22 January 2003

Revitalizing Conference on Disarmament Requires Renewed Political Will, Determination, Says Secretary-General

NEW YORK, 21 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the twenty-fifth session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, delivered today by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva:

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament, and the twenty-fifth session of the Conference on Disarmament. This is a significant milestone, but it is not an excuse for complacency. International peace and security continue to face profound challenges in the form of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, rising military expenditures, the prospect of an arms race in outer space, and the continual development of new weapons systems. I hope, therefore, that 2003 will mark a turning point in the history of this Conference, a time to reinvigorate the sense of purpose in arms limitation and disarmament efforts that were shaped 25 years ago.

For years, the protracted lack of agreement on a programme of work has blocked the substantive work of the Conference on all issues on its agenda -- even those on which agreement to start negotiations existed, such as a ban on the production of fissile material for weapon purposes. It may be argued that this standstill is a reflection of broader problems in multilateral diplomacy. Yet, this is precisely why the Conference must adapt itself to that environment and develop a capacity to address emerging challenges.

New threats to international peace and security have generated active and open discussions and underlined the need for additional efforts to bridge existing divergences over key issues on the disarmament agenda. In this connection, I welcome any proposals aimed at fostering consensus on the programme of work, such as those presented during the 2002 session, especially the unprecedented cross-group initiative of five former presidents of the Conference. These efforts have given rise to new hopes for dealing with the issues of nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. I also note the Conference's recent efforts to engage in an informal debate on radiological weapons, a discussion that reflects heightened security concerns following the events of 9/11. Together, these achievements are valuable assets as you start the 2003 session, and should facilitate the launching of the substantive work of the Conference.

Revitalizing the Conference requires, first and foremost, renewed political will and determination among its Member States. It calls for imaginative concepts developed and endorsed at high political levels, with the participation of the main players in the international political arena. It can also benefit from the accumulated expertise and good offices of eminent personalities, whether in politics or academia.

New arms control and disarmament agreements are needed not only to enhance strategic stability in the world. They are also needed to halt and eventually reverse a disturbing increase in global military expenditures, and redirect such funds into much-needed development projects.

Recent challenges to the existing non-proliferation regimes -- in particular the announcement by the Government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea of its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- raise serious concerns. I regret this development and I strongly urge, once again, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to reconsider its decision. The only viable solution to this latest setback for disarmament and non-proliferation is through peaceful means, dialogue, and a spirit of mutual interest.

The Conference should also focus on advocating compliance with existing disarmament and non-proliferation agreements. Such compliance is vital in ensuring the faithful implementation of existing treaties and in laying the foundation for their progress towards universal membership.

The Conference on Disarmament offers invaluable opportunities for multilateral dialogue and negotiations on arms limitation and disarmament. It should, therefore, redouble its efforts to overcome its current impasse, so as to enable it to discharge faithfully and effectively its mandate as the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. Your efforts have enormous potential both to promote the achievement of disarmament goals, and to strengthen the rule of law by consolidating the gains already made in this field. In that spirit, I wish you a most productive session.

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