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Humanity is witnessing a transformative revolution that touches all aspects of life: amazing advances in science and technology, and incredible developments in communications and digital transformation.

Yet ironically, despite the incredible strides we made, they did not reflect on how we deal with each other, where we still cling to the ethos of the past.

Over 70 conflicts are currently ongoing, violence is raging in many parts of the world, poverty and obscene inequality are endemic, terrorism and cyber attacks are proliferating. The existential threats of environmental degradation and weapons of mass destruction remain a Damocles sword hanging over our collective fate.  

In parallel to these and other threats that respect no borders and can only be addressed through international cooperation, our multilateral system is decaying, with diminishing authority and resources.

Two decades after the end of the Cold War, there is a rising tension and confrontation between the three major powers on a range of issues, from security in Europe and Asia to competition over spheres of influence. Absent is cooperation to stop wars, provide humanitarian assistance to people dying of hunger, or doing what it takes to save our environment.

In the Korean Peninsula, with one of the highly militarized borders and with the added threat of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, a fragile truce remains in place since the fifties. Numerous peace efforts have been launched between the two Koreas, including the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in 1992, the Sunshine Policy initiated in 1998 by late President Kim Dae-Jung, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the time, to President Moon Jae-In’s recent “Moonshine Policy.” Unfortunately, all these efforts produced very little outcome.

This makes the 2022 UPF World Summit all the more important and timely. The “Think Tank 2022 Rally of Hope,” assembling leading experts worldwide to explore how to bring about the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula, is also quite encouraging.

I continue to believe that a world without nuclear weapons is not only possible but also necessary. In the words of Pope Francis, the possession of such weapons is “immoral.”

One lesson I learned from my experience at the International Atomic Energy Agency, including my visits to DPRK, is that one of the main reasons states aim to acquire nuclear weapons, is a sense of insecurity. For them, acquiring nuclear weapons is an insurance policy.  

Another lesson I learned, specific to the DPRK, is that dialogue and negotiations could result in a freeze of nuclear activities, missile testing and the dismantlement of nuclear facilities. On the other hand, in the absence of such a dialogue, testing resumes, and tensions heighten. From 1994 to 2002, the Agreed Framework between the United States and DPRK led to a freeze on nuclear activities. With the absence of the Agreed Framework, however, the DPRK went on to test nuclear weapons in 2006. Similarly, the two summits between the United States and DPRK have resulted in a moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests, which remained in place until last month, when testing resumed by the DPRK.

This suggests to me and to many others that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula would be best served by an inclusive approach, of dialogue, security guarantees, robust verification, trust building and cooperation. The past breakthroughs came about by way of diplomacy, not by pressure and sanctions, which only make the lives of ordinary North Koreans much more miserable. Maximum pressure yields maximum resistance.

Negotiations normally take place between governments. Increasingly, however, non-governmental, or so-called Track Two initiatives, have succeeded in laying the groundwork for official negotiations, through civil society dialogue, cultural exchange, humanitarian relief and other means. The UPF has sought to promote ties between the Korean people through its various activities, in order to reinforce and bolster official contacts. This is a welcome development. I hope that dialogue between the two Koreas will continue, away from geopolitical competition. 

We are living in times of grave existential threats, and yet we are doubling down on confrontation and building more weapons. We keep saying that we should “build back better.” But in my view, this will not happen unless we change our mindset.

We need first to internalize that whatever our ethnic, religious, linguistic, ideological or other differences may be, we are in the end one human family, and that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. We have no option other than finding a way to live together, and accept one another, on the basis of equality, respect, and human solidarity. Our life journey is not a zero-sum game; there are no winners and no losers. We have become one connected world where one part cannot be “quarantined” from another. We ought to have learnt this from the pandemic.

Cooperation is no longer a matter of choice. The major threats we face can only be addressed through international cooperation, making it, just like the responsibility to protect, a moral imperative, and a necessity for survival.

At the center of this imperative to cooperate is the need to establish a new international security system that is inclusive and equitable. The existing system, which assumes that some “elite states” could rely on nuclear weapons, while denying them to everyone else, is unjust and unsustainable, let alone being a constant threat to our very existence.

In my 2005 Nobel lecture, I asked everyone, “Imagine what would happen if the nations of the world spent as much on development as they spent on building the machines of war. Imagine a world in which we would shed the same tears when a child dies in Darfur or Vancouver. Imagine a world where we would settle our differences through diplomacy and dialogue, and not through bombs and bullets. Imagine if the only nuclear weapons remaining were the relics in our museums.”

Let us work together to turn this vision into a reality.

H.E. Mohamed El Baradei, Vice President of Egypt (2013); Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (1997-2009)

H.E. Mohamed El Baradei, Vice President of Egypt (2013); Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (1997-2009)

H.E. Mohamed Mustafa ElBaradei is an Egyptian law scholar and diplomat who served as the vice president of Egypt on an interim basis from 14 July 2013 until his resignation on 14 August 2013. In 1984, ElBaradei became a senior staff member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Secretariat, an intergovernmental organization under the auspices of the United Nations, serving as the agency's legal adviser (1984 to 1993) and Assistant Director General for External Relations (1993 to 1997). He was the Director General of the IAEA from 1997 to 2009. He and the IAEA were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 “for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way”. ElBaradei is currently a member of both the International Law Association and the American Society of International Law.

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