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Disarmament's benefits cut across major international concerns, UN official says

Disarmament's benefits cut across major international concerns, UN official says

Jayantha Dhanapala
Far from being a remote and academic pursuit, disarmament has the power to influence peace and security, economic development, environmental protection and humanitarian affairs, a senior United Nations official said today.

"Disarmament has evolved from a dry, technical field into a subject with profound implications for the UN system," Jayantha Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament, told a panel discussion in New York. "It has become a classic cross-cutting issue - a collective good, with real benefits for everyone."

Mr. Dhanapala pointed out that disarmament saves money, reduces threats to refugees, women and children, alleviates threats to the environment, and cuts the incidence and effects of armed conflict. "And by so doing, it helps foreign investment, economic growth, and trade," he added.

Much work remains to be done in establishing basic understandings about disarmament and putting them into practice, he said. "Despite these many attractions of the 'disarmament dividend,' and the common-sense proposition that conflicts are better prevented than cured, significant obstacles remain in reaping such benefits."

Mr. Dhanapala asserted that the potential contributions of disarmament went largely overlooked at major international conferences over the past decade. "This was surely apparent at the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, which ignored the question of how excessive military expenditures and over-armament were contributing to under-development - a central question addressed at the 1987 International Conference on Disarmament and Development," he noted.

Pointing to the "astonishing" potential for progress, he said practical disarmament measures had shown their power to address grave security threats arising from small arms and light weapons. Last year's UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons "recognized that curbing this illicit trade would contribute to long-term development goals, to strengthening the rule of law, and to helping poor communities to improve the quality of their lives and to work their way out of poverty."

Leading off the panel discussion, Mr. Dhanapala encouraged participants to explore the challenge of disarmament in conflict prevention. "We will see today how disarmament and conflict prevention are mutually-reinforcing means to serve international peace and security."