Secretary-General Kofi Annan has announced plans to establish a new Department for Disarmament and Arms Regulation. Under its proposed mandate, the Department would as a priority develop strategies and policies to prevent the proliferation of all types of weapons and control the flow of conventional weapons to areas of conflict. Before issuing his proposal, Mr. Annan asked his Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters to "explore the security challenges that lie ahead in the twenty-first century" and re-evaluate the role of the Organization in achieving "the overarching goal of an international system in which security and stability for all will prevail".
In a wide-ranging conversation held just before the Board submitted its report, its Chairman, Ambassador Mitsuro Donowaki of Japan, told the UN Chronicle that"the United Nations role in disarmament, rather than decreasing, is going to increase despite the end of the cold war".
Weapons of mass destruction
"Of course, we don't foresee a global nuclear confrontation. That possibility has definitely decreased. Moreover, in the last four or five years, we have seen the conclusion of the CTBT (Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty), the indefinite extension of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), as well as the conclusion of the CWC (Chemical Weapons Convention). But all these treaties related to weapons of mass destruction, including the Biological Weapons Convention, assign the United Nations specific roles" in cases of serious non-compliance, Mr. Donowaki stated.
"It was already decided at the 1992 Security Council Summit that a serious violation of the NPT may be brought to the attention of the Council. And the CTBT and the CWC both have similar provisions. Of course, they have to try to settle the problems of compliance first within their respective organizations; but if a serious issue develops which those organizations can't handle, then it will have to be brought before the United Nations."
The nuclear Powers had a basic responsibility to make a greater effort, Mr. Donowaki stressed. Unlike conventional arms, the future production of nuclear weapons "is almost stopped. The problem now is how to dismantle existing ones, how to reduce them, how to detarget them. These are the major concerns. Then comes the question of how to safeguard nuclear technologies and materials, to keep them from proliferating and getting into the hands of terrorists or rogue States."
Here, again, the importance of implementing existing arrangements becomes very important, according to the Chairman. As for the future objective of achieving the total elimination of nuclear weapons, while it "would be the ideal, it [would be] quite a long-term ideal" requiring the negotiation of a new agreement. "And, of course, the UN will have to continue to play a role which will encourage such developments."
He underscored that countries from the Non-Aligned Movement on the Advisory Board "insist that the importance of nuclear disarmament should never be downgraded. It has been on the agenda for 20 years now."
In the case of conventional arms, the United Nations was also assuming an increasingly important role, in particular, given that "the security of nations can no longer be defended by military capability alone", Mr. Donowaki explained. This had become especially evident within the last decade, as the nature of conflicts began to change. Most were no longer between countries, but rather intra-State. In some cases, the central government had ceased to function.
In addition, due in part to growing economic globalization, borders "are becoming meaningless", the Chairman said. One by-product of the increasing porousness of national borders was the new seriousness that had to be attached to old security threats: illicit arms trafficking ballooning as it was becoming harder to interdict; and terrorist acts originating among constantly shifting sources, from political factions to powerful criminal cartels. …