#AceHistoryNews – March.09: In 1945, when the United Nations was founded, the issue of disarmament and arms regulation was given a very prominent place in the post-World War II security arrangements.
The Security Council was given the principal responsibility to address this problem.
It was recognised in the UN Charter that the proliferation of arms of all kinds presented an ongoing risk to international security and constituted a huge opportunity cost, in terms of economic and social development, if resources were diverted towards arms.
This consensus was reflected in article 26 of the UN Charter which gives the Security Council the lead responsibility to develop plans and oversee programs of disarmament and arms regulation.
This was in a sense the first thematic mandate for the Security Council. And it lends itself well to the cross-cutting methodology employed in this series of studies by Security Council Report, under which we examine thematic responsibilities of the Security Council and assess how these have evolved, both at the level of generic development and in terms of application to country-specific situations on the Council’s agenda.
At the outset, the Council tried to apply this mandate as intended in the UN Charter with a number of initiatives in the arena of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control. However, the problems of the Cold War quickly stifled any hope of progress. And for most of its first forty years—coinciding with the Cold War—those dynamics effectively drove questions of disarmament and arms control outside the Council.
To the extent that these were subject to multilateral negotiation at all, this took place mainly in the General Assembly and the UN Conference on Disarmament, or outside the UN altogether and at the bilateral level involving the main Cold War protagonists, the US and the USSR.
The end of the Cold War did not bring the progress on arms control and disarmament that might have been expected. To the contrary, an even deeper malaise in the multilateral arms control negotiating environment seemed to set in. There was a complete stalemate for over a decade in the UN institutions set up by the General Assembly for this purpose.
In 2009, however, some initial signs of a more positive trend began to emerge:
- First, on 5 April US President Barack Obama, in a speech in Prague, pledged to reduce the US nuclear stockpile and committed to work with others to do the same with an ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. He also committed to support the treaty banning nuclear testing (CTBT) and a new treaty to end production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.
- On 16 April, in the context of small arms President Obama announced in Mexico that he would push for ratification of the inter-American arms treaty designed to curb the flow of light weapons and ammunition in the region.
- In spite of previous failures, in May the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference made encouraging progress.
Regarding the Security Council, which is the focus of this report, a second trend can be observed. It began earlier and it marks a gradual but growing reemergence of the Security Council back into the field of disarmament that it had vacated during the early days of the Cold War. This evolving Council activism is manifested mostly in the context of country-specific situations. But there is also an increasing body of thematic or generic statements by the Council on some key issues.
The Council in particular began to be more active in the area of weapons of mass destruction with a specific focus on proliferation issues.
In the case of conventional weapons, the Council began to develop tools including arms embargoes, support for regional initiatives, physical disarmament in post-conflict situations and strategies such as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) in addition to security sector reform (SSR), which address aspects of the problem at the local level.
In January 1992, following a summit-level meeting, the Council underlined the need for all states to fulfil their obligations in relation to arms control and disarmament, in particular to avoid excessive and destabilising accumulations and transfers of arms. It emphasised the importance of the early ratification and implementation by the states concerned of all international and regional arms control arrangements.
At the thematic level the Council has taken up—but made little progress on—the issue of small arms. In general the Council has tended to steer away from major thematic initiatives on disarmament.
Council members are aware of the growing clamour from the majority of UN member states, and especially from civil society, for a quantum leap forward on all disarmament issues. There is pressure not only for more effective and consistent action against the proliferation of nuclear weapons but also for real collective input for the reduction of existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons held by all nuclear weapons states and action in respect of conventional weapons as well—especially small arms—and for strengthening the regimes that deal with all kinds of weapons and the disarmament machinery in general.
In November 2008, at the initiative of Costa Rica, the Council held a debate on these wider dimensions of disarmament. Council members in response stressed concern at the growth of global military expenditures and urged states to devote as many resources as possible to economic and social development (S/PV.6017 and resumption 1).
The debate in the Security Council in November 2008 demonstrated that there is also a concern by many about the unfinished business under the UN Charter itself. For instance, how will the responsibility be taken up to formulate plans to establish a system to regulate armaments in such a way that international peace and security could be maintained with a minimum of diversion of the world’s human and economic resources into the production of or expenditure on armaments?
SIPRI, or the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, has just reported that global military expenditure increased by 4 percent in 2008 and 45 percent over the past decade. It has now reached $1,464 billion.
The Security Council has shown, in recent times, that, in carrying out its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, it has the potential—and the power, if it chooses to exercise it—to contribute to addressing both specific and broader disarmament dimensions of security issues. But its role has often been resisted as either inappropriate (given the parallel responsibilities of the General Assembly and wider objections to Council encroachment) or as ineffective because its decisions were not respected, in part because key stakeholders, who needed to be party to such decisions, were absent from the table.