“UN’s Role in the Global Disarmament Agenda” (Izumi Nakamitsu seminar)

by Sophie Welsh

[Video recording]

The Program on U.S.-Japan Relations welcomed Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary- General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. United Nations, as its Distinguished Visitor to Harvard campus. Below is an excerpt of her Distinguished Visitor Lecture.

Ms. Nakamitsu argued that disarmament should be thought of as a security policy instrument which is useful in many different contexts, rather than as an abstract ideal as many people tend to think of it.  As arms races historically have not promoted peace and security, countries such as Japan and the U.S. must commit to dedicate diplomatic resources toward the global disarmament agenda.
One significant component of this agenda would be to reinvigorate efforts to control the soaring levels of military expenditures around the world. This goal is what we may think of as the “DNA” of the UN. It is part of the UN Charter vision, with Article 26 referring specifically to military spending. Realizing this goal would be complicated for some countries, which spend on the military to promote economic and job growth.
On the question of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the UN Office of Disarmament Affair’s stance is that diplomacy is the only way to realize the goal of nonproliferation. The UN must prioritize its work at the UN Security Council and build a multilateral consensus toward the goal of disarmament.
Another important (and often overlooked) agenda is illegal arms trade which is flourishing in some countries. To address this issue, Ms. Nakamitsu advocated a more holistic approach, that includes strengthening border control, reforming the security sector, and promoting violence reduction programs in local communities.  The UN approach encourages national governments to takes initiative and ownership of such efforts.  Important initiatives have taken place in countries such as Cameroon and South Sudan. Such efforts can be good examples to emulate Afghanistan and other countries, if they were to take initiative to reduce illegal arms trade.
Despite multilateral’s many achievements over the past several decades, unilateralism has gained traction in various states around the world since the middle of the 2010’s. It seems that a significant portion of the world’s publics have felt left behind from the benefits of globalism and international cooperation. In order to tackle this rising tide of unilateralism, it is important to realize that most problems are global issues and cannot be solved by one country alone. We must reconstruct the spirit of international cooperation by making sure that nobody is left behind by globalism, and reconstructing trust between multilateral institutions and national governments. We must work to bring benefits to the people who felt left behind, and by doing so, we can reconstruct the social contract and build trust between multilateral institutions, and the world’s publics.