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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 52, November 2000

Speech by UN Secretary-General

Speech by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, John Jay College, New York, November 17, 2000.

"The organizers of this conference [entitled ' Second Nuclear Age and the Academy'] have noted a certain ' numbing' in the United States about the global nuclear threat. Indeed, when the bipolar balance of nuclear terror passed into history, the concern with nuclear weapons also seemed to drift from public consciousness, not only in this country but throughout the world. ... If we were making steady progress towards disarmament, this situation would be less alarming. Unfortunately, the reverse is true. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, nuclear conflict remains a very real, and very terrifying possibility. ...

The end of the Cold War shattered long-established paradigms of international relations, dynamics of conflict and models of development. The effect should be no less dramatic in the fields of disarmament and non-proliferation. But what kind of vision will prevail in this new era? One vision is rather stark and uncompromising. Some see a future characterized by the continued presence of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. They regard nuclear deterrence as persisting, but increasingly unreliable. They argue in favour of missile defence, space-based weapons, and even the means to wage pre-emptive wars. They have little faith in international law, global norms, and international organizations such as the one I am proud to serve. Certainly most of the premises of this outlook are valid. ... And yet, despite these serious problems, there are reasons to think that we can move in another, more hopeful direction. I would like to present an alternative vision. For it is my sense that we have a chance to contain the threats we face and instead map a course to a less perilous age, a post-nuclear age.

Some say that nuclear weapons cannot be '', and therefore will remain with us forever. Yet, it is reported that more than half the nuclear weapons deployed at the height of the Cold War have now been dismantled, and the number continues to drop annually. Earlier this year, the nuclear-weapon states made an ' commitment' to ' the total elimination of all nuclear weapons' I am under no illusions about the remaining dangers, and about the difficulties of negotiating deep and irreversible reductions. I am merely stating that progress is possible, if we have the will to accomplish it.

It is also said that weapons of mass destruction are inevitably going to spread throughout the world. Yet such claims understate the overwhelming extent to which states have lived up to their binding legal obligations concerning these weapons. The rare instances of non-compliance...do not signify a global trend. ... [W]ith proper monitoring and enforcement, legally binding international regimes can have their intended effect. And it is said that new defensive technologies offer an effective response to threats from weapons of mass destruction. In fact, the opposite may well be true. The pressure to deploy national missile defences is jeopardizing the [ABM] Treaty... This, in turn, could generate more new arms build-ups and other setbacks for both disarmament and non- proliferation. It is my hope that all states will take great care to weigh these dangers before embarking on a process that could reduce, rather than enhance, global security.

So the assumptions and '' about what lies ahead are not quite as immutable and inevitable as some would have us believe. But we who put our faith in multilateral cooperation...have a burden. For disarmament is not self-sustaining. It is not for lack of machinery that we still have so far to go along this path. What is missing is the will to use that machinery.

There is a clear economic case for disarmament. ... The United Nations Charter itself contains language calling for the ' diversion' of human, technical and economic resources into armaments. There are also solid security reasons. An overwhelming emphasis on military security, at the expense of economic and social security, can be short-sighted and destabilizing. ... But in a world in which states continue to compete for power, and in which economic interests remain a major engine of the arms trade, the case for disarmament does not get enough of a hearing. Fear obscures opportunity. Non-proliferation ends up taking precedence over disarmament, when what is needed is a truly two-track approach - one that does not continually '' disarmament for later, but treats disarmament and non-proliferation as closely related challenges. But to do that, we need to develop a critical mass of political, intellectual and popular support. That is where you, the Academy, can play a key role. I see three main contributions you can make.

First is what I would call '' Surprisingly little is actually known about nuclear weapons. Many basic questions remain largely unanswered: how many there are, where they are located, who is working to acquire them, what are their direct and indirect costs, how much weapons-usable nuclear material there is. Though many may not be answerable, given the lack of transparency, even identifying the gaps would be a useful undertaking. ... Second is education. Teaching will shape the next generation of leaders, voters and taxpayers. Teaching and research can also produce the specialists we need to serve as inspectors in the international organizations that have been set up to verify compliance with existing arms control and disarmament agreements. ... And third is advocacy. This grows out of the Academy' traditional role in shaping the national consciousness and national policy. I hope you would pay particular attention to the rule of law in the field of disarmament. The Academy can highlight the importance of universal norms and universal compliance with those norms. ... And you can help make the case for a strengthened role for the United Nations and other international institutions in advancing global norms in disarmament... As you know, the United Nations is still treated by some people in the United States as if it were itself somewhat radioactive. We need your help. We really do.

What will it take to rouse global public opinion? A crisis? An accident? Even an unintended conflict? I hope not. The United Nations agenda is replete with issues that suffer a strange sort of neglect. ... And so you are not alone in bemoaning apathy and yearning for activism. ... [T]he path forward runs through people' minds. Let us at least make sure that the next generation understands, better than ours has done, or at least mine has done, that human security is as much about governance, human rights, and social justice, as it is about arsenals. ... We cannot and should not shield them from the dark vision of a world in perpetual and universal terror. But we must offer them an effective, more hopeful vision - a vision of a world without weapons of mass destruction. ..."

Source: Secretary-General stresses Academy' key role in promoting nuclear disarmament, UN Press Release SG/SM/7631, November 20.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.