Arms Regulation and Disarmament

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Only days after the signing of the Charter, the world entered the nuclear age. On 6 and 9 August, 1945, respectively, atomic bombs destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The newly formed UN was thus confronted with unprecedented military and political problems. The Charter had envisaged arms limitation and disarmament elements in the progressive establishment of an international security system. It empowered the General Assembly to consider "principles governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments" and assigned to the Security Council the task of formulating plans to establish an appropriate system of controls for the "regulation of armaments," to be submitted to the members of the UN. However, the revolutionary changes brought about by the discovery of atomic power gave the need for disarmament greater immediacy and an enhanced place in the sphere of international politics and security. The UN has reacted progressively to this unfolding of events while the peoples of the world have begun to live under the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Sixty years after the founding of the organization, the tensions that dominated the international political situation during the Cold War period had eased, significant progress was achieved in the field of disarmament, and new opportunities opened for the international community to achieve security at lower levels of arms. At the same time, new challenges confronted the members of the UN as the focus of tensions among nations turned from the international to the regional and local level.

In the course of the past six decades, the UN has used a variety of methods, techniques, and approaches in the search for disarmament.


Under Article II of the UN Charter, the General Assembly is empowered to consider "principles governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments" and to recommend action to be taken by member states or the Security Council or both. The General Assembly has undertaken this kind of consideration at every one of its regular sessions since it first met in 1946. The General Assembly's very first resolution, adopted on 24 January 1946, addressed the question of disarmament. It sought the elimination of atomic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and the assurance that, from then on, atomic energy would be used only for peaceful purposes, and it established the Atomic Energy Commission. In a resolution adopted in December 1946, the General Assembly recognized the connection between the questions of disarmament and of international peace and security.

In 1947, the Security Council set up the Commission for Conventional Armaments in order to regulate armaments and armed forces under an international system of control and inspection, and it called upon the two commissions to take immediate action.

Despite the urgency of the matter, the two commissions did not make much progress. In 1952, the General Assembly, in an attempt to break the impasse, consolidated them into a single 11-member Disarmament Commission, which was entrusted with the task of preparing proposals for the regulation, limitation, and balanced reduction of all armed forces and armaments, by stages, in a coordinated, comprehensive program.

The early debates in the Disarmament Commission ended inconclusively in October 1952. In November, the first hydrogen bomb, with a force that dwarfed that of the Hiroshima-type atomic bomb, was tested by the United States at Eniwetok (now Enewetak), in the Pacific. The following August, a hydrogen bomb was exploded by the USSR.

A subcommittee of the Disarmament Commission, set up by the General Assembly in 1953 and consisting of representatives of Canada, France, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States, held a number of meetings, but by the autumn of 1955, efforts aimed at drawing up a comprehensive disarmament plan ended in deadlock. The subcommittee's efforts to consider partial disarmament measures also came to a stalemate over the next two years. In 1957, the General Assembly enlarged the Disarmament Commission from 11 to 25 nations. It was again enlarged, in 1959, to comprise all members of the UN, but it convened only one further time, in 1965.

In 1959, the General Assembly unanimously adopted the first resolution ever to be sponsored by all member states. In it, the General Assembly declared that it was "striving to put an end completely and forever to the armaments race," and it stated that "the question of general and complete disarmament is the most important facing the world today." The resolution aimed at having all proposals and suggestions made during the General Assembly debate transmitted to the Disarmament Commission "for thorough consideration."

Substantive differences in the approach taken to disarmament by the Western powers and the USSR emerged during the subsequent period. A Ten-Nation Committee on Disarmament, based on equal East-West representation, was set up in 1960 outside the framework of the UN to discuss general and complete disarmament but became deadlocked on issues of partial or general measures. As a result, the UN began to pursue disarmament efforts in two ways. While the ultimate goal remained, as it has ever since, "general and complete disarmament under effective international control," measures that would bring about partial disarmament were viewed as integral to that goal and not as hindrances to its achievement. It was felt that devoting parallel, and at times even primary, attention to "collateral" measures designed to reduce tension and build confidence would facilitate the complex task of achieving general and complete disarmament. The immediate hopes and expectations of the majority of nations centered on two such measures: the discontinuance of nuclear-weapon tests and the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons. By the mid-1960s, the elaboration of partial disarmament measures within the UN began to overshadow all-embracing, long-range efforts.

In 1961, John I. McCloy of the United States and Valerian A. Zorin of the USSR, representing their respective nations in formal disarmament talks, submitted to the General Assembly a Joint Statement of Agreed Principles of Disarmament Negotiations. These eight principles, which were unanimously endorsed by the General Assembly, dealt with: (1) the stated goal of negotiationsa program ensuring that disarmament was to be "general and complete" and was to be accompanied by reliable procedures for the maintenance of peace; (2) the reduction of non-nuclear weapons and facilities to such levels as might be agreed to be necessary for the maintenance of internal order and the provision of personnel for a UN peacekeeping force; (3) an agreed elaboration of the main elements of the disarmament program; (4) implementation of the program in agreed stages, which were to have specified time limits; (5) balance so that at no stage could any state or group maintain an advantage; (6) the need for international control under an international disarmament organization to be created within the framework of the UN; (7) the need during and after disarmament to strengthen institutions for maintaining world peace; and (8) the need to achieve and implement the widest possible agreement in the shortest possible time.

At the same time, the General Assembly also endorsed an agreement to set up, in place of the Ten-Nation Committee, an Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament. When the committee first met in Geneva in early 1962, one member, France, decided not to participate, explaining that it hoped that it might be possible later for the disarmament problem to be discussed among the powers that could contribute effectively to its solution. At the outset, the committee decided to organize so as to permit simultaneous work on general and complete disarmament, confidence-building (collateral) measures, and the discontinuance of nuclear-weapon tests.

In 1969, the committee's membership was enlarged to 26, and its name changed to the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD). The General Assembly requested the CCD, as the multilateral negotiating body, to work out, while continuing its negotiations on collateral measures, a comprehensive program to deal with the cessation of the arms race and general and complete disarmament under effective international control. In 1975, the CCD was further enlarged, to 31 members, with France still declining to take its seat.

The scant results and continuing difficulties in disarmament negotiations, among other things, led, also in 1969, to the General Assembly's adoption of a resolution declaring the 1970s as a Disarmament Decade. The 1980s and 1990s were also later declared as disarmament decades.


First Special Session, 1978

By 1976 it was clear that no real progress had been made to halt the arms race. World military expenditure was estimated at many times more than the amount spent globally on health, education, and economic development. While the nuclear-weapon powers were the major competitors in the arms race, military spending by countries outside the two main military alliances was also rising. Since the end of the Second World War, many millions of people have been killed by conventional weapons in more than 100 wars, most of them fought in the developing areas of the world.

In 1976, the General Assembly, deploring the "meagre achievements" up to that time of the first Disarmament Decade in terms of truly effective agreements, decided, primarily at the initiative of developing countries, to hold a special session in 1978 devoted entirely to disarmament. The aim of the session was to set a new course in international affairs, turn states away from the nuclear and conventional arms race, and obtain agreement on a global strategy for disarmament.

The first special session on disarmament, held at UN headquarters from 23 May to 1 July 1978, was the largest, most representative meeting of nations ever convened to consider the question of disarmament. For the first time in the history of disarmament endeavors, the international community of states as a whole achieved a consensus on a comprehensive disarmament strategy, which was embodied in the Final Document adopted at the session.

The Final Document stressed the central role and primary responsibility of the UN in the field of disarmament and placed disarmament issues in a more comprehensive perspective than had ever been done before. It reaffirmed the fundamental importance of disarmament to international peace and security and stated that "disarmament and arms limitation agreements should provide for adequate measures of verification satisfactory to all parties." It contained specific measures intended to strengthen the machinery dealing with disarmament within the UN system. Composed of four partsan introduction, a declaration, a program of action, and a section on machinerythe Final Document set out goals, principles, and priorities in the field of disarmament.

The Introduction stated that while the final objective should continue to be general and complete disarmament under effective international control, the immediate goal was the elimination of the danger of a nuclear war and the implementation of measures to halt and reverse the arms race.

The Declaration stated that "the increase in weapons, especially nuclear weapons, far from helping to strengthen international security, on the contrary weakens it, heightens the sense of insecurity among all states, including the non-nuclear-weapon states, and increases the threat of nuclear war." It further stated that "genuine and lasting peace can only be created through the effective implementation of the security system provided for in the Charter of the United Nations and the speedy and substantial reduction of arms and armed forces." It emphasized that, in the adoption of disarmament measures, the right of each state to security should be kept in mind and that, at each stage of the disarmament process, "the objective should be undiminished security at the lowest possible level of armaments and military forces."

The Program of Action listed priorities and measures that states should undertake as a matter of urgency in the field of disarmament. Priorities included nuclear weapons; other weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons; and conventional weapons, including any that might be deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects. The program called for agreements or other measures to be "resolutely pursued on a bilateral, regional and multilateral basis with the aim of strengthening peace and security," and it recommended that measures be taken and policies pursued to strengthen international peace and security and to build confidence among states. The urgency of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and of halting nuclear tests was stressed. The program called for full implementation of the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, prohibiting nuclear weapons in Latin America, and recommended steps to put into effect the proposals for the establishment of other nuclear-weapon-free zones. Other measures included prohibition of the development, production, and stockpiling of chemical weapons; limits on the international transfer of conventional weapons; agreed reduction of military budgets; and further study of the question of verification. The program also listed measures to be undertaken to mobilize world public opinion on behalf of disarmament.

The final section, on Machinery, noted the urgency of revitalizing the disarmament machinery and outlined the consensus reached on the strengthening or establishment of appropriate forums, of suitably representative character, for disarmament deliberations and negotiations, as well as for other activities to be undertaken, including research.

Acting on the recommendations of the special session, the General Assembly established, as a specialized, subsidiary deliberative body, a revitalized Disarmament Commission composed of all UN members. It was assigned the mandate of making recommendations on disarmament problems as requested by the General Assembly, and to follow up the relevant decisions and recommendations of the special session on disarmament.

The special session recognized the continued need for a single multilateral negotiating forum on disarmament and recognized that the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva should continue to fulfill this role and to carry on the work of its predecessorsthe Ten-Nation Committee on Disarmament (195960), the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament (196269) and the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (196978). Known as the Conference on Disarmament since 1979, it has a membership of 65 countries, including the five nuclear-weapon states and most of the militarily powerful states of the world's regions.

