Ban Ki-Moon tells militaries to dump nukes

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a strong new call for global nuclear disarmament on Friday in California, criticizing the size of modern military budgets and the arms industries they support.  

The secretary general has been an early-and-often advocate for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, predating his term in office. But in a sweeping review, Ban described his efforts and the disarmament movement at large in bleak terms.

“As I look at the disarmament landscape, my feelings are mixed,” Ban said, at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. “Nuclear disarmament progress is off track.”

Without citing Iran or other countries, Ban said world leaders have become too focused on the spread of nuclear weapons instead of their dismantling.

“Our aim must be more than keeping the deadliest of weapons from ‘falling into the wrong hands.’ There are no right hands for wrong weapons.”

Ban also pressed military strategists to reconsider the purpose of keeping their stockpiles.

“I urge all nuclear-armed States to reconsider their national nuclear posture. Nuclear deterrence is not a solution to international peace and stability. It is an obstacle.”

In the U.S., arms control watchers hope the Obama administration, with support from Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, will enter into new talks with Russia on reductions. Conservatives in Congress have expressed their fear that Hagel would back so-called unilateral nuclear reductions -- meaning the U.S. would cut its stocks without a commitment from Russia to do the same.

“I was surprised to see him be fairly blunt,” said Jon Wolfsthal, deputy director at the institute and former special advisor to Vice President Joe Biden for nuclear security. Wolfsthal said Ban’s speech may not necessarily help or hurt Obama’s efforts with opponents in Congress, but certainly reflects a want to see progress soon.

“I think there is a pent up desire to see more aggressive action,” he said, and the hope among arms control community is that the Obama administration is ready to take on disarmament.

Without mentioning either country, Ban on Friday argued that nuclear states should take their own initiative to reduce their arsenals. “My advice, my appeal to all, is this: Be a first mover. Don’t look to others or to your neighbors to start disarmament and arms control measures. If you take the lead, others will follow.”

“I think there’s a very good chance the administration is going to set our requirement for nuclear weapons lower than it currently stands,” Wolfsthal said, and take that number to the Russians to see if they’ll meet the U.S. at lower levels.

Ban has a long personal history on disarmament. He was vice-chair of the South-North Korea Joint Nuclear Control Commission in 1992, and he chaired a 1999 panel on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. “As United Nations Secretary-General, one of my first decisions was to restructure our disarmament office and re-energize its work,” he said.

Ban laid the nuclear dilemma at the feet of national security planners, roughly less than one month before the president typically releases the annual federal budget request to Congress.

“The world spends more on the military in one month than it does on development all year,” he argued. “And four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organizations combined. The world is over-armed. Peace is under-funded. Bloated military budgets promote proliferation, derail arms control, doom disarmament and detract from social and economic development. The profits of the arms industry are built on the suffering of ordinary people -- in Mali, Syria, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“At the foot of the pyramid lie small arms. At the top are nuclear weapons. I will continue to use my moral authority and convening power to advocate for disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear security.”

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