Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the 51st Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City

September 24, 1996

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, heads of government, foreign ministers, ambassadors, your excellencies, distinguished guests: Three years ago, I had the honor of being the first American President born after the founding of the United Nations to address you. In its 51st year, the United Nations has not yet realized all its founders' aspirations, but the ideals of the U.N. Charter, peace, freedom, tolerance, prosperity, these now touch more people in more nations than ever before.

Now we find ourselves at a turning point in history, when the blocs and barriers that long defined the world are giving way to an age of remarkable possibility, a time when more of our children and more nations will be able to live out their dreams than ever before. But this is also an age of new threats: threats from terrorists, from rogue states that support them; threats from ethnic, religious, racial, and tribal hatreds; threats from international criminals and drug traffickers, all of whom will be more dangerous if they gain access to weapons of mass destruction.

The challenge before us plainly is twofold: to seize the opportunities for more people to enjoy peace and freedom, security and prosperity, and to move strongly and swiftly against the dangers that change has produced. This week in this place, we take a giant step forward.

By overwhelming global consensus, we will make a solemn commitment to end all nuclear tests for all time.

Before entering this hall I had the great honor to be the first leader to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. I did so with some pride with this pen, for this pen is the very one that President Kennedy used to help bring the Limited Test Ban Treaty to life 33 years ago.

This Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will help to prevent the nuclear powers from developing more advanced and more dangerous weapons. It will limit the ability of other states to acquire such devices themselves. It points us toward a century in which the roles and risks of nuclear weapons can be further reduced and ultimately eliminated.

I want to thank all of those who helped to bring us to this day, especially the chairman of the Comprehensive Test Ban Negotiating Committee, Netherlands' Ambassador Ramaker, and the Government of Australia, which took the lead at the U.N. I thank the Secretary-General for the remarks he made this morning in establishing the criteria and standards and support of the United Nations as a depository of the treaty.

The signature of the world's declared nuclear powers, the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, along with those of the vast majority of its nations, will immediately create an international norm against nuclear testing, even before the treaty formally enters into force.

The CTBT is the shared work of hard negotiation. Some have complained that it does not mandate total nuclear disarmament by a date certain. I would say to them, do not forsake the benefits of this achievement by ignoring the tremendous progress we have already made toward that goal.

Today there are no Russian missiles pointed at America and no American missiles pointed at Russia. Through the START treaties we are cutting our nuclear arsenals by two-thirds. Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakstan are giving up the nuclear weapons left on their land after the Soviet Union dissolved. We are working with the New Independent States to improve security at nuclear facilities and to convert nuclear weapons to peaceful uses.

The United States and other nuclear weapons states have embraced the South Pacific and African nuclear free zones. Now half the world's land area is nuclear free by international agreement. And the world community extended indefinitely the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Yet some of the very changes that have made this progress possible have also created new risks. The breakup of the Soviet Union left nuclear materials dispersed throughout the New Independent States. As barriers have come down around the world, the danger of nuclear smuggling has gone up. So even as we reduce the global stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we must also reduce the danger that lethal materials could wind up in the wrong hands, while developing effective defenses for our people if that should happen.

The United States has six priority goals to further lift the threat of nuclear weapons destruction and the threat of weapons of mass destruction and to limit their dangerous spread:

First, we must protect our people from chemical attack and make it harder for rogue states and terrorists to brandish poison gas by bringing the Chemical Weapons Convention into force as soon as possible. I thank the nations here that have ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention. I deeply regret that the United States Senate has not yet voted on the convention, but I want to assure you and people throughout the world that I will not let this treaty die and we will join the ranks of nations determined to prevent the spread of chemical weapons.

Second, we must reduce the risk that an outlaw state or organization could build a nuclear device by negotiating a treaty to freeze the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons. The Conference on Disarmament should take up this challenge immediately. The United States, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom already have halted production of fissile materials for weapons. I urge other nations to end the unsafeguarded production of these materials pending completion of the treaty.

