Top Stories : Remarks by H.E. Mr. Thani Thongphakdi Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations and Other International Organisations in Geneva and Chair of the Open-ended working group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations at the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco International Seminar Monday 13 February 2017, Mexico City News

Top Stories : Remarks by H.E. Mr. Thani Thongphakdi Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations and Other International Organisations in Geneva and Chair of the Open-ended working group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations at the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco International Seminar Monday 13 February 2017, Mexico City

Remarks by

H.E. Mr. Thani Thongphakdi

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the

United Nations and Other International Organisations in Geneva

and Chair of the Open-ended working group

taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations

at the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco International Seminar

Monday 13 February 2017, Mexico City

 

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1.                  Let me first join others in extending my warm congratulations upon the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco. I also thank OPANAL for the warm welcome extended to all of us as well as for the excellent preparations made for this commemorative event.

2.                  As you know, the first resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946 dealt with the need for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.

3.                  Since that time, there have been many developments, some positive and others less so.

4.                  The Cold War saw the number of nuclear warheads peaking at over 60,000 in the mid-1980s. Following the negotiations of bilateral arms control agreements, this has since been reduced to around 15,000 warheads.

5.                  There was the coming into existence of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), helping to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

6.                  Today, the NPT remains the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament, especially given the unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States at the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty to bring about the total elimination of their nuclear weapons, and with the international community continuing to call for the prompt and effective implementation in good faith of article VI.

7.                  On a less positive note, however, there are now nine countries with nuclear weapons, including the five nuclear-weapons States, with many countries undertaking modernisation programmes.

8.                  The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, despite having been opened for signature in 1996, has yet to enter into force.

9.                  Efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament have stagnated, with the UN Commission on Disarmament in New York and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva unable to achieve any meaningful work in twenty years, and the 2015 NPT Review Conference ending without an agreed outcome.

10.              This, despite the importance and urgency of nuclear disarmament, especially given the fact that today we know much more about the danger of nuclear weapons and the devastation that they can cause.

11.              Last year, during the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, a presentation was made by Dr. Ira Helfand, Co-President of  the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), outlining the catastrophe that would result from a nuclear exchange between the world’s two major powers.

12.              According to studies made, it is estimated that hundreds of millions of people would die within the first half hour; 150 million tons of soot will go up into the upper atmosphere, dropping temperatures across the globe by 8℃; in the interior regions of North America and Eurasia, temperatures will fall 25-30℃; ecosystems and food production would collapse and the vast majority of the world’s population would starve.

13.              The drafters of the NPT had in fact recognised this when they wrote the preamble, underscoring “the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war and to take measures to safeguard the security of peoples”.

14.              This has been discussed in great detail during the three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna.

15.              This is also why last year’s OEWG “was underpinned by deep concern about the threat to humanity posed by the existence of nuclear weapons and the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any nuclear weapon detonation. The risk of these catastrophic humanitarian consequences will remain as long as nuclear weapons exist. The increased awareness of and well-documented presentations on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons compel urgent and necessary action by all States, leading to a world without nuclear weapons.”

16.              As this will take time, there is the urgent need to reduce and eliminate the risk of accidental, mistaken, unauthorised or intentional nuclear  weapon detonations.

17.              As explained by Dr. Patricia Lewis from Chatham House at the OEWG, risk is the combination of two factors: probability and consequence. And as the probability of inadvertent nuclear use is not zero and is higher than had been widely considered, and because the consequences of detonation are so serious, the risk associated with nuclear weapons is high.

18.              In Chatham House’s report entitled “Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy,” there have been several close calls and incidents of near nuclear use, including when there were cases of miscommunications, command centre exercise scenario tapes being mistaken for real attacks causing nuclear alerts, and conflict escalations.

19.              There have also been other near detonation unintended or by accident, including when military planes carrying nuclear bombs crashed or had to jettisoned their payload, as well as when a missile exploded in its silo following an accident.

20.              It is against this backdrop that most States sought to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

21.              And this is why the OEWG last year, after a lengthy and comprehensive debate, recommended, with widespread support, the convening, by the General Assembly, of a conference in 2017, open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organisations and civil society, to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.

22.              It should be noted that this recommendation was not supported by all States. A group of States had instead recommended that any process to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations must address national, international and collective security concerns and supported the pursuit of practical steps, consisting of parallel and simultaneous effective legal and non-legal measures to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

23.              Where there was agreement, however, was the need for States to consider implementing, as appropriate, the various measures suggested in its report regarding transparency related to the risks associated with existing nuclear weapons; measures to reduce and eliminate the risk of accidental, mistaken, unauthorised or intentional nuclear weapon detonations; additional measures to increase awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation; as well as other measures that could contribute to taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

24.              As you know, the OEWG’s recommendations were subsequently operationalised by the United Nations General Assembly on 23 December 2016, when it adopted resolution A/RES/71/258 “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

25.              There have been questions raised about what negotiating such a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons would mean for the NPT. Personally, I do not believe it would undermine the NPT.

