For those of us who are UN supporters, we realize there is nowhere else in the world like the headquarters of the United Nations, especially at the opening session of the General Assembly each September on the International Day of Peace. World leaders from 193 nations meet, greet, and speak before the member states, and mingle behind the scenes with whatever other leaders they have agreed to meet. This 73rd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) was called to order on September 25th, 2018. A special designation was made by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, an event held on the sidelines of the ongoing 73rd Session of UNGA.
Of note to American readers, the month of September 2018 in the Security Council (SC) was chaired by the United States. The designation of the President of the SC is a month-long position held by each member of the Council in alphabetical order. This provides each member country the opportunity to call for special meetings during their presidential month. For the meeting called by the U.S. delegation for Wednesday, September 26th, the theme was “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction”. As President Trump had attended the opening session of the GA and delivered his remarks the prior day, he also chaired the meeting of the Security Council. The other members of the Council consisted of the Presidents or Foreign Ministers of the respective members rather than their country’s UN Ambassador who usually participates at regular SC meetings. All current fifteen members contributed to this session with prepared remarks.
This was a new experience for this President. Following his opening of this 8362nd SC meeting and a word of welcome, the President stepped down from his role as chair, and delivered his written remarks as the U.S. President. He laid out his vision of the U.S. role in the world, and urged a halt to the spread of weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical weapons. He spoke proudly of foreign policy issues he has initiated. He focused on (1) his role in Syria against the use of chemical weapons there, (2) his success in working with the North Korean President towards the end of any testing of more nuclear weapons by them, (3) the steps toward rapprochement taken by him regarding return of POWs and the remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War, and (4) hope for achieving the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He referred to his withdrawal from the Iran agreement (JCPOA), naming Iran as the world’s worst exporter of terrorism, and consequential actions of the U.S. including sanctions. He also discussed trade issues with China and his delight and honor in working with the Presidents of South Korea, and China, and Foreign Minister of Japan.
His remarks were brief in accordance with the time limits allotted for each speaker. When he finished, he reestablished his role as presiding chair and carefully read prepared remarks for all introductions.
Each of the speakers presented thoughtful positions relevant to the weapons of mass destruction: primarily chemical and nuclear weapons. Presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Bolivia, and Peru spoke eloquently of the need for countries to sign and ratify the treaty to ban nuclear weapons with some urging of the nuclear countries to begin a process of disarmament especially of their nuclear arsenals. Kazakhstan, once a site of Soviet nuclear weapons, has renounced nuclear weapons and closed their test site. Their President is a firm supporter of the Ban Treaty and called for a strong implementation of nuclear legal instruments, working to build up trust between nuclear and non-nuclear members. (Please see prior blog on the Ban Treaty: How the Impossible Became Possible.) Countries like France articulated the need for continued unity which appeared in an array of Security Council Resolutions unanimously adopted and a respect for and strong support of multilateralism, as did Sweden and the Netherlands. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom spoke of the successes over the years in controlling weapons of mass destruction but was concerned with recent turn arounds in that process, citing the recent use of chemical weapons and the threats caused by Iran and North Korea. She was part of a number of country leaders who commended President Trump on his initiatives taken with regard to North Korea. Chemical weapons were mentioned by many, with proposals to urge expanding ratification by all countries of the Convention against their use and further support of their role in destroying stockpiles and investigating the person/s or group responsible for use. (Please see the earlier blog on Chemical Weapons and the Efforts to Control and Destroy Them.) As the President of Poland said, “Every use of a chemical weapon is a crime and criminals must be brought to justice.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called President Trump’s initiative on holding this session of the Security Council “very timely” and spoke of the need to investigate allegations and facts that weapons of mass destruction have been handed to terrorists. He spoke in favor of JPCOA (as did ALL other Council members), but did not feel that a nuclear ban would work. As for chemical weapons, he said that Syria had destroyed its chemical weapons following the 2013 agreement, and that terrorist groups were responsible for their use in Syria. China cited their traditional policy of no interference in internal affairs of other countries, but strongly supported and emphasized the need to help make better known those treaties, resolutions, and efforts by the UN to address the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the relevant international law for better compliance with these parts of the arms control regime.
Kuwait called on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. (See prior blog on Sorting Out Important Nuclear Arms Treaties.) As did all of the speakers, Ethiopia highlighted developments in the arms control regime and offered reasonable steps to move in the direction of stronger implementation, offering particular views regarding incidents that have occurred recently and clarifying their perceptions and recommendations.
Bolivia’s remarks appeared to be directed to the President as he commended the success of the 50 year old policy of Latin America being a nuclear free zone. He was a strong supporter of the nuclear ban treaty and non-proliferation as he considered this a moral imperative. He also expressed his gratitude for the work of the International Court of Justice in resolving conflicts peacefully between countries that were having contentious issues. He decided to single out the United States and its violations of human rights and interference motivated by self-interest and power over the years in places like Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria and noted U.S. contempt for international law and multilateralism.
If the participants, including President Trump, were listening carefully, it was an opportunity to learn what members of this select group charged with the maintenance of peace and security in the world were thinking and suggesting.
As part of another meeting at the UN at that time to promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Nigeria had urged nuclear weapons-capable States to dismantle and renounce them to “take into consideration the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of these weapons on humanity.” At a meeting of Non-Aligned Nations, the Belarus representative urged the global community to step up efforts to push for the total ban on nuclear testing. Also Angola and St Lucia signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapon, bringing the total number of signatories up to 60. 19 of these countries have also ratified the treaty. When ratifications (the next step after signing) reach 50 this treaty will enter into force.
There were a number of voices speaking seriously about the possibility of Disarmament, prompted by the call of the Secretary-General António Guterres to renew the commitment to denuclearization and resume talks to rid the world of those dangerous artifacts. In his May Disarmament Agenda he emphasized the only way to eliminate this mortal danger is to totally get rid of those weapons. He recognized advances made by Russia and the United States by reaching a new Start treaty (Treaty to Reduce Strategic Weapons) but more work is needed.
As Trinidad and Tobago reminded the audience at the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons event on 26 September, “Disarmament is about preventing and ending violence, supporting sustainable development, and upholding the principles of humanity”. Isn’t this what all of us should be working for?