A New Ground Zero - By BAN KI-MOON

The New York Times, Published: April 28, 2010

A few weeks ago, traveling in Kazakhstan, I had the sobering experience of standing at Ground Zero. This was the notorious test site at Semipalatinsk, where the Soviet Union detonated 456 nuclear weapons between 1947 and 1989.

Apart from a circle of massive concrete plinths, designed to measure the destructive power of the blasts, there was little on the vast and featureless steppe to distinguish this place. Yet for decades it was an epicenter of the Cold War ? like similar sites in the United States, a threat to life on our planet. Its dark legacy endures: poisoned rivers and lakes, children suffering from cancer and birth defects.

Today, Semipalatinsk has become a powerful symbol of hope. On Aug. 29, 1991, shortly after independence, the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, closed the site and abolished nuclear weapons. It was a tangible expression of a dream that has long eluded us ? a world free of nuclear weapons.

Now, for the first time in a generation, we can be optimistic. On the day I visited Semipalatinsk, President Barack Obama announced a review of the United States? nuclear posture. Leading by example, it renounced the development of new nuclear weapons and foreswore their first use against nations in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT. Two days later, President Obama and the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitri Medvedev, signed a new START treaty in Prague ? a fresh start on a truly noble aspiration.

Momentum is building around the world. Governments and civil society groups, often at odds, have begun working in common cause.

At the recent nuclear security summit in Washington, 47 world leaders agreed to do whatever is necessary to keep such weapons and materials safe. Their shared sense of urgency reflects an accepted reality. Nuclear terrorism is not a Hollywood fantasy. It can happen.

The United Nations is destined to be at the center of these efforts. Just recently, the UN. General Assembly held a special debate on nuclear disarmament and security. This in itself grew out of a five-point nuclear action plan that I had proposed, in late 2008, as well as an historic summit meeting of the Security Council last September.

On Monday, leaders come together at the United Nations for the periodic NPT review conference. Their last gathering, five years ago, was an acknowledged failure. This year, by contrast, we can look for advances on a range of issues.

We should not be unrealistic in our expectations. But neither can we afford to lose this opportunity for progress: on disarmament; on compliance with non-proliferation commitments, including the pursuit of a nuclear weapons free-zone in the Middle East; on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Looking ahead, I have proposed a U.N. conference later this year to review the implementation of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. We will host a ministerial-level meeting to push the pace on bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force, and I have urged leaders to begin negotiations for a binding treaty on fissile materials. In October, the General Assembly will consider more than 50 resolutions on various nuclear issues. Our aim: to take the many small steps, today, that will set the stage for a larger breakthrough tomorrow.

All this work reflects the priorities of our member states, shaped in turn by public opinion. Everyone recognizes the catastrophic danger of nuclear weapons. Just as clearly, we know the threat will last as long as these weapons exist. The Earth?s very future leaves us no alternative but to pursue disarmament. And there is little prospect of that without global cooperation.

Where, if not at the United Nations, could we look for such cooperation? Bilateral and regional negotiation can accomplish much, but long-lasting and effective cooperation on a global scale requires more. The United Nations is that forum, along with the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

The U.N. is the world?s sole universally accepted arena for debate and concord, among nations as well as broader society. It serves not only as a repository of treaties but also of information documenting their implementation. It is a source of independent expertise, coordinating closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The United Nations stands today at a new Ground Zero ? a ?ground zero? for global disarmament, no longer a place of dread but of hope. Those who stand with us share the vision of a nuclear-free world. If ever there were a time for the world?s people to demand change, to demand action beyond the cautious half measures of the past, it is now.

Ban Ki-moon is secretary general of the United Nations


Conference on Disarmament, in Geneva, 20 January 2009

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's message to the Conference on Disarmament, delivered by Sergei Ordzhonikidze, Director-General, United Nations Office at Geneva, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, in Geneva, 20 January 2009:

It is a pleasure to send greetings to the Conference on Disarmament. As you know, one of my personal priorities since my first day in office has been to revitalize the international disarmament agenda and strengthen the effectiveness of the United Nations itself in this area. I, therefore, attach great importance to your work and to the wide-ranging efforts of Governments, citizens' groups and activists throughout the world in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation. From conventional weapons and small arms to weapons of mass destruction, the risks are clear. I remain committed to using every opportunity, in my meetings with Government leaders and my outreach to civil society, to forge partnerships and mobilize action. I look forward to continuing this work with you in 2009.

The immediate task before the Conference is to convert your discussions on procedure into practical negotiations that will lead to real disarmament. At a time of global economic and financial crisis, advancing the disarmament agenda could produce a tangible peace dividend when the world needs it most. The United Nations Charter calls for "the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources". If we are to deliver on the Millennium Development Goals in a deteriorating economic climate, all United Nations Member States must be mindful of this solemn responsibility.

There have been promising signs in recent months, including important initiatives by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, the European Union, the non-aligned countries and other Governments. Civil society continues to generate visibility and support. The United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament should seize this moment and be in the vanguard of efforts towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

Last October, I issued a five-point proposal to revitalize the international disarmament agenda. Included in this proposal were several specific contributions that could be made by the Conference on Disarmament with respect to nuclear disarmament and fissile materials. Indeed, this Conference and its predecessors have an impressive record of achievement, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. These instruments demonstrate the potential of the Conference.

For two consecutive years, a proposal to begin substantive work on four core issues -- nuclear disarmament, fissile materials, security assurances and the prevention of an arms race in outer space has been at the centre of your deliberations. The Conference has come very close to agreeing to this proposal.

Your recent discussions have had many positive features. These discussions, however, cannot substitute for negotiations. I urge you once again to overcome the deadlock and reach a consensus on an agenda that will permit the resumption of substantive work. I also call on you to intensify your efforts on measures that have already been the subject of your deliberations, including new bans on weapons such as missiles and space weapons. The Conference is a unique multilateral negotiating forum, and must be able to play its proper role.

For my part, I remain strongly committed to global disarmament and will continue to support your efforts to build a better, more prosperous and more peaceful world for all. Please accept my best wishes for a successful session.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon