For information only - not an official document.

5 February 2001

Secretary-General Says Public Attention on Importance
Of Disarmament Issues Must Be Roused

NEW YORK, 2 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a statement made today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters:

It gives me great pleasure to join you today. I understand you have had a good session, and I would now like to leave you with a few thoughts that I hope will help you in your work.

Let me start by congratulating Ambassador Nabil Fahmy on his appointment as your new chairman, and by welcoming the new members of the Board. I would like to assure all of you that my colleagues and I attach great importance to the advice that you provide in this very complex and ever-changing field.

Since I spoke to you one year ago, there have been a number of positive steps forward.

At the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May, the States parties to the Treaty reached consensus that included an "unequivocal commitment" by the nuclear-power States "to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament".

They also reaffirmed that the total elimination of nuclear weapons offered "the only absolute guarantee" against their use. This is a significant advance in thinking on nuclear disarmament. It goes far beyond the claims made by even the most ardent supporters of deterrence or missile defence, neither of which offers any such absolute guarantees.

And at the historic Millennium Summit in September, world leaders adopted a declaration that included, among its many goals, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and concerted action against the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons.

At the same time, much hard work lies ahead if we are to ensure that such grand visions can be translated into concrete action. More than a full decade after the end of the cold war, the unfinished global disarmament agenda is alarmingly long, and it continues to grow. Consider the following facts and trends:

-- Global defence expenditures are starting to rise once again;

-- The environmental clean-up costs from the nuclear arms race have been estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars in the United States alone and will reportedly require decades to complete. Many experts fear that some sites are so contaminated they may never fully recover;

-- Countries continue to announce huge new arms deals as arms manufacturers engage in an unrelenting search for new global markets and an equally determined pursuit of new affiliates, both foreign and domestic;

-- Weapons are becoming more lethal and accurate, thanks to heavy investments in weapons research and development;

-- The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not yet entered into force;

-- Regrettably, India and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT, and nuclear dangers remain high in that region;

-- There has been no progress in reaching an agreement to exclude weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East;

-- Efforts to negotiate a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia have still not been brought to a successful conclusion;

-- The world still lacks agreement on multilateral norms concerning missiles, missile defences and new measures to prevent an arms race in outer space;

-- The loss or theft of weapons-usable nuclear materials from civilian or military stockpiles is a real possibility, and the spectre of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction is a legitimate and growing fear;

-- The Conference on Disarmament has remained deadlocked for many years;

-- Finally, many of the important transparency and confidence-building measures offered by the United Nations are not being implemented by Member States -- including the Register on Conventional Arms and the Standardized Instrument for reporting military expenditures. And I need hardly remind you that funding for multilateral disarmament activities remains grossly inadequate.

In some ways, the challenges are even more daunting than they were at the peak of the cold war. Not only do we continue to face grave nuclear threats, but those threats are being compounded by new weapons developments, new violence within States and new challenges to the rule of law.

And yet, as you yourselves have pointed out, one can sense a strange sort of complacency about these threats. Ever since the bipolar balance of nuclear terror passed into history, disarmament issues seem to have receded in the public consciousness. That is why you deserve praise for focusing so much attention on the importance of public education as an appropriate response.

The General Assembly agrees with you that this is a key area, and last November adopted a resolution requesting me to prepare a two-year study on education and training in the fields of disarmament and non-proliferation. We need to rouse global public opinion, and I hope it will not take a crisis, accident or unintended conflict to do so.

We are all aware of the political and budgetary realities that frame our work and, at times, thwart our efforts. As experts, you are in an excellent position to make good, practical, real-world suggestions for moving forward. I am counting on you to think creatively, and to suggest ways in which we might adapt our traditional approaches to better meet the needs of our new era.

In addition, I am sure many of you are aware of the diverse reactions that various delegations have voiced to my proposal in the Millennium Report for a major international conference on eliminating nuclear dangers. I would appreciate your advice on this proposal, and indeed on other steps that could be taken to reduce the risk of nuclear war.

All of these issues are global in scope. First, because no single country, no matter how powerful, can address them by acting on its own. And second, because the world will either benefit from the collective achievements we make, or pay dearly for failure. Yours is an urgent, wide-ranging agenda. Your contributions are deeply appreciated. And you can count on my full support for your work. Thank you very much.

* * * * *