The Secretary-General’s Agenda: Progress On Disarmament Required For Global Security

It is an honour to suggest agenda items and top priorities in international security for Ban Ki-moon's first term in office as Secretary-General of the United Nations. However, it is also a daunting prospect, given his special expertise in foreign affairs and international security policy.

I will consider four overarching themes that are likely to affect the ability of the United Nations to deal with these critical issues, rather than attempting to describe the complete international security agenda it is likely to face. These themes are: the need to reinvigorate the international security and disarmament agenda; the requirement for a strong institutional structure supporting disarmament; the danger of relying on consensus decision-making; and the importance of being engaged in an active partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The international security and disarmament agenda requires urgent attention. Crucial treaties are in danger of unravelling and threats to global security require the Secretary-General's leadership. Preserving the non-proliferation regime is critically important. UN Member States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have expressed significant concern about the prospect of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran developing nuclear weapons. If they continue to do so or deploy nuclear weapons, there may be pressure on other countries in the region to follow suit. Convincing them to step back will require extensive global diplomacy, with economic and political "carrot-and-stick" policies. In addition, India, Pakistan and Israel remain outside the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Even if they desired to join the Treaty, they could only do so as non-nuclear-weapon States. And despite creative proposals to develop a parallel regime for them, they have been reluctant to constrain their nuclear weapons programmes.

The non-proliferation regime has been further weakened by the failure of nuclear-weapons States to meet their commitments within the Treaty and those made during the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT. These pledges included continuing the ban on nuclear tests, working towards the implementation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, seeking a fissile material cut-off treaty and a renewed agreement to seek nuclear disarmament. While not a panacea, the steps agreed to at the Review Conference still represent a blueprint for progress on nuclear-weapons issues. The NPT and the entire non-proliferation regime are in grave danger because of the failure of nuclear-weapons States to make good on their promises.

Small arms and light weapons (SALW) are also a threat to global security. The Small Arms Survey estimates that more than 600 million firearms are currently in circulation and are being used to kill approximately 1,000 people each day.1 In 2005, Project Ploughshares documented 32 ongoing conflicts in the world.2 Although these conflicts were not necessarily caused by SALW, few would contest the proposition that these conflicts were exacerbated by the widespread availability of such weapons. Global progress depends on the UN Secretary-General's leadership.

Regional initiatives on SALW are moving forward. Several regional and subregional arrangements focus on small arms, including the 2006 Economic Community of West African States Convention, the 2004 Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of SALW, the Central American System of Integration's Code of Conduct for Central America, and the 2001 Southern African Development Community's Firearms Protocol. But action at the global level is also critical.

UN support will be necessary in aiding the group of governmental experts that will consider the prospects for a global arms trade treaty, which is an ambitious undertaking, bringing together different efforts to limit the damage done by the uncontrolled transfer of conventional weapons. It could also enhance attention to human rights and humanitarian standards while reducing weapons transfers to regions in conflict. The expert group is charged with establishing "common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms". An arms trade treaty is a promising step forward and deserves the Secretary-General's full support.

There is a need for a strong institutional structure for disarmament . The UN Department of Disarmament Affairs' vision statement sets a powerful framework for this work: "We believe that disarmament will advance the self-interests, common security and ideals of everybody without discrimination. Yet despite these benefits, disarmament still faces difficult political and technical challenges that can only be surmounted by deliberate human action, strong institutional support, and understanding among the general public. We call this combined effort sustainable disarmament -- our fundamental goal."3

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to make progress on these issues without a substantial infrastructure at the United Nations supporting disarmament. The UN disarmament staff provides professional expertise and technical assistance on an enormous range of disarmament and non-proliferation issues, from SALW to major conventional weapons, as well as chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The staff provides the core structure for international security work for the Organization and serves as a valuable source of information for the broader community of analysts and activists working on these issues. This institutional structure must be strengthened, not merely maintained. The international security community is at a critical juncture, and weakening this structure would likely decrease the prospects for achieving disarmament and raise questions about UN commitment to this issue.

Consensus should not require unanimity.
UN meetings and conferences often proceed on the basis of consensus -- an admirable goal. Unfortunately, many UN fora have effectively defined this consensus as requiring unanimity. This interpretation gives even a single State the opportunity to block progress. In his September 2005 report, In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote that consensus "has become an end in itself" and that "it prompts the [General] Assembly to retreat to generalities, abandoning any serious effort to take action".4 Consensus requiring unanimity was leading to watered-down proposals. The risks of this approach have also been shown by the disappointing results of recent international conferences. For example, principally because of United States intransigence, the 2006 Small Arms Review Conference ended without even reaching agreement on an outcome document.

Even in fora in which unanimity is not required, the United States has attempted to obstruct progress, albeit with less effect. Michael Spies of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy Inc. documented United States "no" votes on nearly half of all resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in 2006, including texts on developing standards for a prospective arms trade treaty and on proposing a follow-up process on small arms. Only the United States and DPRK voted against the resolution supporting a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty and condemning the apparent North Korean nuclear test.5 Even so, the General Assembly was able to make significantly more progress than had occurred during meetings such as the 2006 Small Arms Review Conference and the 2005 NPT Review Conference, in large part because the Assembly did not require unanimity. Seeking consensus is admirable; seeking unanimity is unrealistic. To make progress, the United Nations will have to move beyond this procedural choke point.

Establishing productive relationships with NGOs is important. Another concern is that the United Nations is extremely inconsistent in the extent to which it takes advantage of the assistance offered by NGOs that have significant expertise on issues of UN concern. Many expert groups and conferences have been structured in ways that inhibit the participation of these organizations. In some fora, NGOs have had to struggle to even be part of the proceedings and have often been restricted to making presentations at a single session of weeks-long conferences. In contrast, the collaboration between the United Nations and NGOs on disarmament and non-proliferation education is an example of the enormous rewards than can result from full partnerships with these organizations.

The United Nations and NGOs have participated in a fully collaborative effort on disarmament and non-proliferation education, in an impressive example of the potential inherent in this relationship. This effort began with the work of the Governmental Expert Panel on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education, established in December 2000 by the General Assembly. The Panel received contributions from more than 70 research institutes, educational institutions, NGOs and museums from over 40 countries, and circulated its draft report for outside peer review, with UN staff working intensively to integrate the varied responses and suggestions. This collaboration began while the Panel was still in planning stages and has continued well beyond the submission of its report.

NGO representatives were especially concerned that the Panel balanced programmes designed for the short, medium and long term, as well as those requiring a range of resources. This approach was accepted and utilized by panel members to structure their recommendations. Representatives and panel members also stressed the importance of dealing with conventional weapons, as well as chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. It was clear from the beginning of the process that the results must be accessible to countries in the global north and south. The Panel's report accomplished each of these objectives.

The effort to enhance disarmament and non-proliferation education is still continuing, although obtaining the resources necessary for full implementation of the Panel's recommendations has been difficult. For example, there has not been sufficient funding for the establishment of an international consortium "of scholars and representatives of civil society, to work in parallel with and as a complement to international disarmament and non-proliferation efforts". To prosper, this and related ventures will also require the financial and institutional support of the United Nations.

Member States, international organizations, academics and NGOs are essential actors in the effort towards global disarmament, the success of which will depend on their partnership and the Secretary-General's leadership. With his support, I am confident that we can make progress on each of these issues. I join with citizens around the world in wishing him every success in this effort.

2 Project Ploughshares, "Armed Conflicts Report 2006" (
3 UN Department for Disarmament Affairs' Vision Statement (
4 In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All (
5 Michael Spies, "Growing U.S. Isolation at the United Nations on Disarmament and Security", Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy Inc. (