The adage “where you stand counts on wherein you sit” suitably summarizes the state that the literature and also policies on disarmament today, particularly nuclear disarmament. Hence, the nuclear-weapon states and their allies safeguard their possession that such tools as fully consistent through their international disarmament commitments.

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Meanwhile, the non-nuclear-weapon states maintain that the “grand bargain” in the atom Nonproliferation treaty (NPT) has actually not been implemented. In frustration, countless in polite society, working with several governments, are fostering the newly concluded contract on the barred of nuclear Weapons.

One properties of this predicament is the entrenched nature that the positions and the absence of any kind of sense that the protagonists room pursuing avenues for dialogue in great faith. In regards to communication across these politics lines, one finds 2 models: a “dialogue of the deaf” and also a “dialogue that the like-minded.” In together a climate, dialogue degenerates into parallel monologues guided through the heart of a zero-sum video game regulated by a bizarre form of rule that can have come from the Marquess of Queensberry, complete with rounds, a winner and loser, and also boisterous audiences, minus a referee and also prohibited punches. This has long to be the situation inside and outside the UN multilateral disarmament machinery.

Rejecting this business-as-usual approach, UN Secretary-General António Guterres released his disarmament agenda v an address at the college of Geneva on might 24, 2018.1 The UN Office because that Disarmament affairs (UNODA) all at once released a 73-page non-paper that elaborated this brand-new agenda,2 and also in October, it issued the agenda’s implementation plan.3

This write-up will define the initiative’s crucial themes and also proposals and also identify those features that represent continuity or change relative come proposals advanced by his predecessors. The will additionally discuss obstacles come implementation and also opportunities because that progress. Finally, it will reflect on the more comprehensive role the the joined Nations, the Secretariat, and also its secretary-general in advancing an international disarmament objectives.


That a UN secretary-general would speak out on disarmament must hardly evoke surprise. After ~ all, every leader because 1946 has addressed the concern as a UN priority, especially nuclear disarmament. Dag Hammarskjöld referred to nuclear disarmament in 1955 as the UN’s “hardy perennial,” when U Thant emphasize the social and also economic expenses of the Cold War. Kurt Waldheim elaborated on disarmament at size in his annual reports ~ above the job-related of the UN. Haver Pérez de Cuéllar presided end the establishment in the Secretariat of the Department for Disarmament Affairs. Boutros Boutros-Ghali approached disarmament as component of a larger procedure of tranquility building. Kofi Annan frequently addressed disarmament in his speeches, emphasizing the norm-setting function of the UN and also its contribute in increase the multilateral principles of disarmament.

Guterres’ prompt predecessor, ban Ki-moon, was additionally a significant advocate because that disarmament. He to be the an initial incumbent secretary-general to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Semipalatinsk nuclear check site, and also the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He produced the write-up of high representative in the brand-new Office because that Disarmament Affairs, and also he to be the very first secretary-general to market his own considerable disarmament proposal, i m sorry addressed atom weapons, standard arms, missiles, an are weapons, and military spending.4

All of this secretaries-general recognized that real progress, especially in atom disarmament, depended upon actions through member states. They interpreted well that the lack of progression was a reflection of the interests and priorities of states, not any failure ~ above the component of the UN. They knew the significant limitations encountering their initiatives absent a an excellent faith effort by claims to fulfil your disarmament commitments.

Overall, their merged intention was much less to cause disarmament than to maintain a political setting conducive to progress on a global level. They sought to raise questions, gather data, and also identify details actions that would breakthrough disarmament goals, elevate priorities, rally support amongst concerned member states and also civil culture groups, and educate the public around how disarmament advancements the principles and goals that the UN and its charter.

New Elements

Although regular with the see of his predecessors, the Guterres agenda consists of some brand-new elements that help to differentiate it from their proposals.

Guterres, who came to be secretary-general in January 2017, had actually been well-known for his competent organization as Portugal’s element minister and also for his work-related in humanitarian affairs, having served together the UN high commissioner for refugees. As a candidate because that secretary-general, the did not identify disarmament together his peak priority, a view that can not be valuable in acquiring the support of the long-term members the the protection Council, which space the 5 NPT-recognized nuclear powers (China, France, Russia, the joined Kingdom, and the united States). Yet in announcing a detailed, substantial disarmament agenda a year later, he clearly identified this collection of problems as a an individual priority and a hallmark that his incumbency.

