Remarks at the Opening of the 2018 Session of the United Nations Disarmament Commission

John A. Bravaco
U.S. Representative, Delegation of the United States of America
New York City
April 2, 2018


Thank you, Madam Chairperson.

On behalf of the United States Delegation, allow me to congratulate you and the Government of Australia on your election to Chair the 2018 session of the UN Disarmament Commission. You may count on our delegation’s full support as you guide the work of this Commission. We also congratulate the rest of this year’s Bureau on their elections, and express our appreciation to the Deputy High Representative for Disarmament for his presentation this morning.

As the U.S. National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, and Nuclear Posture Review all make clear, the return of great power competition is a major factor in shaping U.S. policy. In addition to expanding their nuclear capabilities, Russia and China are seeking to reshape the post-World War II international order in ways antithetical to U.S. values and interests. Our nuclear and defense postures focus on identifying the policies, strategy, and capabilities needed to protect the United States, our allies, and our partners in this deteriorating threat environment. More than seventy years after WWII, the United States and its allies and partners strive to maintain and defend democratic traditions and democratic institutions against potential aggression in Europe, Asia, and around the world. Effective U.S. extended nuclear deterrence plays a critical role in that effort by ensuring allied and partner security, international stability, and nuclear non-proliferation.

Farther afield, North Korea continues its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs that are inherently destabilizing and threatening to much of the world. Iran continues its missile program and destabilizing activities in the Middle East. As President Trump said in announcing our South Asia strategy in August, “We must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere for that matter.” Recent years have also seen an increase in the use of chemical weapons by state and non-state actors most frequently in Syria, and now with the first and only use of a nerve agent in European history occurring just last month in Salisbury, United Kingdom. The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack in the United Kingdom using a military grade nerve agent – either through deliberate use or through its failure to secure its stocks of this nerve agent – that put countless innocent lives at risk and resulted in serious injury to three people, including a police officer. We will continue to stand in absolute solidarity with Great Britain. This past week, 29 countries and NATO took significant, coordinated action that laid bare the unacceptability of Russia’s dangerous and destabilizing behavior.

Madam Chairperson, we ignore these security challenges at our peril. We simply must see the world as it is. We call on all states to redouble our collective efforts to address the real and growing threats that have led to a deterioration in the global security environment.

Let me now turn to Working Group I, and offer best wishes to Ms. Diedre Mills, Deputy Permanent Representative of Jamaica, on her election to chair this important body, which is tasked with devising recommendations on the objective of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. The wording of the agenda topic for this working group has not changed in many years, and in all of that time, it has yet to come close to a consensus result. Despite our best efforts, the reality is that seemingly incompatible priorities and expectations have prevented the Commission from making any headway on this topic. Unless we can refocus on our shared interests, we are likely to fare no better in the 2018-2020 cycle.

In the hope of fostering a more productive disarmament discourse, we have begun to articulate a new approach that takes into account – and tries to address – the problematic, and worsening, geopolitical conditions of the present day. We call this the CCND approach – for “creating the conditions for nuclear disarmament.” This Commission is an ideal forum to contribute to a constructive dialogue on the development of measures that may be effective in creating the conditions necessary for further progress to be made in furtherance of the goal of nuclear disarmament. We invite all states to join with us in crafting a new way forward, one that will help us gradually make progress together toward easing tensions and strengthening trust between states in order to facilitate disarmament. We look forward to discussing CCND in Working Group I, and at the next NPT PrepCom, which begins on April 23rd in Geneva.

Madam Chairperson, we congratulate Belgian Deputy Permanent Representative Ambassador Jeroen Cooreman for his election to chair Working Group II on outer space Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures, or TCBMs. The United States was pleased to play a role in adding this critical issue to the UNDC’s 2018-2020 issue cycle. Space systems benefit not only their immediate users, owners, and operators, but also the global economy and security environment, as well as individual nations and societies. We must work to ensure the continued success of these beneficial activities.

Outer space also has an important role in maintaining international peace and security. Many countries are purchasing satellites to support their own military activities. Other space systems can be used to monitor compliance with international arms control agreements. Unfortunately, some countries believe that the ability to attack space assets offers an asymmetric advantage and as a result, are pursuing a range of anti-satellite weapons. While the United States would prefer that the space domain remain free of conflict, we will meet and overcome any challenges that may arise. In this regard, the United States’ new National Space Strategy calls for protecting our vital interests in space and strengthening the safety, stability, and sustainability of our space activities. The United States will continue to focus on the pursuit of bilateral and multilateral TCBMs to encourage responsible actions in space, rather than engaging in pointless and protracted negotiations to conclude a legally binding instrument.

The United States has already undertaken a number of activities consistent with the recommendations of the 2013 consensus GGE report on outer space TCBMs, and during our deliberations over the next few weeks, the United States will provide its views on those accomplishments. Pursuant to five UN General Assembly resolutions, Member States of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, the Conference on Disarmament, and this Commission have been encouraged to review and implement, to the greatest extent practicable, the proposed TCBMs contained in the GGE report. We look forward to contributing to the Commission’s work on this topic.

Finally, Madam Chairperson, the ability of the UNDC to reach consensus recommendations on its conventional weapons agenda item last year is a clear demonstration that the UN’s existing, consensus-based multilateral disarmament machinery can and will deliver results when states’ interests are aligned. The key to our success in 2017 was that, for the first time in years, no Member State blocked consensus agreement in the conventional weapons working group because of a lack of consensus in the nuclear working group. Member States should pledge to continue this practice as a contribution to improving the effectiveness of this Commission. For its part, the United States will do all that it can to promote a successful UNDC session this year and beyond.

Thank you for your kind attention.