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United Nations General Assembly 55th Session

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First Committee - General Debate


Speaker: H.E. Mr Les Luck - Australian Ambassador for Disarmament and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Geneva

Mr Chairman

May I express the Australian delegation's congratulations on your appointment as Chair of this Committee. We look forward to working closely with you over the coming weeks.

Mr Chairman

As we debate the relative merits of the various resolutions before us, it is sometimes easy to forget why we are here and what we are all striving to achieve. The United Nations was formed 55 years ago with its primary purpose, as reflected in Article I of the Charter, being to "maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace...".

Preventing threats to peace requires the building of confidence between nations, and the development of an effective international security system. Within the purview of the First Committee, removing threats to peace includes contributing to the development of international instruments to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and working towards their elimination.

Like many countries, Australia has a proud record of contributing to these twin goals. This contribution is based on the recognition that our national security cannot be achieved in isolation from global security. Our national and regional security is best enhanced through the development of an international security system and through the removal of the threat to peace posed by weapons of mass destruction and the excessive accumulation of conventional weapons. Only in a stable global security environment can our national security be guaranteed. This is as true for all the nations represented here as it is for Australia.

Despite a complex and uncertain global security environment, a stocktake of recent achievements shows that we have made significant progress in carrying out our mandate.

On the positive side of the ledger we have the following achievements:

  • The landmark outcome of the 2000 NPT Review Conference which set the international community an ambitious nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda for the next five years;
  • The conclusion of and strong support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) which has firmly established a powerful international norm against further nuclear testing;
  • Significant progress towards the ultimate goal of a global ban on landmines through the implementation of the Ottawa Convention; and
  • The commencement of serious preparations for the 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects.

Mr Chairman

If we have made progress, it is also true that we have much unfinished business. This is widely understood.

That being so, the continuing deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament defies credibility. As the only body specifically mandated to negotiate international arms control instruments, the CD has a clear agenda and well-defined work program on which there is a broad measure of agreement. While the vast majority of countries represented at the CD want to get on with that work program, regrettably we remain idle essentially because of the insistence of a few on linking all the elements of the proposed work program on an "all or nothing basis". It is of concern to Australia that the legitimate aspirations of the majority continue to be held hostage in this way.

Mr Chairman

The 2000 NPT Review Conference has set the international community a challenging nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda for the next five years. Our first priority must be to consolidate this achievement through the work of the First Committee. But of even more importance, if we are to preserve the spirit of cooperation and commitment evident at the Review Conference, is the need for NPT parties to push ahead with early, determined implementation of Review Conference outcomes.

The package of measures agreed to by the nuclear weapon states at the Review Conference sets a significant benchmark for progress towards nuclear disarmament. It is for the all NPT States Parties now to translate their clear statement of intent into concrete actions. In that regard, we welcome the recent statement by the nuclear weapon states concerning security assurances for Mongolia.

A clear priority for all states is entry force of the CTBT. It is disappointing that the CTBT is not formally yet in force. But the Treaty is in provisional operation, with 160 signatories and 65 ratifications. There is no doubt that the CTBT has firmly established a powerful international norm against further nuclear testing, as demonstrated by the strength of the reaction to the developments in 1998. As a lead co-sponsor of the First Committee resolution on CTBT, we take this opportunity to urge those yet to sign or ratify the Treaty to do so without delay. We encourage all ratifiers to consider what action they might take to promote the CTBT's early entry into force. Australia recently made a further round of diplomatic representations to Asia-Pacific countries and countries in the group of 44 whose ratification is required for entry into force, and will continue our efforts to this end.

