The Link Between Disarmament and Sustainable Development

Twenty years after the 1992 landmark Earth Summit,1 the world is getting prepared for another conference of the same magnitude, hopefully with increased positive results. Building on commitments adopted by the international community over the last two decades, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development -- Rio+20 -- should pave the way for the launch of a reinvigorated sustainable development agenda -- one that takes into account the complex nature of the root causes of poverty which lie at the core of the devastating effects of environmental degradation, as well as the cross-cutting nature of this issue that it is embedded in almost every economic and social activity of mankind. The conference, to be held in Rio de Janeiro from 20 to 22 June this year, must also consider the so-called "new and emerging challenges" that are affecting the world today, and frame its outcome under four basic key objectives: implementation, coherence, integration, and accountability.2

One basic premise that we would like to establish is that Rio+20 will provide a unique opportunity to refocus the development paradigm into a much more comprehensive concept and objective, which is sustainable development. Henceforth, Rio+20 should give us the chance to integrate one sustainable development agenda, at both the thematic and institutional levels, so that we can start implementing those basic objectives that, in many cases, are still lagging behind.

I consider it important to highlight these elements with the aim to emphasize that today there are more reasons to talk about a close relationship between disarmament and sustainable development. As we analyze the elements of this relationship, my intention is to underline the importance of maintaining a comprehensive approach to all elements that constitute the issue of disarmament in the context of sustainable development, essentially from the perspective of a developing country and its concrete challenges in this area.

At the Multilateral Level

In resolution 65/52 of 8 December 2010, the General Assembly stressed the central role of the United Nations in the relationship between disarmament and development and requested the Secretary-General to strengthen the role of the Organization in this field.3 In paragraphs 6 and 7 of the same resolution, the Assembly reiterated its invitation to Member States to provide the Secretary-General with information "regarding measures and efforts to devote part of the resources made available by the implementation of disarmament and arms limitation agreements to economic and social development, with a view to reducing the ever-widening gap between developed and developing countries".4 Unfortunately, it is not possible to measure this mandate objectively.

During the High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), held in New York from 20-22 September 2010, more than 60 Member States addressed the issue of armed violence and its negative impact on achieving the MDGs. They underscored that violence and crime hamper productivity, economic growth, and the ability of States to meet their development targets. It is worth noting that small arms and light weapons are the real weapons of mass destruction, because they are easily acquired and commonly used by civilian society.

Lastly, during the open debate organized by the Security Council on 11 February 2011 regarding the interdependence of security and development, the Council noted that "successful implementation of the many tasks that peacekeeping operations could be mandated to undertake in the areas of security sector reform, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, rule of law, and human rights requires an understanding of the.close relationship between security and development".5 In this regard, we should ask ourselves how many of these general principles of good relationships between and among States are seriously being considered to breach the gap between security, disarmament, and development.

An In-depth Perspective From a Developing Country

On many occasions, Peru has highlighted the importance of achieving a synergy and complementarity between areas relating to security and development, while effectively protecting human rights and providing humanitarian assistance. We believe that these are interlinked and interdependent elements that should guide the elaboration of effective strategies of peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations. All functions related to these operations must target a peace- consolidation scenario that, from our perspective, may pave the way for development to sustainable development through various means, such as capacity building and institutional development. However, we acknowledge that we may face certain obstacles while trying to define the complex nature of these interlinked elements, which, in our view, is not being effectively addressed by the current multilateral framework, both in disarmament, and sustainable development.

Increasing illicit activities pose great challenges to developing countries, as they have a direct and negative impact on natural resources, the livelihoods of thousands of people and, ultimately, the stability and development of countries and their Governments. These activities, which include drug-trafficking, illegal logging and mining, smuggling, and trade in human beings, need immense financial resources in order to operate and to provide for one of their basic components -- "armed sections;" and none of these are beyond launching violent operations against the State and the rule of law. So the question remains: how can these activities manage to control a weapons supply chain? The question is far more sensitive if we consider that these supply chains are essentially transboundary activities that reveal a lack of implementation and accountability of agreements derived from international treaties relating to disarmament. Thus, it is not only the issue of reallocating resources previously devoted to armamentism to developmental activities, but also the extent of the weakness of the system per se, that has led us to the current situation caused by these menaces.

In trying to effectively tackle this issue, we have to take a closer look at the cross-cutting nature of these phenomena that may necessitate a multi-disciplinary approach. Certainly, one general and simple explanation lies in the amount of profits that these illegal activities generate; it is enough to explain the corrosive effect that they produce in any kind of institutional framework, and hence the continuing damaging effects that these operations inflict on the environment and on nations. But, again, the fact that these illegal activities are permanent topics in many domestic, regional and multilateral political agendas reveals that the approach has to go hand-in-hand with a comprehensive plan to integrate this issue within one single track -- one provided by the sustainable development paradigm.

The Challenge Ahead

As we have mentioned earlier, the key objectives to keep in mind are implementation, integration, coherence, and accountability. Implementing what countries have already agreed to at the multilateral level and enforcing at the national level; integrating these agreements under one single track (sustainable development); integrating them in a coherent manner; and creating accountability mechanisms as a key starting point to achieve the above-mentioned objectives.

By highlighting these elements, I am sure that we are not deviating from the objectives that the Rio+20 Conference wants to achieve, but rather adding an important issue that needs to be properly considered since the spread of weapons has had an adverse impact on large sections of the population in many developing countries, and has caused environmental and social degradation.

In the run-up to Rio+20, the current context provides us with an excellent opportunity to include these elements and reflections within the discussions and negotiations that are taking place. We may agree that today, perhaps more than ever in the recent history of multilateralism, the social and economic problems that are essentially rooted at the national level are having an impact at the international level. Henceforth, the solutions have to come from a concerted action at the global level. This trend is unavoidable and will be reinforced more and more in the years to come.


1 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

2 The objective of the Conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges. At the same time, the Conference will focus on two themes: (a) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (b) the institutional framework for sustainable development.

3 A /66/168 report of the Secretary-General on the relationship between disarmament and development, par. 1.

4 Ibidem, par. 2.

5 S/PRST/2011/4.