The relevance of multilateral disarmament today under the microscope at the latest Vienna Conversation Series event

May 23rd, 2022

On 11 May, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) Vienna Office hosted another edition of the Vienna Conversation Series, entitled “Global Challenges and Opportunities for Multilateral Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control: A conversation with Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs”. Over 260 participants tuned in, both in-person and online, for the interactive dialogue, moderated by Ms. Elena Sokova, Executive Director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP).

From left to right: Ms. Elena Sokova (Executive Director of VCDNP), Ms. Rebecca Jovin (Chief of UNODA Vienna Office), and Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu (UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs)

Ms. Nakamitsu opened the discussion highlighting global challenges that multilateral processes in general, and disarmament and non-proliferation processes in particular, are facing today. The war in Ukraine poses a serious challenge to the global order and to the international security architecture. However, Ms. Nakamitsu underscored that stresses on the global non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament regime predate the Ukraine war, notably with rising tensions between nuclear-armed States, trillions being spent on the modernization of weapons, the spread of dangerous rhetoric on the utility of nuclear weapons, the emergence of potential new domains of conflict, and the far-reaching implications of emerging technologies for security. Despite the grim picture, Ms. Nakamitsu urged not to consider arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation to be utopian ideals and recalled historic examples of multilateral and bilateral instruments coming out of times of crisis. She highlighted opportunities for the international community to reverse these trends, tackle the imminent threat posed by nuclear weapons and to re-evaluate old strategies for disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control. In this regard, the First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), upcoming in June, and the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in August will be crucial milestones. Concerning the latter, the High Representative underscored the importance of States seizing this opportunity to protect and preserve the health of the Treaty, reaffirming of the non-use principle and advancing practical and pragmatic risk-reduction measures. Constructive, professional, flexible and substantive dialogue will be critical to achieving this.

Most in-person participants were representatives from Permanent Missions; half of them were women

The introductory remarks were followed by a Q&A discussion with participants both in the room and online. Prompted by a question from the public, Ms. Nakamitsu highlighted the need for a common understanding that nuclear weapons are a shared problem that the international community must tackle together. Fresh thinking and a new vision for disarmament that includes a strong focus on confidence-building and transparency will be needed in light of present challenges. Processes such as the UN Secretary-General’s Common Agenda including its New Agenda for Peace offer opportunities in this regard. The High Representative acknowledged the existing tensions between a growing reliance of deterrence-based security and the realization of the catastrophic implications of any use of nuclear weapons – by accident, miscalculation or otherwise. She expressed hope for pragmatism and constructive dialogue in conjunction with upcoming milestone events, including the NPT Review Conference and TPNW First Meeting of States Parties. As part of the discussion, Ms. Nakamitsu also addressed issues of inclusivity in disarmament decision-making as both the right and smart thing to do. She reaffirmed the need to cultivate the public’s interest in arms control and non-proliferation. This can be done through new strategies for education, training and empowerment of youth and women in disarmament. She called for more investments in diplomacy, precisely because we are living in an exceptionally dangerous and difficult time.

A full recording of the event is available on UNODA’s Disarmament Education website.

Ms. Nakamitsu addressed questions received from the Vienna-based diplomatic community and the public on timely issues related to disarmament and international, national, and human security