Other results of the General Assembly's first special session included the establishment of a program of fellowships on disarmament; an increased flow of information on disarmament to governments, nongovernmental organizations, the media, and the general public; and the designation of the week beginning 24 October (UN Day) to be observed each year as Disarmament Week (see also under Studies, Research, Information, and Training below).

In order to enable the UN to fulfill its role in the field of disarmament and to carry out the tasks assigned to it, the special session took steps to strengthen the role of the section of the UN Secretariat handling disarmament affairs, the Centre for Disarmament Affairs. The centre's main tasks include maintaining a database on conventional armaments transfers, supporting ongoing deliberations and negotiations in New York, Geneva, and elsewhere, fostering regional confidence and security building initiatives, and disseminating information to sources outside the UN.

In 1979, the General Assembly declared the 1980s as the Second Disarmament Decade, stating that its goals should remain consistent with the ultimate objective of general and complete disarmament. The basic goals of the Second Disarmament Decade were set out as follows: halting and reversing the arms race; conclusion of agreements on disarmament according to the objectives and priorities of the 1978 Final Document; strengthening international peace and security in keeping with the UN Charter; and reallocating resources from military to development purposes, particularly in favor of developing countries.

In the four years following the first special session, the international situation in fact deteriorated: numerous events beyond effective UN influence evolved in such a way as to hinder international arms-limitation efforts, particularly in the early 1980s, when military expenditures increased and a lack of confidence permeated disarmament discussions and affected negotiations. After some initial progress, negotiations stalled on virtually every important disarmament issue, and the 1978 Program of Action remained substantially unimplemented.

Second Special Session, 1982

The second special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament was held at UN headquarters from 7 June to 10 July 1982. Given the international tension and armed conflicts prevailing at that time, the atmosphere did not bode well for the reaching of further accords on sensitive, substantive issues then relating to the perceived national security interests of states.

At the time of the first special session in 1978, the General Assembly had reaffirmed the goal of general and complete disarmament, a concept that had received considerable attention even before that in the framework of the UN. The emphasis placed on general and complete disarmament slowly gave way to another approach, known as the comprehensive program of disarmament. The intent of the approach was to elaborate a program which would place partial measures of disarmament into a carefully considered plan, setting out objectives, priorities, and timeframes, with a view to the achievement of disarmament on a progressive basis.

A main agenda item of the sessionto elaborate the strategy of the 1978 Program of Action into a Comprehensive Program of Disarmamentwas not achieved. Thus, the General Assembly did not agree, as it had in 1978, on a formula for specific action. In the Concluding Document of the session, however, the General Assembly unanimously reaffirmed the validity of the Final Document of the first special session on disarmament. It expressed its profound preoccupation over the danger of war, particularly nuclear war, and urged member states to consider as soon as possible proposals for ensuring prevention of such a war. The General Assembly also stressed again the need for strengthening the central role of the UN in the field of disarmament, for implementing the security system provided for in the Charter of the UN, and for enhancing the effectiveness of the multilateral negotiating body, the Committee on Disarmament.

The committee and then the Conference on Disarmament continued to negotiate the draft comprehensive program of disarmament until 1989. At the end of the conference's session that year, it was agreed to suspend work on the program until the circumstances were more propitious for progress.

Among the other decisions of the second special session was the launching of a World Disarmament Campaign to increase public awareness of disarmament issues (see also under Studies, Research, Information, and Training below). The General Assembly also decided to convene a third special session on disarmament (subsequently scheduled to be held in 1988 at UN headquarters).

Third Special Session, 1988

The third special session took place in 1988 against the background of a considerably improved international climate. The progress that had been recorded in some important fields of disarmament, in particular nuclear disarmament, was welcomed throughout the debates during the session.

The 1987 Treaty between the former Soviet Union and the United States on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty); the achievements of the 1986 Stockholm Conference on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe; and the 1986 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga) were indicative of the favorable trends in arms control and disarmament.

The progress reported on the negotiations that had begun before the commencement of the special session, between the former Soviet Union and the United States, on a treaty on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms (START) (see below), as well as progress made in the Conference on Disarmament on the complete elimination of chemical weapons, also were highly welcomed. All this notwithstanding, member states were unable to adopt by consensus a final document setting the pace and direction for future negotiations.

In December 1995, the General Assembly decided to convene a Fourth Special Session devoted to disarmament in 1997. However, as the Disarmament Commission completed its 1998 session, it had not come to agreement on the objectives and agenda of the proposed fourth special session, then pushed back to 1999. In December 1999, the General Assembly decided anew to convene the fourth session on disarmament and requested the Secretary-General to seek the views of the member states on the objectives, agenda, and timing. A fourth session on disarmament had not taken place as of April 2006.


General Assembly

The General Assembly, as the main deliberative body of the UN, takes up questions concerning disarmament and related international security matters at each of its annual sessions, through its First Committee, and makes recommendations. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, some 2530% of the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly have been concerned with disarmament and related international security matters; many of these resolutions give mandates to the Disarmament Commission or make requests to the Conference on Disarmament (formerly the Committee on Disarmament) to take into consideration various ideas or questions under negotiation. Both the Disarmament Commission and the Conference on Disarmament report to the General Assembly each year.

Disarmament Commission

The revitalized Disarmament Commission established after the first special session of the General Assembly on disarmament is composed of all members of the UN. It provides a deliberative forum for consideration of specific disarmament issues when the General Assembly is not in session. A subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, it meets annually at UN headquarters for approximately four weeks, usually in spring, to make recommendations to the General Assembly on specific disarmament problems and to follow up mandates given to it.

Conference on Disarmament

As a result of its first special session on disarmament, the General Assembly mandated the Committee on Disarmament to fulfill the role of a single multilateral negotiating forum and to carry on the work of earlier committees. It enlarged the membership of the committee to 40 countries, including all five nuclear-weapon states (China, France, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Redesignated the Conference on Disarmament at the end of 1983, it meets in Geneva for approximately six months each year, usually when the General Assembly is not in session. Its Secretary-General is appointed, upon consultation, by the Secretary-General of the UN and also serves as that individual's personal representative. In 2006, the Conference on Disarmament was composed of 65 member states.

The Conference on Disarmament has a unique relationship with the UN. It defines its own rules of procedure and develops its own agenda, taking into account the recommendations made by the General Assembly. It agreed on a permanent agenda of 10 items in 1979, and from those items it chooses an annual agenda and fixes its program of work for the year. Its work in plenary meetings and also in subsidiary bodies dealing with specific items is conducted by consensus, since international agreements, if they are to be effective, must be generally acceptable.

Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA)

As a result of the General Assembly's second session on disarmament, the Department for Disarmament Affairs was established in 1982, and it continued until 1992. The Department was reestablished in 1998. It provides substantive and organizational support for norm-setting in the area of disarmament through the work of the General Assembly's First Committee, the Disarmament Commission and the Conference on Disarmament. It is structured in five branches. The CD Secretariat and Conference Support Branch provides organizational and substantive servicing to the Conference on Disarmament (CD). The Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch (WMD) supports and participates in multilateral efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The Conventional Arms Branch (CAB) focuses on all weapons not considered WMD, to curb the flow of small arms in regions of tension, and to develop measures of practical disarmament. The Regional Disarmament Branch (RDB) provides support and advisory services to member states and regional and subregional organizations on disarmament and security matters. It oversees and coordinates the activities of three regional centers: one in Africa, one in Asia and the Pacific, and one in Latin Americaand the Caribbean. And the Monitoring, Database and Information Branch (MDI) organizes a wide variety of special events and programs in the field of disarmament, produces DDA publications such as the Disarmament Yearbook, and maintains the database for specialized areas.


Multilateral Agreements

After World War I, intense efforts were made to translate the 1874 Brussels Declaration and the subsequent Hague Conventions into a ban on chemical weapons and "the use of projectiles, the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases." Although a total ban is still to be attained, one of the first achievements, in 1925, was the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, generally referred to as the Geneva Protocol. It bans "the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices," as well as "the use of bacteriological methods of warfare." The Geneva Protocol, with 133 states parties in 2005, is the point of departure in current efforts toward a ban on the production, possession, and stockpiling of chemical weapons and helped establish the convention banning bacteriological weapons in 1972 (see below).

Concerted efforts by the UN and by governments since 1945 at both the multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as on a regional basis, have led to a body of important agreements, treaties, and conventions committing their parties to various arms limitation and disarmament measures. The multilateral instruments concluded so far are given below (the number of states parties as of 15 April 2006 is shown in parentheses after each title).

