Explanation of Vote – UN First Committee 2023
Cluster 2 – Other Weapons of Mass Destruction
Thank you, Chair.
At the start of our session, High Representative Nakamitsu reminded us of the tremendous responsibility of the First Committee.
She noted that “the time for lamentation must end” regarding “the persistent deadlock in parts of the disarmament machinery” and challenged us to find “concrete, sensible solutions.”
The United States is pleased to introduce resolution L.51, Radiological Weapons, as one such solution. We believe the resolution we are presenting is truly reflective of diverse, cross-regional views, and it has earned widespread support. This resolution would signal broad support for the view that states should not use radiological weapons, and negotiation in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) of a legally binding instrument prohibiting such use. We have not heard a single voice against such a prohibition, which has been on the CD’s agenda for many years. Updated to reflect feedback heard from others, this resolution would also signal the view that States should not develop, produce, or stockpile radiological weapons, while at the same time desiring not to interfere with the legitimate uses of radioactive materials, and retaining as an initial step the negotiation of a prohibition against State use.
The United States built the text of L.51 through three rounds of inclusive consultations in Geneva and New York, multiple revisions of the text to accommodate feedback, and additional bilateral and group consultations as well as revisions following the submission deadline.
One of the common questions we heard was, “Why now?” We would ask why this has not been done already. Preventing the use of such weapons by non-state actors has been the subject of extensive work over the past decades.
Although State use may appear unlikely to many, there is little doubt that, if it did occur, it would cause confusion, disruption, and enhanced risks for any States involved.
Addressing this scenario is thus consistent with our broader interest in reducing these risks. Moreover, the development of an instrument banning use of these weapons by States could strengthen overall efforts to combat weapons of mass destruction.
Nor is this a new idea or effort. The international community has historically recognized the value of pursuing a prohibition on these weapons, including in the final document of SSOD-1 and in substantive work undertaken at the CD. But that work remains unfinished.
We also know some delegations have questioned whether the CD is the appropriate venue for such a negotiation. The United States believes the CD can still live up to the purpose it was intended to serve, as the single standing multilateral disarmament negotiating forum for the international community. Pursuing such an effort could be the much-needed jumpstart the CD needs to get back on track.
We thought it important to focus this resolution narrowly on State use of radiological weapons. Our aim is to avoid more complicated issue of potential interference with the civil use of radioactive materials in medicine, agriculture, industry, and scientific research. But having heard clearly the interest of some others in a broader ambition to address production, stockpiling, and development of radiological weapons, the revised text now contains a more sweeping call to States, and leaves open the possibility of broader negotiations, while retaining as an initial step the negotiation of a prohibition against State use.
This kind of approach has a proven track record. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned chemical and biological weapons use in war as a start and was succeeded only later by the more comprehensive Chemical Weapons and Biological Weapons Conventions.
While my delegation is confident in this committee’s support for resolution L.51 and we encourage all States to vote for it, I must make one announcement. The United States views the amendment sponsored by the delegation of Iran as an attempt to alter materially the resolution’s nature, which I will address further in our explanation of vote. As a result, my delegation is procedurally required to inform the Secretariat that in the unlikely scenario Iran’s amendment should pass, the United States requests that its name be withdrawn as a sponsor of the resolution-as-amended.
We believe the radiological weapons resolution before the First Committee can achieve the broadest possible support. To quote our Under Secretary of State, Bonnie Jenkins, “We are all faced with challenges, no doubt, but also with new opportunities. Ones that have been forgotten, dismissed, or sidelined. It’s long past time that we take up those opportunities.”