Third, we must continue to reduce our nuclear arsenals. When Russia ratifies START II, President Yeltsin and I are all ready to discuss the possibilities of further cuts as well as limiting and monitoring nuclear warheads and materials. This will help make deep reductions irreversible.

Fourth, we must reinforce our efforts against the spread of nuclear weapons by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We should give the International Atomic Energy Agency a stronger role and sharper tools for conducting worldwide inspections. Our law enforcement and customs officials should cooperate more in the fight against nuclear smuggling. And I urge all nations that have not signed the NPT to do so without delay.

Fifth, we must better protect our people from those who would use disease as a weapon of war, by giving the Biological Weapons Convention the means to strengthen compliance, including on-site investigations when we believe such weapons may have been used or when suspicious outbreaks of disease occur. We should aim to complete this task by 1998.

Finally, we must end the carnage caused by antipersonnel landmines, the hidden killers that murder and maim more than 25,000 people a year. In May I announced a series of actions the United States would take toward this goal. Today I renew my appeal for the swift negotiation of a worldwide ban on the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of antipersonnel landmines. Our children deserve to walk the Earth in safety.

Thirty-three years ago, at the height of the cold war, President Kennedy spoke at American University in Washington. Peace was the topic of his address, but not an abstract ideal of peace. Instead, he urged us to focus on, quote, "a more practical, attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions, on a series of concrete actions and affirmative, effective agreements which are in the interests of all concerned."

It was in that same speech that he announced that talks would shortly begin in Moscow on a comprehensive test ban treaty. President Kennedy's vision exceeded the possibilities of his time, but his words speak to us still. As we sign our names to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the longest sought, hardest fought prize in arms control history, let us summon the confidence of earlier pioneers and set our sights on the challenges of the new century.

Over the past 3 years, we have moved in the right direction in meeting those challenges. In Bosnia, where the war is over and just 10 days ago its people went to the polls in peace, we have moved in the right direction. Now we must help Bosnia build a unified, democratic, and peaceful future. In Haiti, where the dictators are gone, democracy is back, and the exodus of refugees has ended, we have moved in the right direction. Now we must help the Haitian people seize the full benefits of freedom and forge a more prosperous future.

In the Middle East and in Northern Ireland, there is progress toward lasting peace, and we are moving in the right direction. Now we must support continued progress between Israel and Palestinians, and we must broaden the circle of peace to include more of Israel's neighbors. We must help to give the children of Belfast a chance to live out normal lives.

In the fact that democracy, open markets, and peace are taking hold around the world, we are moving in the right direction. Here in the Americas, every nation but one has raised freedom's flag. In Central Europe, in Russia, Ukraine, the other New Independent States, the forces of reform have earned all our respect and will continue to have the support of the United States. Now we must begin to welcome Europe's new democracies into NATO, strengthen NATO's partnership with Russia, and build a secure and undivided Europe.

In Asia, South Korea, Japan, China, and America, working together, persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear program under international monitoring. Now, in the wake of provocative actions by North Korea, we must pursue a permanent peace for all the Korean people.

Our planet is safer because of our common efforts to close Chernobyl, to address the challenges of climate change, to protect the world's forests and oceans. Now we must uphold our duty as custodians of our environment so that our children will inherit an even healthier planet.

All of us must continue our historic efforts to build a better, more global trading system for the 21st century. We have made remarkable progress, but there is more to do in opening markets, in creating millions of new jobs for all our people.

In this time of challenge and change, the United Nations is more important than ever before because our world is more interdependent than ever before. Most Americans know this. Unfortunately, some Americans, in their longing to be free of the world's problems and perhaps to focus more on our own problems, ignore what the United Nations has done, ignore the benefits of cooperation, ignore our own interdependence with all of you in charting a better future. They ignore all the United Nations is doing to lift the lives of millions by preserving the peace, vaccinating children, caring for refugees, sharing the blessings of progress around the world. They have made it difficult for the United States to meet its obligations to the United Nations. But let me reassure all of you, the vast majority of Americans support the United Nations, not only because it reflects our own ideals but because it reinforces our interests. We must continue to work to manifest the support that our people feel.

