Secretary-General Urges Commitment to Outlawing Tests, as Assembly President Invokes Debt Owed to Victims, Generations Unborn
The General Assembly commemorated the International Day against Nuclear Weapons Tests today, with delegates deploring the heated tensions between nuclear-armed States — and their diverging views on disarmament — almost 75 years after the first use of atomic bombs.
Throughout today’s meeting, several speakers described the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, adopted by the Assembly in 1996, as an “indispensable” cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime and called for redoubled efforts to ensure its swift entry into force. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in opening remarks that the Assembly was gathered to pay tribute to the victims of nuclear testing and to raise awareness of the threat that tests continue to pose to the environment and to global security.
He went on to recall that more than 2,000 tests were carried out over seven decades, exacting a terrible toll. People from places as diverse as the South Pacific, North America and North Africa have equally suffered from radioactive fallout, he added. While acknowledging that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty is among the most widely supported instrument — with 184 signatures and 168 ratifications, with an international monitoring system that has facilitated global peace — he pointed out that it has not yet entered into force. Eight of the 44 States whose ratification is needed have not taken the necessary action, he said, calling upon the remaining eight to do so with a sense of urgency, and to renew their commitment to outlaw all tests “for all time, in all places”.
General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador) said the tenth International Day observance is an occasion to reflect on the shared vision of nuclear disarmament. Paying tribute to the victims and all those whose lives have been adversely affected, she said “we owe it to them — and to generations unborn — not to repeat the horror of nuclear tests and nuclear weapon explosions”. The world is moving through a dangerous period, marked by tensions between nuclear armed States, she noted. Describing the Treaty’s adoption as an “important moment” in the quest for disarmament, she urged the remaining Annex II States to join the 168 Governments that have already ratified it so that it can enter into force.
Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, said the business of ending nuclear tests for all time remains unfinished. “It is my hope that today’s commemoration will help to inspire countries to take concrete measures that will allow us to finally reach our objective of a world free from the dangers of nuclear testing.” The only path to reach that noble goal is through the Test-Ban Treaty, he said, emphasizing that the instrument would not exist at all without the multilateral diplomacy that took place over decades. Likewise, its entry into force will require sustained multilateral efforts at every step, he said, stressing that, although scientists, diplomats, politicians, academics, media and all civil society can play a role, in the end, States themselves will make the sovereign decision as to whether to join the overwhelming international consensus against nuclear testing.
Annika Thunborg, Sweden’s Ambassador to Mexico and former Spokesperson and Chief of Public Information for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, said the prohibition enshrined in the Test-Ban Treaty makes the instrument one of the strongest ever negotiated. It bans — comprehensively and in a non-discriminatory manner — nuclear explosions previously conducted for so-called peaceful purposes, with devastating effects on humans, animals and the environment. Describing it as a model treaty, she noted, however, that, unfortunately, the door to further testing remains ajar because significant States have yet to ratify the instrument, thereby not only placing the world at risk, but also denying themselves and others the Treaty’s full security benefits. “It is time to close and firmly lock the door on nuclear testing for a more peaceful and secure world,” she declared.
In the ensuing discussion, Kairat Umarov (Kazakhstan) recalled that the International Day was established 10 years ago on his country’s initiative. It was on this day 70 years ago that the first Soviet nuclear bomb was tested in Kazakhstan. On the same day in 1991, the President of Kazakhstan announced a unilateral decision to close the Semipalatinsk test site. “It still remains an unprecedented action, since no other nuclear test sites have been officially closed,” he said, cautioning that a declared moratorium on testing does not keep humanity safe since it can be reversed at any time.
Urging all Member States to press for the Treaty’s entry into force and for a complete ban on nuclear weapons, he noted that on 29 August, Kazakhstan deposited its ratification documents for the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Governments must begin a dialogue on the planet’s future, he said, stressing that Kazakhstan’s tragic history is a vivid example that nuclear weapons are incompatible with a safe and secure future. “We hope that by 2045 — the centenary of the United Nations — the world will finally get rid of the nuclear threat and our children will live in a safe and truly stable world.”
Philip Ochin Andrew Odida (Uganda) spoke for the African Group, expressing deep concern over the slow progress made by nuclear-weapon States to eliminate their arsenals, as outlined in Article VI of the Treaty. Insisting on the implementation of all agreed measures in the context of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, he reiterated the African Group’s commitment to the Treaty of Pelindaba, which reaffirms Africa’s status as a nuclear-weapon-free zone, and the importance of universal adherence to the Test-Ban Treaty.
Darja Bavdaz Kuret (Slovenia), speaking for the Eastern European Group, said the threat of testing and misuse of nuclear weapons is still very much alive, citing dangerous developments on the Korean Peninsula. While welcoming the latest positive developments there, especially the unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing on the part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he called upon that country to sign and ratify the Test-Ban Treaty without delay and to comply with its provisions.
