15 December 2016

Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction Only Way to Prevent Non-State Actors from Acquiring Them, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Security Council open debate on stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by non-State actors, in New York, today:

I am extremely grateful for your generous and warm words.  I thank the Security Council and the Spanish Presidency for arranging today’s debate.  I am honoured to be here before you today in what is my final appearance at the Security Council.  Let me take this opportunity to thank all of you for your friendship and cooperation over the past almost five years.  I have highly treasured our dialogue and many professional and personal exchanges.

I also want to thank the Resolution 1540 Committee and its Panel of Experts, under the leadership of Ambassador Roman Oyarzun, for their work on the important subject under consideration today.

Preventing non-State actors from acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction is among the most important responsibilities of the international community.  The Nuclear Security Summits, the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the close engagement by this Council on allegations of chemical weapon use have all played an important role in keeping us safe.

The Secretariat has also played its part.  In 2012, the Secretary-General convened a high-level meeting to strengthen legal frameworks against nuclear terrorism.   And after the accident at Fukushima, he chaired a high-level event to emphasize the connection between nuclear safety and security.  In 2013, he launched the investigation into the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Yet in our rapidly evolving global security environment, gaps will continue to open.  We have seen the rise of vicious non-State groups with no regard for human life.  They actively seek weapons of mass destruction, I am sure.  And these weapons are increasingly accessible.  We have seen this in the use of chemical weapons by Da’esh in Syria and Iraq.

There are legitimate concerns about the security of large stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile material outside international regulation.  Scientific advances have lowered barriers to the production of biological weapons.  And emerging technologies, such as 3D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles, are adding to threats of an attack using a weapon of mass destruction.

We must also beware of the growing nexus between weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and cybersecurity.  Malicious actions in cyberspace have real-world consequences.  Non-State actors already have the capacity to abuse cybertechnologies to create mass disruption.  The nightmare scenario of a hack on a nuclear power plant causing uncontrolled release of ionizing radiation is growing.

To stay ahead of this technological curve, the international community needs robust defences that are nimble and flexible.  Preventing a weapon of mass destruction attack by a non-State actor will be a long-term challenge that requires long-term responses.

Tools such as resolution 1540 (2004) need to be fit for purpose.  I am pleased to see the Comprehensive Review, which has called for greater efforts to build the capacity of all States.  After all, this is a threat to our collective security.  We all need to boost our ability to respond.

A biological attack would be a public health disaster.  Yet there is no multilateral institutional response capability.  The Council also has a role to play in holding those that use chemical or other inhumane weapons accountable.  There can be no impunity.

This is a complex web of global threats and risks that requires a sophisticated global response.  We must take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen our collective defences.  In this regard, the Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference was, in many ways, disappointing.  I count on all States to work together to prevent potential disasters.  And I count on this Council to lead.

In closing, let me emphasize that it is not simply a case of letting these weapons fall into the wrong hands.  There are no right hands for wrong weapons.  And weapons of mass destruction are simply wrong.  There is only one sure way to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction — that is their complete elimination.

We live in a world that is over-armed [and] a world where peace is underfunded.  I urge, on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, all States to fulfil their commitment to building a world free of all weapons of mass destruction.  Thank you, Mr. President.

For information media. Not an official record.