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UN Rejects Resolution Calling for Russian-U.S. Compliance with Nuclear Treaty

By Ramesh Jaura

Photo: Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev (left) and President Reagan (right) signing the INF Treaty in the East Room of the White House in December 1987. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

NEW YORK (IDN) – In a tug of war between two nuclear giants, the UN General Assembly has rejected a resolution calling for U.S.-Russian compliance with and strengthening of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. And this within months of President Donald Trump's October announcement to "terminate" the 1987 Treaty "in response to Russian violations of the agreement".

By a recorded vote of 46 against to 43 in favour, with 78 abstentions, the General Assembly rejected the draft resolution titled 'Preservation of and compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty' (document A/73/L.70), which would have also called on the U.S. and Russia to resume a constructive dialogue on strategic issues premised on openness, mutual confidence and real opportunities for cooperation.

After the General Assembly vote on December 21, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said the United States had sent out a letter to the United Nations members, "insisting that the Russian-drafted resolution" calling for strengthening the Russia-U.S. compliance with the INF Treaty "be rejected, and also noting that it should be done by two thirds of the vote".

"The U.S. side was very worried about the outcome of the vote," Nebenzya told Rossiya 1 TV channel. On December 20, "[U.S.] Ambassador [to the UN Nikkey] Haley sent out a letter to all member countries – and to us – calling for a vote against the Russia-drafted resolution, but in support of the particular importance of this issue, so it should be passed by two thirds of the UN members' votes," he said.

Among 46 countries who voted against the resolution were the United States, the European Union nations, Japan, Turkey, Israel and Ukraine. The document was supported by China, member nations of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) [comprising Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia] as well as Iran, Syria and a number of Latin American countries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on December 22 that the results of the vote were disappointing and "a new blow to global security". Representatives of the United States and the European Union said after the vote that they did not think that a resolution by the General Assembly would help preserve the treaty.

The importance of the INF Treaty is underlined by the fact that it marked the first time the two powers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. It reduced the risk of nuclear escalation and an arms race in Europe.

As a result of the agreement, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty's implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

Introducing the draft resolution, the Russian representative Dmitry A. Polyanskiy said that his country had submitted for consideration the draft in support of the Treaty on the elimination of intermediate and shorter-range missiles.

The Treaty had made "a significant contribution to strengthening international stability," he said, iterating that December 21 represented a turning point as the very future of the agreement was at stake.

"Its existence was threatened in October (2018) when the United States announced its intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty. Then they set a date for withdrawal. The United States is declaring its intention to deploy types of armaments prohibited by the Treaty, primarily in the Asia-Pacific region."

In other words, he added: "This is the start of a full-fledged arms race-" The United States had done everything to present unfounded accusations that Moscow had violated the Treaty, the Russian representative said, noting that he was referring to the notorious 9M729 rocket.

"The letter received from United States Ambassador Nikki Haley on 20 December proves that the Russian Federation could not respond to the concerns of Washington, D.C., because it was not aware of the substance of such concerns.  His country was then able to show that the 9M729 does not fall under the terms of the Treaty," Polyanskiy argued.

He said that his delegation was convinced that such a development of events does not meet the interests of the international community. "The resolution tabled today seeks to give the General Assembly, in line with article 11 of the Charter of the United Nations, the opportunity to recommend that parties continue to comply with the Treaty."

On the other hand, the U.S. representative, prior to the vote, said that his country would vote against the text because "it is disingenuous for the Russian Federation, as it is in breach of the INF, to put forward a resolution on the Treaty it is violating". 

The U.S. representative pointed out that the United States has engaged Russia repeatedly to bring it back into verifiable compliance but Moscow has denied any wrongdoing and issued baseless accusations.  It pretended it did not know which missile the United States was talking about, despite knowing that at issue was the 9M729 missile.

Russia soon changed its story from saying the missile did not exist to saying it did but was compliant with the Treaty. If the Russian Federation intended to preserve the Treaty, it could have returned to verifiable compliance within the last five years.  It has refused to do so, the U.S. representative argued.

The representative of Poland, speaking in explanation before the vote, said the Treaty has been crucial to global security for more than 30 years as it has contributed to the disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He drew attention to the fact that on September 4, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies affirmed that Moscow had fielded a missile system called 9M729 that violates the Treaty.

Concerns have been raised with the Russian Federation for over five years, he argued. The Polish delegation strongly supports the findings of the United States that the Russian Federation is in breach of the Treaty and has yet to address these concerns in a constructive and credible manner. "No treaty is sustainable when it is only respected by one side," he said.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the Austrian representative said, thanks to the Treaty, almost 3,000 missiles and nuclear armaments have been removed or destroyed. Constructive dialogue between the United States and the Russian Federation remains essential, he emphasized, adding that this resolution diverts from the issue at stake.

