On eve of Johannesburg forum, UN official flags links between disarmament, development

25 August 2002 –

With a landmark United Nations conference on economic and environmental problems set to open in Johannesburg, South Africa, a top UN official has urged the participants of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to recognize the vital role of disarmament in tackling the issues on the forum's agenda.

Jayantha Dhanapala, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, warned that rising global military expenditures were not only diverting precious financial, material and human resources from productive to non-productive pursuits, but were also jeopardizing humanity's common natural environment and the prospects for social and economic development of all nations.

Speaking on Saturday in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, where he is on a mission to promote a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia, Mr. Dhanapala recalled that exactly 15 years ago, the world community gathered at the United Nations to open an historic International Conference on the Relationship Between Disarmament and Development. “Yet today, global military expenditures have risen to about $850 billion per annum, an amount approaching average Cold War spending levels,” he stressed.

Pointing to the possession or pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by states and terrorist groups around the world, Mr. Dhanapala warned of the serious environmental and economic costs of producing such arms, especially the deadliest of all, nuclear weapons -- despite solemn international commitments to eliminate them.

“The very development and production of such weapons will not only leave behind environmental nightmares for future generations, as we are seeing in Central Asia today, but the actual use of such weapons in war may well jeopardize the very basis of life on this planet,” he said.

“I therefore call upon all participants at the Johannesburg Summit to recognize that the twin global problems of 'overarmament and underdevelopment,' identified at the 1987 Conference, remain very much with us today. These problems can and must be addressed together -- in the interests of sustainable development, sustainable disarmament, and sustainable international peace and security for all.”

He urged some 60,000 governmental and non-governmental representatives attending the Summit, set to run from 26 August through 4 September, to consider carefully the central finding of the 1987 Conference that the “world can either continue to pursue the arms race with characteristic vigour or move consciously and with deliberate speed towards a more stable and balanced social and economic development within a more sustainable international political order; it cannot do both.” He recalled in that context that Article 26 of the UN Charter envisages a system of international peace and security based on “the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.””

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