Reflections on the General Debate of the First Committee, General Assembly of the United Nations

Panida Wayrojpitak

Project Assistant, SCRAP Weapons

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It comes with little surprise that the nuclear disarmament agenda is heavily supported by multilateral institutions and member states that are non-nuclear. Getting nuclear-armed states on board with the disarmament agenda will be a strategic challenge, especially in light of the embeddedness of ‘deterrence’ in military doctrines, of which delegates of non-nuclear-armed states have expressed anxiety against. Several representatives of nuclear-armed states cite the ‘current global security environment’ as justification to not consider further reductions, but one should keep in mind that disarmament requires political will, and continuance of the existence of nuclear weapons only serves as a threat to international security, with regards to, but not limited to, the amount of close calls on accidental usage. This was pointed out eloquently by the representative of Sweden, “A difficult relationship was no excuse not to act.” Another related issue is the usage of terms such as ‘selective approach’, step-by-step’, ‘building block approach’ and ‘gradual approach’, which is simply another excuse to slow down the disarmament process by nuclear-armed states.

Delegates widely praised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, emphasizing the potential of multilateral diplomacy to resolve intricate issues, with the representative of Iran pointing to its conclusion as a ‘win-win achievement’. This perhaps bring hope for the crisis on the Korean Peninsula to be resolved through diplomatic means. However, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea stands firm that its ‘deterrence’ policy is for self-defence and a ‘legitimate right of its sovereignty’, as well as pointing to the United States on retaining its nuclear weapons

Despite disagreements in various parts from delegates on the best practice for global security, one of which is the lack of support from key stakeholders on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. However, if anything, three themes do arise whereby there is a general broad consensus, excluding of course certain member states: condemning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ballistic missile and nuclear weapons development, calls for transparency in the alleged chemical weapons usage in Syria, and calls for a nuclear-weapon-free-zone to be established in the Middle East. This demonstrates, that despite disagreements, international norms do have an effect, rendering the possibility of further progressive norms constructions possible, including reinvigorating the General Complete Disarmament (GCD) discourse.

Furthering the disarmament agenda will require states to move beyond national interests to ensure security for all, but how will this gap be bridged when there remains a general ‘realist’ distrust between states?

For other discussions on this subject, check out this post by Reaching Critical Will (RCW), the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the oldest women’s peace organisation in the world.