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Statement By H.E. Arch. Renato R. MARTINO
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
before the First Committee of the General Assembly
on Item 76
General and Complete Disarmament*

New York, 14 October 1999


Mr. Chairman,

At this last meeting of the Committee in this century, our eyes naturally look to the horizon, to scan what is ahead in the 21st century. But before doing so, we must reflect on the century about to close in order to learn from experience.

With profound sorrow, we must record that the war deaths in the 20th century were much greater in number than all the war deaths in previous centuries from the first century A.D. More than 110 million people were killed in this century’s wars. Nor has the killing diminished in the last decade of the century, the so-called post-Cold War period. East Timor, Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq, Bosnia, North Ireland, Haiti, The Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka: these are just some of the affected areas from nearly all the regions of the world whose hopes for growth and prosperity were stifled by chronic conflicts.

Despite the undoubted advance of civilization as a whole, acts of barbarism in our time have sunk to new depravities. Exterminations, genocide, mass killings, deportation, tortures in the extreme have scarred the memory of this century. Distinctions between military combatants and civilians have disappeared; human rights violations against women and children occur in unprecedented numbers. In the past decade, two million children have been killed in armed conflicts; four to five million more have been disabled and more than 12 million made homeless. Terror and violence, now so common, speak of deliberate victimization.

Such brutality must be stopped by international legal authority. The carnage occurring within States, as well as the conflict between States, must be addressed by competent legal authority operating under the mandate of the United Nations Security Council. We will not be able to build a path to peace in the 21st century unless there is universal recognition and acceptance that the Security Council is the pre-eminent authority in enforcing peace and security.

We are daily witnesses to cruel wars and massacres that go far beyond all humanitarian norms and in which civilians are often both victims and protagonists. Such conflicts are fed by the availability of small arms and light weapons. The Holy See has repeatedly urged that effective measures be taken to stem the trade of these arms and continues to support them. However important international or regional measures may be, they will not be effective unless States establish national controls on the sale and transfer of such weapons.

Still further measures must be taken to stem the illicit sale and transfer of small arms and light weapons. They continue to find their way into the hands of irregular forces, guerrillas and terrorists and also play a nefarious role in drug cartels and organized crime syndicates. In this regard, it is encouraging to note the growing attention being given to the control of the sale of ammunition for these weapons. It is also important to continue to reinforce practical disarmament measures by which arms, used in internal conflicts, are collected and destroyed with the agreement of all concerned. This is a peace-building measure and also assures that the same arms will not be used to kill still other innocent victims.

The First Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Total Elimination of Landmines has given witness to what determined will of States can achieve in the field of small arms. Every effort must be made to make it universal and implement fully its provisions. Anti-personnel landmines must be totally eliminated in the name of humanity. The peaceful development of many societies will be hindered until the mine clearance process is also completed Adequate funding must be assured for both the removal of landmines and their destruction.

While militarism of all kinds must be checked, the abolition of nuclear weapons is the prerequisite for peace in the 21st century. What has been promised for a long time by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) must be achieved.

Despite all the difficulties in achieving full compliance with the NPT, the Holy See never wavers from what its Delegation has said previously in this Committee: «Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century. They cannot be justified. They deserve condemnation. The preservation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty demands an unequivocal commitment to their abolition. This is a moral challenge, a legal challenge, and a political challenge. That multiple-based challenge must be met by the application of our humanity» (Statements of the Holy See before the First Committee of the 52nd and 53rd Sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, 15 Oct. 1997 & 19 Oct. 1998).

The Holy See favours a new set of «Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament» to be adopted at the 2000 Review of the NPT. The new Principles and Objectives, building on the 1995 work, should reinforce the political accountability that is critical to the vitality and viability of the NPT process.

It should be an immediate objective of the international community to eliminate non-strategic nuclear weapons, de-alert strategic weapons by removing warheads from delivery vehicles, establish a legally-binding negative security assurances regime, and secure from the Nuclear Weapons States a pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

At the same time, the Conference on Disarmament should help the NPT process by commencing substantive discussions on all nuclear disarmament issues. This could encourage and expand the START process, which all the Nuclear Weapons States should join.

Various new initiatives are opening the way to progress in some of the more pressing areas of nuclear disarmament. In view of the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the Nuclear Weapons States will, moreover, be called to give proof of their determination to move towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. Without progress in this field, it will be difficult to advance in the implementation of all the provisions of the Treaty and to achieve its much needed universality.

Chemical and biological weapons stand along side nuclear arms as a threat to all of humanity. As State Party to the Convention, the Holy See will continue to urge all States to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention without delay. Its stringent verification procedures guarantee its full observance and yet protect national interests in other fields of chemical production. The Holy See would welcome similar measures as regards the Biological Weapons Treaty and urges that the negotiation of a verification protocol to the Treaty be given all the attention it merits at present. The conscience of humanity must make it strikingly clear that all weapons of mass destruction violate the very principles of peaceful co-existence, collaboration and solidarity among nations and peoples.

Mr. Chairman,

This Committee has done valuable work through the years. Now, on the threshold of not just a new century but of a new Millennium, let us pause to put our work in focus. It is not just the details of resolutions that should command our attention; rather it is the sweep of history.

History is calling us forward, to use the blossoming of our intelligence and the new-found technological prowess to prevent war. Diplomatic initiatives, civil society support and most of all political will are required to nourish the international community’s desire for peace. We are blessed that new techniques of early warning of conflict are available, along with the tools of preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-building. Powerful new tools to prevent war include confidence-building measures, transparency and information exchange, mutual constraints on force deployments, negotiated reductions in armed forces, and restriction on the arms trade.

All these approaches to peace need to be combined into a unified program to prevent war. A comprehensive approach, reflecting new ways of thinking, new understandings and new solutions to security, will strengthen existing peace-making and disarmament programs.

It may indeed take a long time to build a permanent global security system. But taken in phases, people would take heart that movement to fulfil a vision is occurring. Sequenced steps, making war rare along the way, will save thousands of lives and huge sums of money. The length of time to achieve the goal of a world without war should not deter us from starting now. Without such a program, the killing will continue.

Mr. Chairman,

We must begin the new Millennium with the firm conviction that war is not inevitable. War and mass violence usually result from deliberate political decisions. Rather than intervening in violent conflicts after they have erupted and then engaging in post-conflict peace-building, it is more humane and more efficient to prevent such violence in the first place. This is the essence of a culture of peace approach.

Overcoming our sadness at the past, we must take hope in the future. As the third Millennium dawns, we must re-dedicate ourselves to sharing in God’s continued development of the planet. We have the ability to build peace in the new Millennium. That is our great strength. Let us join to create the political will to establish such a culture of peace.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

*A/C.1/54/PV.6 p.4-6.