Press Releases

    5 February 2004

    Multilateral Approaches Are Effective in Countering Threat of Mass Destruction Weapons, but Serious Gaps Remain,  Secretary-General Tells Advisory Board

    NEW YORK, 4 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks, as delivered by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, in New York today:

    It is indeed a great pleasure for me to welcome you to UN Headquarters. I would like to congratulate you, Harald Mueller, on your appointment as Chairman of the Board for 2004.  And I would like to stress how much I look forward to the energy and expertise that the nine new members of the Board will bring, especially in such a crucial period for the disarmament agenda.

    At least your subject is not suffering from lack of public attention.  On the contrary, disarmament issues are looming ever larger on the international agenda.  The 11 September terrorist attacks; the war in Iraq, as we heard from the Chairman; the situation on the Korean Peninsula; recent developments in Iran and Libya:  all these have thrust disarmament into the headlines with a frequency we had not seen for many years -- and done so in a way that has illustrated, all too graphically, the links between disarmament issues and international peace and security.

    Not surprisingly, the issues with which you will be grappling at this session also figure prominently

    in the agenda of the high-level panel on threats, challenges and change that I appointed last November, and which will be making recommendations to me later in the year. 

    People have described this panel as a panel on UN reform.  It may propose changes in the rules and mechanisms of the United Nations.  But if so, those changes will be a means to an end, and not an end in itself.  The object of the exercise is to find a credible, convincing collective answer to the challenges of our time.

    The Charter of the United Nations is very clear.  States have the right to defend themselves –- and each other -- if attacked.  But the first purpose of the United Nations itself, as laid down in Article 1 of its Charter, is “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”.

    We must show that the United Nations is capable of fulfilling that purpose, not just for the most privileged members of the Organization, who are currently -- and understandably -- preoccupied with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  The United Nations must also protect millions of our fellow men and women from the more familiar threats of poverty, hunger and deadly disease.  We must understand that a threat to some is a threat to all, and needs to be addressed accordingly.

    I am pleased that the Board is ready to contribute to the Panel’s work, in particular with ideas on the weapon-related threats we face, on ways to strengthen disarmament and non-proliferation regimes, and on how to improve the multilateral machinery that deals with disarmament.

    The Panel is looking closely at terrorism, and in particular the possibility of weapons of mass destruction that could fall into the wrong hands, with devastating consequences. This is just one reason why the Millennium Declaration identified the elimination of all such weapons as a key goal. 

    Multilateral approaches remain an effective means towards that end -- not only through efforts to strengthen existing norms and adherence to treaties, but also in the fight against terrorism itself.  For example, the Security Council and the relevant operational agencies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), are working closely together in efforts to deny access by terrorist groups to materials and technology related to weapons of mass destruction. 

    But there are important gaps in the international coverage, most notably the lack of international norms or instruments governing the development, testing, production, acquisition, transfer, deployment, or use, of ballistic and other types of missiles.  I understand the Board will be looking at the ways in which WMD could be “delivered”, and I look forward to hearing your views on this question.

    Dire potential scenarios involving nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have dominated recent disarmament discussions.  But a much more direct threat to many people around the world is the day-to-day violence of conflict fought with small weapons, which are supplied -- sometimes legally, sometimes illegally -- by often unscrupulous and predatory arms merchants. 

    We must do more to fight this menace, too. Such efforts might involve ensuring jobs and opportunities for disarmed ex-combatants in countries emerging from conflict. They might include clamping down on the illicit exploitation of natural resources.  And they could also aim at greater transparency, notably by exchanges of information among States, about armaments and military matters in general.  This would help to build a greater trust and more stable relations among States, and to minimize the risk of misunderstanding or miscalculation. In all these ways the work of disarmament can contribute to conflict prevention.  We must do our utmost to ensure that due attention is paid to it, alongside economic, social and other factors, whenever root causes and symptoms of conflict are being addressed.

    I have been saying in recent weeks that international political attention has drifted dangerously away from the Millennium Development Goals, and stressed that the world cannot afford to neglect the so-called soft threats of poverty, hunger and disease.  But please do not think that I underestimate the proliferation and disarmament challenges we face.  I am simply calling for a balanced approach to the full agenda of human security and need.  I look to you for analysis, advice and, most of all, practical recommendations on how to improve our collective efforts towards that end.  Thank you again for your commitment to the United Nations, and please accept my best wishes for a successful session.

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