Statement in the First Committee of the General Assembly in General Debate

Avis T. Bohlen, Assistant Secretary for Arms Control
Statement in the First Committee of the General Assembly
United Nations, New York
October 10, 2001

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Before I begin, please accept my congratulations on your assumption of the Chairmanship of the First Committee. I am confident that the skill, experience, and knowledge you and the bureau bring to First Committee deliberations will assist us in a successful conclusion to our endeavors. I would like to express my appreciation for the moment of silence observed by the Committee at its first meeting October 4, 2001.

Mr. Chairman and other representatives to the First Committee,

We convene during a solemn period for humanity. Just four weeks ago a horrendous attack was carried out against this city and the international community. In addition to several thousand Americans, hundreds of citizens from 80 different nations lost their lives at the hands of a well-organized group of terrorists who showed total disdain for the innocents who suffered and perished. The world was shocked and appalled by these criminal events. The depravity of those acts, the tragic loss of life and the horrifying destruction mark that day forever as a sad chapter in human history. We are deeply grateful for the outpouring of sympathy that came to us from all over the world and for the solidarity shown by the international community in undertaking the long struggle now just beginning to bring the perpetrators to account and to fight terrorism wherever it manifests itself with all the weapons at our disposal.

The events of September 11 and the continuing concerns we all share underscore the need to take a fresh look at the international community's traditional convictions and approaches to security. We must strengthen them where appropriate, but we must also consider new ways to reduce the terrorist threat to mankind.

Responsible governments must assure the security and safety of their citizens and of civil society as a whole. We are not free to stand aside and watch our citizens be slaughtered, nor can we tolerate international aggression or other forcible assaults on key interests and values. Criminals and terrorists who possess the means to threaten society, and who have shown no reluctance to use them, are a danger to us all and threaten the achievement of the goal of general and complete disarmament. Governments throughout the world must cooperate and devote appropriate energy and resources to finding them, bringing them to justice, and rooting out the organized networks that enable them to operate.

There is intense concern that some of these terrorists and criminals may continue to seek to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction. This gives the international community important and persuasive reasons to redouble our non-proliferation and arms control efforts. We must also strengthen other mechanisms intended to ensure that toxic and dangerous materials remain under appropriate control and are used solely for legal and constructive purposes. The United States Government is actively examining these questions, and we would welcome ideas and views of others on how best to achieve these goals. We hope to enlist the help of all the members of the United Nations in the fight against terrorism and the threats posed by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Delegations to the First Committee have come here to consider issues of disarmament, arms control, and international peace and security. We will consider resolutions that focus on ways and means to reduce the potential harm to mankind from the tools of war - from small arms to weapons of mass destruction. We will not always agree on the best ways to reduce these dangers, but we can exchange insights, discuss alternate approaches, and seek to persuade each other.

Let me begin by reiterating and emphasizing the strong support of the United States for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As a nuclear weapon state, the United States understands its special responsibility under Article VI to take steps related to nuclear disarmament. President Bush has made clear that the U .S. will reduce its nuclear forces to the lowest possible level that is compatible with the security of the U .S. and its allies.

NPT Parties and UN Member States, including the U.S., have repeatedly called for the immediate commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) to end the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. We are extremely disappointed that the continuing deadlock in the CD is preventing the start of these negotiations. We urge all CD members to start FMCT negotiations without further delay.

The United States is keenly aware of the dangers we face in today's global environment. Earlier this year my government began a strategic policy review that is beginning to bear fruit. As one example, you are aware that the U.S. Government and the Government of the Russian Federation have been intensively discussing a new strategic framework. This framework will be premised on openness, mutual confidence, and real opportunities for cooperation. It will reflect a clean and clear break from the Cold War. It will also include substantial reductions in offensive nuclear forces, cooperation on missile defense, enhanced non - and counter-proliferation efforts, and measures to promote confidence and transparency.

In this context, I must reiterate that the United States is firmly opposed to the UN inserting itself into issues regarding the ABM Treaty, which remains a matter for the parties. As I just noted, discussions between the Russian Federation and my country on a new strategic framework, including a revised approach to the ABM Treaty, have intensified in recent months and they will continue. In these circumstances it is even more inappropriate for the ABM Treaty to be dealt with here in this forum. If a resolution on the ABM Treaty is introduced again this year, the United States will vote no on it. We urge our friends and allies to do the same. Today's world provides both new threats and new opportunities. We must be able to react to these changes.

