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75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly - First Committee - Statement by Canada – General Debate

Statement by Canada – General Debate 

Delivered by H.E. Leslie Norton
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva and the Conference on Disarmament

New York, 14 October 2020


I congratulate you on ably chairing this committee in these unusual times, and I assure you of my delegation’s full support.

This is a First Committee like no other.

The pandemic has shown us that even an expected crisis can progress rapidly and have unexpected effects.  We need to take that realization into the realm of disarmament and international security, to appreciate the fragility of any human-devised system, especially when subject to unprecedented pressures, or cascading events.  It reminds us of how calamitous it would be if we let international peace and security slip away for want of honest effort, compromise and a sense of the global good.  In such a scenario, there will be no “vaccine” to help restore our world.

Nuclear weapons remain a fact of life, 75 years after their only use in war in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The inhibition against their use appears shakier today than it has in decades.  For Canada and so many others, this is an alarming trend. 

Canada supports and understands the need for nuclear deterrence, but this does not stop us from advocating tirelessly for policies and practices to eliminate nuclear weapons.  We will continue to work positively and constructively towards a meaningful outcome to the next Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This approach underpins our advocacy for entry-into-force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and for the extension of New START.  We wish to see further advancements in risk reduction measures and in nuclear disarmament verification, and the long-awaited launch of negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty.  Canada believes that all states possessing nuclear weapons must take concrete actions to advance disarmament.  These states have seen advantage in possessing nuclear weapons; now, they must also demonstrate their readiness to dispense with them. 

The unprecedented impact of COVID-19 has reinforced the need to mitigate biological threats. The 2021 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) Review Conference will offer us an opportunity to strengthen implementation.  Canada is doing its part to limit global biological threats. As a supporter of Action 10 (“Readiness to investigate alleged use of biological weapons”) and a champion of Action 11 (“Develop framework to respond to any use of biological weapons”) of the Secretary General’s Agenda for Disarmament, we are working to strengthen both the BTWC and the Secretary General’s Mechanism.  Canada is also working with more than twenty countries to strengthen biosafety and biosecurity for pathogens of security concern, enhance surveillance and diagnostic capabilities, and improve capacities to mitigate biological threats.

On chemical weapons, despite some positive developments, serious challenges remain for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Canada supported the addition of new chemical warfare agents, including the Novichok-type weapon used in Salisbury in 2018, to the CWC’s Annex on Chemicals. Two years later, we were shocked to learn of the abhorrent use of a Novichok in the assassination attempt against Alexei Navalny. We deplore the Syrian Arab Republic’s use of chemical weapons and their failure to date to complete the declaration or destruction of its weapons.  For this reason, we endorse the OPCW Executive Council decision condemning three such attacks and seeking to bring Syria into compliance with the Convention.  We will continue to work with the vast majority of states in upholding the global norm against the use of chemical weapons.  

Canada promotes the sustainable use of outer space for all states.  Space infrastructure is vulnerable to a range of threats, both in space and from Earth.  Anti-satellite weapons tests (ASAT) can create long-lasting debris which pose a hazard to all space users.  We see merit in exploring a possible agreement to end ASAT tests with the potential to cause space debris.   

Canada believes that cooperation among all member states is key to ensuring the safe, secure and sustainable use of outer space while maintaining international security.  Transparency and early communications enable us to explain our intentions.  Such measures build confidence and trust, and improve security and stability.  Consequently, we support further development of international norms of responsible behavior as a pragmatic way of reducing misunderstanding, misinterpretations or miscalculations between states.  In this context, we welcome the UK resolution on “Reducing Space Threats through Responsible Behaviours”.  In the long term, we remain open to the possibility of a legally-binding instrument related to space security, once we have strengthened trust and confidence between states.

Canada is now a State Party to the Arms Trade Treaty and we encourage all major arms exporters and importers to join the Treaty.  We recognize that the diversion of conventional weapons has devastating consequences on human rights and international security.  We will continue to strengthen our national export control system to tackle diversion, including through international cooperation with States Parties. Canada supports discussions within the ATT on post-delivery verification and other mitigation measures to prevent diversion.

We welcome the enhanced focus on gender in the 2019 Oslo Action Plan for the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.  To measure the progress achieved in the Action Plan’s implementation, it is important that all States Parties submit their annual transparency reports.

Canada has been pleased by the progress of the UN Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) related to cybersecurity, despite delays caused by COVID-19.  We believe that greater recognition of the applicability of international law, as well as the adoption and implementation of voluntary cyber norms of state behaviour and confidence-building measures, are required to enhance stability in cyberspace.  Similarly, we look forward to the contributions of the UN cyber Group of Governmental Experts to advancing international peace and security in cyberspace.

In seeking to strengthen responsible state behaviour in cyberspace, we commissioned research on the gender dimension of cyberspace, available on the UNODA OEWG portal.  This research looked at how to increase the meaningful participation of women in international and national discussions, negotiations, strategies and capacity-building programs related to the use of ICTs in international security.  We have also supported the Women in Cyber fellowship program, along with fellow donors Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the Netherlands. This program has allowed 30 women diplomats to participate in OEWG negotiations.

Canada supports equal participation and leadership opportunities for women and men in disarmament fora, which is why we are a Champion of Action 36 (“Full and equal participation of women in decision-making processes”) of the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament.  We also believe in the importance of assessing the possible gendered impacts of weapons. 

In conclusion, while the pandemic has not always shown our societies at their best, it has proven that multilateral institutions can rise to meet extreme challenges, and that states can engage collectively, if not always perfectly, in support of the broader global good.  We hope that this example might influence our exchanges and decisions during this First Committee, in the interest of greater peace and security for all states. 

Thank you.

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