  • The 1959 Antarctic Treaty (45) provides for the demilitarization of Antarctica and is the first treaty to put into practice the concept of the nuclear-weapon-free zone, later applied to Latin America and the South Pacific, as well as to the seabed and outer space. It prohibits any military maneuvers, weapon tests, building of installations, or disposal of radioactive wastes in the Antarctic region.
  • The 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water (Partial Test-Ban Treaty) (124) bans all nuclear weapon tests in the three environments designated but does not ban underground tests. Since 1963, the General Assembly has repeatedly urged conclusion of a comprehensive treaty banning all nuclear tests, including those conducted underground.
  • The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Outer-Space Treaty)(98) bans nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from the earth's orbit and prohibits the military use of celestial bodies and the placing of such weapons on those bodies.
  • The 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Treaty of Tlatelolco) (33) creates the first nuclear-weapon-free zone in a densely populated area and is the first arms-limitation agreement to provide for control and verification by an international organization, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, as well as through the safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  • The 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty) (189) aims at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon states, at guaranteeing all countries access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and at promoting the process of nuclear disarmament. The treaty defines a nuclear-weapon state as one that had manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967. With the broadest adherence of all treaties, it has helped so far to maintain the number of nuclear-weapon states at five.
  • The 1971 Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof (Sea-Bed Treaty) (92) bans the placement of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and facilities for such weapons on or under the seabed outside a 12-mile coastal zone.
  • The 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (155) is the first international agreement providing for actual disarmament, that is, the destruction of existing weapons.
  • The 1977 Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (72) prohibits the use of techniques that would have widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects in causing such phenomena as earthquakes, tidal waves, and changes in weather and climate patterns.
  • The 1979 Agreement Governing Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (11) goes further than the 1967 Outer-Space Treaty in prohibiting the use of the moon and other celestial bodies for military purposes.
  • The 1981 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (100) restricts or prohibits the use of mines and booby traps, incendiary weapons, and fragments not readily detectable in the human body. These rules range from a complete ban on the use of such weapons to restrictions on their use in conditions that would cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects.
  • The 1985 South Pacific Nuclear-Free-Zone Treaty (Treaty of Raratonga) (13), exemplifies a positive regional limitation measure. Its geographical limits are contiguous with those of the two other major zonal treaties, the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the Antarctic Treaty, the three instruments covering a significant portion of the earth's surface.
  • The 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) (30), was a considerable post-Cold War breakthrough achieved at a summit meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). It was adopted in Paris in November 1990. The treaty entered into force on 9 November 1992, after it was signed by the original 22 participating states, joined by seven of the new republics formed from the former Soviet Union. It established limits for five categories of weapons within its area of application, which stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals. Chosen for limitation were those categories of weapons systems that would eliminate disparities in force levels and the capability of launching surprise attack or large-scale offensives. The treaty was the first in Europe to provide for the actual reduction of conventional weapons. As called for in the treaty, negotiations among the states party to the CFE Treaty soon began, aimed at limiting the personnel strength of armed forces. Known as the CFE-1A Agreement, it was signed in July 1992 at the summit meeting of the CSCE at Helsinki.
  • The 1992 Treaty on Open Skies (31) establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants. The Open Sky Treaty is the most wide-ranging international effort to date to promote openness and transparency of military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in 2002.
  • The 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention) (178), is the first disarmament agreement that would eliminate an entire category of weapons. Such chemical weapons exist in large quantities, are possessed by many countries, and have been used in combat even in recent years. The convention was ratified by 65 countries and entered into force on 29 April 1997.
  • The 1995 Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEAN WFZ) Treaty (Treaty of Bangkok) (10) bans the research, development, manufacture, stockpiling, acquisition, possession or control over any nuclear explosive device by any means in Southeast Asia.
  • The 1996 African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (Pelindaba Treaty) (19) establishes a nuclear-weapon-free zone on the continent of Africa and all island states considered by the former Organization of African Unity to be part of Africa.
  • The 1996 Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT Treaty) (132) goes further than the 1963 Partial Test-Ban Treaty in that it prohibits any nuclear explosion whether for weapons or peaceful purposes.
  • The 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Mine-Ban Convention) (148) bans the use and development of anti-personnel mines, and commits states to destroy them.
  • The 1997 Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials (Inter-American Convention)(26) was spearheaded by the member states of the Organization of American States to address the problem of illicit firearms trafficking, including ammunition, bombs, grenades, rockets, rocket launchers, missiles, and missile systems.
  • The 1999 Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions (9) was designed to contribute more fully to regional openness and transparency in the acquisition of conventional weapons by exchanging information regarding such acquisitions, for the purpose of promoting confidence among states in the Americas.

Bilateral Agreements

Over the same period, bilateral negotiations between the USSR/Russian Federation and the United States have produced a number of agreements between the two powers, including those described below.

  • The 1972 Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty and part of the SALT I agreements) restricts in general the development of sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based antiballistic missile (ABM) systems and specifically limits development of ABM systems to two sites with no more than 100 launchers each. By a protocol of 1974, the deployment of ABM systems is further limited to a single area, with no more than 100 launchers. On 13 June 2002, the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty in order to pursue the development of missile defenses that would have been banned by the agreement.
  • The 1972 Interim Agreement on Certain Measures with Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (commonly regarded as SALT I) establishes limitations for a five-year periodwith a provision for extensionon the number of launchers of strategic weapons.
  • Under the 1973 Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, the two parties agree to make the removal of the danger of nuclear war and of the use of nuclear weapons an objective of their policies and to make all efforts toward guaranteeing stability and peace.
  • The 1974 Treaty on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear-Weapon Tests (Threshold Test-Ban Treaty) establishes a nuclear threshold by prohibiting underground nuclear-weapon tests having a yield exceeding 150 kilotons.
  • The 1976 Treaty on Underground Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes prohibits the carrying out of any individual nuclear explosion for peaceful purposes having a yield exceeding 150 kilotons or any group explosion with an aggregate yield exceeding 1,500 kilotons, and it includes on-site verification procedures.
  • The 1979 Treaty on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (SALT II) establishes limits on the number and types of strategic nuclear-delivery vehicles (launchers and bombers) to 2,400 on each side. The treaty also set limits on the numbers of MIRVed launchers. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan announced that the United States would no longer be bound by the SALT II limits because of Soviet violations of its arms control commitments.
  • The 1987 Treaty between the Two States on the Elimination of Their Intermediate Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty) provides for the elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons with a range between 55 and 5,500 kilometers (3,410 miles). The treaty entered into force on 1 June 1988 and its provisions were implemented before the 1 June 1991 date set by the treaty.
  • The 1991 Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty) places limits on the two sides' strategic nuclear forces, i.e., inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). This treaty established an unprecedented reduction of 35% to 40% of the states' overall nuclear forces at the time and created an elaborate system for verification of compliance. Through the Lisbon Protocol signed in 1992,Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia became parties to START I as successor states to the Soviet Union.
  • The 1993 Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START II), once implemented, was to bring about deep reductions in the overall levels of ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), nuclear armed heavy bombers and nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ACLMs). The United States and Russia ratified START II in 1996 and 2000, respectively, although Russia made entry into force conditional on U.S. Senate consent to ratification of the 1997 protocol and approval of two Agreed Statements outlining limits on the testing of theater missile defense (TMD) systems. On 14 June 2002, one day after the U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty, Russia announced that it would no longer consider itself to be bound by START II provisions.
  • The 2002 Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT) (commonly referred to as the Treaty of Moscow) states that both the United States and Russia will reduce their numbers of operationally deployed nuclear warheads to between 1,7002,200 within ten years. It establishes a Bilateral Implementation Commission, scheduled to meet at least twice a year, to discuss and review the treaty's implementation. The document does not require the destruction of strategic delivery systems, specify what is to be done with the warheads once they have been removed from launchers, or constrain the development of ballistic missile defenses.


The Threat of Nuclear Weapons

When the first atomic bombs were exploded on 6 and 9 August 1945, their immense destructive power confronted the world with military and political problems of unprecedented magnitude.

The catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons would not be confined to the nuclear adversaries but would threaten civilization on a global scale. According to a 1984 World Health Organization (WHO) report on the effects of nuclear war on health and health services, as many as 10,000 megatons of nuclear bombs could be exploded globally in an all out nuclear war90% of them in Europe, Asia, and North America and 10% in Africa, Latin America, and Oceania. As a result, half of the world's population could instantly become war victims. About 1.5 billion people could die and 1.1 billion could be injured. In addition, millions of immediate survivors of an attack would die of radiation effects, disease, cold temperatures, and starvation over the following few years. Thus, the greatest threat to humanity comes from nuclear arsenals, whose total destructive power has reached a level equivalent to more than 1 million Hiroshima bombs. Yet, each of the nuclear powers, albeit with expressed reluctance, considers it essential, either as a strategy or a necessary policy of credible deterrence of war, to possess operational nuclear weapons as long as the others have them.

A 1988 UN study on the climatic and potential physical effects of nuclear war concluded that a major nuclear war would entail the high risk of a global environmental disruption. A 1990 UN report captured the sense of the turning point in history brought about by the development of nuclear weapons. According to that report, nuclear weapons represented a historically new form of weaponry, which, by their multiple and far-reaching effects, provided a means of warfare whose mass destructive potential was unparalleled in human experience. Nuclear technology had made it possible to release more energy in one microsecond from a single nuclear weapon than all the energy released by conventional weapons used in all wars throughout history. The same expert group estimated that, by 1990, the arms race had led to the gradual deployment on land and on the high seas of some 50,000 nuclear warheads. They also estimated that the world stockpile of nuclear weapons was equivalent to some 13,000 million tons of TNT, and that its explosive capacity was 1 million times the explosive energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

In 1945, only the United States had developed the technology to produce nuclear weapons, but by 1949, the USSR had also developed a nuclear-weapon capability, followed by the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964. Throughout the Cold War era, the United States and the former Soviet Union, among the five nuclear-weapon states, held the vast majority of nuclear weapons and the most advanced delivery systems. Indeed, the UN, in a consensus document adopted at the first special session of disarmament in 1978, recognized the special responsibility that these two states bore with respect to nuclear disarmament.

Over the years, concerns have been expressed in UN forums that some non-nuclear-weapon states might develop nuclear-weapon programs (the issue of so-called "threshold" states). After the end of the war in the Persian Gulf in April 1991, it came to light that some of the concerns expressed, at least in the case of Iraq, were warranted. In November 2002, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441 calling for immediate and unconditional disarmament on the part of Iraq, including the possible existence of nuclear weapons development programs. After the invasion of Iraq by US-led forces in 2003, no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. In 199394 the defiance of the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK) touched off an international crisis. The DPRK refused to allow access to IAEA inspectors charged with monitoring peaceful nuclear facilities (see chapter on IAEA). Since 1994 the IAEA activities were largely limited to monitoring the "freeze" of the DPRK's graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities as requested by the United Nations Security Council and as foreseen in the "Agreed Framework" of October 1994 between the DPRK and the United States. Under the so-called Agreed Framework, the DPRK promised to abandon its nuclear program, and disavow similar nuclear activity, in return for the U.S.-led construction of two modern, light-water reactors and 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year until the reactors were completed. In October 2002, the DPRK announced that it was undertaking a uranium-enrichment program. These developments challenged the UN, especially its Security Council, and the IAEA to unprecedented action. In January 2003, the DPRK announced it was withdrawing from the NPT, and in April, the DPRK announced it had nuclear weapons. In August 2003, the DPRK agreed to take part in six-party talks with the United States, South Korea, Russia, China, and Japan. In September 2004, the DPRK said it had turned plutonium from 8,000 spent fuel rods into nuclear weapons. Then, in September 2005, North Korea stated it would give up its nuclear weapons program and rejoin the NPT.

By the mid-2000s, another state looking to develop nuclear weapons capability was Iran. In January 2002, US President George W. Bush labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an "axis of evil" seeking to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction, among other ill deeds. In September of that year, Russian technicians began construction of Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr despite strong objections from the United States. Subsequently, following a series of back and forth assertions by Iran that it was suspending its nuclear enrichment program or resuming uranium conversion for peaceful purposes, in September 2005 the IAEA found Iran in violation of the NPT. In January 2006, Iran broke IAEA seals at its Natanz nuclear research facility. In February, the IAEA voted to report Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear activities. In April 2006, Iran announced it had succeeded in enriching uranium at Natanz.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, its nuclear weapons were left on the territories of four of the newly independent states: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, and Ukraine. This state of affairs created a new set of challenges to the international community in the control of nuclear weapons.

