My subject today concerns a balance sheet—a balance sheet for disarmament to be precise. I am told that the British scientist, Dame Mary Archer, once said, “It sounds extraordinary but it's a fact that balance sheets can make fascinating reading.”

Well, the balance sheet for disarmament is no exception to this rule. Readers find themselves riding a roller coaster, soaring to lofty heights only to plunge to the deepest depths. There is motion—always motion—but the direction is often unclear and, unfortunately, at the end one finds oneself right back where one started. But oh what a ride.

Before I became the UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs I served as the Under-Secretary-General for Management, where I acquired plenty of experience in dealing with balance sheets. The balance sheet for disarmament, however, consists of a lot more than numbers—as important as numbers can be, especially when it comes to weapon stockpiles. A fair assessment of such a balance sheet would have to take into account not just where things stand now, but how we got to where we are, and where we are likely to go next.

The United Nations has not sought to regulate—but to eliminate—nuclear and other weapons of mass destructions precisely because of their uniquely indiscriminate effects, in both space and time. 

This paper was presented as the 2014 Foreign Policy Lecture by the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, UN Association of New Zealand and the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade at Victoria University, Wellington by Angela Kane, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

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