Statement by Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, at the Conference on Disarmament (Geneva, February 25, 2020)
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25 february / 2020

Statement by Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, at the Conference on Disarmament (Geneva, February 25, 2020)

Dear Mr. President,

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for the opportunity to address Members of the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. Its creation, as you know, was owed to the Victory in World War II. Thus, it is the Great Victory that laid the foundation for the modern world order based on the supremacy of international law. This solid foundation was used for shaping the system of multilateral agreements on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation (ACDNP) which guaranteed maintenance of international peace and security for many decades. A unique UN disarmament machinery was established, with the CD being its key element. Here, at the Geneva forum, the most important international instruments, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), had been developed. We are to mark the 50th anniversary of its entry into force on 5 March.

Regrettably we remember that nearly 75 years ago, by dropping nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US became the only State to have ever used that most horrible weapon and triggered the nuclear arms race the effects of which still linger. Yet, we need to underline that in the second half of the 20th century we did the utmost by join efforts to ensure strategic stability and prevent such tragedies.

Regrettably during this century dangerous and destructive trends caused by the resurgence of the aggressive foreign-policy egocentrism of one state have been accumulating. The Washington's withdrawal in 2002 fr om the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, that was crucial for strategic stability, was a heavy blow to the entire ACDNP architecture. Recently, the desire to dominate everywhere and to impose its own "rules" on the international community at the expense of other States' interests and international law has become a prevailing element in the US policy. All multilateral agreements or mechanisms that challenge such a dominance are declared "obsolete and ineffective".

Last year the US denounced the INF Treaty. This was immediately followed by flight tests of the US weapon systems that had been earlier prohibited under the Treaty. Intentions to place such systems in various regions of the world are being declared. Russia, while having stated that it would be forced to take symmetrical steps, exercised the highest degree of responsibility and committed it self unilaterally not to deploy ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles in the regions where the similar US systems will not appear. We urge the US and its allies to declare the same moratorium. We are aware of attempts to undermine the credibility of our initiative. But let me remind you that we proposed to dispel suspicions through elaboration of a possible verification regime for such a mutual moratorium. Ignoring this honest offer means that true causes of the INF destruction have nothing to do with Russian position and actions.

The plans of the US, as well as those of France and NATO as a whole, to place weapons in outer space are taking shape. We are convinced that it is not too late to develop measures acceptable for all to prevent confrontation in outer space. The Russian-Chinese draft treaty on the prevention of placement of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects remains the only relevant constructive proposal which is on the table at the CD. The document is comprehensive and ready for full-fledged negotiations. In the meantime while the work on that treaty is underway, political commitments on No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space are to play a stabilizing role. The initiative is steadily gaining more and more supporters.

Another reason for concern is uncertain future of the New START Treaty. Speaking last year from this podium I outlined why we consider it important to preserve it. Extending the Treaty would be a reasonable step to prevent further deterioration of the strategic stability, to avoid a complete collapse of mechanism for control and limitations nuclear and missile domain and to buy some time for deliberations on approaches to methods for control of new weapons and military technologies. Given all these circumstances Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to the US to extend the New START Treaty without any preconditions. We are waiting for a response.

We note with concern that new doctrinal provisions adopted by Washington significantly lower the "threshold" for use of nuclear weapons. Notably it is taking place against the backdrop of the US refusal, I would like to stress an official refusal, to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, on-going placement of its nuclear weapons on the territory of some NATO allies and continued so-called "nuclear sharing missions". It got to the point that the US conducted military exercises to imitate use of nuclear weapons against targets on the Russian territory. Europeans are also engaged in these exercises.

In order to ease these artificial tensions and to leave door open for further strategic dialogue we proposed at least to reaffirm or at best to strengthen the Gorbachev-Reagan formula that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”. We believe that in the current situation such a statement would send a positive message to the entire international community. Yet there is no answer from Washington to this proposal for as long as 18 months now.

We expect that all interested States to engage in constructive work at the NPT Review Conference that will start in New York at the end of April. I will not prejudge anything. I would only emphasize that in the current challenging environment it is important for this forum to succeed in strengthening non-proliferation regime regardless of whether an outcome document is agreed or not. The Treaty is self-sufficient, its provisions have stood the test of time, and their revision or loose interpretation under current difficult circumstances would only be harmful.