His proposal coincides with a growing interest in multilateral arenas in the humanitarian method to disarmament. This technique is significant in the deliberations the the UN basic Assembly and also in meetings of the NPT parties. The general Assembly’s adoption of the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty in 2017 and also the subsequent awarding the the Nobel tranquility Prize later on that year to the International project to Abolish Nuclear tools were direct reflections of that approach.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the present UN high representative because that disarmament affairs and the secretary-general’s most an elderly adviser in the Secretariat ~ above disarmament matters, likewise comes native a lift in humanitarian affairs, many notably on issues relating to refugees and development. In the UN Secretariat, the Guterres/Nakamitsu team no doubt will have actually the strong support native governments and also civil society groups progressing the humanitarian method to disarmament. This, in turn, will help in gaining recognition from somewhere else in the Secretariat the the prestige of disarmament to the development of essentially all official UN purposes as set forth in the UN Charter.

Thus, in comparison to his predecessors, Guterres has actually placed self at the vanguard that a far-ranging political motion in support of concrete progress on disarmament matters. He will undoubtedly face obstacles in convincing other parts of the UN family of the importance of disarmament in progressing their very own issues—obstacles that former High Representative because that Disarmament to work Angela Kane jointly called the “disarmament taboo”—but his humanitarian credentials and his explicit linkage of disarmament come development, peace-building, and other UN mandates will certainly likely help in overcoming countless of this obstacles. The greatest barriers, however, stay those that have faced his predecessors: the unwillingness or i can not qualify of the nuclear-weapon claims to meet their disarmament commitments and also the broader, misguided assumption that nationwide security is a direct function of the weapons a state possesses.

Broad Themes

Guterres framed his agenda to advancement three priorities, each embodying a humanitarian theme: “disarmament to conserve humanity,” focused on weapons of massive destruction; “disarmament to conserve lives,” taking care of conventional eight control; and also “disarmament for future generations,” assessing challenges do by brand-new technologies.5 His agenda combines many overarching themes.

Comprehensive disarmament. The Guterres agenda is not simply a nuclear disarmament proposal. Instead, it supplies a comprehensive approach come disarmament that resembles the venerable UN score of “general and complete disarmament under effective international control,” a topic on the basic Assembly’s agenda because 1959 and which the assembly asserted in 1978 was the UN’s “ultimate goal” in this field.6 although the non-paper makes just a happen reference, the agenda plainly draws on decades of efforts to advance this goal in multilateral arenas.

This is quite far-reaching because movie critics of disarmament have actually constantly claimed that disarmament is a naive and even dangerous strategy to dealing with security issues. Castle argue the nuclear disarmament would create inviting brand-new opportunities for traditional war. They suggest to the difficulty of cheating, as disarming nations would inevitably come to be vulnerable to what amounts to general and also complete noncompliance.

A substantial approach, by contrast, incorporates broader security issues in its treatment of disarmament. It establish the relationship in between nuclear disarmament and also conventional arms control and also hence the must pursue both simultaneously. It emphasizes verification, transparency, irreversibility, universality, and binding legal commitments. It recognizes the social and economic opportunity prices of excessive military spending, a problem additionally identified in the UN Charter (Article 26). That associates disarmament and arms control as critical to the future of global peace and security and also frames the relationship between disarmament and security as mutually reinforcing and interdependent. The contrary view, that security is a prerequisite because that disarmament, is heard from nuclear-weapon says to describe their fail to disarm.

International malaise. In making his instance for disarmament, Guterres, in his agenda document, emphasizes the risks linked with the human being “on the brink that a new Cold War,” characterized by a “deteriorating international security environment,” “unrestrained arms competition,” and also “surreptitious interference in residential political processes and the increasing pursuit the malicious and hostile action just below traditional thresholds for the use of force.” that regrets the decline of multilateralism and the absence of disarmament negotiations. That calls the current nuclear threats “unacceptable” and “growing.”

The norm versus using atom weapons. Guterres endorses the share statements through U.S. Chairman Ronald Reagan and also Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear battle cannot it is in won and also must never ever be fought,” adding that “ny initiative to expand the feasible range of instances in which atom weapons space designed to be used might be destabilizing and also jeopardizes the 72-year practice of non-use.”