Vitavas Srivihok (Thailand), speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), emphasized the importance of regional nuclear-weapon-free zones, expressing support for efforts to establish such an area in the Middle East. He reiterated the bloc’s commitment to preserving South-East Asia as a zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction. He encouraged the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to continue their diplomatic endeavours to lay the groundwork for complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Jamal Fares Alrowaiei (Bahrain) spoke for the Arab Group, rejecting the idea that ownership of nuclear weapons is necessary to ensure stability. Calling upon nuclear-weapon States to eliminate their arsenals, he declared: “This is the least these countries can do” to compensate for the massive damage caused by testing. He decried Israel’s refusal to abide by the rules outlined in the non-proliferation framework and the fact that some Powers provide it with a political umbrella. Such a scenario means the Middle East has fallen victim to an arms race, he said, calling for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
Silvio Gonzato, speaking for the European Union, encouraged various initiatives to engage, especially with the remaining Annex II States — Egypt, China, Iran, Israel and the United States, which still must ratify the Treaty, as well as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India and Pakistan, which are still to sign and ratify it. He also urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to embark on a credible path towards complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, pointing out that the European Union has provided more than €23 million to technical projects intended to strengthen the verification regime and build capacity in developing countries.
Several delegations objected to recent actions by the United States. Majid Takht Ravanchi (Iran) denounced the fact that Washington, D.C., “will not seek ratification” of the Test-Ban Treaty and will instead “resume nuclear explosive testing” — a gross violation of its legal obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He also objected to that country’s irresponsible withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. “No matter how important the voluntary moratoria on nuclear tests are, they cannot substitute for a comprehensive universal and verifiable legally-binding prohibition on all types of nuclear explosions,” he stressed.
Similarly, Ana Silvia Rodríguez Abascal (Cuba) criticized countries that continue to modernize their warheads, missiles, aerial-launch systems and arsenals, invoking the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a reminder of the risks involved while recalling that the United States carried out 1,032 nuclear tests between 1945 and 1992. Underscoring Cuba’s support for a ban on all nuclear tests, as well as the closure and dismantling of all related facilities, she also advocated for the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, and urged nuclear States to provide universal, legally binding, non-discriminatory guarantees that they will not use such weapons under any circumstance.
Martin Eric Sipho Ngundze (South Africa), associating himself with the Africa Group, said that suspension of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty added a negative dimension to efforts to create a world free of nuclear weapons. He urged nuclear States to eliminate their arsenals, while expressing concern over the lack of progress towards ratification of the Treaty by the remaining eight Annex II States.
Many others underlined the importance of prohibition, with Koro Bessho (Japan) stressing it has been an effective pillar in advancing disarmament and non-proliferation. Given the deteriorating security environment and diverging views on disarmament, Governments should “reassume realistic measures”, he said, adding that it is deeply regrettable that some have not yet signed or ratified the Test-Ban Treaty.
Bahr Aluloom (Iraq) said the Test-Ban Treaty is among the most important instruments for ending nuclear testing, emphasizing that its entry into force is “a political and moral responsibility”. The Article XIV conference to be held in November aims to ensure that objective, he said, urging all Middle East countries to participate.
Peng Yu (China) underscored the Test-Ban Treaty’s importance in lowering the risk of nuclear war, pressing nuclear States to abide by its testing moratorium and to commit unconditionally not to use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons. China has committed to no first use and agreed not to use them against non-nuclear weapon States, he added.
Jehanzeb Khan (Pakistan) said his country voted for the Test-Ban Treaty’s adoption in 1996 and, despite “compelling regional dynamics”, has maintained a moratorium since 1998. Emphasizing that Pakistan was not the first to conduct a nuclear test in South Asia, and will not be the first to resume testing, he said regional and global efforts should be pursued in parallel, noting that Pakistan proposed a bilateral nuclear-test-arrangement to India. Disarmament can only be realized as a universally agreed undertaking through a consensus-based process that leads to undiminished security for all, he stressed. Pakistan understands the motivations of States to have nuclear weapons, he said, citing long-standing disputes with more powerful States and the failure of the United Nations to resolve them, as well as the failure of the collective security system, and discrimination in the application of international norms and standards. Those motivations are different from those of States holding nuclear weapons for reasons of prestige or to maintain their status as global Powers, he said.
Still other delegates focused on the question of monitoring and verification, with Luis Gallegos Chiriboga (Ecuador) calling attention to the two monitoring stations on the Galapagos Islands. Kira Christianne Danganan Azucena (Philippines) questioned the entire premise for staging further trials. With the lethal efficacy of nuclear weapons already proven, “what need, then, to test?” she asked.
Also speaking today were representatives of Austria, Guatemala, Italy, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Equatorial Guinea, Chile, Nicaragua, Ecuador, El Salvador, Argentina, Ireland, Nigeria and Jordan, as well as an observer for the Holy See.