4 October 201721:24

Remarks by Mikhail Ulyanov, Director of the Foreign Ministry Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control and Representative of the Russian Federation at the First Committee of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, within the General Debate



Mr Chairperson,

Allow me to congratulate you on your election to this high position and to wish you success in your work.

The year that passed since the end of the previous session of the First Committee was filled with major events, the most important of which is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty or NWBT), which has been coordinated by a large group of countries and is open for signature. Unfortunately, we do not view this document positively, because it essentially differs from our vision on ways towards a nuclear-free world. Neither does this document correspond to the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, under which nuclear weapons are to be eliminated from national arsenals “pursuant to a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”

We respect the opinion of those who are advocating an early elimination of nuclear weapons. We support the idea of a nuclear-free world, but we also realise that it is a long-term goal and that movement towards it must proceed in stages alongside efforts to strengthen strategic stability and that it must take the national security interests of all countries into account. As for when and how nuclear weapons can be banned, this ban will only become expedient at one of the last stages in the process of nuclear disarmament so as to ensure the irreversibility of the results achieved. Adopting this goal now would be premature.

It should be said that some provisions of the NWBT are highly questionable. For example, it says that each state party shall have the right to withdraw from the treaty by giving notice of its withdrawal in case of some “extraordinary events.” In other words, the nuclear weapons ban as formulated in this treaty is not irreversible. The right to withdraw from the treaty is applicable to each state party, including non-nuclear countries, which makes one wonder how this resonates with obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Likewise, we are surprised by Article 18, which gives the NWBT priority over other existing international agreements. Does this mean that states party to the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty can waive their obligations under other agreements, apparently including the Non-Proliferation Treaty? If so, how can we agree that the new treaty will strengthen the non-proliferation regime, as the treaty’s authors claim it will?

One cannot help but be concerned by the lack of clarity with regard to a “competent international body” that is called upon to play the key role in implementing the NWBT. The way we see it, some of our partners are tempted to charge the IAEA with performing these functions. We must warn against doing so in the strongest possible way. Such attempts can be devastating for the agency, and its mandate and capacity do not and should not have anything in common with nuclear disarmament and verification thereof.

We want to reiterate that, given all the circumstances, Russia is not going to sign or ratify the new treaty. We call upon the international community to adhere, when it comes to nuclear disarmament,  to tried and tested approaches developed by consensus within the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which proven their effectiveness in practice. They boil down to the assumption that nuclear disarmament must lead to improved international security and stability, and enhance the security of all states without exception. This is precisely how Russia plans to act. As you may be aware, based on bilateral agreements with the United States and also unilaterally, our country has, over the past 30 years, made a tremendous contribution to bringing a nuclear-free world closer, by reducing by 85 per cent the size of its nuclear capacity. We continue this work as part of the START Treaty so that by February 5, 2018, we are able to reach the targets for the warheads, carriers and launchers envisaged by it.

Many present here may wonder what will come next. Time will tell. For example, the existing START Treaty can be renewed for another five years. We have no objections to considering this option, but to do so we need a partner who would be interested in making this happen.

In general, we have to acknowledge that the international situation is extremely unfavourable for considering options for further reduction of nuclear weapons due to a number of adverse factors. One of them is the ongoing unilateral creation of a global missile defence system. This project has already significantly spoiled the atmosphere in Europe. Now, the same thing is happening in Asia, especially in connection with the deployment of US THAAD systems in South Korea and the upcoming deployment of the US Aegis Ashore systems in Japan. Russian and Chinese military experts will discuss the dangerous consequences of building a global US missile defence system during a joint briefing that will take place here at the UN headquarters on October 12.  The First Committee delegations are welcome to take part in this event.

Further steps in the field of nuclear disarmament are also hampered by the ever increasing likelihood of weapons being deployed in outer space. Along with many other states, Russia is making every effort to prevent this. Back in 2004, we assumed a political commitment not to be the first to deploy weapons in outer space. Today, 17 countries participate in this initiative in a full-scale format. Quite recently, Vietnam joined it. We have been submitting to the First Committee a draft resolution to support this initiative for several years now. It enjoys wide support. Last year, 45 countries co-sponsored the resolution, with 130 states voting for it. We call upon everyone who has not done so yet to co-sponsor the relevant draft resolution this year or, at least, to vote in its favour. This applies primarily to the EU member states provided they care about preventing an arms race in outer space. So far, they have preferred to abstain citing the fact that there is no definition of the concept of “weapons in outer space” or a mechanism for verifying compliance with the obligations that are involved in the pledge to not be the first to deploy weapons in outer space. We believe these arguments are not convincing. After all, the issue is not about a legally binding agreement, but a political commitment and a confidence measure, where it is not necessary to spell out the verification procedures.

With regard to providing a definition for the word “weapons,” this definition, along with the other key provisions, is included in the Russian-Chinese draft treaty on preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space. It remains on the table of the Geneva Conference on Disarmament and, we hope, will soon be reviewed. Until this happens, we, together with our Chinese partners, suggest adopting, during this session, a resolution on establishing the UN Group of Governmental Experts on preventing an arms race in outer space. This would allow for an in-depth consideration of this issue, thus supplementing and encouraging the discussions on preventing an arms race in outer space at the Conference on Disarmament. We count on the First Committee to provide its utmost support to the draft resolution on this issue.