For the 51st year in a row, the United States will be the largest financial contributor to the U.N. We are paying our dues, and I am committed to paying off our accumulated obligations. However, we also support the process of reform, which has done great work in reforming and streamlining the bureaucracy and reining in the budget, and it should continue.

We also believe that all of us, the nations of the world working together, must do more to fight terrorism. Last year I asked the nations assembled here to commit to a goal of zero tolerance for aggression, terrorism, and lawless behavior. Frankly, we have not done that yet. Real zero tolerance means giving no aid and no quarter to terrorists who slaughter the innocent and drug traffickers who poison our children and to do everything we can to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands.

Real zero tolerance requires us to isolate states that refuse to play by the rules we have all accepted for civilized behavior. As long as Iraq threatens its neighbors and people, as long as Iran supports and protects terrorists, as long as Libya refuses to give up the people who blew up Pan Am 103, they should not become full members of the family of nations.

The United States is pursuing a three-part strategy against terrorists: abroad, by working more closely than ever with like-minded nations; at home, by giving our law enforcement the toughest counterterrorist tools available; and by doing all we can to make our airports and the airplanes that link us all together even safer.

I have requested more than $1 billion from our Congress to meet these commitments, and we are implementing the Vice President's aviation security plan to make those traveling to, from, and within the United States more secure.

There are other steps we must take together. Last year, I urged that together we crack down on money laundering and front companies; shut down gray markets for guns, explosives, and false documents; open more law enforcement centers around the world; strengthen safeguards on lethal materials. In each of these areas, we have made progress, through the U.N., at the Summit of Peacemakers in Sharm al-Sheikh, at the Paris terrorism conference, and individually.

Now we should adopt the declaration on crime and public security I proposed last year. It includes a no-sanctuary pledge, so that we can say with one voice to the terrorists, criminals, and drug traffickers: You have no place to run, no place to hide.

I call on every member to ratify 11 international conventions that would help prevent and punish terrorism and to criminalize the use of explosives in terrorist attacks. To every nation whose children fall prey to drugs and every nation that makes those drugs, we must do more to reduce demand and to take illegal drugs off the market and off the streets.

The United States will do its part. Next week I will target more than $100 million worth of defense equipment, services, and training to Mexico, Colombia, and other South American and Caribbean countries. These resources will help our friends stop the flow of drugs at the source. Now I ask every nation that exports the chemicals needed to make illicit drugs to create an informal group whose members will work to deny these chemicals to drug producers. We must not let more drugs darken the dawn of the next century.

Our duty to fight all these forces of destruction is directly linked to our efforts to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction. We all know we are not immune from this. We saw it when our friends in Japan were subject to the murderous power of a small vial of sarin gas unleashed in a Tokyo subway. We know a small lump of plutonium is enough to build a nuclear bomb. We know that more dangerous people have access to materials of mass destruction because of the rapid movement and open borders of this age. The quest to eliminate these problems from the world's arsenals and to stop them from spreading has taken on a new and powerful urgency for all of us.

So let us strengthen our determination to fight the rogue states, the terrorists, the criminals who menace our safety, our way of life, and the potential of our children in the 21st century. Let us recommit ourselves to prevent them from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Let us work harder than ever to lift the nuclear backdrop that has darkened the world's stage for too long now. Let us make these solemn tasks our common obligation, our common commitment. If we do, then together we will enter the 21st century marching toward a better, safer world, the very better, safer world the United Nations has sought to build for 51 years.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:03 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall. In his remarks, he referred to United Nations General Assembly President Razali bin Ismail and Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; and Jaap Ramaker, Netherlands Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the 51st Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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