Over the years, many measures have been proposed in the UN and other multilateral forums to limit, reduce, and eliminate nuclear weapons and their delivery systems; to assure non-nuclear-weapons states that nuclear weapons will not be used or even threatened to be used against them; to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapons states; to bring about a halt to all nuclear testing; to ensure the non-use of nuclear weapons; to bring about the cessation of the production of nuclear weapons as well as the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes; to restrict the deployment of nuclear weapons by nuclear-weapon states, and to foster cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

With the close of the Cold War era, a turning point in international political history had been reached and the dramatic international events that occurred had direct repercussions in the area of nuclear disarmament. Bilateral negotiations between the Russian Federation and the United States led to several agreements which, when fully implemented, will result in unprecedented reductions in the nuclear forces of both sides.

These developments served to codify the end of the Cold War and helped to pave the way for further control over the nuclear arsenals of the two major nuclear-weapon states, as well as to encourage the other three declared nuclear-weapon states towards further efforts in the field of nuclear weapons.

Bilateral Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreements

Although the United Nations did not take part in the historic bilateral negotiations between the former USSR and the United States from 1969 to 2002, member states of the UN have responded with encouragement to the initiatives of the two major powers and have appealed to them to conduct their negotiations with the utmost determination to prevent nuclear war, reduce nuclear arsenals, prevent an arms race in outer spacea longstanding UN objectiveand halt the arms race. Other nuclear-weapon states have declared that they would join the process of reducing nuclear weapons once the major powers have reduced theirs. In this context, it is appropriate to review here the sequence of events that brought these negotiations to such a salutary conclusion and their far-reaching implications for global security.

The SALT Treaties

The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which the former Soviet Union and the United States initiated in 1969, led in their first phase to the signing on 26 May 1972 in Moscow of two agreements: the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty), subsequently amended by a protocol of 3 July 1974, and the Interim Agreement on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, with a protocol attached. Both the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement entered into force on 3 October 1972.

By signing the ABM Treaty, the United States and the former Soviet Union undertook not to develop, test, or deploy mobile land-based, sea-based, air-based, or space-based ABM systems. They also agreed to limit ABM systems to two sites with no more than 100 launchers at each site. In that way, they would not build nationwide ABM systems, which each side viewed as destabilizing. In 1974, the treaty was amended by a protocol which limited each side to one ABM deployment area only. The former Soviet Union chose to maintain its ABM system in the area centered on its capital, Moscow, and the United States chose to maintain its system in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) deployment area in North Dakota. On 13 June 2002, the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty in order to pursue the development of missile defenses that would have been banned by the agreement.

The second phase of the talks (SALT II) began in November 1972 and ended in June 1979 with the signing in Vienna of the Treaty on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, a protocol which was an integral part of the treaty, and a Joint Statement of Principles and Basic Guidelines for Subsequent Negotiations on the Limitation of Strategic Arms. The treaty, designed to remain in force to the end of 1985, defined and identified specific weapons and included numerous detailed limitations on the testing, deployment, modernization and replacement, and conversion of particular weapons systems. A Standing Consultative Commission was set up by the two countries in 1972 to deal with any questions or doubts about compliance with SALT II. Although SALT II was not ratified by either party, each side declared its intention to abide by the provisions of the treaty as long as the other did. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan announced that the United States would no longer be bound by the SALT II limits because of Soviet violations of its arms control commitments.

The INF Treaty

Early in the 1980s, the United States and the former Soviet Union opened two new sets of negotiations, one on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) and one on the reduction of strategic arms (START). After their discontinuation in December 1983, owing to the strained political situation between the two sides on the question of intermediate forces in Europe, the two powers agreed in January 1985 to hold negotiations on the complex questions concerning space and nuclear armsboth strategic and intermediate rangein order to work out an agreement for preventing an arms race in space and terminating it on earth, at limiting and reducing nuclear arms, and at strengthening strategic stability. This process led first to the signing in December 1987 in Washington of theTreaty between the Two States on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty). It provided for the elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons, namely, those nuclear forces with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. (Nuclear weapons with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers were considered to be strategic, while those with a range of less than 500 kilometers belonged to the category of tactical nuclear weapons.) The treaty entered into force on 1 June 1988. The INF Treaty is considered the first nuclear disarmament treaty, as it brought about the first actual reductions in the nuclear weapons of the two major powers. It also was considered an important turning point with respect to the strict verification schedule that it established, which included mutual arrangements for on-site inspections. Its provisions were fully implemented before June 1991, the date set by the treaty.

The START Treaties

In parallel to the negotiations being conducted on intermediate nuclear force, a complex series of talks were also held on reducing significantly the two sides' strategic nuclear weapons, in particular inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). These negotiations were finalized by the signing, at a summit meeting between President Bush and President Gorbachev in Moscow on 31 July 1991, of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty). The main objective of the treaty was to increase stability in the nuclear relationship between the former USSR and the United States. The interrelated limits and sublimits on the two sides' strategic nuclear forces established by the treaty amounted to an unprecedented reduction of 35% to 40% of their overall nuclear forces at the time. Furthermore, an elaborate system, including a full range of notifications, inspections, and permanent monitoring, was adopted for the verification of compliance with the terms of the treaty.

At the same time as efforts were being carried forward to ratify the START Treaty and to deal with the problems raised by the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the Russian Federation and the United States intensified their negotiations on their strategic nuclear weapons. As a result, on 3 January 1993, President Bush and President Yeltsin signed the Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START II). The treaty, once implemented, was to bring about deep reductions in the overall number of nuclear warheads of the two sides including in their levels of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), nuclear armed heavy bombers and nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ACLMs).

Entry into force of the START I Treaty was complicated by the breakup of the USSR in 1989. The Russian Federation ratified the treaty on condition that the new republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine also ratify the treaty and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The START I Treaty was ratified by the United States Senate (1 October 1992), the Russian parliament (4 November 1992), the Belarus parliament (4 February 1993), the Kazakhstan parliament (2 July 1992), and the Ukrainian parliament (3 February 1994). Belarus joined the NPT on 22 July 1993. Kazakhstan joined the NPT on 14 February 1994. Ukraine joined the NPT on 5 December 1994. On that date, START I entered into force. On 5 December 2001, the United States and the Russian Federation successfully reached the START I levels of 6,000 deployed warheads.

The START II treaty provided that, in a two-phased process, the Russian Federation would reduce the number of its strategic nuclear weapons to 3,000 and the United States to 3,500, by the year 2003. START II was ratified by the U.S. Senate in January 1996, and by the Russian parliament in April 2000. On 14 June 2002, one day after the U.S. withdrew from the ABM Treaty, Russia announced that it would no longer consider itself to be bound by START II provisions. In effect, the START II treaty was superseded by the Moscow Treaty (SORT) of 2002, in which both sides agreed to reduce operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012.

Unilateral Initiatives

In addition to the joint efforts of the two major powers to reduce the level of nuclear confrontation between them, a broad set of unilateral nuclear initiatives was announced by President Bush on 27 September and by President Gorbachev on 5 October 1991, which affected the entire spectrum of nuclear weapons of the United States and the former Soviet Union. The broad unilateral initiatives announced the destruction by both sides of their tactical nuclear weapons throughout the world, as well as other significant moves with respect to their nuclear forces. At the same time, President Gorbachev declared a one-year moratorium on nuclear weapons testing.

Upon the dissolution of the former Soviet Union at the end of 1991, its nuclear arsenal, which was subject to the reductions and limitations agreed under the START Treaty, passed into the jurisdiction of four newly formed states: Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. To address the questions raised by the new situation, the four states, together with the United States, signed on 23 May 1992 in Lisbon, a protocol to the 1991 START Treaty. In the document, the four states, as successor states of the former USSR, agreed to assume the obligations of the former Soviet Union under the treaty, including working out arrangements among themselves to comply with the limits and restrictions contained in the treaty. While the Russian Federation assumed the status of nuclear-weapon state inherited from the former USSR, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine committed themselves to adhere to the non-proliferation treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states in the shortest possible time. They did so in 1993 and 1994. In 1996, Belarus joined Ukraine and Kazakhstan in removing and transferring to the Russian Federation the last of the remaining former Soviet nuclear weapons located within their territories.

Cessation of Nuclear Testing

It is widely considered that a comprehensive test ban would inhibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the nuclear-weapon states to develop new weapon designs and would place constraints on the refinement of existing ones. On the other hand, nuclear-weapon states, including the United States, tend to regard at least some form of testing as necessary so long as their security is at all dependent on a strategy of nuclear deterrence.

The question of the discontinuance of nuclear testing has been discussed in the General Assembly since 1945. An estimated 1,622 nuclear-test explosions were detonated between 16 July 1945 and 31 December 1986815 by the United States, 597 by the USSR, 140 by France, 40 by the United Kingdom, 29 by China, and 1 by India, which stated that its nuclear test was an experiment strictly for peaceful purposes.

Despite ongoing unilateral and international efforts to ban nuclear testing, it continued in the 1990s. Notably, in early October 1995, France (despite its assurances that it would not) conducted a nuclear test on Fangataufa Atoll in the Pacific. The blast triggered a wave of protest throughout the region. Ongoing tests by nuclear-weapons states prompted the General Assembly on 12 December 1995 to issue a statement saying it "strongly deplored all current nuclear testing and strongly urged the immediate cessation of all such testing" and had adopted a resolution by a vote of 85 in favor to 18 against, with 43 abstentions, commending those nuclear-weapon states observing testing moratoriums and urging them to continue the moratoriums pending the entry into force of a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty. In spring 1998, India and Pakistan, whose dispute over the Kashmir region continued, each conducted underground nuclear tests, causing scientists to move the hands of the infamous Doomsday Clock closer to midnight (the point of annihilation). These events highlighted the urgency of reaching consensus on nuclear non-proliferation and testing and underscored the role of the UN in bringing the parties to the table.

Partial Test Ban Treaty

Late in 1958, the nuclear powers (then the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States) began negotiations in Geneva on the discontinuance of nuclear-weapon tests. Although they accomplished nothing definitive, related and subsequent efforts in the General Assembly and the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament and, finally, further negotiations led to the signing in Moscow on 5 August 1963 of the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water (Partial Test-Ban Treaty). The treaty prohibits any nuclear explosions for weapons testing or for any other purpose in the atmosphere or beyond its limits, including outer space; or under water, including territorial waters or high seas. Its prohibitions also extend to nuclear explosions in any other environment if such an explosion produces radioactive debris outside the territorial limits of the state under whose jurisdiction or control the explosion is conducted. Further to the main provisions of the treaty, which did not prohibit the testing of nuclear devices underground, the parties to the treaty also confirmed their intention to seek an end to all testing of nuclear weapons and to continue negotiations towards that end, and declared their desire to end radioactive contamination of the environment.

