DPI/NGO Briefing
4 June, 2009

“For Peace and Development: Disarm Now!”


His Excellency Claude Heller, Ambassador of Mexico to the United States, began by discussing the importance of the upcoming 62nd DPI/NGO Annual Conference scheduled to take place in Mexico City in September 2009. Ambassador Heller expressed the view that civil society played an important role in the development of public policies, and this was why, one important element of Mexico’s foreign policy was to strengthen the participation of civil society and NGOs in the work of the international community. He spoke of Mexico’s long-standing commitment to the issue of disarmament and its active involvement in international disarmament negotiations. Mexico therefore placed great importance on the upcoming DPI/NGO Conference as well as next year’s Non-Proliferation Treaty Review (NPT) Conference.

He expressed Mexico’s eagerness to host the DPI/NGO Annual Conference despite all the different challenges that the country faced including the H1N1 influenza outbreak, which he reassured the NGO community was under control. His Excellency announced that the Conference taking place in September would be safe because security had been a priority for the government and had been effectively addressed. The Ambassador pointed to the many measures that his Government had taken to ensure that the 62nd Conference was a success. Ambassador Heller also announced that it was hoped that the UN Secretary General as well as the President of the General Assembly would participate in the inauguration of the Conference.

"Small arms were linked to high crime rates.."

Daniel Prins, Chief of the Conventional Arms Branch in the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, began by discussing the issue of disarmament and its relevance to the DPI/NGO September Conference. Mr. Prins addressed the issue of small arms, such as handguns and small rocket guns, light enough for one or two persons to carry. He noted that small handguns were a major problem because they were easily transported, and cheap and easy to operate.

Moreover, they were the only category of weapons that civilians were allowed to own. Mr. Prins asserted that the ability to own such arms placed a special responsibility not only on the owner of the weapon, but also on both national and international authorities to police the control, ownership and use of arms. He stated that a high per capita ownership of small arms was not in itself a security issue. State security, he insisted, was threatened only in cases where governments lacked control over the use and ownership of small arms by civilians. Mr. Prins contended that small arms did not create conflict, but rather that it was the excessive accumulation, easy use, and lack of control of this class of weapons that served to exacerbate conflict. Mr. Prins contended that most conflicts in the world are fought with small arms, and many criminals such as pirates, bandits and terrorists used conventional small arms as their weapons of choice.

In addition, he pointed to the direct link between armed conflict and the larger problems that stem from it, such as migration or human rights violations, carried out with the use of small arms. Most importantly, civilian populations were bearing the brunt of the casualties. Mr. Prins said that criminal violence and small arms used in conflict settings caused further instability in developing regions, particularly throughout Africa and Latin America.

Small arms were linked to high crime rates, and over the past two years there had been a realization that these two problems were much more interlinked than was previously thought. He noted that this realization was deduced from information given by peacekeepers who had confronted the issue of small arms in conflict or post-conflict regions. Mr. Prins stressed that nothing undermined foreign investment more than the violence caused by small arms, which demonstrated an overall lack of government internal control and regulation.

He called on NGOs and humanitarian organizations to address this problem as they were also directly challenged by this issue which required them to spend up to 25% of their budgets on security to protect their organizations and themselves against armed violence, instead of using it to save lives. Mr. Prins underscored: “These numbers clearly show how important it is to tackle the small arms issue as a priority.” He discussed UN actions to address the problems associated with small arms. One example he cited was the UN Program of Action on Small Arms, an agreement between member states which called on countries to improve their legislation and increase cooperation in the field of small arms. He pointed to the UN lead discussions on an Arms Trade Treaty as another initiative that the UN had taken to address the issue of small arms. However he expressed concern that despite all these efforts a lot more needed to be done to address the problem of small arms. In concluding Mr. Prins urged the international community to rethink its approach to the issue of small arms. He declared that civil society and other groups, such as humanitarian and development organizations, were essential in broadening the debate on this issue. He further stressed that because debate on the issue of small arms was typically dominated by governments, it was important that civil society insist on widening the scope of discussions on the problems of small arms.

Ferrida Berrigan, Senior Program Associate for Arms and Security Initiative of the New America Foundation, discussed the relationship between military spending and human development. Ms. Berrigan asserted that there was more military spending today than ever before. She explained that states dedicated some 1.339 trillion dollars to their military budget expenditure annually.

The U.S. accounted for half of this figure, thus making it the largest military spender in the world. Additionally, the cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, since 2001, had cost the U.S. over 900 billion dollars in defense spending. Ms. Berrigan expressed concern that basic human rights were often overlooked in pursuit of ensuring national security through expensive defense and military budgets.

