Text Only | Disarmament Diplomacy | Disarmament Documentation | ACRONYM Reports
back to the acronym home page
WMD Possessors
About Acronym

Disarmament Documentation

Back to Disarmament Documentation

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon speech on 'Securing the Common Good in a Time of Global Crises', 21 October 2008

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon speech on Securing the Common Good in a Time of Global Crises, Secretary-General's speech at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 21 October 2008.


Dear friends,

I am now coming to a final, but also very important, serious subject. The world is facing acute challenges in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation. I come from a country that has experienced firsthand, in my lifetime, the ravages of conventional war and the threats of nuclear weapons from North Korea, and other weapons of mass destruction.

Such threats are of course not unique to my region. There is widespread support throughout the world for the view that nuclear weapons must never be used again. We need only look at their indiscriminate effects, their impact on the natural environment, their profound implications for regional and global security.

Some now call this an emerging nuclear "taboo."

Yet if these arguments are so strong, why do such threats persist? Why has disarmament remained only a noble goal, rather than becoming an historic achievement?

The answer requires a little historical context. Disarmament entails the physical elimination of certain weapons, as opposed to the regulation of armaments. Both goals are found in the UN Charter. In 1959, the United Nations adopted a resolution, a very historic resolution, on "general and complete disarmament under effective international control" - also known by its acronym GCD. This resolution combined the two goals of eliminating weapons of mass destruction and regulating conventional arms. In 1978, the first special session of the General Assembly adopted GCD as the "ultimate objective" of States in the disarmament process.

As important as it is, however, GCD is not an end in itself. It serves an even broader global good: international peace and security. Unfortunately, I fear that few understand what this term GCD actually means. And I see little evidence that States are taking steps to ensure that their laws, policies, budgets, and bureaucracies are oriented to fulfilling this goal.

Part of the explanation no doubt lies in the many misunderstandings of the term. Critics caricature it as an attempt to eliminate literally every weapon on earth. They have dismissed it as utopian. They have interpreted it as implying that disarmament must await the prior achievement of world peace. And they offer alternative approaches to international peace and security, including those based on the endless pursuit of military superiority, the balance of power, doctrines of deterrence, technology restrictions, and other such measures.

All of these, however, have their own weaknesses. Typically, they advance the interests of only specific States, rather than the welfare and security of all.

The great advantage of the GCD concept is that it recognizes that the ability to achieve a WMD-free world will require both the elimination of such weapons and additional changes in the way that States produce, develop, transfer, and use conventional weapons. In many regions these are very closely related issues.

The United Nations has long stood for the rule of law and disarmament. Yet it also stands for the rule of law in disarmament, which we advance through our various statements, resolutions, and educational efforts. We promote key treaties - like the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT] - that have been signed but not yet entered into force. It was in 1999 when I served as Chairman of the CTBT Organization. But still after nine years we have still not been able to see the CTBT come into effect. We still have many countries who have not signed and have not ratified this very important convention. The Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions have still not gained universal membership. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is facing a crisis of confidence.

The United Nations -notably through its General Assembly resolutions - has also been developing criteria for inclusion in disarmament agreements. In his speech to the General Assembly in 1961, President Kennedy recognized the need for such standards, saying "For disarmament without checks is but a shadow, and a community without law is but a shell."

Yet there are still gaps in the law. Some key treaties remain to be negotiated. And new efforts are needed to create additional nuclear-weapon-free zones, especially in the Middle East, and to bring existing zones fully into force.

At a time when the world is focused on other more immediate crises, let us never forget that we must press our efforts to address the potential existential crisis which confronts humanity. It would not be responsible to do otherwise. I am pleased to see leaders stepping up to move us in the right direction. I applaud the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament announced by the Prime Ministers of Australia and Japan recently.

Dean Ellwood, Faculty members, students and friends,

America's great educator, Horace Mann, summoned humankind to "be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." Achieving disarmament is one such goal. Achieving financial stability and prosperity for all, addressing climate change, global health and international terrorism are others. Let us ensure we are equal to the task.

Source: United Nations website, www.un.org.

Back to the Top of the Page