament of a Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.  It called on Member States to participate every year in the one-day high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Germany thanked the coordinators of the subsidiary bodies for their efforts.  The Conference on Disarmament should be a negotiating body, and should work toward a mutual goal of disarmament.  Russian aggression against Ukraine was a flagrant breach of international law, and Germany condemned the suffering being caused the people of Ukraine.  Germany also condemned Belarus’s participation in the conflict. 

Speaking on behalf of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, Germany said that the Partnership had worked for twenty years toward reducing the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  It was appalled that the scourge of war has returned to Europe and to Ukraine, a fellow member.  It condemned the Russian Federation’s serious breach of international law, and was outraged that the threat of use of weapons of mass destruction had been evoked in the course of this conflict.  For more than two decades, Global Partnership members had worked together with Ukraine to increase the safety and security of facilities dealing with sensitive nuclear, biological or chemical materials for exclusively peaceful purposes.  It was dismayed that these threat-reduction activities had become the object of fabricated claims and false allegations.  It was unacceptable to levy such false accusations against Ukraine, a state in full compliance with its international non-proliferation obligations.  Those accusations might be a precursor to the use of biological or chemical weapons by Russia.  The members of the Global Partnership reaffirmed their full support to fellow member Ukraine.  They were determined to continue successful co-operation and assist Ukraine to counter chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear risks caused by the war.

Russian Federation attached great importance to the work of the subsidiary bodies of the Conference.  It had been possible to outline the main directions of subsequent discussions, which was cautiously encouraging.  It was regrettable that some delegations, rather than substantively meaningful conversations, preferred to make politicised statements on issues not directly within the purview of the subsidiary bodies.  It was positive that the issue of weapons of mass destruction remained in the focus of attention of the Conference on Disarmament, and that in-depth discussions had begun on nuclear issues.  During the special military operation in Ukraine, dangerous military-biological projects had been uncovered in the territory of that country, conducted with the participation and direct supervision of the United States Department of Defense.  At least 30 biological laboratories had been established, and at those laboratories, extremely dangerous biological experiments were carried out aimed at strengthening the pathogenic properties of a number of deadly diseases.  The basis of the United States-Ukrainian military-biological cooperation was an Agreement of 2005 between the United States Department of Defense and the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.  American specialists and experts had provided assistance not to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, as they claimed, but to the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine.

The Office of the Ministry of Defense had conducted work in Ukraine in preparation for the expansion of the North American Treaty Organization in Ukraine, to supply weapons to the United States, and to prepare weapons specific to the region.  The results of research projects related to the study and spread of cholera, smallpox, anthrax and botulinum toxins had been sent to United States military biological centres.  They were also studying the possibility of spreading through natural carriers especially dangerous bacterial and viral pathogens, including highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza, pathogens of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, plague, leptospirosis, hantaviruses, filoviruses and coronaviruses.  Those pathogens had resistance to drugs, and spread rapidly from animals to humans.  Ukraine had a unique geographical position, with a number of migration routes running through the territory of Russia and Eastern Europe.  Those studies created a real threat to biosafety both for the Russian Federation and the entire region.  Biological agents had also been sent to Great Britain, Georgia and Germany.  Germany was also implementing its own military-biological programme in Ukraine.  Its goal was to study in Eastern Europe the potential of deadly diseases, such as the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.  German specialists regularly visited Ukrainian hospitals in Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa and Lviv, where they studied the peculiarities of those diseases.  Germany's actions, previously unknown to the general public, posed the same threat as those of the United States, and required detailed study.

Ukrainian authorities had given the Pentagon free rein regarding activities on the territory of Ukraine and allowed them to independently conduct dangerous bio-experiments there.  Washington did not want to conduct those experiments on national territory, so as not to jeopardise its own population.  Washington categorically refused to have its biological laboratories, located in 30 countries, including the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia, internationally verified and had not agreed to the development of a verification protocol within the Biological Weapons Convention.  Russian Federation called for detailed explanations from the United States regarding the issues raised.  By providing such explanations, the United States would demonstrate true transparency.

France thanked the coordinators for the professional manner in which they were coordinating the work of the subsidiary bodies.  There was a shortcoming in interaction, and States could strive to be more interactive.  Discussions on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty were useful, as were discussions on the prevention of nuclear war in outer space.  Any discussion of disarmament should be based on trust and acknowledgement of the global situation.  The war in Ukraine and Russia’s aggression needed to be acknowledged.  France was very concerned regarding Russia’s irresponsible claims of biological weapons research, which were not based on any substantiative facts.  France’s experts would respond to all claims made by the Russian Federation.  Ukraine did not have biological weapons, and the United Nations had issued two statements saying that it had no knowledge of such programmes.  The disinformation campaign from Russia was a demonstration of double-standard discourse.  For two years, the international community had sent a very clear message to Russia in rejecting its proposed revisions to communications.  France would not accept that the independence of the United Nations be threatened.

