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High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament (26 September 2013)

Disarmament Fora

General Assembly and Security Council

"To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" was the most profound ideal that inspired the founders of the United Nations. Meeting in San Francisco on 26 June 1945 to sign the Charter, they proclaimed the maintenance of international peace and security as one of the major objectives of the Organization.

Following the discovery of atomic energy, the question of the regulation of armaments was recognized as urgent and given due prominence.

Article 11 of the UN Charter authorizes the General Assembly to consider "the principles governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments," and empowers it to make recommendations based on these principles to Member States and the Security Council. The very first resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 1946 [A/RES/1(I)] called for "the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction."

The General Assembly's work on disarmament is conducted through the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security). Every year, the General Assembly adopts 50 to 60 resolutions on disarmament and non-proliferation by a majority vote or by consensus of which approximately 15 deal with nuclear weapons issues.

The General Assembly has held three special sessions devoted to disarmament (SSOD), in 1978, 1982 and in 1988. Only SSOD-I succeeded in producing a Final Document. Since 1995, the General Assembly has been calling for a fourth session on disarmament. To that end, it established Working Groups in 2003 and 2007 to discuss the agenda and the possibility of establishing a Preparatory Committee for an SSOD-IV.

For its part, the Security Council, "in order to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources", is responsible for formulating "plans to be submitted to the Members of the United Nations for the establishment of a system for the reduction of armaments" (Article 26 of the UN Charter).

On 24 September 2009, at a historic summit meeting presided over by President Barack Obama of the United States and addressed by 13 other Heads of State and Government, the Security Council adopted resolution 1887 (2009).The resolution called upon States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation Nuclear Weapons to comply with their obligations as well as to seek broad progress in non-proliferation, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and disarmament.

Conference on Disarmament

The Conference on Disarmament was established in accordance with paragraph 120 of the Final Document of the Tenth Special Session of the General Assembly (SSOD-I) as the single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum of the international community. The last multilateral disarmament agreement negotiated by the Conference related to nuclear weapons was the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

After the conclusion of the CTBT, the Conference on Disarmament has struggled to agree on the establishment of subsidiary bodies to negotiate issues on its agenda, with a short-lived exception in 1998. Until 2009, there was no agreement on a programme of work.

In May 2009, however, the Conference managed to reach agreement on a programme of work that included, inter alia, negotiations on a fissile material treaty (CD/1864) PDF. Unfortunately, the long-awaited breakthrough agreement failed to be implemented and subsequent sessions did not succeed in securing agreement on this and other proposals to advance substantive work.

In 2010, upon the request of a number of States, the Secretary-General convened the High-Level Meeting on "Revitalizing the Work of the Conference on Disarmament and Taking Forward Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations". The High-Level Meeting was a unique opportunity to provide greater political impetus for revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament through high-level participation. It also aimed at promoting multilateral disarmament, including through addressing the larger challenges facing the wider architecture of the disarmament machinery.

United Nations Disarmament Commission

The UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC) was created as a deliberative body, with the function of considering and making recommendations on various problems in the field of disarmament and of following up on the relevant decisions and recommendations of the special session. One of its agenda items invariably deals with nuclear disarmament. The UN Disarmament Commission in its report of 30 April 1999 recommended a set of principles and guidelines for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone. For the last decade, however, the UNDC has failed to adopt recommendations at the end of each three year cycle.