2005.11.01: Closing Remarks of the of Chairman, First Committee of the General Assembly

H.E. Ambassador Choi Young-jin, Permanent Representative

Distinguished delegates,

We stand at the end of the deliberations of the First Committee for 2005. Let me extend my sincere appreciation to the delegations for their active participation in and valuable contribution to the work of the Committee. After engaging in dedicated but consuming debate and action, I believe that what we all need now is a good rest to recharge our energies.

As Chairman of the Committee, I tried to be a punctual and disciplined member of the crew. I also tried to make the work of the Committee more efficient through better allocation of time, the promotion of interactive discussions and further rationalization of the agenda and clusters. Some of these initiatives were successful and some of them fell short of my expectations.

I take responsibility for these shortcomings. For the successes, I first would like to thank Ambassador De Alba who has laid the groundwork for our work. I also would like to thank the members of the Bureau, whose expertise and advice have been invaluable. And I offer my profound gratitude to Ambassador Abe, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, and to his staff, for the support and assistance they rendered to the Committee. My special thanks go also to Ms. Cheryl Stoute, the Secretary of the Committee, and to all of her colleagues, who deserve a lot of credit for the smooth and effective proceedings of the Committee. My sincere appreciation also goes to all the interpreters, translators, record keepers, press officers, document officers, conference officers and sound engineers who have, like always, diligently worked behind the scenes in order to support the work of this Committee.

And it is my sincere wish that the next session of the Committee, under the guidance of the succeeding Chair, be blessed with success and progress both in substance and procedure.

Distinguished delegates,

It goes without saying that moderating a conference is a learning experience for the moderator. In this case, chairing the First Committee at a time when all other disarmament machinery is at a standstill gave me a chance to reflect on the substance of disarmament and non-proliferation. I would like to share with you some of the thoughts that went through my mind as I chaired this Committee session.

Distinguished delegates,

Humankind has been very successful at producing ever deadlier weapons. Indeed, we have done so well in this enterprise that we now possess a stockpile of arms that could obliterate all humanity several times over. The growing spectre of nuclear proliferation has made it clear that we are at a critical juncture. We are at a crossroads, with one path leading to disarmament and non-proliferation, and another path leading to never-ending arms races.

In the 21st century, one of the most critical choices for humankind will be between these two paths. By reason alone, the choice should be a clear and simple one. The path of disarmament and non-proliferation is the one we must take. Then why is it so difficult for us to make progress on this critical issue?

Ultimately what we are dealing with is perhaps a question on an evolutionary dimension. Among species, human beings have been endowed with uniquely powerful intellectual capacities. We have had a tendency to give unbounded praise to this characteristic, imagining ourselves to be the paragon of animals, capable of godlike apprehension and understanding. Yet more and more, we are coming to realize that our distinctive mental abilities cut both ways. They have given us unprecedented power over our environment but, at the same time, to our detriment, they have also given us the potential to drive ourselves to extinction. Environmental degradation and nuclear proliferation are cases in point.

If in all our intelligence we prove incapable of resolving these problems that we ourselves have created, then we as a species might never fulfil the potential with which evolution has endowed us. We may instead bring about our own extinction, along with that of countless other species with whom we share the planet. Will humanity move beyond this dilemma, or will we prove to be “nothing but a carnivorous ape with a megalomaniac perception about his mental capacity” as the German philosopher Gotthold Lessing put it?

It is critical that we make a collective decision about disarmament and non-proliferation. Unfortunately, however, history shows that humankind does not make such momentous decisions by reason alone. Time and again, it has been catastrophe and tragedy that have motivated people to forgo their parochial interests and make fundamental decisions for the common good. Indeed, it was the disaster of World War I and World War II that motivated us to create the United Nations.

But there’s the rub. We have used our extraordinary mental capacities to overcome many sources of catastrophe. But at the same time humanity seems to have lost the sense of tragedy that would enable us to make the historic decisions that our time requires. Without that sense of tragedy, narrow self-interest and parochial national concerns have become the governing dynamics of our time. They take precedence over the much needed enlightened self-interest and leadership by example. The potential catastrophes of the 21st century, including environmental degradation and nuclear proliferation, cannot be averted through the pure pursuit of national interests.

The burning question of the 21st century, then, is how to escape our own trap. How can we rally the troops to overcome the self-defeating dynamics of our time, which have paralyzed the cause of disarmament and non-proliferation? The answer to this question remains elusive. As we continue to search for it, our best hope is to rely on our reason and intelligence to establish enlightened self-interest and leadership by example as the governing dynamics of international relations.

Distinguished delegates,

It is time to close now. Once again, I offer my deepest thanks to all of you, and for those of you who must travel, I wish you a safe journey home.

The First Committee of the 60th session of the General Assembly is now concluded.