Thematic Discussion on Other Weapons of Mass Destruction – UNFC October 2023
Statement by the United States as Delivered by Ambassador Bruce Turner
The international community can count on the United States as a steadfast advocate and partner to diminish threats posed by chemical and biological weapons, even as others seem bent on tearing down all we have built together.
Last July, the United States irreversibly destroyed the last chemical munition in our declared chemical weapons stockpile. This historic milestone for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) demonstrates the U.S. commitment to international cooperation and transparency in arms control. We should celebrate this multilateral achievement under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Still, while we have taken so many steps to make the world safer, others have done the opposite. As Secretary Blinken stated in August, Damascas, “Syria refuses to take any responsibility for its vile campaign of chemical weapons use.” The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team’s third report from January, brings to nine the number of separate, confirmed chemical attacks Syria has conducted against its own citizens since its accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention. This stains what should have been a celebratory 10-year anniversary of its accession and shows the threat and use of chemical weapons remains real.
Unfortunately, Russia has also repeatedly abetted Syria’s failure to fully declare or verifiably eliminate its chemical weapons program, despite obligations under the Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2118. We deplore Russia’s continuing efforts to shield the Assad regime from appropriate oversight by the Security Council and to impugn the credibility of the OPCW’s work.
We also condemn Russia’s use of Novichok nerve agents against Aleksey Navalny in 2020 and the Skripals in 2018. Russia must acknowledge its uses of chemical weapons, declare its remaining chemical weapons program, and verifiably destroy any chemical weapons it continues to possess, including Novichok nerve agents.
Furthermore, we reject Russia’s allegations it is threatened by international assistance to Ukraine that protects against chemical weapons—assistance expressly provided for in the Chemical Weapons Convention. If Russia had not invaded Ukraine, there would be no need for the global community to provide such support. In that regard, we are appalled about reports Russian forces have used chemical riot control agents on the battlefield in Ukraine, and will continue with G7 partners to address these concerns in the OPCW.
Turning to biological weapons, the United States is deeply concerned some countries continue to pursue biological weapons in violation of the BWC.
This is notwithstanding the BWC’s 9th Review Conference affirmed the strong will of the vast majority of States Parties to work together to strengthen and institutionalize the BWC through a new Working Group. Beyond its work to explore possible measures and make recommendations to strengthen the Convention, that group will help establish one new mechanism on international cooperation and assistance, and another to review, assess, and advise on scientific and technological developments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we again saw Russia disrupt these efforts and propagate its baseless claims against peaceful international cooperation and assistance.
During this thematic debate, the Russian delegation and a group of 13 states criticized the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism for investigation of alleged use of chemical and biological weapons. The United States strongly supports this Secretary-General mechanism. Russia’s attempts to put the UNSGM under greater control by the Security Council are thinly veiled threats to hold veto power over the UNSGM’s investigative authorities. We see no compelling reason to review the UNSGM’s guidelines and procedures. Instead, we should support the Secretary-General in ensuring the necessary standing measures to support an investigation are in place, as called for in the guidelines. We must preserve its integrity and continue to support UNODA’s efforts to further operationalize and strengthen it as the only independent international mechanism for investigating alleged use of biological weapons.
Despite the significant challenges I’ve outlined, the United States believes we have an opportunity to seize recent momentum and collaborate on an issue that could garner broad support. The United States has tabled a resolution calling for negotiation of a legally-binding multilateral ban on State use of radiological weapons – a unique category of weapons distinct and separate from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. We believe this initiative could help us find a common interest in the Conference on Disarmament and reinvigorate it with a concrete, constructive task. I urge everyone to come together to accomplish this through supporting our resolution.