Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Is Disarmament Still "On the Level" at the UN?

In a statement delivered in Hiroshima yesterday on the occasion of the 62nd anniversary of atomic bombing of that city, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared:

“Nuclear proliferation is one of the most pressing problems confronting our world. Tens of thousands of nuclear weapons remain, many of them on “hair-trigger” alert. The emergence of a nuclear black market and attempts by terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons and materials have compounded the nuclear threat. Today, our challenge -- as it was for the founders of the United Nations -- is to make the world safer for succeeding generations. This requires us to continue to work towards a world free of nuclear dangers and, ultimately, of nuclear weapons.”
The Secretary General’s words are laudable, but there is reason to believe the UN’s institutional commitment to disarmament could use added support.

The statement was delivered by Sergio de Queiroz Duarte of Brazil who was appointed last month as the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament “at the Under-Secretary-General level.” The footnote added to Mr. Duarte’s title underlines what it is meant to obscure: that the role of disarmament leadership has apparently been downgraded at the United Nations.
The new situation may still be sinking in at the UN. For example, the webpage of the new Office for Disarmament Affairs bears its new name here and its former, more prominent name of Department for Disarmament Affairs, here. For those of us who recall the integration of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency into the Department of State, the implications are disheartening.

The first Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs, Sri Lankan Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, was appointed in January 1998, riding high from his leadership of the achievement of the indefinite extension of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Of course, that was before:
  • the South Asian tests of May 1998,
  • the defeat of the CTBT in the U.S. Senate,
  • the dissolution of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency,
  • U.S. abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,
  • the Russian Duma’s rejection of START II,
  • the termination of the 1994 Agreed Framework,
  • North Korea’s exit from the NPT,
  • the invasion of Iraq, and so on.

The change was announced on February 5 of this year, barely a month after Secretary General Ban took office. Noel Stott of the Arms Management Programme at ISS Tshwane in Pretoria observes that the announcement of the change drew:

“opposition from civil society, the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) and countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Austria and New Zealand.”

Stott concludes that:

“Whether the new office and a High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the Under-Secretary-General level will have a stronger impact in support of Member States' efforts to address the threats and security challenges confronting the international community will form a core aspect of any future assessment of Ban Ki-moon’s tenure as Secretary-General.”

We agree. The world is watching, Mr. Secretary General. But issues are usually not elevated by diminishing the rank of their advocates. And today’s disarmament agenda is daunting, including:

  • kick-starting the fissile material cut-off negotiations,
  • the challenge of bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force,
  • responding to the Russian announcement of withdrawal from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty,
  • shoring up nuclear safeguards in the context of the U.S.-India nuclear deal,
  • the expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 2009,
  • the NPT Review Conference in 2010,
  • the expiration of the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty in 2012, and so on.

For his part, former Under-Secretary General Dhanapala was appointed this month to the Board of Dialog Telekom. One may wonder if Mr. Duarte and his successors will receive the same sort of reception from private industry upon leaving UN service “at the Under-Secretary General level.”

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