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Hobbs Speech: on WMD at United Nations, New York

Marian Hobbs Speech: on WMD at United Nations, New York

Seminar on Weapons of Mass Destruction and the United Nations: diverse threats and collective responses

NEW YORK, 5 March 2004

Mr Secretary General, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

Welcome to this conference on the most urgent issue of our times. Other issues are pressing and important – for instance, the environment, human health, the economic imbalances that exist within and between nations. None of these issues however, vital as they are, have the potential to destroy our world tomorrow. Only Weapons of Mass Destruction can – quite literally – destroy us all.

So why did humans create weapons that can destroy our world? Oddly enough, for reasons of security. All governments seek to ensure the security of their nations, and some have, paradoxically, seen the possession of weapons of mass destruction as the best way of doing so.

Now we also face the terrifying possibility that individuals, motivated by ideology or greed and not bound by the same restraints as governments, may gain possession of weapons of mass destruction.

These weapons, created out of a wish for security, in fact pose the greatest threat in history to human security. Our ultimate security will only come from the complete and verifiable elimination of these weapons, and the assurance that they will never be produced again.

Sadly, we are some way from that ideal. So how can we move toward it?

To achieve lasting security for us all, our long-term responses will have to be collective. It is not sustainable to have any group of nations imposing standards which others do not accept. The United Nations has a well-established system of agencies that can carry out any functions that we member nations direct – it is just a question of what commitment we are willing to give them.

Most nations are already members of the treaties that outlaw chemical weapons and biological weapons entirely and for everyone. The questions in those areas are primarily about verification – how can we enforce this ban that we have agreed? How can we be entirely sure that our neighbour nations are not making chemical or biological weapons? What inspections are we prepared to allow of our own facilities? What powers are we prepared to give to the relevant multilateral bodies?

For nuclear weapons – the most powerful of all - the issues are unfortunately not quite as clear-cut. The 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons did not outlaw nuclear weapons outright for all members. It temporarily legitimised possession of nuclear weapons by five states, which undertook to work towards total elimination of their nuclear arsenals. Other treaty members agreed not to seek nuclear weapons, in return for access to the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology.

The Treaty has thus set up an odd dichotomy between nations, on which the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr ElBaradei, commented in a recent article, saying: “We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security – and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use. “

So how do we encourage the nuclear weapons states to meet their commitments to disarm? How do we discourage ‘vertical’ proliferation (that is, existing nuclear weapons states creating more or different types of nuclear weapons), as well as ‘horizontal’ proliferation (that is, the spread of nuclear weapons to new possessors)? How do we deal with treaty members that have decided to opt out or who have reneged on their non-proliferation obligations? How do we persuade the states that possess nuclear weapons, but remain outside the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, to accept the same obligations as other nations? How much power are we prepared to give to the International Atomic Energy Agency? Are we prepared somehow to compel states to sign on to stronger safeguards provisions, and to transform the Agency’s inspectors from nuclear accountants to nuclear detectives?

Are we focussing too much on the danger of individuals and terrorists gaining weapons of mass destruction, and neglecting the obligations of states?

Can we manage to control and eventually eliminate Weapons of Mass Destruction through the existing treaty systems and structures, or do we need to strengthen them or to consider new ones? These and many other related questions are currently under vigorous international debate. It is encouraging that leading figures such as US President Bush and IAEA Director-General ElBaradei are putting forward their thoughts and proposals on these vital issues, and that high-powered international groups such as the Swedish-created Independent Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on Collective Security are also considering how international structures can respond to these threats.

I am proud that the New Zealand Government is able to sponsor this conference as a forum for debate and fresh thinking. We hope that it will contribute to the other processes underway.

I congratulate David Malone and his team at the International Peace Academy on pulling together such an interesting programme of speakers and participants, and I look forward very much to participating in this meeting today.

It is a particular honour, and a true reflection of the significance of the questions before us, that the Secretary-General himself has agreed to open our proceedings today. New Zealand greatly values his contribution and leadership, and I am very pleased to welcome and thank His Excellency Mr Kofi Annan.

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