Before the First Committee of the 53rd Session Of the United Nations
General Assembly

General and Complete Disarmament
New York City

Mr. Chairman,

The international community has, in recent times, witnessed some positive-albeit modest-trends in disarmament. An anti-personnel landmines treaty has come into existence and all who worked to make this a reality, deserve congratulations. Unknown numbers of innocent civilians, particularly children, will be spared the cruel maiming and death caused by these evil instruments. The Holy See, which expeditiously ratified the treaty, calls on all nations to do the same.

The Holy See notes another recent gain in the new momentum given to the small arms issue. Small arms cause the violent death, injury and psychological trauma of hundreds of thousands of people each year. These simple and comparably inexpensive weapons of death find their way into areas of conflict and instability and, shockingly, even into the hands of children, who are locked into a culture of violence. Casualties often occur in the context of religious, ethnic, political and national conflicts. These conflicts are the cause for the existence of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. The weaponization of society fuels cycles of violence, despair and ultimately state collapse. Thus, the establishment of the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, alongside the work of the Vienna Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, are a positive step forward.

In the recent meeting, which took place in Oslo, government officials agreed that governments have primary responsibility to reduce the flow and accumulation of small arms. A study of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace noted the anomaly by which certain States have stringent controls on the international transfer of heavy arms, but few if any regarding the sale of small arms and handguns. The supplying of small arms must be regulated at its source, at the same time as efforts are being made to lessen the demand and to choke off access to illicit supplies. In certain areas there is an urgent need to ensure a more effective control of stockpiles. Furthermore, the sale of excess supplies of small arms and light weapons, rendered redundant either through modernization or reduction in the size of military forces, can lead, in a cascading effect, to an ongoing flow of sophisticated arms from developed to developing countries.

Civil society also has an important role to play, for the human cost of small arms casualties is a societal issue. Reducing arms expenditures and heightened health care costs could enable more resources to be directed to sustainable development programs. The strain on public health care facilities in affected areas would be relieved and the physical and mental health of individuals and families improved. The new efforts to bring together the communities of international arms control and disarmament, humanitarian law, peace and security, public health, gun control, international development and conflict resolution, are hopeful signs of a new global awareness.

The Holy See appeals, in particular, for increased measures to be taken to effectively identify those individuals and groups who traffic in small arms outside all bounds of legal control, and who, through their activity, unscrupulously contribute to violence and instability. More decisive international police and intelligence cooperation is required. A reliable system of marking small arms would make tracking more effective. All governments must ensure maximum transparency and absolute respect for their own norms and the norms of the international community concerning arms transfers, especially to conflict areas.

Turning to the nuclear weapons field, the worthy initiative by eight states from different areas of the world which have formed the New Agenda Coalition, is a welcome advance. They have called on the governments of the nuclear weapons states and the nuclear weapons-capable states to commit themselves unequivocally to the elimination of nuclear weapons and to agree to start work immediately on the practical steps and negotiations required for its achievement

In this context, the development of the Middle Powers Initiative, a coalition of prominent international nongovernmental organizations, is also welcomed. It aims at encouraging the governments of the nuclear weapons states and the nuclear weapons-capable states to move rapidly to a nuclear-weapon-free world.

A measure of progress was made this year in the tentative agreement at the Conference on Disarmament to establish committee discussions on a Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty. This work would be enhanced by a general recognition that steps toward non-proliferation must go hand-in-hand with steps to disarmament.

The upgrading of the UN Department of Disarmament Affairs signals a higher priority that the UN itself will give to disarmament activities.

Mr. Chairman, the review of positive developments I have just given should fill us with encouragement for the future. A distinct mark of our time, however, is that the work of disarmament is proceeding slowly. But an offsetting trend of negative developments is slowing us down further. These negative trend lines must be identified in order for us to take action.

Foremost is the breakdown in the preparatory process for the 2000 Review of the NPT. During two sessions over two years, the NPT Preparatory Committee has struggled to find an acceptable format for deliberations on nuclear disarmament. The debates over terminology, subsidiary bodies and time schedules are but a surrogate for the real debate over a comprehensive program to eliminate nuclear weapons.

It is not just the NPT that is in trouble. The impasse in the ratification process of both START II and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty bespeak the lingering resistance to disarmament. Further progress is inhibited by the failure to consolidate hard-earned gains.

The testing of nuclear weapons by States which stand outside the NPT exacerbates the dangers caused by a weak nonproliferation regime. Nuclear testing by any nation is to be deplored. Criticism of those who test, however, does not deal adequately with the central problem. This is the determination of the nuclear weapons states to carry their nuclear weapons into the 21st Century, despite their obligation under the NPT to negotiate nuclear disarmament.

The continued existence of 30,000 nuclear weapons almost a decade after the end of the Cold War, poses a grave danger to humanity. This is further worsened by the fact that 5,000 of these weapons are on alert status, meaning they are capable of being fired on thirty minutes’ notice. The danger of nuclear catastrophe through accident or terrorism is an unacceptable risk.

Mr. Chairman, nothing so reveals the negative trend lines in disarmament as the continued insistence that nuclear weapons are essential to national security. The exaggerated claim that nuclear weapons are an aid to peace can only provoke other states to do the same. At this point, I would like to recall the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, that states have an obligation to conclude negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.

More over, what is deeply troubling is the prospect of a new nuclear arms race. The modernization programs of those who already have nuclear weapons, combined with the acquiring of nuclear weapons by other states, and research now going on in still others, plunge the world into more danger than existed during the Cold War. The longer this situation continues, the more a growing number of states will falsely claim that nuclear weapons are legitimate.

The Holy See has stated before and states again: “Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century. They cannot be justified. They deserve condemnation. The preservation of the Nonproliferation Treaty demands an unequivocal commitment to their abolition.” (Statement of the Holy See before the First Committee of the 52nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 15 October 1997.)

My delegation believes that the world must move more and more toward the abolition of nuclear weapons through a universal, non-discriminatory ban with intensive inspection by a universal authority. This process would begin by the nuclear weapons states committing themselves unequivocally to the elimination of their nuclear weapons and without delay to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations to this end. Practical steps to move this process forward should be taken immediately, such as de-alerting and de-activating nuclear weapons. A pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons should be made, as an interim step, by every State possessing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, it would be a constructive step to hold an international conference on nuclear disarmament in which both governments and civil society could unite their strengths to develop the political will to take the courageous steps necessary for abolition.

Mr. Chairman, the great task ahead for the Twenty-first Century is to move the world from a culture of violence and war to a culture of peace. UNESCO has already taken a lead in promoting a culture of peace. This consists in promoting values, attitudes and behaviors reflecting and inspiring social interaction and sharing, based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. Rather than intervening in violent conflicts after they have erupted and then engaging in post-conflict peace building, it is more human and more efficient to prevent such violence in the first place by addressing its roots.

Let it not be said that the promotion of a culture of peace, the rooting out of the causes of violence, the abolition of nuclear weapons, are unreachable goals. The world has rid itself of the evils of legalized slavery, legalized colonialism and legalized apartheid. These were eliminated as the result of rising global awareness and political determination. So, also, the growing momentum to delegitimize and eliminate nuclear weapons must now be accompanied by political action by all States. Humanity deserves no less from us.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.