March 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 February 2024
Download Complete Forecast: PDF


Expected Council Action

In March, Japan plans to convene a high-level briefing on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation as a signature event of its presidency. The meeting will be chaired by Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Yōko Kamikawa. UN Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief.


Article 26 of the UN Charter determines that the Security Council is to formulate, with the Military Staff Committee, plans “for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments”, with the overall aim being “the least diversion for armaments” of the world’s human and economic resources. In January 1947, the Council accepted, as one of its most urgent tasks, the global elimination of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in line with General Assembly Resolution 41(1), underlining that the general reduction of armaments and armed forces was an important measure for strengthening international peace and security.

Early Security Council WMD initiatives were soon overtaken by the Cold War, however, and the dissolution of the Commission on Conventional Armaments and the Atomic Energy Committee in 1952 arguably marked the end of the Council’s substantive work on the regulation of armaments based on Article 26. The General Assembly stepped up and has been instrumental in the adoption of treaties regulating WMD, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the Security Council undertook several non-proliferation initiatives. Resolution 1540, adopted in 2004 under Chapter VII of the Charter, requires all states to establish controls over WMD and the means to deliver them and to enact and enforce the necessary national implementing legislation, with the objective of prohibiting terrorists and other non-state actors from developing, acquiring and using WMD. Following a spate of Council meetings in 2004-5, then-Council member Costa Rica convened a thematic debate on 19 November 2008 to consider Article 26 and the Council’s duty to promote peace with the least diversion of resources for armaments. Additionally, in September 2009, the Security Council held a summit-level meeting on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, adopting resolution 1887 which, the UN noted, “affirmed its commitment to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and established a broad framework for reducing global nuclear dangers.”

Since 2010, the level of Council engagement has fallen. Debates on general disarmament and its role in the maintenance of international peace and security are rare. In April 2012, the US convened a briefing on nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and security, after which the Council adopted a presidential statement reaffirming that the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery constitutes a threat to international peace and security. In September 2016, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the CTBT, the Council adopted resolution 2310, which urged all states that have either not signed or not ratified the treaty to do so without further delay.

In January 2018, Kazakhstan organised a debate on WMD and confidence-building, and in February 2020, the Council held a briefing on non-proliferation with a specific focus on supporting the NPT ahead of the 2020 Review Conference. (More about NPT review conferences is below.) In September 2021, Ireland convened a briefing on the 25th anniversary of the opening for signature of the CTBT. In August 2022, China organised a briefing on promoting common security through dialogue and cooperation, during which Council members discussed the importance of nuclear disarmament to reduce strategic risks, particularly in light of the escalating tensions among major nuclear powers.

For more background information and analysis on this topic, see the In Hindsight: The Security Council and Weapons of Mass Destruction in our September 2022 Monthly Forecast.

Key Recent Developments

The world’s nuclear risks have grown in recent years, with extensive modernisation of nuclear arsenals reported in 2023 and overall global military expenditures reaching $2.2 trillion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In January 2022, the five permanent members of the Security Council (P5) reaffirmed the 1985 declaration by US President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, but nuclear signalling by senior Russian officials has heightened threat perceptions in this regard, particularly in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Following the invasion, the US halted its strategic stability dialogue with Russia. In February 2023, Russia announced its withdrawal from the 2010 New START Treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement capping Russian and US strategic nuclear forces. Negotiations for a successor to the New START treaty, which expires in 2026, were put on hold. The escalation of missile capabilities and increased plutonium production by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), along with Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, have further intensified global nuclear tensions.

In August 2022, the NPT Review Conference convened, having been postponed for two years because of COVID-19. The aim of these conferences, which are usually held every five years, is for state parties to produce a consensus document that assesses the treaty’s implementation, establishes updated commitments, and provides recommendations to advance the NPT’s objectives. They have been contentious. After four weeks of negotiations, the most recent conference ended in failure on 26 August 2022 over Russian objections to language on the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Russian-occupied Ukraine.

Since then, the Preparatory Committee for the 2026 NPT Review Conference, which held its first session in August 2023, has faced setbacks. Iran, with the support of Russia and Syria, objected to the inclusion of the chair’s summary of the meeting as a working paper in the official document list, arguing that the summary inaccurately depicted the situation concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme.

