"No ‘Right’ Hands for the Wrong Weapons"
I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a lecture on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament by the UNSG Ban Ki-moon (BKM) yesterday at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (Jan. 18th, 2013), during which, some important and meaningful points were raised that require serious concentration and commitment on behalf of the international, private citizens, and the future generation of world leaders and international policy professionals.
BKM’s lecture focused on “five linked and mutually reinforcing points” (watch the full lecture here): accountability; the rule of law; partnerships; the role of the Security Council; and education. Each point provided useful insight and suggestions on the path towards a nuclear free world and disarmament, however, he was quite cavalier in stating that the United Nations, the Security Council, and the international community as a whole, has really dropped the ball over the course of what he described as a “decade of inertia.” Among the failures over the years have been conventions that achieve little to no real progress, weak treaties and regulations on test bans, and world superpowers, such as the United States, that verbally back the concepts of non-proliferation and disarmament, yet refuse to follow the rules themselves.
Without quality leadership “by example,” said BKM, little progress is likely to be made. At the beginning of the lecture, BKM stated that there are “no right hands for the wrong weapons,” which, in my opinion, was directed at the US for its insistance that it is capable of handling nuclear weapons, while other countries cannot and should not. This type of hypocrisy is a heavy burden to carry, especially considering the fact that other armed nations, such as China, North Korea, Pakistan and India, are not likely to follow UN and international sanctions if the US doesn’t show willingness to do the same.
Overall, the human toll of having nuclear, chemical and biological weapons around the world is potentially a huge price to pay for what many argue is necessary for national security. In addition to the direct human toll in the event of a nuclear, bio, chemical, or other type of WMD, there is a latent cost that is less obvious, but is imminently threatening millions of people around the world; the lack of funding for development programs around the world that are designed to protect vulnerable populations, relieve poverty, increase education, and so on.
According to BKM, the UN has a budget of about $10 billion a year, which pays all of its employees, funds NGOs, and provides peacekeeping missions around the world on a daily basis. In contrast, global military expenditures total to about $1.7 trillion a year. The UN catchphrase for this is “the world is overarmed and peace is underfunded.”
Other topics covered by the Secretary-General included a nuclear free Middle East and his hopes for President Obama keeping his initial election promise to take a hardline stance on nuclear disarmament.
While each point merited attention, BKM’s discussion of the role of education and academia to renew its efforts to put the nuclear arms issue on the front burner really caught my attention, as multiple non-proliferation and terrorism studies and international policy studies graduate studies hung on every word of the lecture. It is for this very reason that he decided to make an appearance at the Monterey Institute; as it is deeply committed to this, and other highly pressing issues. The institute’s James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies is regarded as a definitive leader on the subject and trainer of future nuclear policy leaders and experts.
As these students complete their respective programs, I do not doubt for a second that the experience of listening to the UN Secretary-General speak passionately and frankly about their future line of work will remain with them for many years to come.
I know I am unlikely to forget it anytime soon.