Challenges dealing with the UN. Guterres has actually a great deal to say around UN shortcomings in proceeding disarmament. He states, “Despite proven benefits, disarmament is not well combined in the work of the United countries in problem mediation and also prevention. And also its tool collection needs to be lugged up to date, particularly in the collection and also use the data.” the affirms the “the total elimination of atom weapons stays the greatest disarmament priority of the unified Nations. However our initiatives towards this end remain in a state of major crisis.” He has recommendations for improving the relevance and also work the the basic Assembly an initial Committee on disarmament and also international security, the Conference top top Disarmament, the UNODA, and also even his very own Advisory plank on Disarmament Matters.

Various dimensions of disarmament. an ext than his predecessors, Guterres stresses the dangers facing urban populations from the absence of progression on disarmament and the perpetuation of army confrontations worldwide. “Civilians,” the states, “continue come bear the brunt of armed conflict about the globe.” he stresses the “humanitarian and also security considerations room not mutually exclusive, and they both underpin and lend urgency to all the efforts of the global community…. As equipped conflict has moved from open fields and into villages, towns and cities, the humanitarian influence has been devastating.”

With to the to breakthrough goals, he states that “excessive safety on tools drains sources for sustainable development. The is incompatible with producing stable, inclusive societies; solid institutions; effective governance and democracy; and a culture of respect for person rights.” Further, he says that “mobilizing enough resources in support of disarmament and arms regulation is an important to achieving the 2030 Agenda because that Sustainable Development.”

Reflecting top top nuclear-weapon risks, he claims that this “demands the disarmament and also nonproliferation are placed at the

the the work-related of the joined Nations,” emphasizing the “the existing norms for the disarmament and nonproliferation of atom weapons space mutually reinforcing and also inextricably linked.”

Dialogue and negotiations. His agenda places a an especially heavy emphasis on the prominence of “engagement, dialogue, and also negotiations.” he stresses the “n stimulate to realize an innovation in the international security environment, it will be crucial for the international neighborhood not only to job-related to devalue the duty of military choices in seek security, but additionally to revalue the duty of politics dialogue and negotiations for disarmament and arms regulate as the safer, smarter, and an ext effective method for achieving the very same ends.”

New technologies. Guterres identifies several dangers from emerging technologies, including lethal autonomous tools systems, hypersonic glide vehicles, long-range typical weapons, maneuverable re-entry vehicles, and also cyberweapons. “We might even confront the development of cyberweapons of massive destruction,” the warns.

New partnerships. The addresses the importance of diversifying the basic in support of disarmament. “Disarmament initiatives have actually been many successful as soon as they affiliated effective partnerships in between all the relevant stakeholders—governments, the expert community, and also civil culture organizations—as fine as strong interest and also support native the basic public and also well-functioning worldwide negotiation forums.” that adds, “There also needs to be more efforts to include other actors with a stake in the disarmament processes, including from personal sector and also industry, in the occupational of the unified Nations.”

Specific Actions

Ironically, Guterres’ proposals for nuclear disarmament in numerous ways are the most disappointing, especially about the details in the implementation plan. The referrals read like a compilation of conventional proposals routinely had in annual General Assembly resolutions, through very few innovations. He is in donate of reduce stockpiles, ensuring nonuse, reduce their function in defense doctrines, constraining modernization, happen the an extensive Test ban Treaty right into force, increasing transparency, arising verification, halting the manufacturing of fissile material for weapons, resuming disarmament and arms regulate negotiations, strengthening and also expanding nuclear-weapon-free zones, adhering to the Iran nuclear deal, and supporting the denuclearization the the korean peninsula.

There is very little discussion of exactly how says are come be convinced to carry out these desired actions. He uses a recitation of ends, however with respect come means, his heaviest emphasis is ~ above the vague recipe because that dialogue and also engagement.

With regard come chemical and biological weapons, he emphasizes accountability and also further development on achieving global adherence come the Chemical tools Convention and also Biological weapons Convention. That stresses the protection Council’s primary responsibility to halt additional erosion that the norm against chemical weapons usage by finishing impunity and ensuring accountability for any type of use.

He calls for brand-new leadership and also unity among the protection Council and secretary-general to regain respect because that the an international norm against chemical weapons use, consisting of through the production of an impartial system to determine those responsible because that the usage in Syria. The proposes the establishment of a UN core, standing, coordinating volume to command independent investigations of the alleged use of organic weapons. He also draws a connection between other UN public health-related tasks and efforts to respond to or stop the use of biological weapons.

