NEW YORK U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday warned that nuclear conflict remains a “very real and very terrifying possibility.”
“Quite frankly, much of the established multilateral disarmament machinery has started to rust a problem due not to the machinery itself but to the apparent lack of political will to use it,” Mr. Annan said at the start of a monthlong conference to review the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Nuclear conflict remains a very real and very terrifying possibility at the beginning of the 21st century. This is the stark reality confronting you today,” he said.
The U.N. conference was called to review a 1968 treaty signed by 187 countries in which non-nuclear states agreed not to try to develop or acquire nuclear weapons on condition the nuclear nations pursue disarmament. The treaty was extended indefinitely in 1995 with the Clinton administration’s strong support.
Each of the signatories to the treaty is participating in the conference to review the last five years of nonproliferation efforts. Few tried to paint a happy picture, however U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright defended the United States’ nuclear disarmament record.
“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall … the United States alone has dismantled about 60 percent of our nuclear weapons,” said Mrs. Albright.
Late last year the U.S. Senate voted against ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, even though the Clinton administration was one of its most passionate supporters.
However, Mrs. Albright countered that she is “convinced that America will sign the CTBT and thus help to ensure that the nuclear arms race becomes a relic of the 20th century, not a recurring nightmare of the 21st.”
Several speakers criticized Washington’s efforts to revive the National Missile Defense system and to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Washington was often contrasted with the Russian State Duma, which has in the last two weeks embraced both the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and START II.
Mrs. Albright sought to deflect criticism of America’s “star wars” antimissile system.
“If the Clinton administration were bent on sabotaging the ABM Treaty and strategic arms control, we have surely gone about it in a strange way in the open, with care, and in consultation not only with Congress, but after extensive discussions with our allies and other countries, Russia and China emphatically included,” she said.
She also appeared to put rogue states on notice.
“The world has changed dramatically in the almost three decades since the ABM Treaty was signed … and there is no good reason it cannot be amended again to reflect new threats from third countries outside the strategic deterrence regime.”
Later, at a news conference, Mrs. Albright said North Korea and Iran posed the threats.
Nuclear testing by India and Pakistan in 1998 has fueled complaints that the United States, Russia and the others have not taken steps toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Those complaints are expected to be aired during the four-week conference.
A group of seven nations Mexico, New Zealand, Egypt, South Africa, Sweden, Brazil and Ireland considered politically moderate called for negotiations “without delay” to achieve nuclear disarmament. Fifty-three nations endorsed the agenda.