Statement by Ambassador Günter Sautter in the General Debate of the First Committee of the 75th UN General Assembly, October 12, 2020

12.10.2020 - Speech

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Mr. Chair,

  1. Germany fully aligns itself with the statement by the EU.
  2. On behalf of Germany, let me congratulate you, Mr. Chair, on assuming the chairmanship of the First Committee. Be assured of Germany’s full support for your work.
  3. This year’s First Committee takes place in the face of a number of concerning developments. As we could not have imagined before, the Covid pandemic has overturned our lives – and diplomacy as well. At the same time, a number of worrying developments demand our full attention: Our common security and the rules-based multilateral order, not least in the field of arms control, continue to be challenged.
  4. An especially worrisome development, which stands out as we embark on this year’s First Committee, is the recent attack on Alexei Navalny in Russia by means of a particularly dangerous nerve agent. This constitutes another shocking case of the use of a chemical weapon, two years after a similar weapon was used by Russia on British territory. The use of a nerve agent has been confirmed by the OPCW as well as by three independent national laboratories. This is a matter of grave international concern as any use of chemical weapons, anywhere, at any time, by anyone, under any circumstances, is unacceptable and contravenes international standards and norms against such use. We continue to call on Russia, on whose territory the attack took place, to investigate and to disclose in a swift and transparent manner the circumstances of this crime. No credible explanation has been provided by Russia so far.
  5. The use of chemical weapons in Syria has demonstrated the devastating impact of these particularly abominable kind of weapon on the Syrian people and the country altogether. The first report of the Investigation and Identification Team was an important step in the fight against impunity. We call on all those who continue to support the Assad regime and to provide cover for its crimes – in particular the Russian Federation - to finally live up to their responsibility. Russia should use its influence on Syria to finally bring Syria into compliance with its obligations under the chemical weapons convention..
  6. Germany remains committed to support efforts to stand up against such breaches of the Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and we reiterate our full confidence in the technical expertise, objectivity, impartiality and independence of the OPCW Technical Secretariat.
  7. Turning to nuclear disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation: Today, we should have looked back at the 2020 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Covid-19  forced the world to radically adjust the agendas.
  8. The postponement of the RevCon is deplorable but it can also be a chance we must seize. Alongside all the hardship the virus brought us, it also offered: More time for diplomacy. More time to thoroughly prepare the RevCon and jointly strengthen the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime that is standing at a critical juncture.
  9. The task remains challenging. Political shifts and technological trends are transforming the landscape. Proliferation crises demand our fullest resolve. Nuclear arsenals are being modernized. And the risks of escalation are high.
  10. It was against this background that Foreign Minister Maas initiated two UN Security Council meetings in support of the Non-Proliferation Treaty – in 2019 and 2020. 2021 must be the year for the NPT community as a whole to renew our resolve to implement the full spectrum of commitments under the treaty, and add new chapters to the success story of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.
  11. To that end we strongly support Ambassador Zlauvinen in finding the right date and setting for a full-fledged conference to be held in an environment conducive to success.
  12. Success can only mean: Progress on all three pillars of the NPT.
  13. In the face of a number of disturbing trends it is all the more important to show that Article VI has to be implemented. Let us not focus on what divides us here. Let us focus on what unites us – to work towards a world without nuclear weapons.
  14. At their meeting in Berlin earlier this year the Foreign Ministers of the Stockholm Initiative have presented a broad set of concrete measures that Nuclear Weapon States can take now to advance nuclear disarmament: Restraint in nuclear strategies. Transparency on arsenals. Measures to reduce nuclear risks. And the extension of New START – a landmark treaty to build on for broader arrangements and further reductions in the future.
  15. We call on Nuclear Weapon States to show leadership and take these steps today. At the same time, Non-Nuclear Weapons States can and should contribute to laying the ground for a world without nuclear weapons.
  16. We can help reducing the risks of inadvertent escalation. That is why Germany, together with Finland, has assumed the co-chairmanship on nuclear risk reduction in the CEND [Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament] initiative.
  17. We can all do more in promoting nuclear education and empower the young generation to shape our future in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-Proliferation.
  18. Nuclear Weapon States and Non-Nuclear Weapon States can work together in developing robust and proliferation-proof procedures to verify the dismantling of a nuclear weapon. In 2019 together with France, we conducted a practical exercise to that end and we are committed to continuing that work with our partners in the framework of the IPNDV [International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification] and the Group of Governmental Experts [GGE].
  19. The CTBT – by eliminating all nuclear testing – will bring us closer to our goal of a world without nuclear weapons. We renew our call on all States that have not signed and ratified the CTBT to show leadership and do so.
  20. Needless to say that starting negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty [FMCT] would have a positive impact on both non-proliferation and disarmament. We need to build upon the important progress that had been achieved in the last years [with the GGE and High-level Expert Group reports] and to urgently remove the obstacles keeping us from moving forward.
  21. We welcome the recent rounds of strategic talks between the US and Russia and call on both sides to show leadership by extending New START and by entering into negotiations on a future and broader arms control framework that also engages China more strongly. An extended New START treaty constitutes the best basis for such future negotiations. New START remains an important contribution to nuclear arms control that should be preserved. It has significantly reduced the biggest nuclear powers’ arsenals and has ensured a high level of transparency and predictability, being instrumental in containing a nuclear arms race dynamics.
  22. Germany remains fully committed to the preservation and full implementation of UNSCR 2231, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPoA]. While we have repeatedly expressed our regret over the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPoA and the re-imposed US sanctions, Germany is deeply concerned over the measures taken by Iran since July 2019, which are contrary to key nuclear-related provisions under the JCPoA.
  23. In particular, we are worried about the increasing accumulation of low-enriched uranium and the continued expansion of Iran's centrifuge R&D activities. These measures undermine the non-proliferation benefits of the agreement, and, in the case of R&D activities, have irreversible proliferation implications. We strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities inconsistent with its JCPoA commitments and to refrain from any new steps that would violate the agreement. Iran needs to return to full compliance without delay.