In Geneva, the Conference on Disarmament, a key multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations responsible for having shaped major nuclear arms control treaties such as the NPT and CTBT, remains deadlocked. Since 1996, with the exception of 1998 and 2009, the conference has failed to agree on a programme of work, preventing it from initiating substantive deliberations. Addressing the conference on 26 February, Guterres called for the body to be reformed, stressing that “the paralysis and deadlock that have come to define it is something that is not acceptable”. In A New Agenda for Peace, released in July 2023, Guterres called on member states to “urgently reinforce the barrier against the use of nuclear weapons”.

Key Issues and Options

The key issue for the Council is how it can promote nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. A related issue is the need to build trust and reduce tensions among the nuclear powers.

With the nuclear weapons states tending to argue that the security environment is not conducive to disarmament, prospects today appear limited for the Security Council to advance the global regulation of nuclear weapons and the general reduction of armaments. Still, global security tensions are the very reason some Council members might search for innovative ways of pursuing this agenda.

One option for the Council would be to consider a presidential statement or resolution that outlines confidence-building mechanisms to reduce the threat of nuclear war and strategies for promoting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The Council product could also encourage greater efforts to achieve equal, full, and effective participation of women in all decision-making processes related to disarmament, as recommended by the Secretary-General in his 2018 report titled “Securing our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament”. The Council could also request the Secretary-General to produce a report that proposes recommendations for how the Security Council, the General Assembly, and other parts of the UN system can work together more effectively to address nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament issues.

Council Dynamics

Council members are generally supportive of overall non-proliferation efforts. Council dynamics vary, however, in country-specific situations. On Iran, for example, the P3 (France, the UK, and the US) remain concerned about Iran’s activities that contravene the JCPOA and the country’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA. China and Russia are more supportive of Iran, and both states have previously blamed the US for the collapse of the JCPOA, criticising it for withdrawing from the deal and imposing unilateral sanctions on the Iranian regime.

The Council also remains sharply divided regarding the DPRK. The P3 and other like-minded countries regularly condemn its ballistic missile tests and argue that they destabilise the Korean Peninsula and increase tensions throughout the region. China and Russia, on the other hand, blame the US for heightening tensions and accuse it of not doing enough to incentivise the DPRK to participate in denuclearisation talks. These two members have also contended that sanctions should be eased, citing their negative humanitarian impact.

All Council members are parties to the NPT. China and the US have signed the CTBT but have yet to ratify it. While Russia ratified the CTBT on 30 June 2000, it revoked its ratification on 8 November 2023, although it remains a state signatory. All other Council members have signed and ratified the treaty. Regarding the TPNW, three Council members—Ecuador, Guyana, and Malta—have signed and ratified it, while Algeria, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone have as yet only signed the treaty. The remaining nine members have not signed the TPNW.

The current Council membership includes several members of the Non-Aligned Movement—including Algeria, Ecuador, Guyana, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone—which has frequently criticised the P5 for not fulfilling their disarmament obligations under the NPT. Approximately 90 percent of the 12,500 nuclear warheads in existence are owned by Russia and the US.

Nuclear weapons have only been used twice in warfare, in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. As such, Japan attaches particular importance to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. In December 2023, a Japan-initiated resolution titled “Steps to building a common roadmap towards a world without nuclear weapons” was adopted by the General Assembly with the support of 148 member states. The resolution urges all states, particularly those possessing nuclear weapons, to make every effort to ensure that such weapons are never used again, pending the total elimination of nuclear weapons, and to refrain from any inflammatory rhetoric concerning the use of nuclear weapons, based on the recognition that all states have a shared interest in averting a nuclear war.

Sign up for SCR emails
Security Council Presidential Statements
19 April 2012S/PRST/2012/14 The Council adopted this presidential statement following a meeting entitled “Maintenance of international peace and security: Nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and security”.
Security Council Meeting Records
22 August 2022S/PV.9112 This briefing, “Maintenance of international peace and security: Promote common security through dialogue and cooperation” discussed the importance of nuclear disarmament to reduce strategic risks, particularly in light of the escalating tensions among major nuclear powers.
General Assembly Documents
6 December 2023A/RES/78/40 This was a resolution titled “Steps to building a common roadmap towards a world without nuclear weapons”.

Subscribe to receive SCR publications