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Disarmament to save humanity: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the UNSG’s Agenda for Disarmament

The GCSP, in co-operation with several Geneva-based institutions, has co-organised the first edition of a series of informal discussions called ‘Geneva Dialogues’ on:  “Securing our Common Future: Taking forward the UN Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament”. On 27 June 2018, this first event addressed “Disarmament to Save Humanity: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the UNSG’s Agenda for Disarmament”. It focused on engaging with the Secretary-General’s ideas to tackle weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and other strategic weapons.

In his video introducing his Agenda, the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) stressed that his initiative aimed, in particular, at practical actions to prevent the catastrophe that would result from the use of nuclear weapons.

Marc Finaud (GCSP) explained the rationale for the initiative of the ‘Geneva Dialogues’. In expanding on the UNSG’s agenda, John Borrie (UNIDIR) noted that the Agenda reflected a number of concerns by Member States about the deteriorating international security environment. He outlined three points by which to guide the discussion: the importance of moving towards eliminating nuclear weapons; seeking to ensure respect for norms against chemical and biological weapons; and lastly preventing the emergence of new destabilizing weapon systems.

On the panel of respondents, Ambassador Matthew Rowland (United Kingdom), while maintaining that nuclear weapons contributed to world stability, recognized the entrenched divide with those who disagree and expressed scepticism as to the possibility of bridging this divide.

For her part, Ambassador Maria del Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico) argued that so long as some states believed in the idea that WMD could ensure security, they would find it difficult to engage in disarmament negotiations. She called on nuclear-weapon states to implement their past commitments and rejected the opposition between security concerns and humanitarian considerations.

Ms Anne Kemppainen (EU Delegation) emphasized the importance of the Agenda, resulting from the political weight of the UNSG and his comprehensive approach to security. What was source of concern was the deterioration of the multilateral rules-based system and the eroding universal norms about WMD, as well as the polarization of differences between western and non-western states.

Prof Grégoire Mallard (Graduate Institute) offered a sociological perspective, arguing that, contrary to the UNSG’s statement that we have re-entered a cold war, today’s world was more complex and uncertain, with important new actors such as multinational companies remaining outside the scope of international legal action.

Dr Filippa Lentzos (King’s College) interpreted the Agenda as a call on Member States to revalue disarmament. Focusing on the chemical and biological risk, she argued that a larger-scale initiative was needed, including a Science & Technology network to advise the UNSG and a Science & Security agenda.

The next event of the Geneva Dialogues series will take place on 15 August on “Disarmament that Saves Lives”.