Positive developments on the global disarmament agenda, including May’s successful review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), are cause for optimism that the goal of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons will be achieved, United Nations officials say.
As Ban Ki-moon today became the first-ever UN Secretary-General to attend the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima, Japan, officials with the world body voiced hope that the recent incremental progress on disarmament will continue.
At the NPT review conference, nations were able to reach a consensus on a final document for the first time in a decade, while in April, the United States and Russia reached the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), under which they pledged to cut back on their stockpiles by a third.
Randy Rydell, Senior Political Affairs Officer in the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) cautioned that “we should not regard any of these events as single solutions to the problem.”
Rather, he told the UN News Centre, the impacts of such encouraging developments, which he likened to bricks, are cumulative. “Fortunately, we’ve been seeing a lot of very solid bricks that have been laid in this structure.”
Mr. Rydell pointed to three positive trends on the disarmament scene which are providing “very solid grounds for hope that there will be real progress in the years ahead.”
First, he said that States possessing nuclear weapons have shown “enlightened leadership,” with the second trend being energetic efforts by other countries. Lastly, he cited the tremendous efforts of civil society, encompassing such groups as doctors, lawyers, parliamentarians and environmentalists.
Mr. Rydell pointed to the massive shift in what he calls the “climate of expectations,” with the international community being highly dissatisfied with the limited advances made in the field of nuclear disarmament.
At present, the US and Russia hold more than 95 per cent of the world’s 23,000 nuclear weapons between them.
“There is still, unfortunately, great prestige and status that is given to States with nuclear weapons,” he said, but these countries are under pressure to “show some results.”
Nuclear weapons States, Mr. Rydell noted, are looking for stronger non-proliferation controls, “and the world community is saying, ‘we’re willing to cooperate, but you need to do your part as well.’”
The long-standing aim of the UN has been to eliminate nuclear weapons, and not simply to limit the number of States with weapons or to curb the risk that terrorists will make them, he said.
Sergio Duarte, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told UN Radio earlier this week that nuclear disarmament “is a moral imperative and a practical necessity. It is something that simply must be done.”
Mr. Rydell emphasized that the UN’s disarmament proposals are remarkable in how realistic they are. “They’re not idealistic dreams calling for simple snap-your-fingers-and-all-these-weapons-vanish.”
Instead, he said, they are linked with many specialized controls stressing the importance of transparency, irreversibility, verification and other facets.
In Hiroshima today, the Secretary-General labelled “an endless reliance on nuclear deterrence, a constant arms race, unbridled military spending and a waste of taxpayer dollars” as “illusions” and “delusions of security.”
“Our moment has come,” he said, underscoring that the elimination of the scourge of nuclear weapons is the “only sane path to a safer world.”
For his part, Yukiya Amano, Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stressed on the anniversaries of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that he has made a personal four-part commitment “to redouble efforts towards a world free of nuclear weapons.”
His agency, he said in a message, will work to implement disarmament through independent verification to ensure that nuclear materials from dismantled weapons are never used for military purposes; support the creation of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones in regions such as the Middle East; dispatch its safeguards inspectors to check that nuclear material is not diverted to weapons from civilian programmes; and strengthen efforts to help countries prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.
“The names Hiroshima and Nagasaki have gone down in history as shorthand for nuclear devastation,” Mr. Amano said. “We owe their victims this commitment: that we will do everything in our power to make sure we never see another Hiroshima, another Nagasaki.”
Mr. Rydell said that he is unsure of whether the world will rid itself of nuclear weapons in his lifetime, but “I do think that I will live to see the conclusion of a treaty abolishing nuclear weapons.”