www.mfat.govt.nz www.safetravel.govt.nz
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.
.BlogsEventsFeaturesImage galleriesMediaMFAT speeches20072008200920102011201220132014Media contact informationMedia updateMinisters releasesPublications

Ministry Statements and Speeches 2012

Informal Meeting of the General Assembly to mark the Observance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests - The Role of the United Nations in Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Panel comments by HE Jim McLay, Permanent Representative, New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations, 6 September 2012

I join those who have complimented the Kazakhstan mission and Ambassador Aitimova on the initiative that results in this meeting; we are privileged to be involved.

Nuclear weapons and their proliferation pose an ongoing threat to humanity – the PGA rightly spoke of a "looming threat of nuclear destruction"; and addressing their impact has been a fundamental mission of this United Nations since its establishment.  And, right from the outset, the UN has been willing to assume that role, albeit with varying measure of success.  The first-ever resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 1946 included proposals for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction”.  

And here we are, sixty-six years later; we've achieved a lot, but our efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons remain as urgent as ever – and they also remain as unfulfilled as ever.

In keeping with Ambassador Thoth’s call for all states to provide leadership, New Zealand is a long-standing supporter of efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons; and, in the recent past, has marked the 25th anniversaries of the Treaty of Rarotonga which established the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, and of our own nuclear-free legislation.

In addition to the obvious "hard security" risks and the ongoing threat to humanity, we are also concerned that nuclear weapons programmes continue to consume so much of the world’s resources - resources that could be better spent on social and economic development. 

To work, in a meaningful way, towards a world free of nuclear weapons, we are active many fronts, consistent with our view that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing, and thus require equal attention.  We support efforts elsewhere on the issue of nuclear security; but, above all, in this UN context, New Zealand believes that this organisation has a critical role to play in respect of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation – because, very clearly, if we are to make progress, a multi-faceted, multilateral solution is required - and, as we pursue that solution, the UN is uniquely placed to provide “the big picture” perspective and is uniquely placed as the only global organisation with both legitimacy and universality.  Indeed, at no other time in human history have we had a body of such scope; and we should be using that attribute to ensure that the UN plays a full nuclear disarmament role.

The UN can provide much needed leadership on all these issues – indeed, I acknowledge that, over over many years, it has sought to do just that.  So, in that context, we welcome statements by the Secretary General promoting the need to view nuclear disarmament through a broader “human security” prism.

More specifically, the Secretary General has recently made a number of important proposals which are worthy of our collective attention - actions that would be complementary to other frameworks, such as the steps agreed to in the NPT context, particularly in 2000 and 2010.  And he recently said that, “the solution clearly lies in greater efforts to by States to harmonise their actions to achieve common ends”. 

We agree.  Collective, harmonised action is required. 

Sadly, however, despite some achievements, generally, the UN has a mixed track record on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  While there are some bright spots, overall progress has been slow; and, internationally, much that has been achieved has been outside the UN system. 

Even so, the UN can still play a vital role; but we should be concerned that the opportunities provided by the UN’s disarmament machinery are not being fully embraced - a shortcoming that understandably hinders the UN’s ability to deliver on disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control objectives.

Let's be more specific:  New Zealand has made clear its extreme disappointment that the Conference on Disarmament has not met its negotiating mandate for more than 15 years.  That’s us; that’s our United Nations; that’s our Conference on Disarmament; and that’s our appalling record; all the more appalling given the gravity of the issues. 

We - the UN's Member States - must take urgent action to rectify that situation.  At the end of the day, this United Nations is the sum total of - and is no more than - the sum total of its 193 members states; it's a reflection of our collective conscience and concerns; it’s a reflection of our willingness to act to achieve our collective goals. And, when it comes to Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, we know the conscience and the concerns of the clear majority of UN member states, not least as evidenced by the fact that more than one hundred of them – more than one hundred of us - are part of nuclear-weapon-free zones. 

All that means that the UN is and should remain a champion for a nuclear-weapon-free world.  That must remain our goal; the task – the challenge - is to break out of 15 years of CD paralysis - and to break out of 66 years of dodging the big issues.

But I fear that, after a few encouraging years, we may now be entering a new and potentially dangerous period for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  The positive NPT outcome of 2010 has given new momentum to nuclear disarmament pillar of the NPT regime (an outcome for which praise is due both to the United States, which came with an open mind and a willingness to agree new proposals, and to the chairman, Ambassador Cabactulan of the Philippines).  But as we've seen before, such progress can be altered, almost in an instant.

That can only be averted by a continued commitment from the nuclear weapons states, something that’s all the more critical as we approach elections and leadership transitions.  But the commitment of non-nuclear weapons states is also critical – and that includes a commitment to treating disarmament processes with the seriousness they deserve, a commitment to remove the roadblocks that have, in the past, hampered serious multilateral negotiations, and a commitment to make and to join others in any consensus that might move matters forward.

The next serious test will be the 2015 NPT RevCon.  But, even before that, we need to see concrete progress towards convening a regional conference on establishing a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East.  I’ve got no illusions about the challenge inherent in that particular process – even in getting everyone to the table – but it is clear that progress there is very important to the ongoing vitality of the NPT regime.

Overall, however, the world needs the moral reference points and the stabilising diplomatic frameworks that can be provided by multilateral disarmament mechanisms.  And then we, as member states, need to do better at making those mechanisms work for us, and to work for the better of humanity.

That's the challenge for the future; and that's the challenge we should be debating today.

top of page

< Back

Page last updated: Wednesday, 09 January 2013 14:49 NZDT