The treaty was the first international agreement to regulate nuclear arms worldwide, and it has been recognized as an important instrument in reducing international tensions and decreasing radioactive pollution. It also helped to create a climate in which negotiations on other nuclear-arms limitation agreements, notably the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, were able to take place.

France and China did not become parties to the treaty, but France announced in 1974 that it would not conduct any further atmospheric tests.

Bilateral Agreements on Nuclear Testing

In 1963, the nonaligned states in particular made strenuous efforts to persuade the USSR and the United States to extend the Partial Test Ban Treaty to include a ban on underground tests. Disagreement about verification prevented such an extension. Even after the Partial Test Ban Treaty came into effect, extensive underground testing continued, particularly by the USSR and the United States.

Two bilateral treaties, between the former Soviet Union and the United States, placed limits on their underground nuclear tests. These were the 1974 Treaty on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear Weapon Tests (known as the threshold test-ban treaty) and the 1976 Treaty on Underground Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes. Each party agreed not to test explosives yielding more than the 150-kiloton limit. Because of difficulties with the verification provisions and technology associated with the two treaties, they remained unratified for many years, although the two powers complied with their provisions. Following three years of bilateral negotiations from November 1987 to 1 December 1990 on nuclear testing verification and yield measurement methodology, the two powers exchanged instruments of ratification of the two treaties. The verification arrangements set out in conjunction with those two treaties were unprecedented in their openness and transparency, and helped to set the stage for even greater cooperation between the two major powers in agreements on the reduction of their nuclear-weapon arsenals.

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

The question of the complete cessation of all nuclear-weapon tests or of all nuclear explosive tests has been considered as a separate issue in UN bodies since 1963 and is the subject of many General Assembly resolutions. Between 1977 and 1980, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States also undertook trilateral negotiations on a comprehensive test-ban treaty but again did not succeed in completing one. Questions of how to verify compliance with a ban on nuclear-weapon tests, how to treat nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes under the conditions of a ban, and whether to seek to ban all nuclear explosions presented difficulties both in the Conference on Disarmament, which was the main focus of efforts since 1980, and in the bilateral discussions that commenced in July 1986 between the USSR and the United States.

In an effort to add impetus to the ongoing efforts, the USSR halted all nuclear explosions for an 18-month period, from August 1985 to February 1987. The United States did not reciprocate because it believed that such an unverifiable measure was not a substitute for a negotiated, binding treaty.

At the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference, the first measure agreed to was the completion of a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) no later than 1996. On 24 September 1996, the CTBT was opened for signature. As of 15 April 2006, it had been signed by 176 states, including all five nuclear-weapon states, and ratified by 132 states. However, the treaty had not yet entered into force since not all the states whose ratification is required for its entry into force had done so, including the United States, which rejected ratification in fall 1999.

Unilateral Actions Towards an End to Nuclear Testing

With the end of the Cold War and the improvement in international political climate, important political strides towards the achievement of a comprehensive nuclear test ban were registered. In the early 1990s the number of underground nuclear tests being conducted by the nuclear-weapon states began to decrease considerably. In October 1991, the former Soviet Union declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests, which was extended by the Russian Federation indefinitely. In April 1992 France suspended its nuclear testing. In October 1992 the United States enacted a law which not only declared a unilateral moratorium on its nuclear tests, but also directed that after September 1996, the United States government could no longer conduct nuclear tests. However, although the United States in January 2002 stated that it had no plans to resume nuclear testing, the U.S. Defense Department made a decision to "try and upgrade our testing infrastructure," especially "if the strategic circumstances in the world changed dramatically." The United Kingdom, which has conducted for several decades its nuclear-weapon tests at the nuclear testing site in the United States, has respected the declared moratorium of the United States and has not conducted any nuclear tests since November 1991. However, China conducted nuclear tests in June and October 1994. France resumed its nuclear testing program in the Pacific by conducting six under-ground tests during a five month period that began in September of 1995. Nuclear weapons tests broke out on the South Asian subcontinent in 1998. India announced that it conducted five underground nuclear explosions on 11 and 13 May 1998, its first nuclear tests since 1974. In response, Pakistan announced that it conducted five underground nuclear explosions on 28 May and another on 30 May 1998. These events undermined the progress that had been made to halt all nuclear weapons testing.

Prevention of Nuclear Proliferation

In the early years of the atomic era, it was widely assumed that only a few highly industrialized nations would be able to afford to manufacture nuclear weapons. However, by the mid-1960s, advancing technology and simplification of nuclear production processes, particularly for electric-power generation, had led to the categorization of some 20 nations, including relatively small ones, as countries possessing a nuclear capability; there are now some 30 so-called "threshold" states. The fear of horizontal nuclear proliferation has thus spawned much discussion in the General Assembly. During 1965 and 1966, the greater part of the General Assembly's debates on disarmament was devoted to this issue, especially with the emergence of China as a nuclear-weapon power.

In 1967, the United States and the USSR, after prolonged negotiations, put forward identical draft non-proliferation treaties in the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament, and in 1968, after further negotiation, a final joint draft was commended overwhelmingly by the General Assembly as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty came into force in March 1970. By 15 April 2006, it had been ratified by 189 countries, including the five declared nuclear-weapon states: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Though the treaty had received a great deal of support as reflected by the number of ratifications to it, challenges to its objectives remained.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prohibits the spread of nuclear weapons, employing the safeguards system of the IAEA to provide assurance against any diversion or misuse of nuclear materials by non-nuclear-weapon states. It also contains provisions for promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy; for making nuclear equipment, materials, and information available on a nondiscriminatory basis to non-nuclear-weapon states for peaceful purposes; and for the pursuit of negotiations relating to the cessation of the nuclear-arms race and to nuclear and general disarmament. All the non-nuclear-weapon parties to the treaty must accept safeguards, through separate agreements, with the IAEA. The safeguards system provides for international inspection of all their nuclear installations. Several states that are not parties to the treaty have also signed safeguards agreements with the IAEA covering all or most of their installations.

Following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the nuclear weapons left on its former territory had fallen under the jurisdiction of Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. While the Russian Federation assumed the treaty obligations of the former Soviet Union, in a special agreement, the Lisbon Protocol, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine agreed to become non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. They did so in 1993 and 1994. In 1996, Belarus joined Ukraine and Kazakhstan in removing and transferring to the Russian Federation the last of the remaining former Soviet nuclear weapons located within their territories. Only India, Israel, Pakistan and Cuba remain outside the NPT regime.

In the wake of the war in the Persian Gulf, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), appointed to eliminate Iraq's capability to use weapons of mass destruction, uncovered the existence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program in that country. This revelation further challenged the NPT regime and in particular the inspection procedures employed by the IAEA.

Seven conferences have been held to review the operation of the treatyin 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005. In accordance with the terms of the treaty, a conference is to be held 25 years after its entry into force to decide whether it shall continue in force indefinitely or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods. Since the treaty's entry into force, the parties and the General Assembly have called in various contexts for universal adherence to the treaty as the best means of further strengthening the non-proliferation regime.

Some of the aspects that are of crucial importance to the extension of the NPT and the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime revolve around the issue of efforts being made towards the cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament. In that connection, the question of the achievement of a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty has taken on paramount importance for many non-nuclear-weapon states. In addition, the issue of the granting of guarantees to non-nuclear-weapon states that nuclear weapons will not be used against them would make an important contribution to the reinforcement of the NPT structure. Many states have for years supported the call for the nuclear-weapon states to cease production of fissionable material for weapons purposes, which they consider would contribute significantly in a qualitative manner to the ending of the nuclear arms race.

Notwithstanding the above caveats, the Non-Proliferation Treaty remains effective as the cornerstone of an international nonproliferation structure that has grown to embrace the overwhelming majority of countries of the world.

Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

The establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in various parts of the world has long been considered a possible means for curbing horizontal nuclear proliferation and enhancing peace and security for non-nuclear-weapon states on a regional basis.

Outer Space

The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, while not strictly belonging to that body of law which bans nuclear weapons from a particular area, is relevant nonetheless to the concept of nuclear-free zones. Among other things, it provides that states parties will not place any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any weapon of mass destruction in orbit around the earth, install these weapons on celestial bodies, or station them in outer space.

The Seabed

The 1972 Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and in the Subsoil Thereof provides that states parties undertake not to place on or under the seabed, beyond the outer limit of a 12-mile coastal zone, any nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction or any facilities for such weapons.


The 1959 Antarctic Treaty was the first international agreement to provide for the absence of nuclear weapons in a specified area by having established a demilitarized zone in the Antarctic. Under the terms of the treaty, Antarctica is to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. All military activity, nuclear explosions, or disposal of radioactive waste in the area are prohibited. The provisions of this treaty appear to have been scrupulously observed.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco), signed on 14 February 1967 at Tlatelolco, Mexico, was the first treaty establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in a densely populated area. It is also the first regional agreement to establish its own system of international verification and a permanent supervisory organ, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (known by its Spanish acronym OPANAL), which was set up in June 1969. States parties to the treaty agree to use any nuclear material or facilities under their jurisdiction exclusively for peaceful purposes and to prohibit the presence of nuclear weapons in their territories, under any circumstances. They also agree not to engage in, encourage, authorize, directly or indirectly, or in any way participate in, the testing, use, manufacture, production, possession, or control of any nuclear weapon. The treaty's verification system includes the requirement that safeguards agreements be concluded with IAEA in respect of all the nuclear activities undertaken by the parties. Annexed to the treaty are two Additional Protocols. Under Additional Protocol I, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States agree to guarantee nuclear-weapon-free status to those territories for which they are, de jure or de facto, internationally responsible. In August 1972, the protocol was signed by France, thus giving it full force as all four countries had now signed. Under Additional Protocol II, nuclear-weapon states pledge to respect fully the denuclearization of Latin America and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against parties to the treaty. By 1979, all five nuclear-weapon states had become parties to it.

The South Pacific

The states party to the 1986 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga) have undertaken not to manufacture or acquire any nuclear explosive device; to control the export of fissionable material; to ensure that their nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful and nonexplosive purposes and are conducted under strict safeguards; to ban the testing of nuclear explosive devices in the South Pacific; to prohibit the stationing of nuclear explosive devices in their territories; and to prevent the dumping at sea, in the region, of nuclear waste.

The treaty has three protocols, which are integral to its purposes. Protocol 1 obliges France, the United Kingdom, and the United States to apply the terms of the treaty in respect of the territories for which they are responsible in the region, especially with regard to prohibitions on the manufacture, stationing, and testing of any nuclear explosive device. Protocol 2 commits the five nuclear-weapon states not to use or threaten to use any nuclear explosive device against parties to the treaty. Protocol 3 commits the five nuclear-weapon states not to test any nuclear explosive device anywhere within the zone covered by the treaty. The United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, signed all three protocols on 25 March 1996. Russia (with understandings) and China signed and ratified Protocols II and III; neither has zonal territories that would require adherence to Protocol I. France ratified the protocols on 20 September 1996, and the United Kingdom ratified the protocols on 19 September 1997.