However, let me emphasize that the United States is committed to working constructively with all members of the international community to develop broad support for an effective agenda to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to ensure meaningful arms control. It is not just two or three nations that are threatened in today's world; the entire globe faces security challenges. We are prepared to work together in search of common ground, but we do not want to engage in activities that would undercut genuine efforts to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction and address other very real security threats.

Unspeakable though the acts of September 11 were, they unfortunately do not exhaust the full range of deadly weapons available to a determined and merciless terrorist. Much has been written in recent weeks about the threat of the use of biological weapons, about the dangers of toxins and biological agents being dispersed in areas with large concentrations of people. While the ease of resorting to such weapons is sometimes overestimated in the press, the possibility that BW might be used on a massive scale must now, after September 11, be regarded as less remote than before.

This possibility must give new urgency to our efforts to combat the threat of biological weapons -- and by weapons I mean here biological agents used with lethal intent. A first step must be to strengthen the norms against use of biological weapons, to make clear and doubly clear that this form of terrorism, like all others, is unacceptable. We believe that the international community, which has in Security Council Resolutions 1368 and 1373 so clearly stated its resolve to combat terrorism by all the means at its disposal, must equally clearly state that any use of biological weapons -- whether by a state, an organization or an individual -- would be a crime against humanity to which the international community will respond. We must also make clear that transfer of BW and other toxins to those who would use them is similarly unacceptable.

Over the past six years, the United States and many other countries sought to negotiate in Geneva a protocol that would strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention -- that is to give force to its prohibitions against possession, development, stockpiling and acquisition. Last July, we made clear that we could not support the protocol, because the measures that were proposed to enforce the ban against possession and development are neither effective or equitable - and given the inherent properties of biological products it seems all but certain that they can never be made so. This continues to be our view. But in addition, the events of September 11 have reinforced our view that the priority focus must be on use. The international community must here and now state our abhorrence of use, as suggested above; we must all strengthen our national laws criminalizing use and transfer, and we must all agree that use and transfer are crimes to which our many mutual treaties of extradition would apply. We must give ourselves the means to question and challenge in the event of suspected use. And we must able to distinguish an outbreak of illness caused by BW from a naturally occurring illness. And in the unthinkable event that a major BW incident occurs somewhere, we need to pool as much as we can our knowledge and expertise to minimize the effects. That is why the United States is working closely with many nations to improve our common preparedness to mitigate and respond to BW attacks, and why we intend to expand this cooperation, especially in the area of medical consequence management. 

The U.S. is also fully engaged in international efforts against chemical weapons. Our goals remain the worldwide destruction of existing stocks of chemical weapons and full compliance with the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of these weapons of mass destruction. We are also assisting the Russian Federation in its stockpile destruction program. We note that it is not only chemical weapons activities that are of concern. In Japan, terrorists made and used nerve gas. It is essential that Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) member states put in place national laws and other regulations that help to keep materials for making chemical weapons out of unauthorized hands and ensure effective prosecution of those who make or use chemical weapons.

Each of us must do all we can to control the export from our countries of sensitive goods and technology related to weapons of mass destruction. This effort remains essential if we are to prevent the spread of these weapons, not only to governments who would use such weapons against others but to terrorists as well. Improvements in border controls and monitoring will also help in this effort.

The conclusions of the 2000 NPT Review Conference included several measures related to curtailing the potential risk of terrorism involving nuclear material. Among such steps are the strengthening of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, revising the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, improving national standards of security and physical protection of nuclear material, establishing stronger regulatory control over radioactive sources, and enhancing international cooperation against illicit trafficking in nuclear material. These measures will not only address concerns about nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, but also the threats to health and life posed by indiscriminate dispersal of radioactive materials. Improving the security and safety of civil nuclear installations against sabotage is also an important step.

Mr. Chairman, the United States takes seriously its obligations under the arms control agreements to which we are a party .We lead the way in assisting foreign nations to counter the proliferation of deadly technology. We are also prepared to engage in negotiations that will result in greater peace and security for the international community . We are also fully aware of the consequences to our security and that of the international system due to the changing nature of the threats posed in today's world. The U.S. Delegation will examine carefully the  resolutions which are to be tabled over the coming days, taking into account the need to ensure our own security as we pursue arms control and disarmament objectives that can enhance security for all. And all nations should craft their proposals bearing in mind the real threat to our security that the events of September 11 so horribly demonstrated.

The world has changed, Mr. Chairman, but many basic issues continue to compel our attention and effort. The members of this body have a responsibility to address challenges to international security, both existing and new, and my delegation is ready to work with you and our counterparts. Thank you.