Furthermore, she indicated that resources intended for human development were often diverted from the citizens who could benefit from them, and instead allocated to support wars. Ms. Berrigan stated that many government officials justified this spending as a means of providing national security. She posited two ways of understanding the concept of national security. The first, she explained, was defined by militaristic programs and stocks of nuclear and conventional arms needed to secure boarders, but she noted that this was both an expensive and ultimately “incomplete understanding’ of the concept of national security. The second approach to understanding national security was by prioritizing human development and security.

According to this concept Ms. Berrigan noted that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), were a good tool for achieving human security. She also pointed to the fact that the MDGs were urgent, necessary and achievable. The MDGs, she stated, could be achieved only if one-tenth of what all nations devoted to military spending were reallocated towards their targets. She shared with the audience that the 2006 UN Millennium Project found that the cost of meeting all the MDGs in that year would have amounted to some 121 billion dollars, yet in the same year the US spent 605 billion dollars on military expenditures.

"At the expense of human security.."

Ms. Berrigan again stressed the idea that governments must choose between national security and human security. She suggested that the choice of national security – a choice made by governments time and again – came at the expense of human security. Ms. Berrigan defined the choice of human security as encompassing “a true and lasting national security that is built on basic needs being met, and human lives that are able to fully develop.”

In her closing remarks, Ms. Berrigan identified efforts being made by two groups which addressed human development and security and at the same time sought to decrease military spending. One was the effort of the United for Peace and Justice Group, a coalition of NGOs which had appealed to United States President Barack Obama to cut military spending by 25% by 2010, and redirect the funding towards human development efforts, such as housing and green jobs. The other was an effort initiated by International Peace Bureau known as ‘Time for New Priorities: a Global Call for Action on Military and Social Spending.’ This initiative advocated the allocation of 10% of military spending to public investment for social development, in order to combat global poverty. Ms. Berrigan concluded by stressing that it was urgent to reverse the trend of prioritizing military spending over human development and put the wealth of nations in the service of people.

Rhianna Tyson, Senior Officer of the Global Security Institute, began by stating that the common objective at the United Nations was to achieve a sustainable, equitable, peaceful and just world. Ms. Tyson asserted she, and others looking to achieve this common goal were not idealistic, but in fact were ‘realistic’ who understood the reality around them. Realists, she said, understood the nature of an integrated world, where the security of one nation was necessary for that of another.

However, she stated that there was a small group of people who did not understand this interconnectedness, and instead perpetuated “the ‘Great Game’ of playing countries off one another in a zero sum calculation.” She pointed to the fact that progress in economic development was directly tied to progress in disarmament; and remarked that despite the trillions of dollars spent on nuclear weapons, states seem hard-pressed to meet the very minimum requirements of the MDGs.

“Nuclear apartheid regime...”

Ms. Tyson asserted that the mere existence of nuclear weapons served as a justification for countries to acquire them. As long as one country had the potential to use nuclear weapons against its enemies, its enemies would also need to assume to a defensive position as a means of deterrence against the country with weapons. She noted that the balance of power that existed during the Cold War was no longer a reality. There were no longer two superpowers balancing the nuclear threat, but that in today’s world multiple centres of power existed. She warned that a “nuclear apartheid regime,” where the perceived security from the possession of nuclear arms for some is denied to others was simply unsustainable.

The problem, she stated, was a misguided notion of what values were important for both the individual and society. She expressed the view that the fact that state security was valued by some over human security was a ‘symptom of our greater global insecurity’ as a result of the distortion of “our values.” She used the example of North Korea as a nation which used its extremely limited resources to develop nuclear capability thus putting its concerns over global insecurity before the well-being of its people.

Ms Tyson described this as a symptom of misguided priorities, where military spending outweighed the importance of human development. She asserted that what was needed was an articulation and agreement on a set of moral values that society held as most important. Consequently, policies on nuclear weapons would have to be weighed against these values to determine if they should be implemented. She gave the example of President Obama, who had unequivocally asserted The United States commitment to nuclear disarmament in the interests of global safety and human survival.

Though his administration had started taking steps towards this goal, there were still powerful voices in Washington trying to curb this progress. In her view, President Obama should now assess these dueling positions based on his perspective on nuclear weapons. Ms. Tyson pointed out that policies made without principles were confusing and ineffective. She concluded by saying that an effective international security regime based on the rule of law would require unprecedented international cooperation. She further suggested that progress on issues such as disarmament, economic and social development and climate change, should all be viewed as interconnected, recognizing that the success of one is contingent on the success of the another.

" The world’s total military spending for one year was equivalent to the UN budget for 600 years."

Ray Acheson, Project Director for Reaching Critical Will and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, focused her presentation on the ways in which development can be used to convince the general public that disarmament is in their interest. In her opinion, she stated, disarmament and development can be mutually reinforcing concepts. She pointed out that disarmament alone cannot solve the world’s problems; it must be followed-up by a long-term solution for sustainable security through social and economic justice, and international cooperation.

