Following is the statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the opening meeting of the General Assembly’s First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) at the current session, in New York today:

Mr. Chairman,
Let me begin by congratulating you on your election to chair this important Committee.

The fact that it is the First Committee of the General Assembly reflects the priority given to disarmament by the United Nations in its earliest days. I believe that emphasis was right.

As you know, I decided last year to re-establish the Department for Disarmament Affairs with an Under-Secretary-General as its head. I was very pleased that the General Assembly supported that decision. I am glad also that it acted on my recommendation to review the work of the Disarmament Commission, and of this Committee. I know you plan to update, streamline and revitalize your work, and I look forward eagerly to the results.

I am also delighted to have Jayantha Dhanapala as Under-Secretary-General. He is ideally qualified for the post, and has made an excellent start.

Perhaps you are wondering why he is not here today. In a sense, Mr. Chairman, I am representing him, while he is representing me.

He has gone at my request to the capital of your country [Belgium], to attend a conference on the important theme of “sustainable disarmament for sustainable development”. It is good that the connection between these two central themes of the United Nations agenda — disarmament and development — is increasingly being understood and recognized.

Disarmament, Mr. Chairman, lies at the heart of this Organization’s efforts to maintain and strengthen international peace and security.

It is sometimes said that weapons do not kill: people do. And it is true that in recent years some horrific acts of violence have been committed without recourse to sophisticated weapons.

The Rwandan genocide is the example which haunts us all. But I could cite many others. Freshest in many of our minds, because of the horrific pictures we have seen, are the recent massacres in Kosovo.

Small arms are used to inflict death or injury on thousands upon thousands of civilians every year. Even more shockingly, the overwhelming majority of these are women and children.

So disarmament has to concern itself with small weapons, as well as large. I am glad that the international community is now coming to realize this.

Let me salute, in particular, the moratorium initiated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the trade and manufacture of small arms, and the recent entry into force of the Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of, and Trafficking in, Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials. (Perhaps what we need next is a Convention Limiting the Length of the Titles of International Agreements!)

I must also thank Michael Douglas — a redoubtable handler of small arms on the cinema screen — for his work as a Messenger of Peace, alerting public opinion to the terrible damage these weapons do cause in real life. I believe global civil society can be mobilized on this issue, as it has been so successfully on the issue of anti-personnel landmines.

We must be thankful that so many Member States have signed and ratified the Ottawa Convention — a global ban on landmines — which will enter into force next March; and we must now work hard to make this ban universal.

At the same time, we cannot afford to slacken our efforts to contain the proliferation of larger weapons, and especially of weapons of mass destruction. It would be the height of folly to take for granted that such weapons are too terrible ever to be used, and that States will keep them only as a deterrent.

We know that nuclear weapons were used in 1945, with devastating effects from which the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still suffering more than half a century later.

We know, too, that chemical weapons have been used extensively, notably against Iran, and against civilians in northern Iraq in 1988.

There, too, the people of Halabja are still suffering the effects 10 years later, in the form of debilitating disease, deformed births and aborted pregnancies.

As for the menace of biological weapons, it is almost too horrible to imagine. Yet, we know that some States have developed such weapons, and are keeping them in their arsenals.

As long as States have such weapons at their disposal, there will always be the risk that sooner or later they resort to using them. And there is the ever-present risk that they will escape from the control of States and fall into the hands of terrorists.

That is why we must intensify our efforts to expand the membership of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, and to make observance of them more verifiable.

And that is why we must be concerned about the nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan this year.

Of course, I warmly welcome the declarations of intent to adhere to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), made here in the General Assembly by the Prime Ministers of those two States.

We must all work to ensure that that Treaty enters into force as soon as possible. But we must also work to finish the job of promoting universal adherence to all the key treaties on weapons of mass destruction, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). And we must bear in mind that the long-term sustainability of that Treaty depends on all parties working seriously to implement all its articles.

The United Nations has worked for over half a century to eliminate nuclear weapons everywhere and to oppose their acquisition anywhere. Given the potential devastation from the use of even one nuclear weapon, I believe global nuclear disarmament must remain at the top of our agenda. I look to this Committee to take the lead in working to rid the world of this menace, as well as that of chemical and biological weapons.

I said just now that disarmament and development are intimately connected. I believe they are so in two ways.

First, disarmament is essential to effective conflict prevention or post- conflict peace-building in many parts of the developing world, and conflict is the worst enemy of development everywhere.

Secondly, even when an arms race does not lead directly to conflict, it still constitutes a cruel diversion of skills and resources away from development.

While so many human needs remain unsatisfied, millions of people on this planet depend for their livelihood on producing, or distributing, or maintaining engines designed only to destroy — engines of which the best one can hope is that they will not be used.

That is a terrible waste. More than that, it is a source of deep shame. As long as it continues, none of us can take much pride in our humanity. The world looks to the United Nations, and the United Nations looks to this Committee, to lead it in a different and more hopeful direction.

I wish you every success in your work. Be assured you will have all the support that we in the Secretariat can give you.