Statement of the Netherlands

delivered by

Mr. Mark Zellenrath, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the UN in New York


First Committee of the 75th session of the

UN General Assembly

General Debate

New York, 9 October 2020


Allow me to congratulate you on your election as chair to the First Committee. I would also like to congratulate the Bureau members on the assumption of their positions. The delegation of the Netherlands stands ready to support your work. In addition to the statement delivered by the EU, the Netherlands would like to make the following remarks in its national capacity.

Today, we live in a world which is increasingly multipolar and where new and disruptive technologies continue to emerge. These developments can have disturbing ramifications for our international security environment. Over the course of the past year this environment is further being challenged by the far-reaching consequences of Covid-19. Its impact is clearly visible in all parts of the world, transcending time, space and borders. The international community and our institutions have risen to the challenge posed by the pandemic in a manner that we can only applaud. For example, the very effective and timely test kits program of the IAEA, to which we and many others contributed.

At the same time, however, the pandemic forced us to prioritize the somewhat unexpected, while postponing the anticipated. This may have a severe impact on the global non-proliferation and disarmament architecture. We have seen many important and fruitful fora and expert groups having to reorganize their activities online, and conferences, such as the NPT Review Conference, running into delay, all imperiling the momentum and constraining progress on negotiations vital to our security context.

Multilateralism, and non-proliferation and disarmament in particular, must not fall victim to Covid-19. It remains our responsibility to take stock of where we are, to reflect upon what we have accomplished, and to set new goals in order to address the current challenges to our multilateral and security environment. Last year, we already witnessed the demise of the INF treaty. This year, the JCPOA with Iran is under immense pressure. The Chemical Weapons Convention is under strain as chemical weapons are being used by state and non-state actors, as recent as in the case of Navalny. Also in light of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, the BTWC seems more important than ever. Furthermore, the shared space surrounding our planet is congested and contested, and can no longer be seen isolated from technological and military developments.

These and other challenges can only be successfully resolved if we use our most important and effective tool at hand: multilateral cooperation. Upholding the framework of treaties and conventions countering current threats is crucial for ensuring a secure and prosperous world. The pandemic, if anything, has made it even more clear that we can only do this together. As noted by our Prime Minister Mark Rutte in his remarks to the UN General Assembly this year, and I quote: “All countries must take responsibility for the proper functioning of the multilateral system, take a constructive approach, honor the agreements you have made and respect international law.”

The Netherlands will therefore continue to promote multilateralism as the key principle in our international rules-based system to address today’s challenges and promote international security. Our efforts in a number of areas will therefore be constructive, forward-looking, and building on the fundamentals of the rules-based system. In that regard, the Netherlands supports the UNSG’s Agenda for Disarmament and continues to support the role of the UN in addressing these issues.

Firstly, I would like to elaborate on a number of issues in the field of WMDs, because it remains of paramount importance that we continue to put our strongest efforts in jointly upholding the existing nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament architecture.

The Netherlands continues to be strongly committed to the strengthening and implementation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime. We will actively contribute to a successful outcome of the NPT Review Conference via our vice-presidency of the Conference and our chairmanship of Main Committee III. Furthermore, the Netherlands continues to be involved with creative collaboration initiatives such as Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND), the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV) and the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), and topics that give substance to our NPT-commitments. Think of the immediate start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the signing and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the further development and implementation of concepts such as Nuclear Risk Reduction and Verification. We encourage the P5 to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue on these issues.

The Netherlands follows closely the strategic dialogue in Vienna, and lately also in Helsinki, between the US and Russia on the New START Treaty. We share the US vision that a more ambitious agreement is needed for future strategic stability. Extending New START is a first important step. We call upon all relevant parties, in particular Russia and China, to engage.

It is truly sad to see that the UNSC-resolution 2231, which consolidates the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is under increasing pressure today. Iran’s nuclear programme must remain under strict international control, for which the JCPOA is the agreed instrument. We call upon all remaining parties to fully implement UNSC-resolution 2231, including the elements on ballistic missile related activities.

Diplomatic efforts to address the proliferation challenges posed by the DPRK must be actively supported by the international community. We cannot accept a nuclear DPRK. Until the DPRK takes concrete steps towards complete, irreversible, and verifiable denuclearization, the international community must maintain pressure on the DPRK, including by full and effective implementation of sanctions by all UN member states, while continuing the dialogue.

Together, we all agree that we must uphold the global norm against the use of chemical weapons. The Netherlands condemns the recent attack on Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent. We share the conclusion of Germany and France that there is no other plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning than Russian involvement and responsibility in this matter, and therefore we support the call for sanctions. We condemn Syria for using chemical weapons and urge them to fully comply with the CWC. I would like to seize the opportunity to commend the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) for its first report in which three chemical weapons attacks were attributed to Syria. I look forward to the ITT’s second report. The Netherlands has full confidence in the professionalism, impartiality and objectivity of the Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Technical Secretariat. I take this opportunity to reconfirm my country’s full support for the OPCW, including the Fact Finding Mission and the IIT.

Biotechnological advancement, but most of all the Covid-19 crisis, has clearly shown us the grave dangers of biological threats for the entire international community. We must all take a more proactive stance in safeguarding the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). The Netherlands regrets the lack of a verification regime for the BTWC and the lack of contributions being paid to the BTWC. The Netherlands is committed to the strengthening and implementation of the BTWC, including through confidence-building measures and peer review, in order to improve worldwide biosecurity & biosafety. Perhaps the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic leads states that remain outside the BTWC to accede without delay and we urge States Parties to comply with the BTWC and pay their annual contributions and any other outstanding amounts in full and as soon as possible.

