18 January 2000

Press Release



Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annanís message to the Conference on Disarmament, delivered on his behalf by the Director General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Vladimir Petrovsky, on 18 January:

The Conference on Disarmament is a unique forum for multilateral disarmament negotiations. This first session of the twenty-first century is a new opportunity for the Conference to try to live up to its potential; to draw strength from recent achievements in some areas and to take an honest look at the lack of progress in others.

Determined efforts continued last year to combat the scourge of landmines. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction entered into force in March and its States parties held a successful first meeting in Maputo in May. The entry into force of Amended Protocol II (Landmines) to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in December 1999 was also followed by the successful conclusion of the first annual conference of its States parties last month.

The negotiations on a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention made steady progress, and the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly reinforced the growing recognition that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons is an issue of global concern. Let us hope that the decision to convene an international conference on illicit trade in small arms in 2001 will lead to comprehensive action.

But, at the same time, there was a deplorable lack of progress on the disarmament and international security issues that the international community considers the highest priority: the multilateral search for genuine measures of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and for ways to prevent an arms race in outer space. The fact that your Conference remains deadlocked on those issues is part of a wider and disturbing stagnation in the overall disarmament and non- proliferation agenda.

The START process has stalled. The entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty does not appear likely in the near term, though it is encouraging that the States involved in nuclear testing in 1998 are continuing their moratorium on further nuclear tests. A fissile material treaty has not even

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begun to be negotiated. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) review process itself, due to culminate at the next Review Conference in April, is shrouded in uncertainty. Conflicting priorities for the post-cold war era have prevented agreement on convening a fourth special session of the General Assembly on disarmament, which could set universal goals for the future.

Indeed, one of the more disturbing trends in 1999 was the emergence of new tensions between the major players over disarmament and international security issues. At the last General Assembly, concerns were expressed about both the proliferation of longer-range missiles and the development of missile defences. I strongly believe that the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty occupies an important place in the contemporary body of arms control agreements and remains the cornerstone of strategic stability. If that regime is threatened, another long- sought goal -- the prevention of an arms race in outer space -- may elude us.

Towards the end of last year's session, your Conference came very close to reaching consensus on mechanisms for dealing with both nuclear disarmament and prevention of an arms race in outer space. Such consensus would have unlocked the programme of work and allowed work to begin in earnest on a range of issues. This year, I hope you will continue your search for compromises in a spirit of flexibility and with a real sense of urgency. If you make tangible progress on items on your agenda in the first part of this session, the NPT Review Conference stands a better chance of succeeding.

The international community places great importance on your work. This is borne out by the fact that 21 States are candidates for membership and by your decision last August to admit Ecuador, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Tunisia as full members of the Conference. I hope you will not disappoint their expectations. For my part, I pledge the full cooperation of the United Nations in support of your endeavours and I wish you all a productive session.

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