For over three decades, the United Nations Disarmament Yearbook has offered an annual chronicle of developments in the United Nations disarmament machinery. It remains today the best single reference on the combined activities of the General Assembly and its First Committee, the United Nations Disarmament Commission, the Conference on Disarmament, the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, and the Office for Disarmament Affairs and its three regional centres in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific, in the fields of disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation.
Though the Yearbook is not intended as a comprehensive almanac of developments taking place outside the United Nations, it does take note of significant events that shaped the wider context in which disarmament issues were deliberated in these United Nations arenas.
It is difficult to predict how history will ultimately judge 2006 in terms of concrete achievements in disarmament. On first glance, accomplishments were few and setbacks many, but first glances can deceive.
The year began with the disarmament community in a malaise following the disappointing outcomes of the 2005 World Summit and the 2005 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. This malaise carried over into 2006, fed by the lack of substantial progress in nuclear disarmament, growing nuclear weapons proliferation worries in the Middle East and East Asia, including the nuclear test by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), persisting difficulties in achieving universal membership in key multilateral treaties (the Biological Weapons Convention, Chemical Weapons Convention and the NPT), the failure to bring certain treaties into force (the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Pelindaba Treaty) or to conclude new treaties (e.g. the fissile material convention), the lack of new adherents to protocols of nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, and the absence of binding multilateral norms for the production, sale, transfer, and use of conventional arms.
Yet any objective assessment of the year would also have to examine some of the more positive developments - the record was not all bad, not by any means.
Support for the key multilateral treaties remains high and allegations of violations, although worrisome, are extremely rare. The international community did not ignore - but acted upon - specific concerns over certain nuclear activities under way in the DPRK and Iran, and the Security Council adopted binding resolutions on these issues in 2006 (and early 2007). The peaceful resolution of these significant nuclear disputes would constitute a significant step forward for non-proliferation, thereby further de-legitimizing both the spread and the possession of nuclear weapons.
The Review Conferences in 2006 of the States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) demonstrated strong levels of support for these treaties.
Disarmament and non-proliferation norms also received some support last year at the regional level, as five Central Asian States concluded a treaty establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in their region, the first such zone entirely north of the equator, though further consultations are needed to gain adherents to its Protocol.
Even at the unilateral level, some States possessing nuclear weapons announced various initiatives to limit their nuclear arsenals - these initiatives may prove to be quite significant indeed, especially if they continue and are later verified, undertaken transparently, and made irreversible.
In the field of conventional arms, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on an Arms Trade Treaty - this resolution has launched a process that could lead to a treaty regulating international trade in conventional weapons. Other significant developments included the entry into force of Protocol V of the CCW, which seeks to minimize the occurrence, effects and the risk of explosive remnants of war. Regional developments included the success of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in converting its 1998 moratorium on small arms and light weapons into a legally-binding instrument. This progress, however, was tempered at the global level by the lack of significant progress at the 2006 United Nations Conference to review the implementation of the Programme of Action on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
The General Assembly's First Committee offers a good illustration of two competing trends in disarmament - on the one hand, there is widespread agreement in the world on the fundamental goals of disarmament; yet on the other, great divisions remain over the means to achieve them. As in previous years, several resolutions relating to nuclear disarmament were adopted with only substantial minorities voting against or abstaining.
The Conference on Disarmament also illustrates these trends, as diligent efforts to reach a consensus on a substantive programme of work continued, but proved elusive in 2006. For its part, the Disarmament Commission did succeed in adopting its agenda for 2007, focusing on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons.
As documented in this Yearbook, the Department for Disarmament Affairs continued in 2006 to assist the Secretary-General, other parts of the Secretariat, Member States, and groups in civil society on a wide range of disarmament and non-proliferation issues. The swearing in of Ban Ki-moon as the new Secretary-General in December signalled both continuity and change in the role of the Secretariat. In early 2007, the Department became the new Office for Disarmament Affairs, headed by a High Representative. While the Office will continue to fulfil the mandates of the Department, it will be better integrated into the United Nations decision-making structure and disarmament will be given a higher profile.
Reliable information is key to the future of disarmament - including information on compliance and non-compliance with applicable norms, sharing and receiving information from the public, monitoring international developments, and knowledge about the state of the key multilateral treaty regimes. This Yearbook makes its own contribution in this area and I hope all readers will find it both useful and informative.