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Nuclear Non-Proliferatin: Revisiting the Basics

Vienna, Austria

In some regions, basic security concerns have been largely resolved - through the 'nuclear umbrella' arrangements to which I referred earlier and through regional arrangements and accommodations. And thus, in regions where security concerns have been addressed, there is little or no 'demand' for weapons of mass destruction. But it should come as no surprise that regions facing a security deficit and unresolved conflict are also the regions with a continuing 'demand'.

In each of these problematic regions, the conflicts and proliferation concerns have been around for some time - in some cases sheltered or ignored. In such a regional context, the possession by one country of weapons of mass destruction provides a clear stimulus for their acquisition by others. Thus, for each of these regions, discussions of regional security cannot be de-linked from the settlement of regional disputes and must be addressed in parallel, in a comprehensive manner that takes into account the security concerns of all. A perfect security for one party may be a perfect insecurity for another.

One strategy currently emerging involves greater reliance on regional systems of security, like the one that has been developed in Europe. How effective these systems will be remains to be seen. However, in my view, the feasibility of moving forward - not only on proliferation concerns but also towards meaningful cuts in current nuclear arsenals - depends critically on our ability to develop credible alternative security strategies, strategies that do not include nuclear deterrence as a feature, strategies that are functional and upon which all States can rely with confidence.

To this end, there is an urgent need to re-energize the collective security system of 1945, as prescribed in the United Nations Charter, through a broader definition of the concept of threats to international peace and security, to encompass not only military threats but also threats that relate to the lack of good governance and the usurpation of people's sovereignty, to the desperate need for economic and social development, and to the denial of human rights. Equally important, there is an urgent need for Security Council reform to better reflect the changing realities of recent decades, and to enable the Council, through clearly defined 'rules of engagement,' not only to respond but also to prevent threats to international peace and security. Areas of reform could include: a functioning mechanism for the settlement of disputes - including as appropriate the resort to international adjudication and arbitration; a smart system of sanctions for dealing with non-compliance, adaptable to different regimes and different situations; readily available and better equipped UN forces to contain and manage incipient disputes; and agreed limitations on the use of the veto power.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding the challenges I have outlined today, I continue to believe strongly in the contributions that the multilateral treaty regimes make in preventing further proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction. It is worth recalling the words of General Omar Bradley, spoken virtually half a century ago: "We've unlocked the mysteries of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace." I trust that we will all continue to work together to prove that we have learned some lessons since General Bradley spoke those words.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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