In the NPT review context the first Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction as well as Their Delivery Systems held in November 2019 was an important positive event. Russia played an active role in convening the Conference. Its major outcome is the launch of an open and inclusive dialogue to seek ways to settle this long-standing issue.

At a time the “nuclear deal” with Iran was a significant success in non-proliferation. Five years ago the world community sighed with relief when the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on reconciliation around the Iranian nuclear program (JCPOA) was unanimously adopted through the UNSCR 2231. It was an example of effective solution to a crisis which risked evolving into a “hot” conflict. Progress was achieved when all parties involved demonstrated genuine willingness to hear each other and take into account mutual interests. As of today, however, we witness how the US refusal to comply with its international obligations under Chapter VII of the UN Charter as well as inability of European colleagues – no matter how hard they try – to implement their part of the “nuclear deal” leads to the disintegration of this unique achievement in multilateral diplomacy. Iran had no other choice but to react by employing legitimate means provided by the JCPOA. Tehran has suspended the implementation of exclusively voluntary restrictions but has been complying with its legal obligations under the NPT and the IAEA Safeguards Agreement. A meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission is to take place tomorrow in Vienna. It is of course a chance, though not of 100%, to curb the escalation before it is too late.

Deep crisis continues to cover all the elements of the UN disarmament machinery. At any venue substantive dialogue tends to be neglected and discussions politicized. We are disappointed with Western countries actions to transform once quite successful professional multilateral disarmament structures into a means of pressure on "undesirable" States. That was the case with the OPCW, wh ere our Western colleagues imposed their absolutely illegitimate decision to assign to the OPCW Technical Secretariat attributive functions that is a flagrant violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and infringement on the UNSC prerogatives. Similar steps are also undertaken in the context of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) - elaboration of a legally binding universally acceptable multilateral verification regime is being blocked. Instead, we face attempts to use the UN Secretariat to “cover up” the US non-transparent activities carried out on a bilateral basis with the partners of their interests in the sphere of biosecurity.

2019 was the first year the substantive session of the UN Disarmament Commission did not take place due to the denial by the US authorities to grant visas to the head and members of the Russian delegation. The US obstructive behavior did not allow to agree on the CD annual substantive final report. We observe US colleagues’ attempts to introduce an ideological element into the activities of the UNGA First Committee.

All these developments lead to further divisions within the international community and distract its attention from real international security problems. We call upon US colleagues to return to a normal track of respectful inter-State dialogue and interaction in accordance with the UN Charter and the Agreement on the United Nations Headquarters on the US territory.

At the current session of the CD we take note of certain promising signs. Under the Algerian Presidency the P6 contacts were resumed. We welcome that. The process of agreeing a CD programme of work has been re-launched. Re-establishment of subsidiary bodies with a research mandate is also under consideration. This step would certainly be useful with an understanding that it must not substitute advancing to the main goal, i.e. the earliest commencement of negotiations.

It is important for all of us to demonstrate political will to find solutions acceptable to all. With a view to reaching consensus on the start of negotiations based on a comprehensive and balanced programme of work, we once again urge the CD Member States to consider in a responsible manner the Russian initiative to elaborate at the CD an international convention for the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism. Strengthening the international legal framework for countering WMD-terrorism – the threat that is quite real – meets the interests of all States without exception. The CD negotiating process could be revitalized on the basis of this unifying framework.

We also encourage Member States to think about how to end the degradation of the international arms control architecture. The UNGA resolution “Strengthening and developing system of treaties and agreements on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation” reflects the need for a new impetus to efforts on this track. It was adopted by 174 States with five abstentions. Nobody voted “against”. Now we need to translate the collective political will provided for in the document into the language of practical steps. Russia is ready for that job. We are open to engagement with all the members of the international community on the basis of the principles of equality and consensus decision-driven approach through balance of interests.

Such multilateral cooperation in solving global problems is what the UN founding fathers looked forward to. The UNSC permanent members are called upon to play a special unifying role in developing updated and up-to-date proposals to ensure stability on the planet based on the UN Charter. At this critical stage, they must exercise their utmost responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.

As you might be aware, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited his colleagues to hold a P5 UNSC summit. Undoubtedly, such a summit would be a starting point for pivotal decisions in the interests of the entire international community. The reaction to this proposal is encouraging. We will work to make it happen.