UN DISARMAMENT COMMISSION: SUBSTANTIVE SESSION OF 2023 - 385TH PLENARY MEETING
3 April 2023
Statement by H.E. The Hon Mitch Fifield, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Australian Mission to the United Nations
Australia would like to congratulate you on your appointment and offer our full support to you during this important final year of the three-year UNDC cycle, including in our capacity as Vice Chair.
In her address to the UN General Assembly in September, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said that Australia was committed to redoubling our efforts toward a world without nuclear weapons and to strengthening the non-proliferation regime.
Australia considers the UNDC to be an important mechanism for helping take the world closer to that goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Indeed, the work of the UNDC has never been more important. It is undeniable the disarmament machinery is not functioning to its full potential. This was highlighted recently by the lack of consensus on establishing an ad hoc committee process in the Conference on Disarmament. Despite the challenges of this context, let me be perfectly clear- we can still achieve progress on issues of great importance.
We were honoured to have had the opportunity to Chair the Commission in 2018. Our role as Chair had followed the successful 2017 session of the Commission which reached the first consensus outcome in nearly two decades. Optimism was high and we were pleased to have presided over a highly productive session.
But, no one could not have predicted the trajectory of the Commission over the last five years. Despite the challenges, the optimism for this extended cycle remains within the Australian delegation, and the opportunities for substantive progress endure.
The need for progress is only heightened by the challenges we face in our current security context. Just over one year on, Australia continues to condemn Russia’s illegal and immoral full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and its reckless nuclear rhetoric. We consider Russia’s noncompliance with the New START Treaty, and its claimed suspension of the treaty, to be unfortunate and irresponsible steps. Nuclear stability is especially important in a time of crisis. And we urge Russia to return to full compliance with the treaty. Preserving the integrity of existing arms control agreements, such as New START, remains critical to global efforts towards a world without nuclear weapons, and to reducing nuclear risks.
In 2018, my delegation took the floor in this body and remarked on the value of the UNDC ‘working toward an outcome on the topic of nuclear risk reduction’. Five years later, the need for nuclear risk reduction measures to be implemented is now more urgent than ever.
Australia is firmly of the view that nuclear risk reduction is not a substitute for tangible progress on disarmament, but that there is considerable overlap between steps taken to reduce risk and those taken toward nuclear disarmament, through better understanding of doctrines, greater transparency and building trust.
Just last month, in March, Australia co-hosted with the Philippines the ASEAN Regional Forum Workshop on nuclear risk reduction, held over two days in Brisbane. Forums such as these provide an important opportunity to assess nuclear risks in a regional context, build understanding around any differences in approaches, and consider possible ways to reduce risks. For Australia, it is critically important to hear directly from ASEAN partners their perspectives on nuclear risk and ways it can be addressed. The Workshop commenced negotiations on an ambitious ARF Nuclear Risk Reduction Guidance document which contains specific measures that could be implemented by ARF members. Negotiations will continue with the goal of ARF Ministerial endorsement on the document.
Australia would be interested in views about the utility of a mechanism or UN process that could look holistically at the broad range of work on risk reduction that has been done to date. This mechanism could, in a focused manner, enhance understanding of nuclear risk reduction and its intersections with disarmament, and consider common threads and differences with the aim of developing strong recommendations towards constructive and tangible measures to make the world a safer place. A strong outcome on risk reduction here in the UNDC could help inform such a mechanism.
Australia has been very pleased to see rich discussions on reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviour. Firstly through the strong engagement of states providing input to the Secretary-General’s report in 2021. And secondly by states’ active engagement in the first three sessions of the Open-Ended Working Group established by resolution 76/231. From the outset, Australia’s ambition for the Open-Ended Working Group has been for it to produce outcomes and recommendations that will bolster security, transparency, stability, predictability, and trust. We want the Group to identify responsible behaviours and assist improving communication and consultation between States.
We have argued this can be achieved through non-binding norms, rules and principles, such as the implementation of transparency and confidence building measures -TCBMs. Some ten years on from the consensus report of the Group of Governmental Experts on TCBMs, the OEWG has underscored the valuable role TCBMs play in clarifying intent and reducing the risk of misperception and miscalculation. We look forward to working with all on a positive outcome to working group II. The more TCBMs can be promoted and adopted, the safer our space environment can become.
In closing, I would like to urge all delegations to focus on our shared goals and interests. There has never been a more important time for the UNDC to achieve a positive outcome.