Jayantha Dhanapala has been and remains a leading champion in favour of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. Short of actually dismantling nuclear devices himself, he has contributed enormously in constructing a solid foundation upon which the world community will one day fulfill this great ambition.
He was a member of two of the most influential international commissions established to advance nuclear disarmament—the Canberra Commission (1996) and the International Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (Blix Commission, 2006).
He was President at the 1995 Conference of States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which decided to extend that treaty indefinitely. He was influential in brokering a package of decisions that highlighted the importance of disarmament as a co-equal treaty goal with non-proliferation, and that strengthened the treaty review process to enhance accountability. He was later awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant, which enabled the publication of his book, Multilateral Diplomacy and the NPT: An Insider’s Account.
He was appointed Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003), where he raised the priority of nuclear disarmament, while also promoting multilateral cooperation in curbing the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. He revived United Nations interest in the subject of “disarmament and development”, at a time when military spending was once again starting to rise in the post-Cold War era, as social and economic needs went unmet in vast sectors of the world.
Earlier (1987-1992) he had served as Director of the UN’s Institute for Disarmament Research, where he successfully expanded its financial base while also broadening its areas of research to include nonmilitary challenges to security.
He was one of the UN’s most prolific voices for global nuclear disarmament, which was apparent in his countless major keynote address, book chapters, articles, opinion editorials, and frequent meetings with non-governmental organizations. All of his disarmament speeches are still featured on the website of the UN’s Office for Disarmament Affairs (www.un.org/disarmament).
He has served or is continuing to serve on several advisory boards of institutions known for their work in supporting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Stanford Institute of International Studies, the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, among others. He has also served as Honourary President of the International Peace Bureau.
Since 2007, he has remained active in pursuing nuclear disarmament as President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In all of his posts held over his career, he has inspired his colleagues to fight persistently for the interests of the world community even in the face of great obstacles. One day, this will be how nuclear disarmament is finally achieved.