7 February 2003

Secretary-General Warns of "Disturbing" Erosion in International Norms on Weapons of Mass Destruction, in Remarks to Disarmament Board

NEW YORK, 6 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the meeting with the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters in New York on 6 February:

I would like to congratulate Ambassador Gryshchenko on becoming Chairman of the Board for 2003. I also welcome the addition of five new members, and am pleased to see the increasing number of women on the Board.

You meet at a time when the question of disarmament is at the very top of the international agenda. The dangers to the world of the spread of weapons of all kind -- and in particular weapons of mass destruction -- have made your work more central and more urgent, even more important than ever before.

This Board has for a long time been urging greater attention to -- and making key recommendations on -- questions such as the link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention; reducing nuclear danger; and combating the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

An ominous cloud hangs over the Board's deliberations this year. This cloud represents the concerns of all humanity about the many dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction -- especially nuclear weapons. Similar concerns inspired the leaders of the world, who gathered here for the Millennium Summit, to designate the elimination of such weapons as a key goal of the Millennium Declaration.

While reaching this goal remains a daunting task, the United Nations has long maintained that peace and security is only sustainable if the rule of law prevails, including in the field of disarmament and arms control.

There has been a disturbing gradual erosion of the established international norms on weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, rising military expenditures suggest that an ever-growing challenge still exists. It is, therefore, vital for us all to help preserve and consolidate existing multilateral norms through adherence to treaties and fulfilment of legal obligations. As this board knows well -- and the wider public is beginning to learn -- there are serious challenges posed to international security and non-proliferation regimes. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Iraq are only the tip of the iceberg.

Critical to this effort will be a greater role for civil society. Non-governmental organizations have long played a vital galvanizing role in this area, mobilizing public opinion and motivating political leaders to act with determination to promote disarmament. We saw this in the campaign to ban landmines, and I believe we will see it again in future areas of concern. Quite honestly, I don't know if we would have the landmine treaty without the non-governmental organizations.

I am, therefore, pleased that you will be discussing this question, and hope you will arrive at new ways to make civil society a true partner in advancing the cause of disarmament. An alert and knowledgeable public can contribute greatly to convincing world leaders that a much better and safer world can be achieved by doing away with all weapons of mass destruction.

This year marks the twenty-fifth Anniversary of the first Special Session of the General Assembly on Disarmament, and the adoption of the historic Final Document, which crafted much of the disarmament machinery that is still operational today, including the Advisory Board. I welcome the General Assembly's decision last year to establish a working group to consider a possible fourth special session of the Assembly on disarmament. The time has undoubtedly come for a new and stronger consensus for progress in global disarmament.

I am also pleased that the Board has decided to review its own work and procedures, in order to make it more effective and more responsive to the needs of today. I look forward to receiving your recommendations, and urge you to play an even greater role in promoting public engagement in the cause of disarmament.

I wish you all success in your deliberations.

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