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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urges progress in stalled global disarmament talks
Wednesday 23 January 2008

Statement to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva,
23 January 2008

I welcome this opportunity to address the opening of the Conference on Disarmament’s 2008 session. I am here to spotlight the priorities of disarmament and non-proliferation — and to underscore my
conviction that this institution can advance both goals.

Today I am going to speak about what is at stake for this body. The Conference on Disarmament has accomplished a great deal — but its successes are distant memories.

Disarmament and non-proliferation are closely associated with the very mission of the United Nations. They are widely recognized as indispensable to achieving the maintenance of international peace and security, a core principle in the UN Charter.

The international community values the Conference on Disarmament as the world’s single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum — but we need progress.

We need progress because concerted disarmament will forestall arms races. And forestalling arms races calms tensions. By reducing tensions, we free up resources that would have been diverted to armaments. These resources can then be used to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

But failing to advance disarmament breaks this chain. A disarmament stalemate can also jeopardize other key Charter goals. And so the United Nations must lead efforts to improve the global security climate. This is why your meetings at this 2008 session are so important.

Even with widespread agreement on the gravity of threats to
international peace and security, you still have not been able to find common cause to address them.

I am deeply troubled by this impasse over priorities.

Last year, this Conference was poised to resume its role as the world’s pre-eminent disarmament negotiating body. The six presidents for 2007 drafted a proposal for negotiations to begin on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices — and to focus on other core issues:
nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances and preventing an arms race in outer space.

When you were at the verge of reaching a decision on this draft presidential decision last June, I called on you to move forward in a spirit of compromise to seize that historic opportunity.

You did not.

I am here now to personally renew this call. I continue to believe that the adoption of this balanced and carefully drafted presidential decision would not deprive any Member State of the ability to assert its national position in the subsequent phases of the Conference’s work. In setting priorities, you are under no constraints as to how
to conduct your substantive work, other than to proceed on the basis of consensus.

You have great potential to move forward this year. The level of engagement in the Conference on Disarmament since 2006 has been promising. The General Assembly has noted your positive momentum. I urge you to build on this progress.

This body has not lost its relevance — but it is in danger of losing its way. To get back on the path to success, the Conference must rekindle the ambition and sense of common purpose that produced its past accomplishments, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

These milestone pacts show the great potential of the Conference on Disarmament. To harness this now, we need political vision. I call on foreign ministers and other political leaders to come to the Conference on Disarmament and encourage a return to productive work. Top-level political leadership and cooperation can forge a fresh
consensus on future projects.

The fate of the draft presidential decision will depend greatly on forward-thinking leadership and political support.

In this process, you continue to have my full support for the start of negotiations on a fissile material treaty. These talks would advance nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation objectives — and they are needed now.

In making this call, I am not at all discounting the importance of preventing an arms race in outer space, or negative security assurances, or nuclear disarmament per se. Just the opposite; these are all perennial and very important issues before the Conference. You must decide how to organize your treatment of these issues without holding any of them hostage to the others.

You have the experience and the wisdom to respond to the hopes and demands of people worldwide who seek progress in disarmament. I assure you that you have my full support and that I will continue to follow your efforts closely, together with the people of the world.

Please accept my very best wishes for the success of your 2008 session. Let us make this a breakthrough year.

UN Secretary General Urges Action to Forestall Arms Races

By Lisa Schlein, Geneva, 23 January 2008

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