On the eve of a major non-proliferation conference to be held at United Nations Headquarters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for the number of nuclear-weapon-free zones to multiply and ultimately span the globe.
Representatives from more than 100 countries, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are slated to attend the latest five-yearly review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), kicking off on Monday in New York.
“The talks will bring almost all the countries in the world together to try to move forward in restricting and dismantling these weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Ban told a conference of States parties and signatories of treaties setting up nuclear-weapon-free zones.
Currently, there are five such zones: Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; South-East Asia; Central Asia; and Africa.
“My goal – our goal – is to make the whole world a nuclear-weapon-free zone,” the Secretary-General said. “Nuclear-weapon-free zones are the success stories of the disarmament movement. You are leading by example.”
Earlier this month, he visited Semipalatinsk, known as “Ground Zero,” the former nuclear test site in Kazakhstan which was shut down in 1991.
It is now a “beacon of hope for a nuclear-weapon-free world,” Mr. Ban said.
While some believe that the weapons are vital to their national security and deterrence strategies and that they serve as status symbols, this is not true, he stressed.
Disarmament and security are “mutually reinforcing,” the UN chief underscored, adding that nuclear-weapon-free zones exemplify what political will can achieve.
“They add weight to the arguments of governments and people around the world who firmly reject these weapons,” he said.
“They have helped to change attitudes. And it is only by changing attitudes that we will change the world.”
Mr. Ban voiced hope that nations in these zones will spread their “message of hope and optimism” so that the world can build on their success stories, starting at the review conference beginning on Monday.
The gathering will begin in a much more positive atmosphere than the last one, thanks to recent moves by the United States and Russia to slash their nuclear arsenals, among others, according to Sergio Duarte, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
At the end of the last meeting in 2005, Mr. Duarte, who served as President of that review conference, said that the event had accomplished “very little” amid widely diverging views on nuclear arms and their spread. It wrapped up without any substantive agreement having been reached by nations.
Under the provisions of the NPT, which forms the foundation of the world’s nuclear non-proliferation regime and which marked the 40th anniversary of its entry into force earlier this month, parties to the pact must meet every five years to discuss how to further its full implementation and its universality.
But the US-Russian accord put a “very positive note… not only on the relations between these… two possessors of nuclear weapons, but also for the rest of the community in the NPT,” Mr. Duarte told UN Radio yesterday.
Also contributing to an improved atmosphere is that, unlike the 2005 review conference, the preparatory meetings ahead of this year’s gathering have been successful, he noted.
“All these things together certainly made a good difference from the climate that prevailed in 2005,” Mr. Duarte stressed.
One of the main challenges this year’s event faces, he said, is how to make the NPT more effective in the fields of disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the three main thrusts of the treaty.
It was confirmed last night that Mr. Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader, will be addressing the opening session.
Iran’s authorities hold that its work in the nuclear field is for peaceful purposes, while some countries contend it is driven by military ambitions. The programme has been a matter of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that the country had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the NPT.
Earlier this week, the Secretary-General told reporters that if Mr. Ahmadinejad “brings some good constructive proposal in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, that would be helpful.”
The President-elect of this year’s conference, Ambassador Libran N. Cabactulan of the Philippines, emphasized yesterday that “all the States parties are equally important to bring their views to the table” and “find ways and means that can provide” a safer world for all.
The forum should serve as “a marketplace of ideas,” he said. “The best ideas or the right ideas must prevail.”