Guterres seeks facility of danger reduction measures, consisting of commitments no to introduce cruise missiles, and re-engagement through the international neighborhood to address issues pertained to missiles. The proposes a study by the UNODA and the UN Institute because that Disarmament research (UNIDIR) top top the implications of long-range traditional weapons, consisting of those using hypersonic technologies, and encourages the joined States and Russia come “resolve their dispute” end the Intermediate-Range Nuclear pressures (INF) Treaty and to extend the new Strategic arms Reduction treaty constraints on long-range nuclear forces. (The United claims announced its on purpose to retract from the INF treaty after the Guterres agenda was released.)

Conventional arms space the focus of several of the more innovative suggest in the Guterres agenda. He supports a politics declaration relating to the usage of such weapons in occupied areas. He supports enhanced transparency and also accountability on the usage of equipped drones while donate the breakthrough of typical standards for the transfer, stockpiling, and use of equipped unmanned aerial vehicles. The promotes much more effective state and regional action on excessive and poorly maintained stockpiles. He establish the prominence of exploring avenues for local dialogue on structure confidence on armed forces matters, consisting of by encouraging common restraint in army expenditures and arms acquisitions, stockpiling, and also transfers.

For the UN, that calls for developing casualty record mechanisms amongst human rights contents of UN peace operations. He support the development of “civilian harm mitigation cells” in ~ the military structure the UN and also member states’ forces connected in conflicts. He claims that the UN person Rights early Diligence Policy have to include, as part of danger assessments, info from UN entities about the species of weapons and their usage on the battlefield. That urges a strengthened and coherent UN interagency coordination ~ above improvised explosive gadgets to for sure a whole-of-system approach.

Guterres states that he will pursue a brand-new UN version for sustained funding for international help for the control of tiny arms and also light weapons and also will develop a UN multipartner to trust facility through the Peacebuilding money to carry out a more sustainable solution with a strong development focus. That calls on the UNODA and also UNIDIR to study exactly how knowledge the the influence of arms, specifically excessive and also destabilizing accumulations, have the right to be integrated into analyses of risk.

Addressing brand-new and emerging weapons technology, his goals include preventing the emergence of brand-new and destabilizing strategic weapons, including in external space; cultivating a culture of accountability and adherence come norms, rules, and also principles for responsible behavior in cyberspace; exploring how UN entities can facilitate the exchange of information on brand-new weapon reviews; facilitating the exchange of information and also experiences in between states on reviews of brand-new weapons; working through scientists, engineers, and also industry come encourage responsible invention of science and also technology; ensuring that people remain at all times in manage over the use of force; and also making the secretary-general’s an excellent offices accessible to contribute to the prevention and peaceful settlement of problem stemming native malicious task in cyberspace.

The Guterres agenda identify some additional reforms, greatly procedural, relating to the Conference top top Disarmament, general Assembly, UNODA, and UNIDIR. Much more generally, it calls for initiatives to boost coordination amongst the disarmament organs, reduce redundancy in their deliberations, utilize available expertise better and achieve an ext equitable representation, and also undertake studies by the UNODA and also UNIDIR on ways to much better coordinate and integrate the work and expertise among the various disarmament bodies. Yet, there is tiny discussion that reforms needed in the security Council, other than with respect to arrangements come ensure accountability for chemical or biological weapons use.

The agenda phone call for initiatives to facilitate strategic security dialogue in ~ the local level and also to revitalize existing local forums or establish brand-new ones aimed at arising common regional approaches to worldwide problems. The calls for increased engagement between the UNODA and the UN department of political Affairs to strengthen existing communication for local dialogue ~ above security and arms control. It encourages the establishment of new regional nuclear-weapon-free zones. The agenda underscores the require for UN efforts to certain equal, full, and also effective authorized of ladies in every decision-making procedures related come disarmament and also to make sex parity “a ethical duty and an work necessity.”