Southeast Asia

The 1995 Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty (Treaty of Bangkok) bans the research, development, manufacture, stockpiling, acquisition, possession or control over any nuclear explosive device by any means in Southeast Asia. The area designated as a nuclear free zone comprises the territories of all states in Southeast Asia, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and their respective continental shelves and exclusive economic zones. Each state party also agrees not to dump at sea or discharge into the atmosphere any radioactive material or wastes in the region. The Treaty of Bangkok has one protocol, specifying that all five nuclear weapons states undertake not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any state party to the treaty, nor to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons within the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone. As of 2006, none of the nuclear weapons states had signed the protocol, largely due to U.S. and French objections regarding the unequivocal nature of security assurances and over the definitions of territory, including exclusive economic zones.


The 1996 African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (ANWFZ) (commonly known as the Treaty of Pelindaba) establishes a nuclear-weapon-free zone on the continent of Africa and all island states considered by the former Organization of African Unity to be part of Africa. The treaty has three protocols. Under Protocol I, the five nuclear powers are to agree not to use or threaten to use a nuclear explosive device against any treaty party or against any territory of a Protocol III party within the African zone. Under Protocol II, those five powers are to agree not to test or assist or encourage the testing of a nuclear explosive device anywhere with the African zone. Protocol III is open to states with dependent territories in the zone and obligates them to observe certain provisions of the treaty with respect to these territories; only Spain and France may become parties to it. All five nuclear weapons states signed the three protocols in 1996, but as of April 2006, only China, France, and the United Kingdom had ratified Protocols I and II. France ratified Protocol III in 1997.

Proposals for Nuclear-weapon-free Zones

In addition to those areas and zones mentioned above, where there has been success in elaborating treaties prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons, the General Assembly has also discussed, with varying degrees of success, proposals for creating nuclear-weapon-free zones in many other regions of the world. These discussions have covered a number of geographic zones, including the Balkans, the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Central Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Security Assurances to Non-nuclear-weapon States

Since the conclusion of the NPT in 1968, the non-nuclear-weapon states have repeatedly insisted that their promise not to acquire nuclear weapons should be met with an assurance that nuclear weapons would not, under any circumstances, be used against them. On 19 June 1968, the Security Council recognized that aggression using nuclear weapons, or the threat of doing so, against a non-nuclear-weapon state would warrant immediate action by the Security Council, above all its nuclear-weapon state permanent members. The Security Council also reaffirmed the provision of the UN Charter that declares that a state, if the victim of an armed attack, has a right to act in individual or collective self-defense until such time as the Security Council could take action to maintain peace and security.

At the 1978 special session on disarmament, four of the five nuclear-weapon states individually declared their intention not to use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states, which met the conditions outlined in their respective declarations. At that session also, China reiterated the declaration it made when it conducted its first nuclear testthat it would never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state. The nuclear-weapon states have refined and reasserted their respective security guarantees several times since then.

Since 1979, the Conference on Disarmament has considered proposals for effective international arrangements that would assure non-nuclear-weapon states against the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons. Non-nuclear-weapon states have expressed the view that further assurances, in legally binding form, are necessary in order to effectively guarantee their security against nuclear attack. The Western nuclear-weapon states and their allies have been of the view that, in order to receive such negative security assurances, states must have demonstrated a commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons, by forming part of a nuclear-weapon-free zone or by adhering to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Those non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT considered the issue of pivotal importance to the outcome of the 1995 NPT Conference.

Prohibition of the Production of Fissionable Material

An approach to nuclear disarmament which has received much international attention over the years has been to stop the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes.

The United States submitted proposals on this subject to the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament and the General Assembly during the 1960s, which included plans for inspection of certain types of nuclear reactors and separation plants; the dismantling of a number of nuclear weapons by both the United States and the former Soviet Union, to be carried out in the presence of observers; and the transfer or conversion of fissionable material to industries or forms in which it could be used for peaceful purposes.

In 1992 the United States announced a unilateral cessation of its national production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Among the nuclear-weapons states, both the Russian Federation and the United States have expressed support for reaching an international agreement to halt the production of weapons-grade fissionable material in the interests of non-proliferation. In 1993, the General Assembly adopted without a vote a resolution recommending negotiation in the most appropriate international forum of a non-discriminatory, multilateral, and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

In 1995, the UN Conference on Disarmament agreed to establish a mandate for an ad hoc committee based on the 1993 General Assembly resolution. The mandate was included in the "Shannon Report," named after then-Canadian Ambassador to the UN Gerald Shannon who led consultations on this issue. Because several countries resisted limiting the treaty to a ban only on the future production of fissile material, the Shannon Report explicitly states that the mandate to negotiate a halt to the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons does not preclude any country from including the past production of fissile material. The Conference on Disarmament also agreed in 1998 to convene an ad hoc committee to negotiate a ban on the production of fissile materials.


In 1946, the General Assembly envisaged not only the elimination of atomic weapons, but also of all other major weapons of mass destruction. The dangers of such weapons to humanity cannot be underestimated. Even in World War I, "first-generation" chemical agents caused some 1.3 million casualties, of which over 100,000 were fatal. In 1948, the Commission for Conventional Armaments, in setting out the limits of its jurisdiction, also defined weapons of mass destruction as including, besides atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future with comparable destructive effects.

Chemical and Biological Weapons

As mentioned earlier, the powerful sense of outrage generated by the use of chemical weapons during the First World War resulted in the signing of the Geneva Protocol of 1925 banning the use, but not the production, possession, or stockpiling, of chemical or bacteriological weapons. As a consequence, possession and acquisition, particularly of chemical weapons, has continued and, indeed, in recent years has proliferated. Many parties to the Geneva Protocol have included reservations or statements with their signatures that open the door to the possible retaliatory use of such weapons.

The protocol also did not provide for mechanisms to verify compliance or for procedures to deal with violations. Recognizing the shortcomings of the protocol, the international community continued its quest for a complete ban on chemical and biological weapons. Although treated as a single issue previously, it was agreed in 1971 to separate consideration of chemical and biological weapons in the hope that an early ban on biological weapons could be achieved.

Biological Weapons

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction entered into force on 26 March 1975 and was hailed as a first step towards a comprehensive ban on biological weapons.

The convention prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, or retention of microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or methods of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes. It also prohibits weapons, equipment, or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict. The agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery held by states that became party to the convention should be destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes not later than nine months after the entry into force of the convention for that state. Furthermore, any state party that finds that any other state party is not complying with the provisions of the convention may lodge a complaint with the Security Council.

In 1986, states parties decided to initiate a set of confidence-building measures in the form of a voluntary exchange of information and data. The information to be exchanged included data on high-risk research centers and laboratories; outbreaks of infectious diseases; publication of results of biological research; and the promotion of contacts among scientists in biological research.

In 1991, the states parties established an Ad Hoc Group of Governmental Experts to identify and examine potential verification measures from a scientific and technical standpoint. A majority of states parties have requested a special conference to review the results of the expert group.

In December 1996, the Fourth Review Conference of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention held a two-week session. The conference supported intensified work by an ad hoc group to design a verification protocol for the international treaty. The conference expressed hope that the group would reach agreement on a draft protocol to be considered by a special conference of states parties to the convention as soon as possible and before the Fifth Review Conference.

The Fifth Review Conference was convened from 19 November to 7 December 2001. Due to persisting divergent views and positions on certain key issues, however, the conference decided to adjourn its proceedings and resume its work in November 2002. The conference was reconvened from 11 to 15 November 2002 in Geneva. States parties adopted a final report that included a decision to hold annual meetings in the next three years leading up to a Sixth Review Conference in late 2006. The Fifth Review Conference was held against a background of heightened global concern about the threat of biological agents such as anthrax being used as weapons. Extensive negotiations and draft ing sessions were held as the international treaty's states parties sought to respond to recent developments and demands that the Biological Weapons Convention be vigorously and thoroughly enforced. Ninety-one of 144 States parties attended the session.

Chemical Weapons

In 1966, with the adoption of its first resolution on the question of chemical and bacteriological (biological) warfare, the General Assembly commenced a long process of international discussions and negotiations on issues relevant to the question. The adoption of the resolution reflected growing international awareness of the dangers involved with the possible use of such weapons of mass destruction.

The question of chemical and biological weapons was treated as a single issue requiring a unified approach before 1971. After agreement had been reached on the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, attention turned more to the chemical weapons aspect and numerous proposals were put forward in the multilateral negotiating body in Geneva, including the complete texts of draft s conventions. In 1980, the Conference on Disarmament began working toward a convention on chemical weapons, but progress was evident only late in the decade. The former Soviet Union and the United States, the only states that had admitted to possessing stockpiles of chemical weapons, began a series of bilateral contacts that led to agreement between them on sensitive issues of verification of implementation of a convention, including the question of challenge and on-site inspection.

The actual use of chemical weapons during the war between Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran in the 1980s, confirmed by an investigative team appointed by the Secretary-General, focused greater international attention on the need to reach early agreement on the prohibition of these weapons. In 1991, the war in the Persian Gulf and the possibility that chemical weapons might again be used added even greater urgency to the efforts to rid the world of chemical weapons as soon as possible. On 8 November 2002, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1441 calling on Iraq to immediately disarm itself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was regarded by the UN as great, and the resolution included language that did not preclude the use of force against Iraq for noncompliance. Force was indeed used against Iraq beginning on 19 March 2003 when US-led forces invaded Iraq, marking the start of the Iraq War. No significant presence of weapons of mass destruction was found in Iraq after the invasion.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction was opened for signature on 13 January 1993 in Paris, France. The required number of ratifications (65) was completed in October 1996 and the treaty entered into force 29 April 1997, by which time a total of 87 countries had ratified it, including the United States (which ratified it 24 April 1997). One year later, a total of 108 states were party to the convention. By that time the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, had already worked with nine cooperating states that provided the OPCW with information on past or existing chemical weapons programs. The OPCW had completed almost 200 inspections and witnessed the destruction of approximately 1,000 tons of nerve agents in its first year. By April 2006, 178 countries had ratified the chemical weapons convention.

