From the beginning, working for disarmament has been one of the UN’s most important tasks. Nevertheless, the most significant disarmament agreements have been reached outside the UN: INF agreement of 1987 on the scrapping of all US and Soviet Union land-based medium-range nuclear weapons, the 1990 CFE agreement, when NATO and the Warsaw Pact agreed to reduce conventional forces in Europe, and The Start I and II agreements from 1991 and 1993 on a reduction of the two superpowers’ strategic nuclear weapons, as well as the new Start agreement from 2010 which limits the Russian and American nuclear warheads to 1550. Also the partial test stop agreement from 1963 which prohibits test explosions of nuclear weapons have been added outside the UN. See sportingology for definition of FAO.
But there are also significant initiatives within the UN in the area of disarmament and the organization has fulfilled an important function as a debate forum. One of the most well-known agreements is the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, from 1968, which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear technology from nuclear powers to countries without nuclear weapons. In the spring of 1995, the non-proliferation agreement was extended without a time limit. The agreement has today been ratified by all the known nuclear powers, ie the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China. South Africa dismantled its as yet undeveloped nuclear arsenal in 1991 and signed the agreement. About 190 states are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and have thus undertaken not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons and, in the case of the five nuclear powers, to seek disarmament.
However, some states that are believed, or know, have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons have not joined. This applies to Israel, India and Pakistan. North Korea left the agreement in 2003. Negotiations have since been ongoing to get the country to return to the agreement (see the Korean conflict).
In 1996, the convention, which completely bans nuclear test explosions, CTBT, was ready to be signed after nearly 40 years of work at the UN. 44 specifically specified states require ratification of the agreement in order for it to enter into force. However, neither the US nor China have so far ratified the CTBT, while India, Pakistan and North Korea have not even signed the agreement.
Major setbacks for the UN’s disarmament work have been India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1998 and North Korea’s nuclear tests in the first years of the 21st century. The fact that the UN members at the 2005 summit could not agree on measures to strengthen the non-proliferation agreement and new steps to develop disarmament work was also a failure.
Important for the disarmament work and the fight against nuclear weapons are the agreements on nuclear-weapon-free zones that have been concluded in parts of the world with the support of the UN. One of the objectives of the action plan drawn up during the review conference of the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty was to work to form a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. However, a UN conference on forming such a zone in the Middle East, which was to be held in 2012, was never held.
Since 1952, the UN has had a special disarmament commission that makes recommendations to the General Assembly. The special disarmament conference in Geneva, which today consists of 65 states, including the five known nuclear powers, was included in the UN system in 1978. In recent years, work at the conference has more or less stalled, partly due to differences between the United States and China and other individual nuclear-weapon states that wanted to prevent their own capabilities and arsenals from being affected. Pakistan, for example, in the 2010’s alone was able to stop negotiations on an agreement banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
The conference has not been able to act against the rearmament in space that is believed to be a result of the US defense system against incoming nuclear missiles. It aroused great disappointment in the outside world when the Bush administration, as part of the construction of a missile defense, at the end of 2001 terminated the 30-year-old ABM agreement with Russia (then the Soviet Union) on a ban on air defense robots.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, was established in 1956 and has the task of developing and guiding states in a peaceful development of nuclear power. However, the organization is best known for the task of monitoring that nuclear material or equipment intended for peaceful use is not used for military purposes. The IAEA is responsible for monitoring the non-proliferation agreement.
Against Iraq, the UN reacted strongly after the Kuwait war in 1991 to force the regime to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. The 1991 Security Council resolutions, which set out the guidelines for a ceasefire, called for Iraq to destroy its chemical and biological weapons. Two special commissions, Unscom 1991-1998 and Unmovic, established in 1999, were set up by the Security Council to conduct weapons inspections in Iraq. The IAEA also conducted inspections to prevent Iraq from producing nuclear weapons. One of the official motives for the US-British war against Iraq in 2003 was to prevent the Iraqi production of nuclear and biological and chemical weapons. When, several months later, no evidence had yet been found that Saddam’s regime had retained weapons of mass destruction, the motives for the war began to be questioned.
During the 2000’s, North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear weapons policies have been in focus, not least in the UN Security Council, which has imposed sanctions on both countries. North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in early 2013 (see North Korea). In November 2013, Iran, which has shown a new willingness to cooperate under new President Rohani, signed a provisional agreement, which will be valid for six months, in which the country undertakes to freeze or downsize its nuclear operations in its nuclear facilities and laboratories. In return, trade sanctions against Iran are eased and the country regains access to some of its economic assets abroad. During the six months of the agreement, negotiations will be held on a permanent agreement that will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (see also Iran).
The use of both chemical and biological (eg disease-causing) weapons is prohibited under international law. Nevertheless, these weapons are a major problem and several states have not yet acceded to the UN conventions: in 2013, 188 states had acceded to the Convention on Chemical Weapons and 170 states to the Convention on Biological Weapons.
There is a system for monitoring the compliance of acceding states with the Chemical Convention, but despite many years of negotiations, there is no equivalent for controlling the biological one.
In 1997, the Ottawa Convention, which bans anti-personnel mines, was adopted. 161 states have today acceded to the Convention. A special action plan for, among other things, demining was adopted at a summit in Nairobi in 2004.
The UN is trying to counter the proliferation of conventional weapons. In 1993, the UN established a register of sales and purchases of such weapons. The UN has also wanted to stop the illegal trade in and proliferation of small arms such as rifles and pistols. In the spring of 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a convention on global trade in conventional weapons. Three states voted against – Iran, Syria and North Korea, while the major arms manufacturers China and Russia with several countries abstained.
Another new agreement is the convention that bans the use of so-called cluster bombs, ie bombs that consist of several smaller bombs that are dropped from aircraft into containers. The Convention was adopted in 2008 and entered into force in 2010. By 2013, 81 states had acceded to the Convention.