United States said that there was not sufficient time allocated to subsidiary bodies to make significant progress on any agenda item.  The time constraints might have contributed to a lack of free discussion.  However, the work of those bodies could lay the groundwork for next year’s Conference on Disarmament.  The work could also be useful for the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in August.  Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine had impacted the disarmament discourse.  Its unconscionable aggression was a case study in why the United States focused on issues like transparency and risk reduction.  It was impossible to separate progress in disarmament and non-proliferation from the international security environment.

The United States thanked the coordinators of the subsidiary bodies for their efforts to keep the discussions substantive and productive.  On subsidiary body 1, the position of the United States was that States could not address disarmament without addressing transparency.  The United States Department of Defense had transmitted to Congress the classified 2022 National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review, and Missile Defense Review, and would inform the Conference on Disarmament when it was released publicly.  The Nuclear Posture Review highlighted the reduced role of nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal.  On subsidiary body 2, risk reduction and moving forward on a fissile material cut-off treaty were priorities for virtually every delegation.  The United States urged the international community to encourage reluctant nuclear-weapon States to explore risk reduction mechanisms, and encouraged all nuclear-weapon States to engage in constructive dialogue on risk reduction with non-nuclear-weapon States. 

In subsidiary body 3, the United States had to once again condemn Russia’s November 15, 2021 destructive test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites.  That action demonstrated that Russia was willing to jeopardise the long-term security and sustainability of outer space and imperil its peaceful exploration and use.  China had also put the world at risk with its fielding of similar ground-based direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles and lasers.  States should continue to advocate for multilateral measures that were voluntary, pragmatic, transparent, and that built confidence.  In subsidiary body 4, there was potential for progress in the tried-and-true model of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones – specifically the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.  The United States sought to hear from Association of South East Asian Nations Member States on the best way forward. 

In subsidiary body 5, the United States focused on the threat of biological weapons from State or non-State actors, as relevant biological agents, materials, knowledge, and expertise had become more widely available and less costly.  The Conference on Disarmament must not lose sight of the existing and former programmes that continued to threaten collective security.  It was mind-boggling that Russia had made ridiculous claims while waging a war in Ukraine simply because it wanted to.  Ukraine owned its own research infrastructure.  The United States research assistance had helped Ukraine to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.  All assistance provided was conducted within United States law and had provided assistance throughout the region.  Russia had accepted that assistance up until 2014.  Russia had followed a clear pattern of disinformation, and the United States called on all States to reject and discredit that information.

China congratulated Cuba on assuming the Presidency.  All delegations had participated in the subsidiary bodies, and the five coordinators of the subsidiary bodies had made positive efforts contributing to the smooth progress of the bodies’ work.  The achievements of the subsidiary bodies affirmed their effectiveness.  Most delegations had contributed well to the bodies’ work.  The bodies were working in new fields of disarmament, and China expressed hope that the bodies would bring forward work toward establishing legal instruments.  China was ready to work with all bodies toward that goal.  In the past, China had been a victim of biological weapons, and firmly opposed the use of biological weapons.  Russia had made complaints about the United States’ development of biological weapons.  The United States had developed more biological weapons than any other State.  China called on the international community to make an impartial assessment of the compliance of the United States regarding the development of biological weapons.

Iran congratulated Cuba on assuming the Presidency.  The international community faced increased threats regarding nuclear policy, as well as climate change and the global COVID-19 pandemic.  Threats of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons States threatened global peace.  Iran called on nuclear weapons States to respect international law and not make nuclear threats.  The massive arms transfer into West Asia was a cause for concern.  Iran hoped that the subsidiary bodies would help the Conference on Disarmament to make concrete steps toward achieving its mandate.  A key issue was political will.  The only guarantee against the threat of nuclear weapons was their total elimination.  The Conference on Disarmament needed to start deliberations toward achieving legislation toward a nuclear weapon free world.

Pakistan congratulated Cuba on assuming the Presidency.  Pakistan thanked the subsidiary bodies for their work, and looked forward to continuing engagement with those bodies.  It appreciated the opportunity for providing feedback on reports and called on all bodies to provide this opportunity.  Pakistan reiterated the importance of contributing to regional security.  The international security situation had become increasingly unstable, with arms races and military spending increasing.  Nuclear disarmament remained Pakistan’s priority.  It would be prudent to explore common ground on each agenda item.  Pakistan would continue to engage with coordinators in a constructive spirit.

Ukraine welcomed updates by the coordinators on the subsidiary bodies’ activities.

