Letters to the Editor

For a world free from nuclear weapons

- Alberto G. Romulo -

MANILA, Philippines - (Thematic Debate on “Disarmament and World Security, Challenges for the International Community and the role of the United Nations”, United Nations General Assembly, 19 April 2010)

A world of nuclear peril

With hope in our hearts that with victory there would be peace, we gave birth to the United Nations in 1945.

We had cast aside tyranny and came together, determined never again to experience the scourge of war.

In the midst of humankind’s euphoria and dream of a better and more peaceful world, a dark nuclear cloud, however, had gathered — a cloud that would divide and polarize the world, a cloud that would threaten our very existence.

Getting out from under that cloud posed one of the greatest challenges to face our world and our Organization.

It would be a difficult challenge, given the tensions and distrust that grew out of the ashes of World War II.

At the commemoration in San Francisco of the 40th year of the signing of the United Nations Charter in 1985, General Carlos P. Romulo summed up the difficult, early challenge faced by those committed to nuclear disarmament.

General Romulo said of the Charter, signed barely three weeks before the atom bomb was dropped: “The ink was obsolete before it was dry.”

In 1945, General Carlos P. Romulo was one of the original signatories of the Charter and thereafter the fourth President of the General Assembly. He dedicated his life to the cause of eliminating nuclear weapons and thereafter chaired the Group of Experts on the Relationship between Disarmament and International Security.

Our young United Nations faced many challenges. Among them was the crucial task of containing the energy of the atom.

Today we no longer live in a divided, bi-polar world — but we continue to live in a world of nuclear peril.

A challenge and a responsibility

The international community continues to face many challenges in the field of disarmament. Aside from the continued existence of nuclear weapons and the ever-present threat of their proliferation, dangers remain from other weapons of mass destruction and the spread of small arms and light weapons and their extensive use in various conflicts around the world.

In addition, in today’s multipolar nuclear environment, the presence of non-state actors adds a new dimension to our nuclear dilemma.

It is the responsibility of the international community to deal with all these challenges in a unified and concerted manner, for it is only through a multilateral approach that we will prevail.

And in all efforts to eliminate and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, the United Nations must remain a central player.

Good reason to hope

The current global climate presents the best opportunity to make progress in the field of nuclear disarmament. The United Nations must take advantage of this rare opportunity and lead the way.

More than at any time in history, I also believe that today there is more hope and good reason to dream of a world free from nuclear weapons. I believe we are at a crucial turning point.

Nuclear disarmament is once again firmly on the agenda of the United Nations.

Among the reasons nuclear disarmament is now at the forefront of our work here in the United Nations is the leadership and determination shown by our Secretary General.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s five-point plan to achieve nuclear disarmament has not only presented a clear roadmap, but has also animated broad discussion on nuclear disarmament.

I note in particular the first point of his plan, which calls for the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) to pursue negotiations in good faith — as required by the treaty — on nuclear disarmament, either through a new convention or through a series of mutually reinforcing instruments backed by a credible system of verification.

The Philippines joins the rest of the world in applauding the United States and Russia for having sealed a new START Treaty — a huge leap in the right direction towards reduction, and hopefully, total elimination of nuclear weapons.

The recent policy changes adopted by the United States in its Nuclear Posture Review also helps set the stage for greater advancement towards a world without nuclear weapons. Fundamental to any progress in nuclear disarmament is lesser reliance on these weapons.

This and other developments are steps in the right direction, but the global community expects more from the Nuclear Weapon States.

The commitment of key and indispensable parties to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has also provided much encouragement. It is my hope that the necessary ratifications are made and that the CTBT will enter into force soon.

At the Nuclear Security Summit last week, aside from agreeing to work together to address nuclear security and to prevent the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, world leaders also reiterated their commitment to nuclear disarmament.

The momentum has been building solidly behind efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The 2010 NPT review  conference: A crucial opportunity

Mr. President, you could not have chosen a better time to have discussions on “Disarmament and World Security.” In less than a month this hallowed General Assembly Hall and the rest of United Nations Headquarters in New York will be the site of one of the most important conferences in the field of disarmament.