Ms. Acheson described some of the links between disarmament - nuclear and conventional - and development. She first examined the issue of military expenditure expressing the view that many governments spent excessive amounts of technological and human resources on weapons systems and their military capacity; diverting efforts away from economic, social and environmental programmes – essential for human development. The second link she put forward was the question of security.

Ms. Acheson noted that the destructive power of weapons created an atmosphere of fear, violence and instability, which impeded development by undermining social programmes and preventing economic stability and growth. A third connection she identified was the environment. Ms. Acheson said the production of weapons often impeded the use of land and water by poisoning or preventing access to natural resources. Military activity, she posited either purposefully or inadvertently, destroyed the environment. She also described the relationship between armed conflict and public health, noting that armed conflict reduced access to resources and medical care, and increased the risk of communicable diseases.

Turning her attention to defense spending and security, Ms. Acheson noted that global military expenditure was increasing faster than economic growth, and she believed that an argument that looks at the financial implications of disarmament would be the most effective tool to convince governments to stop spending on nuclear and other weapons systems. Ms. Acheson cited a study conducted in 2008 by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom on military expenditure and the MDGs. She cited a few noteworthy comparisons: for example she noted that for the price of one Littoral Combat Ship, some 6.8 million children could go to school in Afghanistan for nine years.

Similarly, for the price of a year’s worth of research, production and development of unmanned combat vehicles, the lives of 7.4 million women or infants in low-income countries who would die due to complications in pregnancy and child-birth, could be saved. She further emphasized that indeed, the world’s total military spending for one year was equivalent to the UN budget for 600 years.

Looking at human security as a link between disarmament and development Ms. Acheson contended that reducing military expenditure would not only free funds for development, but would also mean fewer weapons purchased, leading to lower levels of instability, violence and death. This would also create a more conducive environment for both disarmament and development. Decreasing military spending she insisted could also help to reduce regional and global tensions. She stressed the importance of multilateralism in providing a greater sense of security among international partners and decreasing the need for large military expenditures. Ms. Acheson concluded by emphasizing that the elimination of weapons of mass destruction would reduce international tensions, enable governments to find more productive jobs for those in weapons development and manufacturing, and create an international and domestic culture based on equality and cooperation.

Q&A Session:

During the question and answer session, queries focused on excessive military spending, the creation of domestic employment, and disarmament education, among others. Several questions addressed whether it was important to have a military budget in order to safeguard against national security threats such as terrorism and potentially use this force to promote democracy around the world.

A questioner also wanted to know whether states should completely disarm or simply reduce military spending. Ms. Acheson responded that disarmament was a process and suggested that disarmament could be achieved over time, through international cooperation and dialogue among heads of State and Government. A potential goal of such a process, she added, could in fact be the abolition of national militaries.

"Department of Peace"

Another query focused on the creation of domestic jobs in the process of disarmament, posing the question as to how citizens could be informed about what new jobs could be created in this process. Ms. Tyson responded that there was major potential for the creation of jobs in the permanent dismantling of nuclear factories and stockpiles. She noted that putting nuclear labs and development facilities to use could provide sustainable energy research. She said to date resources had not been invested appropriately to create these types of jobs. She suggested that another area where there could possibly be an increase in jobs would be though the creation of a Department of Peace. This department would envision a goal of universal peace and seek to create conditions of a world where military operations would not be necessary at the current levels they are in today’s world.

When asked whether states should reach out to countries which were opposed to disarmament such as North Korea, Mr. Prins stated that it was a good idea to work with governments that held opposing views on the issue. He expressed the view that although government was often the source of opposition to disarmament policies, that there was room for a great deal of potential cooperation if arguments supporting disarmament were presented in the right manner. He suggested that NGOs and other civil society organizations should continue to work with parliamentarians, because it is through this type of dialogue that the greatest action and influence on governments to rethink their positions on disarmament could be achieved.

A question was raised as to how children could be educated on disarmament and what work was being done to promote this. Ms. Acheson stated that a lot of work was being done and that her organization, The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom worked with groups which promoted disarmament education. She also noted that the UN had an online global teaching and learning project which could be found at that highlighted a number of issues on the UN agenda, including disarmament.

When asked what should be done when nations were threatened by states which had “no moral conscience” and further, whether disarmament would still be a good idea under such circumstances, Mr. Prins responded that disarmament in itself was a good idea. However he noted that there were also limits to the extent of the disarmament process, because for many people a world without any arms was no more secure than a world with excessive arms. He asserted that countries needed to address what constituted “excessive” arms and work on regionally agreed levels of agreement. He added that in some regions there were already agreements on acceptable levels of armaments between states. Mr. Prins maintained if these types of agreements could be operationalised as a concept, they could serve as practical solutions to the achievement of disarmament all over the world.


Prepared by Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Aicha Diallo and Jennifer Basch, United Nations, Department of Public Information, NGO Relations

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