The world seems to be “sleepwalking” down a path in which more and more States feel obliged to obtain nuclear weapons even as militant groups seek the means to carry out nuclear terrorism, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned today.
In a wide-ranging speech at the University of Tokyo, Japan, in which he touched on the security threats facing the world and efforts to overhaul the UN itself to face the challenges of the 21st century, Mr. Annan reiterated his frequently voiced criticism of the international community for twice failing last year to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
And he called for reasoned, tenacious diplomacy to solve the two main State atomic issues facing the world today – the nuclear programmes of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) and Iran.
“We seem to have reached a crossroads, he said. “Before us lie two very divergent courses. One path can take us to a world in which the proliferation of nuclear weapons is restricted, and reversed, through trust, dialogue and negotiated agreement, with international guarantees ensuring the supply of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, thereby advancing development and economic well-being,” he declared.
“The other path leads to a world in which rapidly growing numbers of States feel obliged to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, and in which non-State actors acquire the means to carry out nuclear terrorism.
“The international community seems almost to be sleepwalking down the latter path – not by conscious choice but rather through miscalculation, sterile debate and the paralysis of multilateral mechanisms for confidence-building and conflict resolution,” he added.
He held Japan up as a beacon of the message that nuclear weapons are not essential for greatness. “Japan's great success as a nation, while adhering to the self-imposed standard of not manufacturing or possessing nuclear weapons, has sent a powerful message around the world.
“You have shown that a State does not need nuclear weapons to be ‘normal.’ Nor does it need to be armed to the teeth in order to exercise influence. The sources of true greatness lie elsewhere.”
He said the failure of last year’s NPT review conference in May and the World Summit in September to agree on more robust inspections by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), establish incentives for countries to forgo enrichment and reprocessing of fissile materials, and meet disarmament requirements sent “a terrible signal.”
The NPT regime faces a twin crisis of compliance and confidence between nuclear weapon States who committed to disarmament and non-nuclear States that have agreed not to acquire or manufacture nuclear weapons, and to accept on-site verification in return for access to nuclear energy. “Today, each of these pillars has been put into doubt,” he said.
“To these old challenges have been added new ones, above all the vulnerability exposed by the extensive trafficking in nuclear technology and know-how by the (Pakistani) scientist A.Q. Khan and others,” Mr. Annan added, calling for universal adoption of an IAEA protocol allowing for enhanced on-the-spot inspections and of Security Council measures to keep nuclear technology and materials out of terrorists’ hands.
As for the DPRK’s nuclear weapons programme, there is no viable alternative to the six-party talks in Beijing. “The international community must do everything possible to move the process forward and resolve the situation peacefully.”
On Iran, the IAEA has still not been able to verify that its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes. “We should redouble our diplomatic efforts to convince the Iranians that it is in their own interest to do this,” he said, citing European initiatives and Russia’s offer to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil.
Turning to UN reform, Mr. Annan noted the urgent and as-yet unfulfilled need to expand the 15-member Security Council to reflect today's geopolitical realities, and cited progress in other areas such as the establishment of a new, strengthened Human Rights Council, the new Peacebuilding Commission, and the $450-million Central Emergency Response Fund to provide speedier humanitarian aid.
“This is a crucial time in the life of the international community, and the United Nations,” he said in concluding remarks. “More than ever before, the human race faces global problems – from poverty and inequality to climate change and bird flu, from terrorism and AIDS to genocide and the odious traffic in human lives and bodies of human beings. We need to come together and work out global solutions.”