  24. Furthermore, it is crucial that Iran should extend full cooperation to the IAEA in line with its safeguards obligations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol.
  25. Also, we reiterate in clear terms our call on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile activities, including missile tests and launches, that are inconsistent with UNSCR 2231, Annex B. Moreover, we strongly urge Iran to cease transfers of missiles and missile technology to states and non-state actors in the region, in violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
  26. We remain gravely concerned about the DPRKs continuously advancing nuclear weapons and missile programs. It is critical that we – as the international community – make a strong case about this. Our handling of the DPRK’s persistent violations of international law is a credibility test for the international non-proliferation architecture.
  27. We condemn the DPRK’s missile tests, as well as its policy of threats and ultimatums. We call on the DPRK to return to the negotiating table with a clear goal, as has been unanimously decided by the UNSC: the complete, verifiable, and irreversible abandonment of its nuclear weapons, other WMDs [Weapons of Mass Destruction], and ballistic missile programs.
  28. Biological pathogens know no boundaries. The non-proliferation of dangerous biological agents, the prevention of their deliberate misuse, and responses to a manmade biological event, be it intentional or accidental, are global issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness for biological threats and showed the need for international cooperation in addressing them. Therefore the current situation presents a window of opportunity for real progress on the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention [BTWC].
  29. 2020 is characterized by delays. The Meeting of States Parties has been deferred to April 2021. We have to use the time until the Review Conference 2021 productively to advance the initiatives for strengthening the BTWC. Our main focus at the Review Conference 2021 is the establishment of a Scientific and Technological Experts Advisory Forum [STEAF] – an advisory body within the framework of the BTWC.
  30. My government continues to promote the preservation of a safe, secure and sustainable space environment and remains strongly committed to the prevention of an arms race in outer space. We are concerned about the growing threats and risks posed by counter-space capabilities.
  31. We need to increase transparency and predictability of space activities, to build trust and confidence between States, to reduce the risks of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and to get a common understanding of responsible behaviour in outer space. This will create the momentum for more ambitious steps, potentially leading to a comprehensive, effective and verifiable legally-binding instrument designed to eventually cover all relevant threats related to outer space.
  32. Building on last year’s initiative by Federal Foreign Minister Maas, we continue the dialogue aimed at “Capturing Technologies” and “Rethinking Arms Control”. Next month, we will host the virtual follow-up conference, bringing together a wide range of experts from diplomacy, military, science and industry for in-depth discussions on the implications of new technologies for global security, on approaches for new arms control options, and on shaping an effective future arms-control architecture.
  33. The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the extent to which we are dependent on digital devices and the internet. They are crucial for many essential public services. We therefore have to focus even more on supporting and preserving an internet that is free, stable, secure and accessible for all.
  34. Here again – like for the outer space – behaviour-based approaches are important: Germany shares the conviction that existing international law, notably the UN Charter, human rights law and international humanitarian law, applies equally offline and online. We support the implementation of the existing voluntary, non-binding norms for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. We remain fully committed to enhancing the existing normative framework, in particular through the ongoing processes in the Group of Governmental Experts and the Open-Ended Working Group. Now, it is important to bring both processes to a successful conclusion. We support the exploration of the idea of establishing a Programme of Action on advancing responsible State behaviour with the aim of establishing a permanent UN forum to consider the use of information and communications technologies by States in the context of international security.
  35. We continue to support the work in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons [CCW] towards a normative and operational framework on Lethal Autonomous Wepons Systems [LAWS] and welcome the productive spirit of this year’s meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts in Geneva. We hope for an inclusive continuation of the GGE process bearing in mind the current restrictions.
  36. We continue to put high priority on the effective control of Small Arms and Light Weapons [SALW] and the fight against illicit firearms trafficking as part of our agenda for humanitarian arms control. We see regional roadmaps as effective tools to reign in the uncontrolled flow of SALW. We congratulate the States of the Western Balkans for their progress in implementing their regional Roadmap and CARICOM and the Dominican Republic on their progress towards adoption of their own regional roadmap for SALW-control in the Caribbean. We continue to engage in various dialogues with ECOWAS and other partners in view of a possible regional action plan.
  37. We would also like to draw your attention to the progress achieved by the UN GGE on conventional ammunition under German chairmanship in 2020. It is imperative that the international community addresses the diversion of ammunition to illicit markets and unplanned explosions as the main challenges regarding conventional ammunition. Germany will table a decision here at the 1st Committee to enable the GGE to conclude its work in 2021 and asks all UN Member States for their support. We will continue to work towards recommendations for a multilateral framework on conventional ammunition.
  38. With regard to the devastating humanitarian impact on civilians that the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects can have in populated areas, my government  fully supports the Irish-led process for a political declaration. Our priority remains to identify and exchange military good practices in IHL application aimed at protecting civilians from humanitarian harm.
  39. Germany remains strongly committed to promoting universalization and effective implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty [ATT]. The ATT is a cornerstone for regulating the global arms trade and, hence, an indispensable means for preventing the illicit transfer of arms and ammunition.
  40. My government welcomes the fact that ATT operability was secured despite Covid-19-restrictions and commends the introduction of a Diversion Information Exchange Forum as a new instrument designed to strengthen trust between states.
  41. We express our continued support to the voluntary trust fund and its efforts in supporting concrete measures for access to and implementation of the Treaty. Furthermore, we congratulate the Maldives, Namibia, China, Sao Tome and Principe, Afghanistan, and Niue on their decision to become the latest ATT States Parties.
  42. To conclude, let me reiterate: The challenges in the fields of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation remain many, and it is on us – the international community as a whole – to find sustainable answers. Surely, my hope is that the pandemic will not divide us, but teach us to work closer together during this year’s First Committee.

