An Address to the Annual Meeting of the NGO Committee on Disarmament

by Senator Douglas Roche, MPI Chairman
Dag Hammarskjold Library, United Nations
Thursday, May 18th, 2000

I believe that we are on the verge of the most important moment in disarmament since the NPT came into existence.

It is too early to celebrate and we must quickly insert the word "if" when thinking that a breakthrough was achieved this morning. But I expect that this momentum will continue. I want to begin by acknowledging the New Agenda Coalition's critical role, and recognize that the NAC is the hero of the conference.

NAC has at last been validated by the Nuclear Weapon States, which have previously made a pastime of trashing it. No longer will NAC be dismissed and pushed to the sidelines. Negotiations among the 12 states of the NAC and the NWS have produced a paper, it has not yet been formally accepted, but they are close.

We are a long way from having the elimination of nuclear weapons. We all know the NWS will fight to keep their nuclear weapons, but we must start them down the road toward elimination. The NAC recognizes that failing to do so is the greatest danger facing the world. And this is where the NAC breakthrough lies; this is an empowering moment.

What do we have? If this document is honoured, we will have:

The most important line in the document now under discussion involves the "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed under Article VI." The NWS have adopted the principle of total elimination; the word "ultimate" is gone. The challenge to nuclear deterrence is accepted.

This is the most important achievement of the NAC. The NWS' willingness to meet these proposals will be slow and recalcitrant. But we have come a long way together and our work has been validated. I feel energized today. We are being heard as never before and our work is needed as never before.

This gives us a great deal to build on. How do we build? A lot of people ask me if the "Ottawa Process" for banning anti-personnel landmines can be replicated for nuclear weapons. With all respect to the twenty-six thousand of victims of landmines, landmines are peripheral to the interests of the major powers -- nuclear weapons are central.

Nevertheless, the events unfolding at this conference lead me to believe that a new major coalition may possibly be formed, using the "Ottawa Process" as a model. First, great coalitions of like-minded states like the NAC transcend the traditional North-South and regional groupings of the international system. We know this is possible because 60 other states have already signed on to the NAC's proposals and even more supported their United Nations General Assembly resolution.

Second, the pressure from the advanced wave of civil society can maintain pressure. I do not believe that nuclear weapons have slid from the agenda of public consciousness. Look at what we have achieved with the establishment of the military leaders' statement, the religious leaders' statement and others. Abolition 2000 now has 2000 members in 94 countries. Our work has achieved a great deal and we must not stop showing up to these review conferences. We must find ways to further bring our efforts together.

We must find a way to pull together a global conference on nuclear disarmament as called for by the United Nations Secretary-General. This door has been opened, we must push it wider in order to put a worldwide spotlight on the recalcitrance of the NWS and show them that world opinion has moved beyond them.