United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday issued a passionate call to countries to advance disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, as well as illegal arms, stressing that Member States should not delay on this issue.
"Delay comes with a high price tag. The longer we procrastinate, the greater the risk that these weapons will be used, will proliferate or be acquired by terrorists," Ban said in his remarks at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.
Ban outlined five challenges that Member States need to tackle to make progress on the disarmament agenda: increasing accountability, enforcing the rule of law, establishing partnerships, strengthening the role of the Security Council, and boosting efforts to educate young people on the dangers of weapons proliferation.
Regarding accountability, Ban underlined that each Member State needs to uphold its commitments. "My advice, my appeal to all, is this: Be a first mover. Don't look to others or to your neighbours to start disarmament and arms control measures. If you take the lead, others will follow," he said.
Ban emphasized that countries need to reinvigorate international disarmament efforts, including the UN Conference on Disarmament, which primarily focuses on cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament, the prevention of nuclear war, and prevention of an arms race in outer space, among other issues.
"Another year of stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament is simply unacceptable," Ban said. "The Conference's record of achievement is overshadowed by the inertia that has now lasted for more than a decade. That must change."
Established in 1979 and with a current membership of 65 countries, the Conference has produced landmark disarmament instruments such as the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
However, it has been plagued in recent years by an inability to overcome differences among its members and start its substantive work towards advancing those goals.
In particular, the UN Secretary-General appealed to nuclear States to reconsider their national nuclear posture, engage with each other, and reduce their arsenals. "Nuclear deterrence is not a solution to international peace and stability. It is an obstacle," he said.
Strengthening the capacities of international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons so that they can enforce the implementation of treaties and other agreements must also be a priority for the international community, Ban said.
In addition, Ban underscored the importance of reaching an agreement on an Arms Trade Treaty that would regulate the transfer of conventional weapons, including small arms, and ensure that there are no loopholes by covering all types of transfers, including activities such as transit, trans-shipment, as wells as loans and leases.
"Every day, we at the United Nations see the human toll of an absence of regulations or lax controls on the arms trade. We see it in the suffering of populations caught up in armed conflict or victimized by pervasive crime. We see it in the massive displacement of people within and across borders. We see it through grave violations of international law.
"An agreed set of standards for arms exports along with strong national legislation can help begin to change all of that."
While Ban acknowledged that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society are carrying out exceptional work to advocate for disarmament and non-proliferations, he noted that the ultimate responsibility on this issue lies with the Member States, who decide whether they will spend their budgets on arms or on other pressing issues such as climate change and development.
Member States also have the power to strengthen the implementation of treaties through the Security Council, Ban said, pointing to the case of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK), which recently violated a Council resolution when it launched a long-range rocket.
"Unless equipped with robust verification and enforcement measures, the credibility of the Security Council will be called into question. I urge the Security Council to take up this matter at a high-level meeting," he said. "By considering - and acting - on major existential threats, the Security Council can spur much-needed global debate."
Ban also advocated for increased funding on disarmament education, to raise awareness of the importance of this issue and to clarify the myth that nuclear disarmament is unattainable.
"It is easier for students to learn the logic of nuclear deterrence than to learn to discard the myths that keep nuclear weapons in place. Education can fix this."
"It can clarify that our aim is not simply to keep the deadliest of weapons from 'falling into the wrong hands'. It can teach that there are no right hands for wrong weapons."