Last month, competing interests prevented agreement on a much-needed treaty that would have reduced the appalling human cost of the poorly regulated international arms trade. Meanwhile, nuclear disarmament efforts remain stalled, despite strong global popular sentiment in support of this cause.
The failure of these negotiations and this month's anniversaries of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki provide a good opportunity to explore what has gone wrong and how the world can get back on track.
Many defence establishments now recognise that security means far more than protecting borders. Grave security concerns can arise as a result of demographic trends, chronic poverty, economic inequality, environmental degradation, pandemic diseases, organised crime, repressive governance and other developments no state can control alone. Arms can't address such concerns.
Yet there has been a troubling lag between recognising these new security challenges, and launching new policies. National budget priorities still tend to reflect the old paradigms. Massive military spending and new investments in modernising nuclear weapons have left the world over-armed - and peace underfunded.
Last year, global military spending reportedly exceeded US$1.7trillion. This level is hard to explain in a post-cold-war world and amid a financial crisis. Nuclear weapons budgets are especially ripe for deep cuts.
The time has come to re-affirm commitments to nuclear disarmament, and to ensure this end is reflected in national budgets, plans and institutions.
Here are actions that states and civil society should take:
- Support efforts by Russia and the US to negotiate deep, verified cuts in their arsenals.
- Obtain commitments by others possessing such weapons to join the disarmament process.
- Establish a moratorium on developing or producing nuclear weapons or new delivery systems.
- Negotiate a multilateral treaty outlawing fissile materials that can be used in nuclear weapons.
- End nuclear explosions and bring into force the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
- Establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
- Secure universal membership in treaties outlawing chemical and biological weapons.
- Pursue parallel efforts on conventional arms control, including an arms trade treaty.
Above all, we must address basic human needs. Chronic poverty erodes security. Let us dramatically cut spending on nuclear weapons, and invest instead in social and economic development.
Ban Ki-moon is UN secretary general