15 July 2007

A controversy over the new Secretary General's approach to the Disarmament Department may have diverted attention from the absence of a substantive role by the U.N. on nuclear disarmament. Clearly, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Korea is the last person to be preached to about the growing tensions and risks, not only on questions with North Korea and Iran, but with other potential and actual nuclear powers. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been playing a very visible and competent role as recognized by a Nobel Prize for Peace. The nature of its work, however, is different; it is more specialized and technical while overseen by its own governing body. The U.N. has a wider, more political responsibility. It is a pity that the former Disarmament Department, during the last few years was limited to minor traveling seminars and even more limited sphere of contacts. Jayantha Dhanapala, a highly regarded international figure in the field of disarmament, played an active role when he headed that Department. He ran a decent campaign for Secretary General and paid a visit to the winner early January. After a very cordial exchange of tributes, they discussed the proposal to turn the Department into an Office. Dhanapala cautioned about the implications and eventually Mr. Ban shifted his approach in line with strong views expressed by member states. The recent appointment of Brazilian internationalist Jose Duarte reflects a tendency to deal seriously with Disarmament issues. According to expert observers, Mr. Duarte has a solid track record and the political stamina to pursue current challenges. What is needed is an overall political oversight, signaling U.N. presence and role in one of the most crucial threats to international peace and security. Perhaps the Secretary General, in consultation with Jose Duarte and others, would develop that presence which may prove crucial to his tenure.