Secondly, new technologies come with great opportunities. Cyberspace, artificial intelligence and technological developments in outer space come with many societal and economic benefits. However, these dual-use technologies can generate security challenges too. Malicious cyber operations disrupting our societies are a real, credible threat. Likewise, we reject the development of fully autonomous weapons systems, which are not under meaningful human control. And, the technology used to clear space debris has a nefarious reverse side as an enabler for anti-satellite weaponry. This inherently links valuable civilian initiatives in this field to discussions on the security dimension of outer space, such as the various resolutions that have been tabled in the First Committee.

We need collective engagement to address developments in cyber space. The Netherlands strongly believes that this can be done most effectively by implementation and adherence to the current normative framework as laid out by the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) reports of 2010, 2013 and 2015, endorsed by the General Assembly. As such, the Netherlands supports the current multilateral efforts to tackle cyber security threats, in both the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and the GGE. We need a pragmatic and inclusive approach, in such a way that the work of the OEWG and the work of the GGE will complement and reinforce each other. The recently proposed Programme of Action may provide a promising way forward for a permanent, flexible and inclusive process to build upon the outcomes of the OEWG and GGEs. The Netherlands continues to support the international dialogue on the urgent issue of international cybersecurity and is committed to work towards consensus outcomes.

The Netherlands also reiterates the essential role of multilateralism concerning Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) by pointing out that good progress has been made within GGE on LAWS under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in 2019. The eleven guiding principles reflect that there is a common understanding among State parties that humans must have some form of control over autonomous weapons to ensure compliance with International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law. In light of the Sixth Review Conference of the CCW in 2021, discussions need to move forward so that we can continue to make progress on issues like ‘human-machine’ interaction.  

It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that outer space is both a congested and a contested realm. The Netherlands is deeply concerned about the increasing number of intentional threats that have come with new approaches towards the space domain, including ground-based systems such as jammers and ground-launched Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite Weapons, as well as space-related threats such as intentional in-orbit manipulation and other proximity operations. Space is an international domain that no country is able to – or ought to handle on its own. Hence, international cooperation on the issue of space security is crucial and we must ensure that the inherent dual-use nature of any space activity in this field does not lead to accidents, misunderstandings, miscommunications or miscalculations. We consider the introduction of transparency and confidence building measures in this domain as an important first step to re-inforce the current normative and legal framework.

Thirdly, the vast number of casualties caused by conventional weapons should serve as a reminder for the need for collective action. The extensive use of anti-personnel mines of an improvised nature, particularly in urban areas, and the illicit cross-border flow of small arms and light weapons into conflict zones, are painful but clear proof of that. Therefore, the Netherlands remains fully committed to the several conventions and treaties that seek to achieve progress in this field.

As chair of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the Netherlands would like to highlight the 40th anniversary of the CCW and use this opportunity to call on those states not yet party to join this important instrument. It has been challenging to seek new ways of organizing the meetings and to continue discussions under the CCW due to Covid-19. However, the Netherlands deems it vital that we continue to share views and best practices despite the Covid-19 circumstances and continue to address urgent matters under the CCW, such as the cooperation on countering the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) under Additional Protocol II and the clearance of explosive remnants of war under Protocol V.  
The increase in victims of anti-personnel mines, in particular those of an improvised nature, serve as a reminder that those weapons should never be used by any state or any non-state actor. The Netherlands therefore fully supports the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and will actively contribute towards its implementation, including the recently adopted Oslo Action Plan. We look forward to Chairing this important Convention, hosting the Meeting of States Parties in the Netherlands in 2021.

In light of this year’s Review Conference of the Cluster Munition Convention (CCM), the Netherlands would like to take the opportunity to stress the importance of the universalization and implementation of the Convention. Only through our work in this convention can we uphold the norm on non-use of cluster munitions.

We underline the importance of implementation and universalization of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in order to eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion to the illicit market. We call on all UN member states, who have not yet done so, to join the ATT, as our only legally-binding international instrument to regulate trade of conventional arms. With regards to Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), the Netherlands calls on States to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in SALW. Despite the suspension of the Seventh Biennial Meeting of States on the Programme of Action on SALW, the Netherlands continues its efforts to implement the Programme of Action and on other states to follow suit.  

Lastly, we should work on improving and modernising our disarmament machinery. It is a sad truth that the very Conference that produced vital multilateral disarmament treaties, such as the CWC and the CTBT, is not able to start negotiations on, for example, a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. We have to be creative in order to move forward. The Netherlands has therefore introduced a working paper last year with suggestions on the organization of our work in the CD, namely to go ‘back to basics’. We hope that his will be taken at heart at the start of the CD session next year.

It is our shared responsibility that the disarmament machinery functions effectively. The weak financial status of several conventions is of great concern to us, because ‘no money, no meetings and no implementation support’. We urge all states to meet their financial obligations to those instruments in full and on time.

The Netherlands strongly believes that multilateral cooperation is crucial in order to effectively tackle the challenges that lie before us. To ensure the effectiveness of the international rules-based order surrounding non-proliferation and disarmament and its pivotal multilateral institutions, we need to express our shared commitment, take a constructive, flexible and pro-active stance, and work innovatively. We should not take our security for granted, but actively uphold it. In today’s world that translates to: reaching out to other countries for help, sharing information and knowledge multilaterally and keeping an open dialogue.

Thank you.