An official website of the United States government

Explanation of Vote – UNFC October 2023 | Cluster 1 – Nuclear Weapons
November 3, 2023

Explanation of Vote – UNFC October 2023

L.52 “Addressing the Legacy of Nuclear Weapons: Providing Victim Assistance and Environmental Remediation to Member States Affected by the Use or Testing of Nuclear Weapons”

Chair, the United States is pleased to take the floor to explain its vote on L.52, the new Nuclear Legacy resolution led by Kazakhstan and Kiribati.

We want to commend the outstanding approach by the penholders displayed throughout consultations, which made clear that they were listening to views and trying to bring the General Assembly together on an important topic. The United States abstained on the overall resolution, and the posted version of this explanation of vote describes this abstention with reference to specific paragraphs. We also voted no on PP 2-5 and PP16, and OP 1 and 3. However, notwithstanding disagreements with this resolution, we continue to seek ways in which we can focus on areas of common interest.

As noted in the U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Statement on September 25, 2023, the United States acknowledges the legacy of World War II and the nuclear legacy of the Cold War. We are glad that our Pacific Islands partners also joined us in acknowledging our commitment to addressing the Republic of the Marshall Island’s (RMI) ongoing environmental, public health, and other welfare concerns.

The American people remember well the history of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands and the hardships the Marshallese have faced. The United States has long recognized the effects of its nuclear testing program there and has accepted and acted on its responsibility to the citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands through the longstanding, full and final settlement that the United States and the Marshall Islands reached in 1986. We appreciate this resolution’s intent to bring the topic of such victim assistance to this body, and the inclusion in PP11 that acknowledges these efforts.

We also recognize from our own history that traces of radioactive and cancer-causing particles found their way into our children. That is one of the reasons why we pursued the Limited Test Ban Treaty sixty years ago and why we continue to support a Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). We are very glad to see the CTBT referenced in PP7 and support the sentiments of that paragraph, but must clarify that moratoria on nuclear explosive testing are unilateral political commitments made by individual states, and that no single, multilateral testing moratorium exists.

We voted no on PP2 and PP3 not because we disagree that the consequences outlined therein may be present in some instances, but because we disagree that they are present in all instances based on scientific data.

We voted no on PP4 because the United States has acknowledged and acted on our responsibility relating to U.S. nuclear use and testing, but the use of the word “unacceptable” does not take into account the historical realities surrounding the instances of past nuclear use and testing.

We voted no on PP5 because the United States disagrees, as a factual matter, with the generalized claim that the effects of a nuclear weapon detonation in any circumstance would necessarily be “catastrophic,” in every circumstance. We further note that the United States and the RMI agreed in 1986 that they reached a “just and adequate settlement” of all claims in any way related to the U.S. nuclear testing program.

Regarding PP6, we did not feel it necessary to vote on it. However, we do want to make clear that it is the United States’ view that the total elimination of nuclear weapons can only guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons if elimination itself can be secured, enforced, and verified. Regrettably, this highly complex military, security and technical challenge would require a degree of cooperation not proximate today.

Our overall abstention on the resolution applies also to PP9 and PP15 because, while the United States acknowledges that nuclear testing often has a disproportionate impact on the groups mentioned in this paragraph, we do not concede as a factual matter that said disproportionate impact has occurred in every instance of testing.

On PP10, we note that we object to the premise that victim’s assistance and environmental remediation are meaningful steps to nuclear disarmament. The United States is particularly concerned about the assertion that environmental remediation would necessarily be a meaningful step to nuclear disarmament.

On PP13, while we recognize the body referenced therein as one of many groups of experts who could contribute to a meaningful set of knowledge on this topic, we do not take that body to be the only source of valid information and views on this topic or generally endorse all of its findings.

We voted no PP16 because we do not support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons or view it as a valid route through which the United States would provide victim assistance or environmental remediation.

While the United States joined consensus on the Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution referenced in PP17 and did not call for a vote in this resolution, we disassociated from consensus on portions of the HRC resolution. Details on our reasoning may be found in the U.S. Explanation of Position with regard to that HRC resolution.

We similarly did not call for a vote on PP18, but want to be clear that the United States has already provided technical assistance and resources to communities affected by past U.S. nuclear testing. We wish to emphasize the significant resources already contributed in this area, for instance as part of the full and final settlement of claims, and note that we do not interpret the paragraph’s references to resources as a commitment to future resource allocation.

On the operative paragraphs, we voted no on OP1 because the use of the word “further” in this paragraph fails to account for the fact that harm from certain testing programs, such as the U.S. nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands, has been fully and finally settled by international agreement.

Regarding OP2, we want to be clear that the United States has already provided a large volume of information and technical assistance to communities and people affected by past U.S. nuclear testing. We have previously declassified large volumes of information on this topic, and we note that we will interpret this resolution in line with acknowledgement and continuation of the large amount of work the United States has already done, while only requiring action in the future as appropriate and in line with U.S. government policy.

We voted no on OP3 due to concern that some might read it to imply a State’s responsibility for all harm that could potentially result from the detonation of a nuclear weapon, no matter the circumstances or potential defenses. It is the United States’ understanding that any determination of responsibility for harm arising from the use or testing of a nuclear weapon would be subject to rules of international law.

And finally, on OP4 and OP5, we note these paragraphs do not acknowledge that some assistance and remediation issues have already been settled or addressed, and while we do not support a UN Secretary-General report, viewing it as counterproductive, we will provide a submission to the report called for in this resolution in order to share our views.

I thank you, Chair.