Skip to main content

Lunchtime seminar to mark the 30th anniversary of UNIDIR

Sergei Ordzhonikidze

9 juillet 2010
Lunchtime seminar to mark the 30th anniversary of UNIDIR

Opening remarks by Mr. Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference

Lunchtime seminar to mark the 30th anniversary of UNIDIR
“Ideas for Disarmament and Security Thinking: Why Research Matters”

Palais des Nations, Room XXV
Thursday, 8 July 2010 at 13:00

Ms. Hitchens
Distinguished speakers
Ladies and Gentlemen
Dear Colleagues and Friends:

First of all, let me congratulate UNIDIR. Congratulations on 30 years of comprehensive research. Congratulations on 30 years of raising awareness of the need for multilateral disarmament. Congratulations on 30 years of expert debates that have created a space for disarmament diplomats to engage outside the formal structures. Together, all of these efforts have positioned UNIDIR as a distinguished and respected research institute and a key member of the United Nations disarmament family. I appreciate that many members of that extended family are with us today to join in the celebration. This is not only because real birthdays are celebrated with family and friends – and you certainly have many of those. But also because it shows the United Nations’ collective commitment to the cause of disarmament, which you have championed so effectively over the past 30 years.

The United Nations was founded on the belief that disarmament was essential for the maintenance of international peace and security. As many of you know, the very first resolution adopted in the General Assembly, only a few months after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, referred to the elimination of nuclear weapons. While political realities have at times constrained the progress possible, the conviction of the necessity of disarmament and the commitment to realizing it remains as strong today as when the Organization was founded.

UNIDIR was created on the basis of a proposal put forward by France during the First Special Session of the General Assembly Devoted to Disarmament in 1978. The Special Session was also followed by the establishment of the Conference on Disarmament as the world’s single negotiating body on disarmament. This is probably another reason that we have a special bond with UNIDIR. The First Special Session represented in many ways a defining moment in the history of multilateral disarmament. I think that today – 30 years on – we are facing an equally defining moment. And my hope is that we may capitalize on it just as the international community did then to make a real difference to people’s lives through disarmament.

We have indeed seen important developments over the past year. The Security Council Summit in September of last year, followed later by the bilateral agreement between the US and the Russian Federation to cut their nuclear arsenals and by the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April 2010, and most recently the positive outcome of the NPT Review Conference have all helped to create a measure of momentum for multilateral disarmament. This still needs to be matched by substantive progress in the Conference on Disarmament. The adoption of a programme of work in the Conference on Disarmament in May of last year brought with it high hopes of a breakthrough after over a decade of stalemate. We do need to deliver on those hopes. And that is why this is a key moment for multilateral disarmament.

As you know, the Secretary-General has decided to convene on 24 September, in the margins of the General Assembly, a high-level meeting of United Nations Member States to discuss multilateral disarmament in general and the Conference on Disarmament in particular. I hope that Member States will seize this unique opportunity to show the political leadership and will that has – in the past – led to great advances on disarmament.

In this atmosphere, the mandate and work of UNIDIR remains as relevant and as needed as ever. There is a continuing need for sustained, forward-looking research to inform and guide debates at the multilateral level. Objective and factual studies and analyses are critical to promoting informed participation by all States in arms control and reduction of armaments. This not only raises the level of awareness and knowledge, but can also serve to stimulate initiatives for new negotiations. UNIDIR’s responsiveness to current disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control developments and initiatives is a distinguishing feature and a particular strength of the Institute. In my experience, UNIDIR has its feet squarely on the ground. Its orientation is largely, but not exclusively, towards what can be achieved in the real world.

UNIDIR’s research can truly be described as applied research. It also strives to stand back from the day-to-day realities that face disarmament negotiators and to offer ideas on new ways of looking at the challenges before us. Diplomats who are caught in the daily business of diplomatic engagement on behalf of their Governments do not often have the possibility to concentrate on forward-looking reflection and to find original angles and approaches to their dossiers. And, diplomats are trained to be cautious – I know this, because I was one myself! In this connection, I should like to commend UNIDIR on the successful seminars on different issues on the Conference on Disarmament agenda. These have enabled in-depth exchanges, in a constructive atmosphere, among experts and diplomats and with the participation of civil society. This has given depth, nuance and – most importantly – new perspectives – to the discussions.

UNIDIR has also been at the forefront of efforts on disarmament as humanitarian action. I am sure that many of you will recall the debate held to mark UNIDIR’s 25th anniversary under the theme “Human security should be the fundamental basis for multilateral disarmament and arms control negotiations”.

This approach has begun to take on a life of its own. It began in the context of conventional weapons, such as landmines and cluster munitions. More recently, it has been espoused in the context of nuclear weapons. The final document of the NPT Review Conference in May expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic human consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and reaffirmed “the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.” This is an important acknowledgement of the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons, which was largely absent from international debates on this topic earlier. To me, this is a strong example of how UNIDIR has fulfilled its key objective of facilitating progress towards greater security.

Dear Friends:

UNIDIR has witnessed the “ups” and the also the “downs” of multilateral disarmament over 30 years – born in the middle of the Cold War, coming of age in a period of progress in the mid-1990s and reaching adulthood at the turn of the Millennium when disarmament developments slowed down, while military expenditure went up. Through all of this, UNIDIR has provided input and impetus to multilateral disarmament. I hope that you will build on these accomplishments, and I know that the entire United Nations disarmament family stands ready to work with you on this. And I trust that together we will limit the “downs” and increase the “ups” of disarmament for safer and more prosperous world for all.

Happy birthday!

Thank you very much.

This speech is part of a curated selection from various official events and is posted as prepared.