January 18, 2013
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had a message of peace for Monterey students this morning, urging global nuclear disarmament and weighing in on the United States’ gun control debate.
Ban, who addressed students, faculty and guests of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, outlined several steps in promoting nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation in a talk well-timed, given recent international news.
His speech coincided with renewed national concerns over North Korean military activity. The New York Times reported yesterday that American intelligence agencies have discovered that North Korea is moving mobile missile launchers around the country with a powerful new rocket.
Ban's speech, which filled a small auditorium at the Monterey Institute campus, was for invited guests only, but was streamed online.
“Let us work together to free this world of nuclear weapons,” Ban told the audience. “This is the right course, the right thing we have to do for our future generations.
Ban appealed to UN member states to be leaders in nonproliferation and disarmament. Nuclear armed states have a special responsibility to create a “bold set of measures of transparency” for their arsenals, he said.
The world leader specifically called out the United States for not ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear explosions everywhere. U.S. action on the treaty may spur similar action from other nuclear technology holding countries, he said.
Ban also pointed out the world’s staggering military spending, which he said could be reduced and used to address climate change, provide vaccinations, and educate children.
Four hours of the world’s military spending is equal to the total budget of all international disarmament and nonproliferation organizations combined, he said.
“The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us,” Ban said, quoting John F. Kennedy.
On the subject of North Korea, the secretary-general urged the new leadership in Pyongyang to build relations with neighboring countries and the international community.
Earlier this week North Korea vowed to strengthen its defenses, according to The Associated Press. There are concerns the country may conduct a nuclear test as a follow-up to a long-range rocket launch last month.
The New York Times quotes department Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as saying yesterday: “Who the hell knows what they’re going to do from day to day?” He continued, “And right now, you know, North Korea just fired a missile. It’s an intercontinental ballistic missile for God sakes. That means they have the capability to strike the United States.”
Pentagon officials later said the defense secretary was not implying the continental U.S. could be hit, though military assessments have said Hawaii is within range, the New York Times reported.
Ban expressed hope North Korean leaders will focus their policies on helping their people rather than developing long-range missiles.
During a question and answer session, Ban was asked whether he saw an improvement in the Korean peninsula situation in the near future.
“I hope so,” replied Ban. “I’m basically an optimistic person. When you are not optimistic, you cannot achieve anything.”
Later, the secretary-general was asked whether he agrees with President Barack Obama’s latest package of gun control proposals.
“Gun control is a domestic (issue),” said Ban, seeming to evade the question and garnering a chuckle from the audience.
Coming from South Korea, where there is very strict gun control, Ban said there are many things about the debate he cannot understand.
But, he said, “I welcome President Obama’s announcement two days ago to strengthen this gun control system. I hope this will be helpful, and I hope Congress will support his proposal.”
He added that there should be international regulations on importing and transferring arms. The lack of such conventions have lead to rebels and terrorists possessing guns, sometimes used to overthrow constitutional governments by military means.
“We should have a global standard...as soon as possible,” he said.