Statement by H.E. Jorundur Valtysson
Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations
General Assembly 78th Session, 9 October 2023
First Committee - General Debate
At the outset, let me congratulate you and the members of the Bureau on your election and wish you well in leading the work of the First Committee. You have the full confidence and support of the Icelandic delegation. Iceland aligns itself with the statement already delivered by Denmark on behalf of the Nordic countries. Allow me to add a few remarks in my national capacity.
Again, we meet under the dark shadow of war in Europe and intensifying and spreading conflicts in other parts of the world – as we witness now in the Middle East and, here, let me reiterate my country´s strong condemnation for the attacks of Hamas on Israel. The deterioration of the global security situation continues incessantly and with that the international arms control architecture - the very architecture that should and could have provided stability, predictability and protection for civilians in areas of conflict.
This gathering needs to be reminded that if peace is to prevail in this world, we must preserve and strengthen the rule-based international order and that will only be done through effective multilateralism. That a permanent member of the Security Council, a custodian of peace and security, is waging a relentless war of aggression against Ukraine, is incomprehensible. This act of pure brutality must be subject to appropriate punity. How can 188 member states without veto power have trust in behavior such as exercised by the Russian Federation, in blatant violation of the principles of the UN Charter and international law?
Sadly, this fuels other states and groups temptation and determination to resort to the same illegal measures of violence to solve their purported grievances - and it is always the civil population, especially women and girls, that suffer most in these situations. Iceland welcomes the significant role some arms control instruments play in protecting civilians and preventing gender-based violence in conflict situations. But we must do better. Doing better would also require more participation of women in reviving, developing and implementing the global arms control architecture.
The subject matter of this remarkable committee, arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, has been an integral part of global conflict resolution since the establishment of the United Nations. It has brought us success in the forms of treaties and established norms, but regrettably also failure in negotiations and implementation of these agreements. Unfortunately, this failure is presently becoming the norm, not the exception due to non-compliance and grave security challenges.
The blatant effort to undermine arms control and disarmament is on-going and this is particularly relevant in the field of nuclear arms control, non-proliferation and nuclear safety. The nuclear rhetoric continues with the implicit threat of use of nuclear weapons. We have all witnessed how the Russian authorities, in the most irresponsible way, use their hold on the nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia as a threat in their illegal war on Ukraine. Iceland commends the IAEA for its critical role in sustaining nuclear safety in Ukraine.
Russia’s continuous attempts to derail the important work on the implementation of the NPT Treaty, by blocking consensus at the 10th Review Conference of the treaty last year and undermining the work of the Preparatory Committee for the next NPT Review Conference in 2026, is deplorable. This destructive approach is manifested in its announcement on deployment of nuclear weapons to Belarus - a State that had previously given up its nuclear arsenal. This is a travesty.
Now we are witnessing the same signs of undermining the successful Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty where the Russian authorities are raising the possibility of withdrawing its ratification. In addition, the illegal and dangerous nuclear program of the DPRK is sheltered by two of the P5 states - paralyzing all efforts by the Security Council to act on this rogue behavior, contravening various Security Council resolutions and international law. The DPRK must return to compliance with its international obligations, in particular the NPT and IAEA Safeguards Arrangements and the CTBT.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty must continue to fulfil its crucial role in nuclear disarmament and in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons while at the same time safeguarding the benefits of nuclear technology for civilian use. Any attempts to undermine the Treaty must cease.
Considering the many negative developments in the nuclear field, the urgency of commencing negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty becomes more urgent to tackle the growing risks of nuclear proliferation. There is also an urgent need to see revival of nuclear arms control efforts among the nuclear powers where the participation of China - with the fastest growing number of nuclear weapons - is an absolute necessity.
Iceland stands firm behind the Chemical Weapons Convention and strongly supports the role of the OPCW and its ongoing investigative efforts, which are guided by strong integrity, impartiality, and outstanding expertise. Perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable.
Iceland supports stronger efforts to counter the increased vulnerability of the international community to biological threats - a vulnerability brought to fore with the recent pandemic. Last year, the 9th Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention made some progress with the establishment of a working group for the purpose of strengthening the implementation of the treaty. This step forward must be sustained and reinforced.
As in past years, weapons of mass destruction remain at the center of our attention. The risk of their use has grown with military action and political rhetoric of some States present in this room. However, it is critical not to lose sight of the importance to preserve, universalize, and develop treaties and initiatives in the sphere of conventional weapons as the number of conflicts in every corner of the world continues to grow.
The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons continues to undermine peace, development, and human rights and create immense human suffering. We call on all UN member states to join the Arms Trade Treaty. The effective implementation of the Treaty and the Programme of Action on small arms is another key to reversing this negative trend.
The immense leap forward in technological advancement is raising many new challenges for global security. States, non-state actors and even individuals now have access to technologies and informational aids that we only used to read about in science fiction literature. How stakeholders confront the military application and armament proliferation in the era of artificial intelligence will have long term consequences for global security. The use of artificial intelligence begs some serious questions that will demand close multilateral cooperation to avoid the very real risk of this technology becoming the tool of destruction rather than creation.
This risk is valid in all the new avenues that we have opened in the field of arms control, non-proliferation or disarmament. Whether it is open, free, secure and safe cyberspace in the form of a Programme of Action for advancing Responsible State Behavior in Cyberspace; whether it is lethal autonomous weapons systems or preventing arms race in outer space, it is critical that this work contributes to strengthen international peace and security - and is solidly grounded in the UN Charter and international law.
Despite continuous efforts to undermine the international arms control and disarmament regime, Iceland hopes for concrete results from the work of the Committee. As we embark upon substantial preparation for the Pact for the Future, to be adopted next year, it is important to have strong input from the First Committee. Arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament will be an important pillar of such a Future Pact as a primary tool for prevention in service of international peace and security.