Give Civil Society a Say

Global military expenditure over 1.7 trillion dollars. Thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. Weapons systems in outer space. The possibility of annihilation of life as we know it.

It may sound like something out of the depths of the Cold War. Or a science fiction novel. But it is today's reality. And it is a reality that leads to greater insecurity and opportunity costs for all of us by fuelling distrust among countries and channeling funding towards armaments. Our individual well-being and our collective future are under threat.

The world needs disarmament. Not as concession given by individual States towards each other. But as a collective responsibility and an obligation enshrined in multilateral treaties that take into account the needs of all countries and their people.

This is the raison d'être of the Conference on Disarmament, which meets in Geneva as the world's multilateral disarmament negotiating body. A noble cause and a distinguished institution that has produced some of our most important disarmament treaties over the years. Yet it has not been able to even start negotiating a single treaty for the past 18 years.

And despite the critical importance of disarmament to all of us, civil society has no role to play in the Conference. Bizarrely, civil society cannot make its voice and views heard on a challenge that affects all of us. It is not only anachronistic to have a multilateral body with no mechanisms for civil society engagement, it is also deprives the Conference of input and innovative ideas. Those it serves should have a say.

This is why we are hosting an Informal Conference of Disarmament Civil Society Forum to facilitate and foster interaction. The Forum will take place on 19 March this year. It is my hope that both States and civil society will seize this opportunity to move the debate forward in a constructive way.

Disarmament is not just an aim in itself. It is also a means to bring greater stability and security to our world. It can provide a strong foundation for better development in challenged societies. It is necessary to ensure everybody's right to live in peace. Civil society has to be part of that effort. It is time to give civil society a greater say.