Mr Chairperson,

Already in November, we will be exactly in the middle of the current Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review cycle. We believe that the first session of the Preparatory Committee of the next Review Conference went well. Nonetheless, the nuclear non-proliferation issues persist. The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue remains a major and ever growing challenge. Just like other countries, we strongly condemn Pyongyang's nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches in violation of the UN Security Council resolution. We supported the latest sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. However, the sanctions are not a cure-all. The problem can be resolved only politically and diplomatically. The pressure can only be successful if it is backed by active diplomacy and a creative search for effective solutions. In this regard, Russia and China presented a joint settlement roadmap whereby, at the first stage, Pyongyang will refrain from new tests, while the United States and South Korea will stop or, at least, reduce the scale of joint military exercises near the DPRK borders. We consider the military option absolutely unacceptable. We call upon all stakeholders to refrain from provocative actions and bellicose rhetoric in the interests of creating more favourable conditions for political and diplomatic efforts.

Approving and successfully implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Iranian nuclear programme (JCPOA) was a major success in the field of non-proliferation. We are pleased to note that Tehran fully honours its obligations, as repeatedly confirmed by the IAEA. It is critical for all parties to this agreement to treat it as carefully as possible. The fact that, without any reason, quite artificially, the situation around the JCPOA is becoming more and more heated, cannot but cause concern. Statements have been made that could cause this agreement to collapse. Some have made calls to revise it. Just like the vast majority of other countries, Russia is strongly against this. Any attempt to “improve” the JCPOA could lead to its demise. We call on all our partners to strictly abide by the agreements that were reached.

We are extremely concerned by the fact that during the first half of the current NPT review cycle, we have not moved one iota towards convening a conference on creating a zone free of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. In fact, we have reached a deadlock, and no prospects for overcoming it are to be seen. This could have an adverse effect on the 2020 NPT Review Conference. Therefore, acting within the limits of available options, Russia is trying to help overcome the stagnation. At the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 NPT Review Conference in May, we circulated a working paper with specific considerations on ways to organise further work. We note with satisfaction the same businesslike approach on behalf of the UN Secretariat’s senior officials. During the current session of the First Committee, we plan to hold active consultations with the countries of the region on possible steps, which, among other things, will help unblock the activities to prepare and hold the Conference on making the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons and other WMD.

I will say a few words about the situation surrounding the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons (BTWC). In the course of its review conference last November, we all, probably, sensed the broad commitment to strengthening the BTWC regime, which, despite its advanced age, remains a weak and amorphous agreement. Unfortunately, it was not possible to agree on an effective work programme during the intersessional period due to the fact that, during the last hours of the conference, when a compromise was almost reached, some countries refused to continue the talks. Nonetheless, the final document included an important provision that would give the meeting of the states that are party to the BTWC to be held in early December a mandate to agree and approve by consensus the busy programme of work for the remainder of the intersessional period until 2021. We call on all the parties to the Convention not to miss this opportunity.

I would like to remind you about Russia’s initiative to develop a legally binding international convention for the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism (ICCBT) which was advanced at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. The fact that the relevance of this topic is increasing is evidenced, in particular, by dangerous developments in some Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, the BTWC and the CWC, which were developed in the last third of the past century, far from provide a full set of tools to accomplish the tasks related to countering terrorists seeking to possess biological and chemical weapons who, apparently, enjoy significant success in this endeavour. The “added value” of the Russian initiative also lies in the fact that it can make it possible to overcome the 20-year stagnation in the Conference on Disarmament negotiation work. Its advantage is that unlike other items on the agenda of the Geneva Conference, it cannot be perceived by any country as prejudicial to its national security interests. The new international convention would strengthen the legal framework for fighting terrorism and, therefore, meet the interests of all states without exception. We note that the overwhelming majority of the participants in the Conference on Disarmament either actively support this proposal, or say that they will not stand in the way of consensus, if one emerges. We hope that those few states that are still skeptical will reconsider their position on ICCBT.


Exactly six months ago, on April 4, there was a high-profile incident in Syria’s Khan Shaykhun involving the use of sarin. Russia immediately suggested conducting the most thorough, professional and objective investigation to identify and punish the perpetrators. Such an investigation has yet to be initiated. The OPCW fact-finding mission carried out its work superficially, in gross violation of the rules. It failed to comply with the basic principle guiding the sequence of actions to ensure the preservation of evidence. As always, the mission conducted a remote investigation, without going to the site of the incident and the Shayrat Air Base where the sarin used at Khan Shaykhun was allegedly stored. In this regard, we expect that the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, which is now in charge of this case, will remedy the shortcomings of the OPCW Mission, carry out a truly qualitative investigation, and will thus help the UN Security Council determine the feasibility of renewing its mandate.

In closing, I would like to draw the attention of the delegations to the fact that seven days ago Russia fully completed the destruction of its chemical arsenal, and did so three years before the deadline. This is yet another confirmation of our country's commitment to implementing disarmament agreements.

Thank you.

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