Today was the 36th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Russia had fired over 1,200 missiles at residential areas of Ukraine.  Since the start of the conflict, Russia had lost a large number of military personnel, tanks, ships, and other resources.  Putin had yet to explain why that conflict had started.  After a series of absurd statements about the creation of a nuclear weapons, the Russian disinformation machine had turned to biological weapons.  The United Nations Security Council had overwhelmingly rejected all of Russia’s claims.  The Minister of Health had stressed that there were no United States laboratories in Ukraine.  All Ukrainian laboratories conducted research toward developing medicines and improving the health of Ukrainian people.  The Government of Ukraine was making efforts to protect its laboratories.  Any efforts from Russia to overthrow those laboratories were dangerous.  Russia’s statements were a disinformation campaign, and indicated that Russia might be preparing to use biological weapons in Ukraine.  Ukraine demanded that Russia immediately implement all of the resolutions of the Security Council and immediately end all conflict.

Belarus shared the concern expressed by the Russian Federation regarding the alleged development of biological weapons in the Ukraine.  It called on the Ukraine and the United States to release all information regarding the development of biological weapons in Ukraine.

Canada said it was useful to take stock of the work of the Conference on Disarmament through subsidiary bodies.  The subsidiary bodies had so far avoided lengthy procedural discussions.  Canada called on States to work on substantive discussions, and applauded the Chinese, Colombian and Cuban Presidencies for supporting that aim.  States had agreed that the Conference on Disarmament did not work in a vacuum, and needed to address the conflict in Ukraine.  Canada condemned the manner in which the conflict was conducted by Russia.  Canada supported the referral of the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court.  Canada also condemned the complicity of Belarus in the conflict.  If States did not uphold fundamental international rules, they could not be trusted to respect rules regarding disarmament.  However, Canada would continue to work toward legislation on disarmament.

United Kingdom was pleased with the smooth start of the work on subsidiary bodies.  Russia had made an amateur attempt at disinformation.  That disinformation campaign had targeted Ukraine’s legitimate health research for several years.  What the United Kingdom wanted to hear from Russia was not disinformation, but an announcement of the withdrawal of its troops from Ukraine.

Republic of Korea expressed its support for the Cuban Presidency.  It noted positively that the subsidiary bodies had helped to increase understanding of each delegation’s positions on important topics related to disarmament.  Addressing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was not politicising the issue.  The Republic of Korea condemned Russia’s invasion, and expressed support for the people of Ukraine.

Japan expressed its support for the Cuban Presidency.  A ceasefire in Ukraine was imperative.  The international community needed to coordinate to take measures against Russia.  Japan prioritised fissile material cut-off treaty and space issues.  Threats in outer space should be taken into consideration.  The activity of subsidiary bodies should be reflected in the final report of the Conference on Disarmament.

JUAN ANTONIO QUINTANILLA ROMÁN, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, thanked the Presidencies of China and Colombia for their work, on which basis bilateral consultations were being held.  The rules of procedure had the same value in all languages, and any corrections needed to be approved by consensus from the Member States.  There was no impediment to the participation of women to the work of the Conference on Disarmament.  The issue was important, but did not qualify as being substantive work.  It should not be a topic that encouraged confrontation.  Women and men could participate on an equal footing to the Conference on Disarmament’s work.  Two possible solutions to the topic had been developed.  The first would be to include inclusive participation in the rules of procedure in all official languages.  Several delegations had stated that there would be difficulties due to the difference in semantics depending on the language.  The second solution would be to include a warning at the beginning of the rules of procedure that stated that any reference to the male sex also included reference to the female sex.  That solution had been adopted by the General Assembly.

Algeria stated that the Conference on Disarmament needed to progress with substantive work.  Algeria supported efforts to promote consensus regarding updating the rules of procedure through the subsidiary bodies in order to represent gender equality and allow men and women to participate equally.

Colombia thanked the Cuban Presidency for addressing the issue of gender equality in the rules of procedure.  It called on Cuba to circulate written proposals to allow for domestic deliberation.

France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the Union was determined to work toward gender equality.  It commended the efforts of the Secretary-General to promote gender equality.  It fully supported women’s participation in the field of disarmament, and the participation of women in all international bodies.  It expressed regret that the Conference on Disarmament was not able to reach consensus in its 2021 session on a technical update to reflect the equality of women.  France expressed hope that progress would be made in the 2022 session.  It encouraged the President to continue to hold discussions with a view to reaching a decision on recognising gender equality.

Venezuela said all Member States participated in the Conference on Disarmament on an equal footing.  It was important to continue to work toward reaching consensus, and Cuba’s simplified solution would help to reach consensus.  Venezuela viewed the proposals to be positive, and would communicate them domestically.  Venezuela would support Cuba in reaching a conclusion on that issue.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media; not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.

DC/22/16