The agenda’s goals for civil culture and youth include efforts to facilitate joining by nongovernmental institutions in disarmament forums; encourage better public engagement on security priorities, consisting of on army spending; ensure the civil culture investments are totally consistent with global legal norms; interact entrepreneurs and also business leaders to build further momentum for societal engagement in advancing the common norms of humanity; attain the higher integration of experts, industry, and civil society representatives into the meetings of all UN disarmament bodies; establish more disarmament education and also training methods for youth; and also facilitate the public’s accessibility to tools, training, and networks valuable for addressing local troubles “where actions for disarmament, demilitarization and also the prevention of equipped violence deserve to make a difference.”

Looking Ahead

This agenda faces numerous obstacles. Some room political, the most challenging being to win the assistance of the nuclear-weapon states. Emerging countries will generally support the agenda, but some might resist its complete implementation, especially on concerns such together the usage of explosives in cities, the eight trade, to reduce in armed forces expenditures, and amplified transparency.

Other obstacles are economic: exactly how will the agenda it is in funded? will the UN’s work in disarmament receive additional financial and also personnel resources? The agenda does not resolve this challenge. Over there are also many technical troubles to be addressed relating to evolving tools technologies and including some familiar problems of developing the way to verify efficiently that atom disarmament is in reality occurring and verifying that fissile product is not being developed for use in weapons. Other work remains to be done at the worldwide Atomic Energy firm and among states on resolving the technical difficulties of verifying share of fissile material and their motion within and throughout borders.

Yet, the agenda might open up brand-new opportunities for progress in disarmament. The emphasis on data collection is certain an area where the UN has a potential contribution to make. Unfortunately, the agenda failed to mention the UNODA’s own repository that nuclear tools information, i m sorry it created following a mandate established at the 2010 NPT testimonial Conference.7 although meager in its present state, the at least offers an opening for future improvement, which would be completely consistent v the secretary-general’s focus on data collection somewhere else in his agenda.

The agenda’s repeated emphasis on the prominence of urban in the ar of disarmament offers plenty of possibilities because that constructive activity in the year ahead. The international nongovernmental company Mayors because that Peace has actually members from more than 7,600 cities worldwide.8 yearly for the critical dozen years, the U.S. Conference that Mayors has adopted a resolution in support of atom disarmament, eight control, and also reductions in armed forces spending and the redirection the such resources to meeting the requirements of cities.9 City mayors, joined by state and local governments, have much to contribute in structure political assistance for disarmament, mainly by pass the concern down to planet by developing its relationship to separation, personal, instance citizens. Yet, castle were not in the agenda.

The Guterres agenda has only simply been announced, and also it remains a occupational in progress. That weaknesses, especially apparent in the nuclear disarmament field, need to not obscure its numerous contributions come the development of national and multilateral efforts to advancement disarmament, nonproliferation, and arms regulate while limiting army spending. It has currently contributed to progressing the humanitarian method to disarmament and also has the potential come deepen cooperation in between the UN and city, state, and local governments in addition to national parliaments.10

The agenda’s implementation setup will require some adjustments over the year to come, and also if U.S.-Russian relations improve and permit a resumption of strategic nuclear eight control, if not progression in disarmament itself, this agenda will have gone far in creating an overarching framework for improving security with disarmament.

States see the world through the lenses of your own specific interests, but Guterres has attempted to method disarmament as a an obstacle facing the entire people community, actually every one of humanity, consisting of future generations. His disarmament agenda provides a see from the civilization community’s “center,” a welcome comparison to the widespread countervailing fads of climbing nationalism and militarism.



2. UN Office for Disarmament affairs (UNODA), “Securing Our common Future: one Agenda for Disarmament,” 2018,

3. UNODA, “Securing Our usual Future: an Agenda for Disarmament,” December 4, 2018, (Implementation Plan).

4. Ban Ki-moon, attend to before the EastWest Institute, SG/SM/11881-DC/3135, October 24, 2008.

5. Guterres remarks.

6. Final document of the Tenth distinct Session that the basic Assembly, A/S-10/2 (28 June 1978),

7. This repository was developed pursuant to activity 21 as agreed at the 2010 atom Nonproliferation Treaty review Conference. UNODA, “Repository,” n.d., (accessed December 16, 2018).

8. For an ext information, watch Mayors for Peace, (accessed December 16, 2018).

9. The latest resolution was embraced this year in Boston. U.S. Conference of Mayors, “Resolutions,” n.d., (accessed December 16, 2018).

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10. Parliamentarians because that Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) has actually been functioning for countless years to promote parliamentary assistance for disarmament. PNND, (accessed December 16, 2018).