The European Union would therefore not vote in favour of the Russian draft. He urged the Russian Federation to demonstrate compliance and engage in dialogue with the United States. Erosion of the INF Treaty will have critical consequences on Europe and beyond, he warned.

The representative of Belarus said his country strictly complies with the Treaty and supports preserving its integrity. The General Assembly must support sending a clear signal in support of the pact.  Doing otherwise would have negative international consequences. Belarus is prepared to assist in any way to alleviate tensions.

The representative of Ukraine said the Russian Federation delegation knows better than most that the best way to preserve the Treaty is to return to full compliance.  His delegation would vote against the resolution, he said.

The representative of China said the Treaty is important; it plays a crucial role in history and maintaining global stability. Maintaining the INF Treaty is highly relevant.  China's representative expressed the hope that the countries concerned can honour their respective commitments and properly handle relevant issues through consultation.

China opposes any unilateral act of withdrawal, Beijing's representative said. "Treaty multilateralization" involves a host of legal issues. Many countries have their own concerns about this and do not support Treaty multilateralization. China’s efforts to strengthen national defence is reasonable to safeguarding national security and poses no threat to any country. It will therefore vote in favour of the resolution.

Having abstained from the vote, the representative of Switzerland said his country is concerned about the status of the INF and the implications of its possible disintegration. He urged both the U.S. and Russia to preserve the Treaty.

New Zealand's delegate said his delegation had voted against the resolution not because it disagrees with the importance of the INF, but rather because the draft text sidesteps issues that are critical to the Treaty’s future. Compliance should be addressed through bilateral discussions, he added.

The representative of Liechtenstein said that the matter goes to the heart of international security, and his country is concerned about the possible disintegration of the Treaty after more than 30 years. It has aided nuclear disarmament and freed the European mainland from short to mid-range nuclear missiles. While the INF Treaty is a bilateral agreement, its significance extends beyond two parties, he said.

The representative of Argentina said his country abstained from the vote, but firmly continues to support all bilateral and multilateral treaties aimed at moving towards denuclearization. However, bilateral agreements should be discussed among the associated parties.

The representative of Canada said States must abide by their obligations under relevant treaties. It is Canada’s understanding that the Russian Federation is non-compliant with the INF Treaty, which is consistent with its aggressive actions in neighbouring countries and beyond. For these reasons, Canada voted against the draft resolution. Russia could take concrete action to save the Treaty by dismantling the relevant missile bodies without delay.

The representative of Iran said his delegation voted in favour of the draft resolution, adding that "no one could deny" the Treaty’s implications on international peace and security. In fact, its compliance is in the interest of all States, he added. All nations have the right and duty to monitor the validity and implementation of such an important agreement.

While no other country is party to the Treaty but the United States and Russian Federation, all States should still concern themselves with its compliance. He expressed concern for the "destructive doctrine" of the current U.S. Administration, which seeks to withdraw from myriad multilateral agreements.  Not only has the United States violated the Security Council resolution endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it encouraged others to do the same. "Actions always speak louder than words," he added.

The representative of Peru said that his country advocates disarmament. Its aim is complete disarmament. It will support any measures that aim to advance towards halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. His delegation abstained from voting in this case because it is a bilateral matter and those parties concerned must resolve their issues through the relevant channels. He urged the parties concerned to continue consultations and resume constructive dialogue on strategic issues based on trust and cooperation.

The representative of Pakistan said that his delegation's support for the resolution stems from the principle that State parties to any treaty should fully abide by their respective obligations. This builds confidence and contributes to global stability.  Pakistan supports the preservation of the Treaty, as it is solely the responsibility of State parties to it to ensure its inviolability.

The representative of Guyana said that he affirmed the important contribution that the full implementation of the Treaty makes to international disarmament, and peace and security. He is concerned by any attempts to compromise the Treaty and its effectiveness, as any such action could create more fissures in an already volatile international environment. His country abstained because turning the matter to the General Assembly may not have the desired end result and could hamper future efforts for dialogue.

The representative of Viet Nam said that he voted in favour according to the principle of maintaining international peace and security. Concerned parties should engage in dialogue to contribute to peace, security and disarmament.

The representative of Malaysia said that the Treaty is a vital component of the global security architecture. The Treaty has played an indisputable key role in preserving international peace, security and stability. He expressed concern that the Treaty now faces dire uncertainty owing to divergent views among the parties to the agreement.  His country is in no position to decide whether the alleged violation of the Treaty occurred, but urged the concerned parties to engage in dialogue to preserve the agreement.

The representative of the Philippines said that the Treaty is an important component of the international community’s disarmament agenda. He appreciates the efforts of the Russian Federation and agrees in broad terms with the resolution. However, it is overshadowed by distrust, and the Philippines would welcome a resolution that unites rather than divides. In this regard, his country abstained on the vote. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 December 2018]

Photo: Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev (left) and President Reagan (right) signing the INF Treaty in the East Room of the White House in December 1987. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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