Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
New York, New York
October 2, 2023
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
On behalf of the United States Delegation, I congratulate you on Lithuania’s election as Chair of the 78th UN General Assembly First Committee. We also congratulate the other members of the Bureau and commit to working with each of you toward a successful session.
Once again, I come to you to deliver formal remarks on behalf of the United States.
We know this process all too well. Each of us outline our accomplishments and objectives, the partnerships we wish to deepen, and the concerns we have about the state of the security environment.
Despite these familiar exchanges, multilateral institutions such as the UN First Committee and the Conference on Disarmament (CD) have an important role to play. That role is at risk. The health and stability of the global arms control and nonproliferation regime is at risk. We all know this to be true, and yet we have not moved with the urgency required.
The United States is and will remain a champion of arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation efforts, be it here, in the NPT review process, in Geneva, or elsewhere around the world. If we do not act now, the road ahead will only become more treacherous.
Over these next five weeks, we will seek to work with all of you to advance efforts where progress is possible.
As I noted, we have become accustomed to certain procedures, and unfortunately in Geneva, this has led to nothing but stagnation and understandable frustration. This needs to end. But whatever happens in Geneva, it is important for the Committee we are here to participate in to carry out its work, to identify opportunities where forward movement is possible, and to identify ways to take these steps forward together.
An example that we should all be able to support is a global norm that all States commit not to use radiological weapons.
The international community has historically recognized the value of pursuing a prohibition on these weapons, including in the final document of SSOD-1 and in substantive work undertaken at the CD, but that work remains unfinished.
Substantively, we believe that this is a norm of behavior that is worth establishing. Taking this topic up in Geneva could also serve to help us all find a common interest at the CD and to reinvigorate that body with a concrete, constructive task.
Then there’s the FMCT. It’s been more than 25 years since the CD took up a mandate to negotiate an effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Such a treaty would make a significant contribution towards preventing a nuclear arms race and enabling future arms control agreements, and towards advancing nuclear disarmament, all goals the United States remains deeply committed to.
The greatest mistake we can make today would be to underestimate the utility of an FMCT at the precise moment in history when it is most urgently needed. Let’s be frank. No other nuclear agreement on the agenda today would so clearly complement each of the NPT’s pillars. Canada has long championed this issue, and I strongly urge everyone to support their annual FMCT resolution.
There are those who will argue that neither effort can succeed because the CD will not take up the challenge put to it by this body. But we refuse to accept such a fatalistic outlook. The CD is obstructed only because we, its members, allow it to be. For the First Committee to hold back from ambition to action on this basis would be a mistake. We cannot succeed if we do not try.
Turning to forging potential new partnerships in reducing the prospect of conventional conflicts, the United States has long relied on risk reduction, transparency, and crisis management tools derived from arms control agreements to promote stability. These tools are flexible and modifiable to suit specific security challenges. They can increase stability, trust, and confidence, thus facilitating continued socio-economic development. By providing appropriate levels of transparency, risk reduction tools limit miscalculation or misunderstanding and provide time to de-escalate a potential conflict.
We stand ready to work with interested UN Member States in exploring tangible risk reduction and stability tools capacity-building projects and are prepared to conduct dialogues virtually or in capitals for this purpose.
As we open this session, I’m sure we will all attest to our commitment to strengthening the institutions and measures through which we address the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. But if we are to succeed, our actions must match our words.
The Russian Federation continues to perpetrate an illegal and abhorrent war on Ukraine and is inexplicably rejecting a fundamental tenet of international security – that no matter what else is happening, nuclear weapons states have a responsibility to engage one another in developing practical measures to manage nuclear risks and prevent arms races. Efforts made more critical as we face a post-2026 environment with no constraints on the arsenals of three largest nuclear powers.
The PRC, for its part, is engaging in a rapid and opaque nuclear weapons build-up, one that undermines stability and is dangerously paralleled by PRC disinterest in substantive discussions on strategic stability and nuclear risks. In this regard, the PRC has yet to acknowledge that actions denote responsible behavior – not words.
Iran continues to expand its nuclear activities while hampering IAEA verification and monitoring activities. For more than four years, Iran has also failed to provide technically credible explanations to the Agency regarding possible undeclared nuclear activities. North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing advances similarly pose a growing threat to international peace and security as well as the global nonproliferation regime, which ongoing Russia-DPRK arms trade activities is only further undermining.
The reality of these actions makes our work to preserve and strengthen what we’ve built together incredibly difficult. However, that is no excuse for inaction.
Everyone here is faced with a choice between those who seek engagement and progress, and those who prefer to postpone it; those who demonstrate transparency even when it is difficult, and those who operate in darkness; those who seek consensus, and those who break it.
The United States is not asking you to choose sides, but rather to choose your own stated goals of engagement, transparency, and consensus. Choosing a stronger NPT. Choose a CD that works. Choose to reject the fatalism that has crept into our work at the very moment we need it most.
We are all faced with challenges, no doubt, but also with new opportunities. Ones that have been forgotten, dismissed, or sidelined. It’s long past time that we take up those opportunities.
I thank you.