26.              During the OEWG, it was clear that all participating countries attached importance to the NPT, whose article VI does establish an obligation on each of the States parties to, inter alia, pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. It was however noted that the text of the NPT does not provide specific guidance with respect to specific effective measures that should be pursued in fulfilment of its article VI. It was further noted that the development of effective legal measures has been required for the implementation of the nuclear disarmament obligation contained in article VI.

27.              Negotiating such a legally binding instrument should therefore complement and strengthen the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime, including the three pillars of the NPT.

28.              Looking ahead, we do not yet know what shape or form this legal instrument will take. I wish to reiterate though what most participating countries called for, which is “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination, which would establish general prohibitions and obligations as well as a political commitment to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapon-free world.”

29.              The OEWG identified many possible elements of such an instrument, which could include, among other things: (a) prohibitions on the acquisition, possession, stockpiling, development, testing and production of nuclear weapons; (b) prohibitions on participating in any use of nuclear weapons, including through participating in nuclear war planning, participating in the targeting of nuclear weapons and training personnel to take control of nuclear weapons; (c) prohibitions on permitting nuclear weapons in national territory, including on permitting vessels with nuclear weapons in ports and territorial seas, permitting aircraft with nuclear weapons from entering national airspace, permitting nuclear weapons from being transited through national territory, permitting nuclear weapons from being stationed or deployed on national territory; (d) prohibitions on financing nuclear weapon activities or on providing special fissionable material to any states that do not apply International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) comprehensive safeguards; (e) prohibitions on assisting, encouraging or inducing, directly or indirectly, any activity prohibited by the treaty; and (f) recognition of the rights of victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons and a commitment to provide assistance to victims and to environmental remediation.”

30.              It would however be “an interim or partial step towards nuclear disarmament as it would not include measures for elimination and would instead leave measures for the irreversible, verifiable and transparent destruction of nuclear weapons as a matter for future negotiations.”

31.              At this juncture, I wish to note the importance of nuclear-weapon-free zones, including the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the Bangkok Treaty, the latter for which Thailand is the depository state.

32.              Nuclear-weapon-free zones, covering most of the southern hemisphere and encompassing 115 countries, are important confidence building measures and contribute significantly to the strengthening of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes.

33.              They could also provide us with some guidance as to what a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons might look like. In general, nuclear-weapon-free zones prohibit the possession, acquisition, development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons inside the designated territories.

34.              During the OEWG, it was also recommended that nuclear-weapon-free zones be strengthened and new ones established, including, as a priority, in the Middle East.

35.              On this note, I wish to take this opportunity to thank Ambassador Luiz Filipe de Macedo Soares, Secretary-General of OPANAL for participating in the OEWG last year as well as for submitting a working paper (WP.40), sharing information about the Treaty of Tlatelolco as a disarmament instrument.

36.              There is no doubt of the challenge ahead.

37.              To help the process, I wish to underscore the importance of promoting more awareness and understanding of the issues at hand. This is crucial not only for decision makers, but also the general public.

38.              Here, civil society has and will continue to play an essential role. They have in fact already done much to get us where we are today and here I wish to recognise the instrumental role played by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons  (ICAN) and other organisations.

39.              Increasing awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation was in fact one of the main points of agreement in the OEWG.

40.              The OEWG “emphasised the importance of promoting disarmament and non-proliferation education, including on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons in all States, especially in States that possess nuclear weapons … to impart knowledge and skills to individuals in order to empower them to make their contributions, as national and world citizens, to the achievement of concrete disarmament and non-proliferation measures and the ultimate goal of general and complete disarmament under effective international control.”

41.              Let me conclude by going back to the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the “Legality of the Treat or Use of Nuclear Weapons”.

42.              The opinion reads “that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law” and that “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

43.              “The legal import of that obligation goes beyond that of a mere obligation of conduct; the obligation involved here is an obligation to achieve precise results—nuclear disarmament in all its aspects—by adopting a particular course of conduct, namely, the pursuit of negotiations on the matter in good faith.”

44.              The “obligation to pursue and conclude negotiations formally concerns the [then] 182 States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or, in others word, the vast majority of the international community. Indeed, any realistic search for general and complete disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, necessitates the cooperation of all States.”

45.              This is therefore an issue that affects all countries. It is an issue that requires us to all work together and one whose time has come.

 

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