Arms Control Central to System for Global Security Agreed in Charter, Secretary-General Tells Conference on Disarmament

SG/SM/18913-DC/3760
26 February 2018

Arms Control Central to System for Global Security Agreed in Charter, Secretary-General Tells Conference on Disarmament

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Conference on Disarmament, in Geneva today:

It is a great honour to be here.  I thank you for your work and particularly for the serious efforts you have made, including this year, to find ways to break the long-standing stalemate in this Conference.

I welcome the decision you took 10 days ago to take forward your substantive work.  The most difficult part now lies ahead, as you work to translate [this] into the resumption of negotiations.

Disarmament and arms control are top priorities for me.  And they are central to the system for international security agreed in the United Nations Charter.

The dangers of nuclear weapons are all too clear.  They pose a catastrophic risk to human life and to the environment.  And there is great and justified anxiety around the world about the threat of nuclear war.

In East Asia, millions of people face this threat up close on a daily basis.  I commend their patience and resilience, which I witnessed first-hand during my visit to the Republic of Korea earlier this month.  And we have seen some positive developments over recent weeks.  And I welcome the courageous initiatives taken by the Republic of Korea during the Olympic Games.

But, this is not enough.  We need lasting improvements, based on the central objective of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and sustainable peace in the region.

I also welcome the completion of reductions by the United States and the Russian Federation under the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).  We need further disarmament and arms control measures as a sound basis for global peace.  And the Conference on Disarmament is a critical global forum for progress.

L’action menée en matière de désarmement et de maîtrise des armements a fait d’importants progrès. Elle a permis une réduction des stocks d’armes nucléaires stratégiques et l’interdiction complète des armes chimiques et biologiques. Elle a aussi donné lieu à des accords interdisant et limitant l’utilisation des armes d'emploi aveugle, notamment les mines terrestres et les armes à sous-munitions.

Toutefois, la première résolution de l’Assemblée générale qui appelle à l’élimination complète des armes de destruction massive n’a toujours pas été mise en œuvre.  Et on compte actuellement quelque 15 000 armes nucléaires dans le monde.

Le danger inhérent à ces armes a sans doute motivé l’élaboration du Traité sur l’interdiction des armes nucléaires, qui a été ouvert à la signature l'an passé.

Ces dernières années, certains objectifs de longue date, comme la diminution des dépenses militaires et la réduction des forces armées, ont été abandonnés. On exalte et glorifie la puissance militaire, en omettant de mentionner le coût choquant des conflits sur le plan humain.

En même temps, le commerce mondial des armes n’a jamais été aussi florissant depuis la guerre froide, entretenant aussi les conflits régionaux. Les dépenses militaires mondiales dépassent toujours largement les 1 500 milliards de dollars par an.

On constate par ailleurs la réapparition de tensions qui compromettent les progrès en matière de non-prolifération - les pays persistent dans l’idée fallacieuse que les armes nucléaires rendent le monde plus sûr.  Certains acteurs non étatiques, notamment les terroristes, constituent une menace extrêmement grave pour les efforts de désarmement global.

En outre, les avancées scientifiques et technologiques accélèrent la mise au point de nouveaux types d’armes autonomes et télécommandées, qui défient les cadres normatifs.  On réfléchit actuellement sur l’emploi des armes nucléaires comme des armes de combat tactiques, ce qui constitue une perspective extrêmement dangereuse.

Et entretemps, la guerre a quitté les champs de bataille pour atteindre le cœur des villes et des villages. En effet, gouvernements et groupes armés non étatiques font usage de puissants engins explosifs dans les zones habitées, tuant de plus en plus de civils.

Les armes de guerre sont vendues et commercialisées comme des produits de consommation ordinaires.  Et les tabous qui entourent l’utilisation d’armes chimiques et les essais nucléaires ont été remis en question à plusieurs reprises.

Face à une telle dégradation de la situation, la communauté internationale doit se doter d’urgence d’une nouvelle vision commune de désarmement et de maîtrise des armements.

In response to these concerns, I am preparing, in support of Member States, a new initiative aimed at giving greater impetus and direction to the global disarmament agenda.  This initiative is aimed at restoring the role of disarmament as an integral component of our work to maintain international peace and security.

I believe we can build a new vision for disarmament to address today’s priorities:  conflict prevention, upholding humanitarian principles, promoting sustainable development and dealing with future threats.

On prevention, we must respond to the dangers of the over-accumulation and proliferation of weapons, and reinforce the need to integrate disarmament into the United Nations efforts on preventive diplomacy and peacemaking.  At the global level, we must work together towards forging a new momentum on eliminating nuclear weapons.

On humanitarian action, we need to focus on the growing and unacceptable impact of conventional weapons on civilians and infrastructure, particularly in urban areas, which represents also a clear violation of human rights.  We need to focus on the disarmament that saves lives.

On sustainable development, we need to strengthen the links between disarmament and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reduce the illicit arms flows that feed conflict and divert resources, and understand the dire economic consequences of excessive military spending.

Finally, we need to examine the potential risks and challenges posed by the weapons of the future.  And this includes the relationship between new technologies — autonomous and unmanned weapons, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and space-based systems — and international humanitarian and human rights law.

My initiative will strive to offer a new perspective on traditional priorities; and a clear vision for the future; and also, practical and implementable actions.

The challenges are enormous, but history shows that it has been possible to reach agreement on disarmament and arms control even at the most difficult moments.

I have asked my High Representative for Disarmament Affairs to reach out to a broad spectrum of actors to develop this initiative further, including all partners within the United Nations system, leading experts, Member States and civil society.

Disarmament and arms control are complex projects comprising many small steps.  Each one affects the whole.  Each gas attack, each nuclear test, takes us into greater danger.  We cannot contemplate further erosion of the global framework for disarmament.  Indeed, we must reverse it urgently.

We must bring the current review process of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to a successful outcome in 2020.  This cornerstone treaty must remain strong for non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear power.  And we must bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force without delay.

We must enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention and ensure accountability for violations.  And we must reinvigorate the agenda for disarmament and arms control and put it back on course.

We must work together towards our common goal:  a world free of nuclear weapons.

As Secretary-General, I am committed to doing everything within my authority to contribute to the success of the Conference on Disarmament.  In turn, I ask you to intensify your efforts to find consensus on the way forward.  I believe you are off to the best start in nearly two decades, and I look forward to building on this new momentum.

For information media. Not an official record.