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Science & Technology Can Contribute to Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation

Viewpoint by Izumi Nakamitsu

Photo: Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) addressing the High-Level Panel “CTBT: Science and Technology in a Changing World” on 24 June at Hofburg Palace, Vienna, in the opening session of the Science and Technology Conference2019 (SnT2019) 24 June-28 June 2019. Credit: CTBTO

The following are extensive excerpts from the statement by Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) at the High-Level Panel “CTBT: Science and Technology in a Changing World” on 24 June at Hofburg Palace, Vienna, in the opening session of the Science and Technology Conference2019 (SnT2019) 24 June-28 June 2019. [2019-06-24]

VIENNA (IDN-INPS) – The world is witnessing a technological revolution through which an unparalleled convergence in scientific and technological innovations are changing almost every aspect of people’s daily lives. Communications, logistics, manufacturing and, yes, war and peace-making have all been, and will continue to be, revolutionized in our lifetimes.

It is, of course, critical to ensure that the ramifications of revolutionary developments are understood, that unintended vulnerabilities are addressed, and that science and technology are used in ways that benefit humankind and in accordance with international law and the UN Charter.

In my role as High representative for Disarmament Affairs, I am often required to call for action to mitigate potentially negative consequences of technological innovation. These include addressing concerns about lethal autonomous weapons systems; ensuring outer space remains a domain of peace and development; and creating a cyberspace that is both stable and secure.

As an international community we spend much time focusing on potentially negative consequences of science and technology. What we can and should be doing is increasing our efforts to highlight and maximize the benefits of science and technology for international peace and security, particularly in the realm of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

The CTBTO is also a leader when it comes to using technology in our field. With the vast amounts of data, it continually processes, the International Monitoring System (IMS) is a prime candidate for the application of advanced data processing techniques. I applaud the CTBTO for having taken the initiative to implement software that uses state of the art machine learning and artificial intelligence to complement the established analysis tools.

The use of machine learning and artificial intelligence increases the quality of the data and analysis provided to states. This, in turn, strengthens confidence in the IMS and in the nuclear non-proliferation regime more generally.

This forward-leaning approach to the latest technological advances should be replicated across the entire disarmament and non-proliferation spectrum. In harnessing the benefits of science and technology we may find answers to problems that had hitherto been considered unsolvable.

One area that is a prime candidate in this respect is nuclear disarmament verification. At the recent Group of Governmental Experts on Nuclear Disarmament Verification, a number of experts identified the identification of applicable technologies as one area requiring further attention. This is an area in which science and technology can help reduce uncertainty and build confidence between states, thus enabling progress towards disarmament.

How machine learning, data capture and analysis, sensor technology, distributed ledger technology and secure communications can enhance verification should be explored.

I have been particularly interested by how academics and think tanks have been able to contribute to discussions related to nuclear weapons by drawing conclusions from commercially available space-based imaging, “geo-location” of official photographs, and social media and crowd-sourcing. Such innovative, independent verification contributions by non-governmental actors would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

As far as we have come, more work remains to be done in this regard.

Science and technology have the potential to make great contributions to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. As important as it is to carefully consider and take steps to mitigate the negative consequences of technological advances, it is also incumbent on us to exploit such advances to strengthen the existing non-proliferation regime and to enable progress towards disarmament.

importance of more inclusive multilateralism in the 21st century, where our policy discussions will be able to benefit from perspectives of diverse stakeholders. Innovation, creativity and dynamism are born in energetic discussions such as the ones you are having at this Conference. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 June 2019]

Photo: Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) addressing the High-Level Panel “CTBT: Science and Technology in a Changing World” on 24 June at Hofburg Palace, Vienna, in the opening session of the Science and Technology Conference2019 (SnT2019) 24 June-28 June 2019. Credit: CTBTO

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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