Both the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and the 2000 Review Conference identified the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) as one of the most urgent disarmament and non-proliferation steps the international community should take. Yet, despite having been repeatedly endorsed by all States present here, FMCT negotiations have yet to start. It is disappointing and frustrating that the Conference on Disarmament is yet to commence negotiation of this logical next step on the nuclear arms control and disarmament agenda. While the reasons for this situation are familiar to us all, it makes little sense that some of those who claim to accord the highest priority to nuclear disarmament have not seized the opportunity to make a contribution to that goal through the early negotiation of a cut-off treaty. Pending negotiation of the FMCT, we look to all relevant states to join a moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Australia is a committed supporter of the IAEA's strengthened safeguards system developed to remedy the limitations exposed by Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program. Full effectiveness of the strengthened safeguards system will only be achieved when there is universal adherence to the Additional Protocol to IAEA safeguards agreements, which makes this a key non-proliferation goal. We are pleased to have been the first country to ratify an Additional Protocol, and urge all states yet to sign and ratify an Additional Protocol to do so as quickly as possible.

The development and proliferation of ballistic missiles - the prime delivery means for weapons of mass destruction - destabilises regional and global security. Australia is deeply concerned that more countries are acquiring ballistic missile technology, and that ballistic missile programs in some of these countries are increasing in sophistication and effectiveness. Australia firmly supports efforts to combat missile proliferation, including through the imposition of national export controls and, where appropriate, the negotiation of bilateral agreements. Multilateral efforts to develop international norms against missile proliferation could also have value in building confidence and in supplementing non-proliferation objectives. It is also worth noting the connection between missile proliferation and interest in the development of missile defence systems. Missile defence is a direct response to the ever-increasing threat posed by missile proliferation.

Small arms currently cause more injuries and deaths than any other category of weapon, and the conflicts they fuel cost economies and societies dearly. The easy availability of small arms contributes to political instability, as recent events in the South Pacific, a region of key importance to Australia, testify. Australia is particularly pleased to see the advent of a number of regional programs to promote practical solutions in areas like demobilisation, post-conflict reconstruction, and stockpile destruction and management. These regional programs will have the greatest impact on reducing the devastating impact of small arms on civilian communities in situations of risk.

While such programs have been prevalent in Africa, Europe and the Americas, the Asia-Pacific region is also addressing small arms issues in a constructive way. This month the ASEAN Regional Forum will hold an experts group meeting on transnational crime, including discussion of small arms. Australia hopes this meeting will encourage ARF members to develop regional approaches to small arms issues. Also at a meeting this month, leaders of South Pacific Forum countries will consider model legislation designed to encourage a common regional approach to weapons control. Australia has been closely involved in the development of this model legislation which, if approved, will mark a positive step forward in the region's efforts to effectively regulate weapons flows. Australia firmly believes that regional programs such as these serve as building blocks for a broader international response to the problems posed by small arms.

Next year the UN will host the 2001 Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects. This conference presents a landmark opportunity to put in place an international framework to prevent, combat and eliminate the illicit trade and manufacture of small arms. Australia firmly believes that, working together, UN members can achieve positive, practical outcomes from the 2001 conference.

Mr Chairman

An effective protocol to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention is a high priority for Australia. We are confident that an effective protocol to strengthen the Convention, which delivers tangible security benefits to all, can be achieved. Australia is strongly committed to bringing the BWC Ad Hoc Group negotiations to a successful and timely conclusion in accordance with its mandate before the Fifth BWC Review Conference. This will require a substantive, high-level political commitment on the part of all those involved in the negotiations to develop a robust compliance regime which reinforces the global norm against biological weapons.

Mr Chairman

In pursuit of a world truly free of landmines Australia believes that it is important we work to encourage universal adherence to the Ottawa Convention. In support of this, Australia is working with the Australian Network of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines to develop a collaborative program to encourage support for the Convention among the countries of South East Asia.

Finally, Mr Chairman

Until a comprehensive global ban on landmines is achieved, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) will continue to play an important role in limiting the humanitarian impact of landmines, particularly given that it brings in key producers and users of landmines which have not ratified or acceded to the Ottawa Convention.

Australia regards the CCW as an important instrument of international humanitarian law. Consistent with our long-standing support for the Treaty, I am pleased to announce that Australia would be willing to serve as President of the 2001 CCW Review Conference. We look forward to the support of other State Parties to the Treaty for our candidature.

Mr Chairman

My delegation looks forward to working closely and constructively with you and with other delegations over the coming weeks.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 19 September 2014
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