UN official urges disarmament commission to tackle problem of nuclear weapons

UN official urges disarmament commission to tackle problem of nuclear weapons

A top United Nations official today urged the UN Disarmament Commission to focus its efforts on achieving the "vitally important" objective of global nuclear disarmament as soon as possible.

Jayantha Dhanapala, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament, told the Commission, which today opened its annual three-week session, that it had a unique role to play thanks to its universal membership and the fact that nuclear disarmament was a key focus of its work. He pointed to the limitations of other forums, noting that the Conference on Disarmament had been unable to reach a consensus on its work agenda in recent years, while the issue of nuclear arms was just one among many questions dealt with by the General Assembly's Disarmament and International Security Committee.

The Commission, he said, had an "impressive" record of achievement in forging a consensus on key sets of guidelines -- on the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, on conventional arms control, on international arms transfers, on regional approaches to disarmament, and on information concerning military matters. "These guidelines are not mere pieces of parchment, but are invaluable, even inspirational tools for concrete national and international initiatives," he said.

The Under-Secretary-General also called attention to the devastation caused by an "ever-expanding variety" of conventional arms. By some estimates, over 5 million people had been killed in conflicts in the post-Cold War era. The illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons had evolved from a national and regional problem into a "crisis of truly global proportions," he said.

"This expenditure, this loss of life, and this disrespect for the rule of law has eroded human security everywhere," he observed. "It is therefore highly appropriate that the Commission would again focus its attention on confidence-building measures in the field of conventional arms."

Mr. Dhanapala pointed to the many advantages of such confidence-building measures, noting that controls that reduce the intensity or duration of armed conflicts freed resources for other uses. They also enhanced prospects for economic and social development. "Even the environment stands to gain from progress," he said.

The Under-Secretary-General emphasized that "the wider the gains, the wider will be the political support for the new controls, and the greater will be the likelihood that they will be adopted and enforced."