28 May 2008

Opening remarks

by NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Regional, Economic and Security Affairs, Aurelia Bouchez

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Distinguished guests,

Let me start by extending to you all a very warm welcome to NATO Headquarters for what, I believe, will be a most interesting conference on a crucially important subject.  Let me follow that right away by a sincere word of appreciation and thanks to the OSCE   for all of their hard work in co-sponsoring this event.  And let me also single out and thank five donor states – Finland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway and the United Kingdom – for their generous financial support to make this conference possible.

The overall objective of this conference is clear.  It is to further engage the regional organisations that you represent in the full implementation of the United Nations’ 2001 “Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects”.  And in so doing, to support the Biennial Meeting of States in New York in July, whose Chairman – Ambassador Cekuolus – we will hear this Friday.

It has almost become a cliché to observe that we live in dangerous times, with a multitude of complex risks and treats.  Many of today’s security challenges are global challenges – challenges which are multi-faceted, fluid and trans-national -- and which demand the broadest possible cooperation between nations and organisations.  And the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons clearly falls within this category.

As this audience is well aware there are estimates that at least 300,000 lives are lost each year to gun violence, one million people are injured, and countless more traumatised.  An estimated sixty percent of small arms and light weapons are thought to be in the hands of civilians, which means that there are hundreds of millions of owners, rather than the several hundred Government-controlled defence forces which own larger weaponry.

And so, rather than an issue of military security per se, the illicit proliferation of small arms and light weapons has become a major human security issue – a public health, human rights and social problem, and a major obstacle to achieving sustainable development in many parts of the world.   

In NATO, we are directly confronted with this scourge in our different theatres of operation – where our soldiers must come to terms not only with the possibility of armed attack, but also the devastating impact of this proliferation on their stabilising efforts.  Given this reality we have been engaged for a number of years in trying to address the problem, together with our partner nations, essentially in two ways.

First of all, through our Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and its Working Group on Small Arms and Light Weapons and Mine Action – this Working Group is focused on implementation efforts, advocacy and the exchange of information.  And second, through our Partnership for Peace Trust Funds – in which we combine NATO expertise with voluntary funding by concerned nations and institutions for specific projects to destroy excess stockpiles of small arms and light weapons and munitions, missiles, dispose of dangerous chemicals, and address the consequences of security sector reform in many of our partner nations, including in Eastern Europe, the Caucuses, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Thus far the PfP Trust Fund have accounted for the destruction of more than 4.1 million landmines, 530 high-altitude anti-aircraft missiles, 1,500 tonnes of dangerous chemicals, including rocket fuel, 1,000 MANPADS, 127,600 small arms and light weapons, 8,700 tonnes of munitions and 270,000 abandoned explosives. Some 5,000 former military personnel have also received assistance through the security sector reform projects.

As you are well aware, the United Nations Programme of Action encourages international, regional, sub-regional and national efforts to promote its implementation.  The Programme identifies action in eight areas to be accomplished at the regional level.  And over the past few years, regional initiatives – including through regional organisations and NGOs -- have indeed emerged as a particularly promising channel to complement and strengthen national and wider international efforts.

First of all, because they allow regions to address small arms problems according to their particular circumstances and requirements – helping countries to improve their laws, regulations and export controls, as well as with the destruction of large numbers of surplus small arms and light weapons.

Second, regional activities also often act as a catalyst for global action against illicit small arms trafficking.  Indeed, regional action preceded and helped to shape the Programme of Action back in 2001.  And today, many regions urge new developments at the global level, while the framework provided by the Programme of Action helps to spur action within regions.

Our conference this week aims to encourage those various types of interaction, by looking at each of the eight areas for regional action identified in the Programme of Action.  In this way, we believe the conference should help you to exchange experiences in implementing the UN Program of Action; to share information on best practices; address shortcomings in regional efforts; and identify further synergies of effort.  And that will be in everybody’s interest.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO has, for some time, advocated a Comprehensive Approach to the global, multi-faceted  security challenges of the 21st century – an approach that brings together civil and military efforts, and where nations and organisations complement each other in the most effective manner.  This Comprehensive Approach was shown in action at our NATO Summit in Bucharest last month, when we had an excellent meeting on Afghanistan together with our ISAF partners, the Afghan President, the UN Secretary General, the EU Commission President, the EU High Representative, the Managing Director of the World Bank, and Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister.  And we are confident that this approach will now be sustained, driven by the United Nations. 

From NATO’s perspective, we see this conference here at our Headquarters in very much the same light.  Just like Afghanistan, the illicit spread of small arms and light weapons clearly also demands a new level of cooperation between nations and organisations.  And NATO is determined to continue to play its part also in that effort, reaching out to other international actors, and enhancing security for all.

Once again, thanks to the OSCE for co-sponsoring this conference with us and thanks again to the five donor countries for their generous support without which this conference would not be taking place.  Thank you all for your attention and may I wish you a very successful meeting.