Each year, typically with little fanfare, the various institutions comprising the "disarmament machinery" of the United Nations meet and deliberate literally hundreds of initiatives of great interest to its Member States. Some of these initiatives deal with measures to eliminate nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, a goal that has been on the UN agenda since the General Assembly adopted its first resolution in 1946. Others deal with efforts to prevent the global spread or improvement of such weapons, while additional initiatives focus on conventional weapons, small arms, and other types of weaponry, including space weapons and missiles. The deliberations address regional issues. They cover various environmental challenges and certain issues relating to economic development. Where is one to find a concise summary of all of these activities?
The answer is the United Nations Disarmament Yearbook, a publication that has been providing this service for three decades.
The Yearbook is not intended to serve as a comprehensive almanac of all weapon-related events in a given year. It is not the place to turn for impassioned advocacy of one policy position or another. It does not take sides. It seeks instead to serve as an authoritative chronicle of international efforts to control or eliminate the world's most deadly weapons, over the course of the previous calendar year. Its institutional focus is specifically on the events that occurred in the General Assembly and its First Committee, the United Nations Disarmament Commission, and the Conference on Disarmament, in addition to the work of the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, and the Department of Disarmament Affairs, including its three regional centres in Latin American and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific. Yet it also addresses multilateral efforts underway outside the United Nations, such as those at important meetings of states parties to key treaties in this field.
While virtually everybody recognizes the importance of progress in the complex fields of disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control, and counter-terrorism, profound disagreements remain among the Member States as to which specific approaches would yield the most productive results. These differences were amply demonstrated throughout the work of the disarmament machinery in 2005. The United Nations Disarmament Commission did not hold any substantive meetings in 2005. Though First Committee remained divided on several issues, most notably those relating to nuclear weapons, it effectively structured debate on thematic lines and included a precedent-setting interactive discussion with non-governmental experts on disarmament education. The Conference on Disarmament was again unable to agree on a substantive work agenda.
Other significant international developments also cast an ominous shadow over work in this field. First, the 2005 Review Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was unable to adopt a final document due to deep divisions between several States parties over priorities and means to achieve them. This was followed by the 2005 World Summit-the largest gathering of world leaders in history-which failed to include in its Outcome Document anything substantive on disarmament and non-proliferation, nor even to use the term "weapons of mass destruction". One such setback in a year would be difficult, but two-back to back-only underscores the magnitude of the challenges ahead for the world community, as it struggles to achieve a new consensus on the ways and means to alleviate threats posed by the world's deadliest weapons.
Sometimes the activities of individual states can cause effects that ripple well beyond specific regions to concern the world community, as illustrated by continuing concerns over un-safeguarded nuclear activities and tests of nuclear-capable missiles in the Middle East, South Asia, and in East Asia, all in 2005. Activities by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in both of these areas were of special concern, as efforts continued throughout the year to encourage that country to abandon its nuclear-weapon pursuits and re-join the NPT. The IAEA persistently sought additional information from the Islamic Republic of Iran that would enable the agency to verify Iran's compliance with its NPT safeguards agreement, but the data gaps remained.
It would, however, be a gross misreading of the events of 2005 to conclude that the year was devoid of any progress:
- The General Assembly adopted the text of the "International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism", a significant achievement as the world prepares to expand its use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
- The General Assembly adopted the International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons-the first such instrument to be negotiated within the framework of the 2001 Programme of Action against the illicit trade in such weapons.
- The Security Council's "1540 committee"-established pursuant to Resolution 1540 in April 2004-reported in December 2005 that 124 states had submitted their reports describing their actions to keep terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and to prevent their proliferation.
- The Disarmament Commission agreed on a provisional agenda for its 2006 substantive session, which will address nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons.
- States attending the fourth Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT adopted a Final Declaration that re-affirmed the importance of the Treaty and identified twelve measures to promote its entry into force.
- Mexico hosted the First Conference of States Parties and Signatories to Treaties that Establish Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones, which adopted a declaration to advance the goals of such zones and to deepen cooperation between their members.
The twin challenges facing the world community in 2006 will be to learn from past setbacks, and to build upon positive achievements. There is too much to lose from the collapse of multilateral efforts in disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control. Failure cannot be accepted as an option. As one year closes and another year's events continue to unfold, it is worthwhile to reflect not just on the hardships that lie ahead, but the opportunities and benefits that would flow from genuine progress in these fields for all countries.