The convention is considered a genuine disarmament measure in that it provides for the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. Its importance lies in the fact that these weapons exist in large quantities, have been used in combat in the past, and are believed to be possessed by a large number of countries. Further, the verification system provided for under the convention is the most comprehensive to have been formulated for a multilateral agreement in the field of disarmament.

By the terms of the convention, states parties undertake never, under any circumstances, to use chemical weapons, nor to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, or retain chemical weapons, or transfer them, directly or indirectly, to anyone. They also commit themselves never to engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons nor to assist, encourage, or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited under the convention. Within a period of 10 years, each state party undertakes to destroy chemical weapons and production facilities that it may own or possess, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, as well as all chemical weapons it has abandoned on the territory of another state party. The convention also bans the use of riot control agents as a method of warfare.

The states parties are required to submit detailed declarations on any chemical weapons they might possess, on old and abandoned chemical weapons they might have on their territory, and on any related chemical weapons production facilities, as well as on the plans and implementation of the destruction of such. They have agreed to a comprehensive and graduated system of routine inspections for international monitoring of the implementation of their obligations under the convention. Also provided for is a system of short-notice, challenge inspections, by which each state party may request an international inspection team to monitor any facility or location in the territory of another state party, which is obliged to allow the inspection, for the purpose of clarifying and resolving any questions concerning possible non-compliance. An inspected state party may protect activities and installations that it considers unrelated to the inspection request.

New Weapons of Mass Destruction

The question of new weapons of mass destruction has been under consideration since the mid-1970s in the General Assembly and the Conference on Disarmament, which have stated that effective measures should be taken to prevent the emergence of such weapons. The former USSR and other nations supported a general agreement precluding laboratory development of weapons of mass destruction, as well as specific agreements as relevant possibilities are identified; other states feel that meaningful, verifiable agreements are practical only for specific, emergent weapons or systems.

A list of specific types of potential weapons of mass destruction presented by the former USSR in 1979 included the following: radiological weapons, using radiological materials, a possibility already foreseen in 1948; particle-beam weapons, using charged or neutral particles to affect biological targets; and infrasonic "acoustic radiation" weapons and electromagnetic weapons operating at certain radio frequencies, either of which could have injurious effects on human organs.

Radiological Weapons

At the 1976 session of the General Assembly, the United States proposed an instrument prohibiting radioactive weapons. This proposal led to bilateral negotiations with the USSR and the submission in 1979 of an agreed joint initiative for consideration by the then Committee on Disarmament.

Since 1980, the multilateral negotiating body has considered proposals for reaching agreement on a convention to prohibit the development, production, stockpiling, or use of radiological weapons. Some nonaligned and neutral states of the Conference on Disarmament, while recognizing the potential danger of the development of radiological weapons, considered that a military attack on a civilian nuclear power installation represented a more dangerous risk of mass destruction caused by the release of radiological substances. The former Soviet Union and the United States felt this idea altered the basic concept and content of the joint initiative.

Finding an acceptable way to cover both a ban on radiological weapons in the traditional sense and a prohibition of attacks against peaceful nuclear facilities has since been the main problem in efforts to negotiate a radiological weapons convention. This question has remained on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament and the General Assembly, but differences of view concerning the question of the prohibition of attacks against nuclear facilities have persisted. In the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Conference on Disarmament put more attention on the problem of radiological weapons. The possibility of terrorists obtaining possession of radiological material and constructing a radiation dispersion weapon or "dirty bomb" was one taken seriously by the Conference. The IAEA and other bodies were working on ways of improving the physical control of such material in 2006.


In recent history, the world has viewed with mounting concern the specter of deliberate destruction of the environment as a method of warfare. The damage inflicted on the environment during the war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 and 1992 led to the inclusion of a new item on the agenda of the General Assembly, entitled "Exploitation of the environment as a weapon in times of armed conflict and the taking of practical measures to prevent such exploitation."

Prohibition of Environmental Modification

In July 1974, following a summit meeting between the United States and the USSR, the two powers advocated measures to preclude the use of environmental modification techniques for hostile military purposes. This proposal led to consideration of the question in the General Assembly and the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament and the opening for signature on 18 May 1977 of the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques. The convention entered into force in 1978. In essence, the convention bolsters existing provisions in international law protecting the environment by outlawing environmental modification techniques that would cause widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects to another state. During the process that led to the convention, many states decided it too narrowly defined the scope of the techniques to be banned. By April 2006, the convention had acquired only 72 signatures.

The convening of the UN conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the specter of oil wells set ablaze and a massive oil spill in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War of 199192 intensified the debate over the environmental consequences of war. Some of the states parties to the convention made it known that they would ask the Secretary-General of the UN, as depositary (the holder of the legal, certified copies of the treaty), to convene a consultative committee of experts to provide views on the scope and application of the provisions of the convention. The states parties also have confirmed that the use of herbicides as an environmental modification technique was a method of warfare that fell within the scope of the prohibition of the convention if such use upset the ecological balance of a region, thus causing widespread, long-lasting, and severe effects.


It is a painful reality that, throughout the nuclear era and the cold war, and now in the post-cold war world, all armed conflictsalmost every one of them in developing countrieshave been fought with conventional weapons. More than 20 million people have died in those wars. Every year, armed conflicts are waged in some 30 locations on the planet, all fought with conventional weapons. Conventional weapons and armed forces account for some four-fifths of global military expenditures and for approximately 80% of the world arms trade.

Thus, while consideration of nuclear questions has dominated disarmament debates in the UN and other forums, the problems posed by the conventional arms race and arms transfers have come increasingly to the fore, particularly in the 1980s. In the disarmament forums at the UN, discussions of the issue of conventional disarmament have focused on four main elements: (a) limitations on conventional weapons themselves; (b) transparency in international arms transfers and the establishment of a UN Register on Conventional Arms; (c) the regional approach and the building of military confidence and security among states; and (d) the strengthening of international humanitarian and disarmament law with respect to inhumane weapons, including the question of land mines.

In 1986, "conventional disarmament" was considered as a separate item on the agenda of the General Assembly for the first time, and, as a result, in 1987 it appeared on the agenda of the Disarmament Commission, indicating an increasing acceptance of the view that nuclear and conventional disarmament should proceed simultaneously.

When the question of prohibiting the use of certain conventional weapons, such as napalm and other incendiaries, was first raised in the General Assembly in the late 1960s, there were numerous proposals for banning various weapons, such as mines and booby traps, that also were deemed to cause unnecessary suffering or have indiscriminate effects. Considerable work, including some under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross and of diplomatic conferences on protocols to the Geneva Convention of 1949 relating to humanitarian law in armed conflicts, was done in the late 1960s and the 1970s. As noted above, in 1980, a UN conference at Geneva adopted the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects ; the convention was opened for signature in 1981 and came into force in December 1983.

UN Register of Conventional Arms

On 1 January 1992 the UN Register of Conventional Arms was officially established and the first reports on arms transfers during 1992 were due to be received by the UN Centre for Disarmament Affairs by 30 April 1993. In October of 1993, the Secretary-General presented a consolidated report on the first year of operation of the register to the General Assembly, which brought the information presented by states into the public domain. Information was received from 87 states, including most of the major supplier countries, on arms imports and exports in seven categories of heavy conventional weaponsbattle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers. Submissions to the register, which are on a voluntary basis, are to be made by 30 April of each year. Upon the request of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General convened a group of experts in 1994 to examine the continuing operation of the register and its further development. In that connection, many states asserted that the information shared should include information on military holdings, on procurement through national production, and on weapons of mass destruction. They believed that these additions to the register would help to attract wider universality in reporting.

The establishment of the Register of Conventional Arms by the UN was a ground-breaking endeavor. The exchange of information enacted by means of the register has the potential to foster confidence among states and create an atmosphere more conducive to self-restraint and real measures of disarmament. The successful further development and operation of the register could provide the member states of the UN with an effective instrument of preventive diplomacy.

Also in relation to openness and transparency in military matters, the Disarmament Commission completed its work on guidelines and recommendations for objective information on military matters, which were endorsed by the General Assembly. Also in 1992, the Conference on Disarmament took up for the first time an item dealing with conventional weapons under a new agenda item entitled "Transparency in Armaments." It continued consideration of the item in 1993 and 1994 in the framework of a subsidiary body of the conference, and presented a report to the General Assembly on its work in 1993.

In October 2002, the UN held a symposium to mark the 10th anniversary of the UN Register of Conventional Arms. As of April 2006, 169 governments had reported to the Register at least once.

Inhumane Weapons

Early international humanitarian laws dealt with the effects of inhumane conventional weapons. The St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868 recognized that the object of warfare would not be served by the use of weapons that uselessly aggravate the suffering of disabled soldiers. The "dum-dum" bullet, developed a few years later, was banned by the 1899 Hague Conference as contrary to the St. Petersburg Declaration. Principles enunciated in the St. Petersburg Declaration of 1868 and the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907 were repeated in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, prohibiting the employment of weapons, projectiles, and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering. Between 1974 and 1977, two protocols were negotiated to the Geneva Conventions, but were not considered effective at adopting any prohibitions or restrictions on conventional weapons.

In 1977, the General Assembly decided to convene a UN conference with the aim of reaching an agreement on prohibitions or restrictions of use of certain conventional weapons. The UN Conference, held at Geneva in 1979 and 1980, adopted the convention, which entered into force on 2 December 1983. Annexed Protocol I prohibits the use of any weapons that injure with fragments that are not detectable by X-rays. Protocol II prohibits or sets out restrictions on the use of mines (excluding anti-ship mines), booby-traps, and other delayed action devices. Protocol III prohibits or outlines restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, that is, weapons designed with the primary purpose of setting fire to objects or causing injury by means of fire.

Among other items of discussion with respect to the review of the convention, the vast toll in civilian life and bodily injury, together with the devastation of societies and economies in post-conflict situations caused by the massive and indiscriminate use of land mines, has been receiving greater international attention. In 1993, the General Assembly called upon all states to adopt a moratorium on the export of antipersonnel land mines. In a related resolution, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to prepare a report on the problems caused by the increasing presence of mines and other unexploded devices resulting from armed conflicts and on the manner in which the United Nations' contribution to the solution of problems relating to mine clearance could be strengthened.

As part of Secretary-General KofiAnnan's reform, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) was created to coordinate the mine-related activities of 11 UN departments and agencies. Wholly funded by the Voluntary Trust for Assistance in Mine Action, UNMAS spearheaded the development of the Mine Action and Effective Coordination: The United Nations Policy, a document that serves as the basis for the coordinated, systemwide approach to mine action. While UNMAS focused its efforts on removing existing land-mines, the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction aimed to eliminate, or at least reduce the number of, new land-mines. The convention entered into force March 1999.