Thank you very much.

Right of Reply #1

I would like to say a couple of words on the remarks of my esteemed Russian colleague regarding the Navalny case. I would like to make it clear that this is not a Western plot, and I would like to establish three very simple facts.

Firstly, the OPCW, as a competent and impartial international body, and three other laboratories have confirmed that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned by means of a nerve agent from the Novichok group.

Secondly, Russia has not provided any credible explanation for the poisoning of Mr. Navalny in Russia. Instead, responses from the Russian Federation have grown less constructive by the day. The fact remains, we are here talking about the poisoning of a Russian citizen on Russian soil through a military grade nerve agent.

The third point that I would like to establish is that the discussions in the OPCW Executive Council have shown that the international community does not accept this and has asked Russia to produce an explanation for what has happened in the Navalny case.

I would therefore like to renew the request to the Russian Federation. Please shed light on the poisoning of Mr. Navalny on Russian territory on the 20th of August.

Let me conclude by quoting a line from Bob Marley: “You can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time.”

Right of Reply #2

In reply to my Russian colleague, I would like to point out the following: In the Navalny case, Russian doctors and a Russian hospital have taken first lifesaving measures on Mr. Navalny, who is a Russian citizen. All of this happened on Russian soil. Thus, one might think that everything necessary for a criminal investigation has been at Russia's disposal for weeks.

This makes us wonder why such investigations have not yet been initiated. Instead, we hear evasive and diversionary maneuvers from Russia, and we therefore renew our plea to the Russian Federation to shed light on the Navalny case and to start engaging in a serious investigation.

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