8 October 2016

As Cold War Ghosts Resurface, Leaders Must Redouble Disarmament Drive, Secretary-General Says at Commemoration of Reagan-Gorbachev Summit

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as delivered, at a seminar on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit, in Reykjavik, today:

I am pleased to join you to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the landmark Reagan-Gorbachev Summit.  That meeting here in Reykjavik was in many ways a turning point in global strategic relations. 

US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev came to Reykjavik with different visions for stability.

Yet, over the course of two days, they came close to an audacious plan for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.  General Secretary Gorbachev called it a “breakthrough, which allowed us for the first time to look over the horizon”.  That goal, of course, was not achieved.

But, the Reykjavik spirit lived on.  One year later, negotiators delivered the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, which eliminated all American and Soviet intermediate and shorter-range ground-based missiles.  Successive rounds of reductions in deployments of strategic nuclear weapons followed over the next two decades.  So, too, did major treaty-based reductions:  the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe; the Budapest Memorandum, which repatriated nuclear weapons from three ex-Soviet republics.

There can be no doubt: the Reykjavik Summit moved us on a path toward a safer and more secure world.  Yet, there can be little doubt of something else.  Thirty years later, Reykjavik’s lessons have never been more relevant.

Look around.  We see the resurgence of cold war ghosts.  We see serious challenges to the framework for the pursuit of arms control and disarmament and paralysis in the disarmament machinery.  We see non-State actors seeking to procure nuclear materials.  Adherence to the Budapest Memorandum has been jeopardized, calling into question the value of security assurances given by nuclear-weapon States.

Alarmingly, in recent years, the Reykjavik Summit’s premier legacy — the INF Treaty — is imperilled by accusations of breaches.  Nuclear threats and sabre-rattling are becoming troubling common occurrences.  Indeed, the international norm against nuclear testing has been repeatedly broken by one country in recent years.

Ladies and gentlemen, more than 15,000 nuclear weapons remain in the world.  Even one is too many, not to mention 15,000.  One can destroy all of humanity.  They include many of the same offensive ballistic missiles that President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev sought to eliminate in 1986.  To this day, many of those missiles remain on high alert, poised for launch at a moment’s notice.

The disputes over missile defence that overshadowed the Reykjavik Summit continue to stand as a great unresolved challenge in the areas of arms control and international stability.  After major strategic arms reductions in the 1990s, the pace of reductions has slowed.  No new negotiations are under way at this time, despite the reiteration of proposals by both sides.

I applaud the Russian Federation and the United States for reducing the deployment of strategic nuclear arsenals in recent years and supporting long-sought objectives like the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.  Yet, as we look back at the aspirations of President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, the state of affairs today leaves us desperately searching “over the horizon” for new signs of hope.  This CTBT has not yet to be able to come into effect, while the CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization) has been in effect for 15 years.  I have been every year in this CTBT meeting and urging remaining eight countries in Annex 2 to ratify this treaty.

Ladies and gentlemen, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have sought to shine a spotlight on the need for progress in nuclear disarmament and revitalizing multilateral disarmament machinery.  Early in my tenure, I put forward a five-point proposal for nuclear disarmament.  I travelled to the former nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan.  I am the first one, not to mention [first] Secretary-General of the UN, but [also] world leader, who has visited this Semipalatinsk nuclear test ground.  It was a very moving, very horrifying experience to stand in the middle of this nuclear test ground.

I became the first Secretary-General to take part in the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima.  When I visited Hiroshima for the first time as Secretary-General, even nobody from the United States, including even the Ambassador who had been stationed in Tokyo, had never visited this Hiroshima, just not to give the impression that the US were responsible for this.  Only six years after my visit — my visit prompted the US Ambassador to come then six years later.  President [Barack] Obama and before that John Kerry, Secretary of State, they both paid a visit to Hiroshima.  That happened July this year on the occasion of the G-7 meeting.  In that regard, I made some good move as Secretary-General to recognize the very historical thing that should have never happened.

As we reflect on the legacy of the 1986 Summit, I see three vital and interconnected ways to revive the Reykjavik spirit.  First, the end of the cold war brought a rare moment of acceptance that security could be achieved through mutual restraint and the rule of law.  That common vision for international peace and security must be restored.  This effort must encompass not only ridding the world of nuclear weapons, but making progress in conventional arms control and runaway military spending.  The world is over-armed, but peace is underfunded.

Second, the Russian Federation and the United States must lead the way.  With 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, they have the primary responsibility for creating the necessary conditions to move the agenda forward.  I appreciate President Obama’s continued readiness to pursue further deep reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the two countries.

Third, there can be no substitute for direct engagement.  The best way to resolve differences is by addressing them at the negotiating table and talking to each other.

Some may claim that security conditions today are not ripe for the pursuit of further nuclear disarmament.  I say this view has it completely backwards.  The pursuit of arms control and disarmament is precisely how we can break the tension and reduce conflicts.

Steps to reduce arsenals, lower alert levels and lessen risks will build confidence among each other.  Curtailing the development of new types of nuclear weapons will prevent a new arms race.  Taking steps to eliminate nuclear cruise missiles and other arms intended for first strikes will increase stability.  Taken together, these efforts would help create the conditions for ending regional disputes, resolving conflicts in many parts of the world and facilitating the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Ladies and gentlemen, as difficult as the international situation is today, current tensions fall well short of what President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev faced during the Cold War.  So my message to world leaders today is clear: Let us summon the spirit of Reykjavik.

Our common aspirations for peace, human rights and sustainable development require us to find a new paradigm for sustainable security without reliance on weapons of mass destruction.  And we need to put those ideas into action, in policies, in legislation, in treaties and in the real world.  In other words, ideas need to take root.

Last Monday, I was involved in a different but related exercise involving something quite literally taking root.  I began my current European visit in Switzerland.  On the grounds of the United Nations Geneva Headquarters, I joined in planting a sapling from a tree that survived the bombing at Hiroshima.  That is a gingko tree.  After the atomic nightmare more than 70 years ago, the environment in Hiroshima was so toxic, local people thought no plant would ever grow.  But, that sapling proves that life is very tenacious.

If Hiroshima can survive the atomic bomb, surely nations can overcome any poison in the political environment.  Let us muster that tenacity — that Reykjavik spirit — to look over the horizon and create a world free of nuclear weapons.

I thank you for your commitment.

For information media. Not an official record.