Regional Confidence-Building

The objective of confidence-building measures is to contribute toward reducing or eliminating the causes for mistrust, fear, tensions, and hostilities, which are significant factors behind the international arms buildup. A UN study on confidence-building measures, issued in 1981, represented an attempt to clarify and develop the concept of confidence-building and to provide guidelines to governments for introducing and implementing confidence-building measures and promoting public awareness of the concept so as to advance negotiations and enhance peace and security. In that same year, the General Assembly invited all states to consider the possible introduction of confidence-building measures in their particular regions and, where possible, to negotiate among themselves in keeping with conditions and requirements prevailing in the respective regions. In fact, multilateral negotiations on these issues had been under way since the early 1970s.

The Vienna Talks on the Mutual Reduction of Forces and Armaments and Associated Measures in Central Europe, which commenced in 1973 among the member countries of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, were aimed at enhancing stability in the central region of the two alliances and in Europe as a whole while reducing armed forces and equipment but maintaining undiminished security. After decades of unsuccessful efforts in that framework, the two sides agreed to close down the talks in 1989 to pursue efforts in the context of a new set of talks on conventional force reductions within the security pillar of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), ongoing since the adoption of the 1975 Helsinki Act.

The CSCE, held in Geneva and Helsinki from 1972 to 1975 and involving 33 European countries, as well as Canada and the United States, further developed the concept of confidence-building measures on a non-UN regional basis; its Final Act, issued at Helsinki in August 1975, included provisions on security, human rights, and scientific cooperation. The final Stockholm Document, adopted in September 1986, constituted the first security agreement for Europe among the 35 states participating in the conference that adopts militarily significant, politically binding, and verifiable confidence-building measures. Under its terms, the CSCE states agreed to a new set of standards on the notification and observation of certain military activities, and, most important, they agreed upon verification of compliance by means of mandatory on-site inspection arrangements.

Reviewed during 197778 in Belgrade and again from 1980 to 1983 in Madrid, the conference led to the Stockholm Conference on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe, held from 1984 to 1986, with the same states participating.

In Vienna in 1989, at the same time that negotiations between the two military alliances were initiated on conventional armed forces in Europe, a new set of negotiations began on confidence and security-building measures (CSBMs) among all the CSCE participating states. The talks led to the adoption of the Vienna Document of 1990, which incorporated and expanded the provisions of the Stockholm Document. Among its provisions are an exchange of military information among its parties on the command structure of their military forces, plans for the deployment of major weapon and equipment systems, and the military bud-plans for the forthcoming year. The CSCE held a summit meeting in Paris immediately following the adoption of the Vienna CSBM document and adopted the Charter of Paris. Among other results, the participating CSCE states decided to establish a Crisis Prevention Centre in Vienna, which became essentially the operational component of the CSBM document.

In order to consolidate further the achievements of the 1990 Charter of Paris, the CSCE held a summit meeting in 1992. It issued an important document relating to confidence-building entitled the Helsinki Document1992The Challenges of Change, adopted unanimously by its full membership. In Helsinki, the states parties decided inter alia to start a new negotiation on arms control, disarmament, and confidence- and security-building; established a new CSCE Forum for Security Cooperation; and strengthened the Conflict Prevention Centre set up in Vienna.

In the interest of improving openness and transparency, and facilitating monitoring and compliance with existing or future arms control agreements and to strengthen the capacity for conflict resolution and crisis management in the CSCE, a Treaty on Open Skies was signed in March 1992 by 24 of the CSCE participating states. Covering an area from Vancouver to Vladivostok, the treaty allows observation flights by a state party over the territory of other state parties.

The UN has contributed to the process of confidence-building in a number of ways. The Secretary-General has assisted states parties to arms limitation agreements, at their request, in exchanges of information. This is the case for the newly formed Register of Conventional Arms, for the maintenance of an international system for standardized reporting of military expenditures, for the biological weapons convention as well as for the seabed treaty.

The Secretary-General also has contributed to confidence building within regions by stimulating informal discussions of regional and global disarmament issues at seminars and conferences organized under the auspices of the Centre for Disarmament Affairs. Further, in order to promote cooperation among regional states towards arms limitation and disarmament, the UN has established three regional centers as follows: UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (Lomé, Togo); UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (Kathmandu, Nepal), and the UN Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and the Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (Lima, Peru). The centers focus their activities on dissemination of information, training, and regional meetings.

Zones of Peace

The 1971 Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace is considered annually by an ad hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean, which has proposed the convening of a conference of the regional states. There also have been proposals for zones of peace and cooperation in various other regions, including the Mediterranean and the South Atlantic.


Since the 1950s, the General Assembly has appealed for the reduction of military spending and has suggested that the money thus saved be redeployed for economic and social development activities. A 1981 UN expert study on the relationship between disarmament and development saw a triangular relationship between disarmament, security, and development and concluded that the world could either continue to pursue the arms race or move toward a more sustainable international and political order; it could not do both. A 1982 expert study on the economic and social consequences of the arms race and of military expenditures concluded that UN mechanisms for peaceful settlement of disputes should be strengthened, that the use of the world's finite resources for military ends should be discouraged, and that there should be extensive diversion of these resources from military applications to socioeconomic development.

Conference on Disarmament and Development

In 1984, the General Assembly decided to convene an International Conference on the Relationship Between Disarmament and Development. The conference, which took place at UN headquarters in AugustSeptember 1987, considered ways and means of enhancing security and of releasing additional resources for development purposes through disarmament measures.

In particular, the conference called upon the UN to make greater efforts to promote collective knowledge of the nonmilitary threats to international security; to establish an improved and comprehensive database on global and national military expenditures; to continue to analyze the impact of global military expenditures on the world economy and the international economic system; to monitor trends in military spending, and to facilitate an international exchange of views and experience in the field of conversion from military to civilian production. To carry out the above work, a high-level task force was set up within the UN Secretariat. The Secretary-General reports each year to the General Assembly on the efforts carried out in this regard.

The improvement in the East-West relations in the late 1980s and the beginning of significant reductions in armed forces and armaments in the 1990s drew considerable attention to the issue of conversion of weapons, weapons testing and production facilities, and redeployment of armed forces. At its 44th session in 1989, the General Assembly, for the first time, adopted a resolution dealing with the subject of conversion of military resources.

Beginning with the 1990 international conference in Moscow on Conversion: Economic Adjustments in an Era of Arms Reduction, a number of similar conferences on different aspects of conversion of military resources to civilian production have been organized by the Centre for Disarmament Affairs and other interested UN bodies in cooperation with various host countries. The conference in Moscow was followed by an international conference on International Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Military Industrial Technology in Beijing, China, in 1991. This was followed by yet another international conference on aerospace complex conversion held in Moscow in 1992.

The UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) submitted to the General Assembly at its 47th session in 1992, through the Secretary-General, a study entitled Economic Aspects of Disarmament: Disarmament As An Investment. It found that on the cost side disarmament required a fundamental reallocation of resources from military to civilian production, which could result in major problems of unemployment or underemployment of labor, capital, and other resources. Economic dividends of disarmament were likely to be small in the short term, it concluded. In the long term, however, disarmament would lead to significant benefits in the civilian sector through the production of goods and services made possible through the reallocation of resources from the military sector. Thus, in its economic aspects, the report said, disarmament was like an investment process involving short-run costs and long-run benefits.

Reduction of Military Budgets

Proposals for the reduction of military budgets, based on the conviction that such measures would facilitate the disarmament process and help release resources for economic and social development, were made in the General Assembly during the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the General Assembly pursued this question on two tracks. There were those states that pressed for the identification and elaboration of principles for freezing and reducing military budgets, while other states favored an effort by the General Assembly to broaden participation in the standardized reporting system.

During the same period, the General Assembly initiated a series of expert studies and established an Ad Hoc Panel on Military Budgeting, aimed at arriving at a generally acceptable conceptual definition of military budgets and the development of a standardized system of measuring and reporting the military expenditures of states.

An international system for the standardized reporting of military expenditures was introduced in pursuance of resolution 35/142 B of 17 December 1980. A 1982 study reaffirmed that the reporting instrument was a practical method for monitoring and reporting on military expenditures and strongly recommended its continuous use. On the basis of national reports on military expenditures received, the Secretary-General has submitted annually to the General Assembly a document on the operation of the reporting system. The General Assembly also has continued to recommend that member states use the reporting instrument to forward annually to the Secretary-General military expenditures for the latest fiscal year for which data are available.

The Disarmament Commission also considered the reduction of the military budgets from 1979 until 1989. Despite the progress and refinement made on the reporting system, basic differences in approach to the problem of reducing military budgets remained. In the 1986 session of the Disarmament Commission, provisional agreement was achieved on a text embodying a set of principles to govern the action of states in freezing and reducing military budgets. However, there was disagreement on the use of the standardized reporting instrument. The item has not been on the agenda of the Disarmament Commission since 1990.

In 1992, the General Assembly endorsed a set of guidelines and recommendations for objective information on military matters as adopted by the Disarmament Commission at its 1992 session. The "Guidelines" are intended inter alia to encourage openness and transparency on military matters, to facilitate the process of arms limitation, reduction, and elimination, as well as to assist verification of compliance with obligations undertaken by states in these fields.


Studies and Research

Since the early 1960s, the UN has prepared studies on disarmament issues mandated by the General Assembly, usually with the assistance of experts and consultants. The purpose of these studies is to assist the negotiating process through analysis of specific questions, as well as to provide information in order to facilitate better understanding of the issues.

The UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), which was established in October 1980 as an autonomous institution within the UN framework, conducts independent research on disarmament problems, aimed at encouraging disarmament by expanding accessible information on proposals and concepts. Located in Geneva, UNIDIR is funded principally by voluntary contributions from governments and public and private organizations.

The Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters functions as the board of trustees of UNIDIR. Its other major functions include advising on programs for disarmament studies and research and on implementation of the UN Disarmament Information Programme. It may also advise the Secretary-General of the UN on specific disarmament and related questions.


The Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA) was created during the UN's late 1990s reform efforts to coordinate the UN's activities in this area. As part of this effort, the DDA issues the UN Disarmament Yearbook and a variety of other publications. The Website keeps track of news and developments in disarmament, including the latest treaty ratifications as well as pertinent UN resolutions and decisions.


A disarmament fellowships program for young diplomats and public officials from various countries, particularly developing countries, was established by the General Assembly at its first special session on disarmament. The program is aimed at preparing students for work with their governments in the field of disarmament and at enhancing and broadening diplomatic expertise. Disarmament fellows are trained each year under the auspices of the Department for Disarmament Affairs.

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Arms Regulation and Disarmament

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