The 2010 Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which will be held from the 3rd to the 30th of May, presents the international community with a new and unprecedented opportunity to make genuine progress on the three pillars that together hold high the promise of a world free from nuclear weapons: nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The Philippines deeply appreciates the trust that has been placed on us to lead this critical gathering. We take on this responsibility firm in the belief that international peace and security is the concern of all, and that among the gravest threats facing our common humanity is the existence of nuclear weapons.

We join many others in the belief that the only guarantee that these weapons will never be used is through their total elimination in a verifiable and irreversible manner.

But until that day comes, States Parties to the NPT must work together to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the development needs of countries, including my own, must not be curtailed or hampered; therefore access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy must be made available without preconditions.

Nuclear disarmament

Article VI of the NPT clearly calls on the Nuclear Weapon States to pursue disarmament, yet it does not set timeliness or benchmarks.

This Review Conference presents a timely opportunity to determine realistic and clearly defined benchmarks for nuclear disarmament and specific timeliness for the Nuclear Weapon States to accomplish what they promised.

Nuclear non-proliferation

Nuclear Non-Proliferation is as difficult a challenge as nuclear disarmament and is equally important. There can never be general and complete disarmament if nuclear weapons fall into the hands of heretofore non nuclear countries or worse, non-State actors.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has a crucial role to play in monitoring cases of proliferation and must be given the necessary tools and funding so that it may effectively do its work.

Peaceful uses of nuclear energy

The peaceful uses of nuclear energy is crucial to developing countries like my own. At the same time measures must be undertaken to ensure that nuclear technology and nuclear material are restricted and only used for peaceful purposes.

It is for this reason that the Philippines ratified the IAEA Additional Protocol on 26 February 2010 and urges other States to do so.

1995 resolution on the Middle East

Among the crucial issues that this Review Conference will also have to address is how to make progress on the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East.

The Philippines firmly believes that promises made must be kept and past agreements, regardless of changes that may have occurred, must be honored, otherwise the intricate structure on which our international relations stands, will collapse.

Fifteen years is truly a long time to wait. Concrete steps must now be taken by States Parties to the NPT in this Review Conference to pursue the implementation of this resolution, without which, the NPT may never have been extended indefinitely.

The establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East is an issue that should concern all States, for the establishment of such a zone could help usher in peace and stability to a region that has known neither.

Strengthening of the NPT Regime

The NPT is widely acknowledged as one of the most important treaties in the field of disarmament and has been called the “cornerstone” of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes and yet it does not have dedicated institutional support.

A treaty as important as this, the objective of which is the “holy grail” of disarmament, should have the necessary tools and means in order to oversee activities that are being undertaken by States Parties in fulfillment of their obligations.

There are proposals on how this can be done and these should be looked at and seriously considered during this Review Conference.


But perhaps more importantly, the NPT regime will be far stronger and more resilient when it has achieved universality. I take this opportunity to reiterate the call for States that have not yet done so, to become States Parties to this crucial agreement.

The Philippine Presidency

The Philippines through the President-Elect, Ambassador Libran N. Cabactulan, will conduct the Presidency of the NPT Review Conference in an open, inclusive, and transparent manner.

One delegation will not be favored over another and equal importance will be accorded to all States Parties and their positions. Wide consultations have been held with delegations and stakeholders in Geneva, Vienna, New York and other venues, all with a view to assimilating the issues of importance and the nuanced positions of States Parties.

The Philippines is hopeful that the Review Conference in May 2010 will have the full support and cooperation of all States Parties, indispensable to ensure the conference its success.

Delegations must come to New York in May prepared to extend maximum flexibility in the negotiations — every delegation fully appreciating and understanding each delegation’s position. This is the only way to make progress, to agree on the substantive issues, and to finally come to a conclusion beneficial and for the good of all humanity.

A world free from nuclear weapons

Our world faces many challenges in the field of disarmament and world security, but I have no doubt the indomitable spirit of man and his ability to rise and overcome challenges will ultimately prevail.

A few short months after speaking in San Francisco in 1985, General Carlos P. Romulo succumbed to a long illness.

He was a witness to some momentous events here in the United Nations, but he would die never having seen his lifelong dream of a world free from nuclear weapons come true.

With the rare opportunity that lies before us in the United Nations, it is now up to us to work together to fulfil all our dreams of a world at peace — of a world free from nuclear weapons.

Let us have a fruitful and constructive debate this day.

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