The only way forward to reducing “the greatest danger of all” – the threat posed by nuclear weapons – is to tackle the objectives of non-proliferation and disarmament simultaneously and equally vigorously, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.
In a lecture at Princeton University in the United States, Mr. Annan said fierce disagreement between countries over which objective was more urgent meant the world was stuck without a common strategy for dealing with the problem.
“I said earlier this year that we are ‘sleepwalking towards disaster.’ In truth, it is worse than that,” Mr. Annan said, voicing particular concern at the recent failure to update and strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). “We are asleep at the controls of a fast-moving aircraft. Unless we wake up and take control, the outcome is all too predictable.”
He said States which advocate non-proliferation first and those which push disarmament as a priority have become locked in a sterile debate – “the result is that ‘mutually assured destruction’ has been replaced by mutually assured paralysis.”
The only option is to tackle both fronts at the same time, he said, adding it is also vital to address the threat of terrorism, “as well as the threats, both real and rhetorical, which drive particular States or regimes to seek security, however misguidedly, by developing or acquiring nuclear weapons.”
Mr. Annan called on those nations which already have nuclear weapons “to develop concrete plans – with specific timetables – for implementing their disarmament commitments.
“And I urge them to make a joint declaration of intent to achieve the progressive elimination of all nuclear weapons, under strict and effective international control.”
But countries which insist on disarmament first must realize that lack of progress on that question cannot be a legitimate excuse for failing to tackle the dangers of proliferation.
“No State should imagine that, by pushing ahead with a nuclear weapon programme, it can pose as a defender of the NPT; still less that it will persuade others to disarm,” the Secretary-General stated.
He also urged those countries to acknowledge disarmament wherever it does occur and to support the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and others to find ways of guaranteeing that all States have access to fuel and services for civilian nuclear needs without spreading sensitive technology.
“Countries must be able to meet their growing energy needs through such programmes, but we cannot afford a world where more and more countries develop the most sensitive phases of the nuclear fuel cycle themselves.”