EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference 2016
Keynote Speech and Introductory Remarks
Kim Won-soo, Under Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, UN

Provisional Transcript

Kim Won-soo, Under Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, UN

Jacek Bylica, Principal Adviser and Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament of the European Union; Mr Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme of IISS; excellencies, friends, ladies and gentlemen. It was so good to see so many familiar faces in this room, including a couple of my distinguished predecessors, Sergio and Angela. I’m truly impressed by the convening powers of Jacek and Mark. And thanks for also a very generous introduction about me.

At the outset, I’d like to convey the warmest greetings from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to all of you. He wishes for a very fruitful conference. And also, I must thank the European Union Non-Proliferation Consortium to invite me to speak today. Each of your four institutions continues to make a real contribution to the cause of a safer and more prosperous world.

It would be remiss if I don’t thank the European Union and its member states for their strong and generous support to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Without your generosity, we would find it difficult to accomplish our broad mandate. EU donations have helped build the universalisation and enhance the practical implementation of disarmament and non-proliferation commitments. EU finds our programmes are crucial to achieving a world safer, secure and better for all, and EU funds have supported capacity-building and technical assistance, and raised public awareness across the entire spectrum of our activities.

While I of course wish to thank you for your partnership and support today, I want to go a step further. This year marks a number of anniversaries in disarmament and non-proliferation. Seventy-one years of first and last use of nuclear weapons, as Mark said. This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the first-ever resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly which is about eliminating atomic weapons and weapons adaptable to mass destruction. It is also the 20th anniversary, as High Representative Mogherini said, of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. But it is not a cause for celebration, but a sober reminder of the job unfinished.

It has also been 30 years since the historic summit at Reykjavík between the United States and the former Soviet Union, a turning point in the nuclear arms race. European Union member states have made tremendous contributions to all of these milestones. I also want to underscore the tremendous contributions of the governments and citizens in this great region to the United Nations, to multilateralism, to international peace and security, and to the rule of law.

Living together on a continent that suffered two devastating world wars, you can certainly speak with certain authority about the horrible consequences for humanity of that nightmare we call total war. During your recovery from these tragedies, you have re-established and maintained an absolutely indispensable role in world affairs as a bridge builder in times of great political divisions. You mediated between the two nuclear superpowers during the darkest days of the Cold War, and pioneered bold diplomatic approaches of peace, security and reconciliation, with some of your finest achievements in the fields of detente and the Spirit of Helsinki. Your bridge building has helped not just to improve East–West relations, but also to strengthen North–South relations, not to mention your work in building bridges to link all countries behind some fundamental global public rules like protecting the environment, defending human rights and advancing sustainable development.

This bridge-building spirit was evident during many recent disarmament initiatives, including the Hague Code of Conduct on ballistic missiles, the arms-trade treaty and efforts to develop a code of conduct for the peaceful use of outer space. It was most recently displayed in the role the European Union played in finding a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear programme.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we need this spirit today more than ever. It is given great urgency by a growing nexus of security threats. They are a tapestry of entrenched and emerging threats that is the product of globalisation and the fast-evolving security environment. They are interlinked, transnational, and cannot be addressed by one single state or one single organisation alone.

First, the risks and threats of an attack using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials, CBRN materials, these threats are rising. The taboo against chemical weapons has been repeatedly broken in the Middle East. The use of toxic chemicals as weapons of terror against civilian populations cannot be allowed to become the new normal. In recent years, there have been repeated warnings from the international scientific community that developments in science and technology have lowered every possible technological barrier to acquiring and using biological weapons. The West Africa Ebola outbreak was a palpable reminder of the humanitarian and health crisis a biological pathogen can unleash.

A deliberate release designed to cause maximum infection could be much worse than a chemical-weapons attack. Yet, there is no commensurate institutional structure or mechanisms to prevent or respond to such an eventuality. We repeatedly reminded our member states that despite much higher risk involving biological incidents, the institutional investment the international community has made in this area is the lowest, as compared to investments made on radiological, nuclear or chemical threats and risks. We hope the biological-weapons convention video conference, scheduled to open next week, will at least make certain beginnings towards addressing this problem.

The Nuclear Security Summit process made significant progress in securing civilian nuclear material. Although the NSS process has concluded, but the threat remains, therefore, NSS participating states decided to keep the process ongoing; keeping this issue on the global agenda must be a continuing priority.

Second, the world is experiencing a revolution in technology that is helping to drive innovation and equitable development. However, this same technology could be misused for malicious purposes with devastating results. Our increasingly networked lives have also exposed us to new vulnerabilities. These will only increase as we move towards an internet of things, where actions in cyberspace could have disruptive consequences in the physical world – the world we are now living. A cyber attack on critical infrastructure or, in a nightmare scenario, a nuclear or chemical facility, is becoming a real prospect that must be actively guarded against.

The international community of states is behind the curve, unfortunately. We live in a cyber age, but we have yet to develop the rules of the road that will ensure cyberspace is only used for peaceful purposes. New technologies, such as unmanned vehicles and artificial intelligence, are also changing the face of war. Our rules-based international order requires a better understanding of how these new technologies should be governed to ensure compliance with international law, in particular international humanitarian law.

Finally, vicious non-state actors without any regard for human life have taken advantage of our global society’s open borders to wreak havoc from Mosul to the streets of Paris and Brussels. The global illicit trade in weapons fuels these groups’ carnage and allows them to menace the most vulnerable elements of our communities. Alarmingly, they continue to actively seek all kinds of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material. This nexus of global challenges requires that all key players work together to overcome them. Their global nature requires a global response. Divides must be breached and differences overcome if we are to hold the perpetrators accountable for the despicable use of chemical weapons, or if we are to create robust mechanisms that will protect us from and if necessary respond to a biological incident, or if we are to fill the normative gap when it comes not just to cyberspace but also outer space, and to regulate those new technologies disrupting the status quo.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we often heard that security is a prerequisite for disarmament. But progress in disarmament has its own contributions to make in strengthening security. It does so by constraining military spending, limiting the arms trade to volatile areas, reversing and preventing arms races, and building trust and confidence in a world in which weapons of mass destruction have no legitimate place. As Secretary-General Ban said in Reykjavík last month on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the historic summit, he said, ‘Some may claim that security conditions today are not ripe for the pursuit of further nuclear disarmament. I say this view has it completely backwards. The pursuit of arms control and disarmament is precisely how we can break the tension and reduce conflicts.’

The recent debate regarding the proposed prohibition treaty has raised fundamental questions from both sides of the fence. I do recognise key drivers of both camps in this room. And through this debate, a number of fundamental questions have been raised, but I want to say, we identified the two key questions. The first question is: how will the path be charted from a prohibition treaty to the actual elimination of all nuclear weapons? The second key question is: why has it proven more difficult to delegitimise nuclear weapons compared to all other weapons of mass destruction?

Humanity deserves answers to these fundamental questions, and this requires inclusive engagement by all states, because all states agree to the destination of a world free of nuclear weapons, but still we have differences on the methodology of how to get there. And this fundamental question cannot be solved if all member states do not engage with one another in a common effort to find a solution.

This is my plea to EU member states and indeed to all member states, to find a way to catalyse inclusive engagement. I remain hopeful that the member states of this great European Union will continue to perform their characteristic bridge-building role. A pivotal European role in seeking to reconcile such differences, finding common ground, striking reasonable compromises, and building mutual trust and confidence can only be found through active engagement.

If, and as I said, 2016 has been a year of many anniversaries, I hope that 2017 will be a year of action. If this is to be the case, Europe’s bridge building is needed now more than ever before. I thank you so much.

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