Update Report

Posted 14 November 2008
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Update Report No. 1: Collective Security and Armament Regulation

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Expected Council Action
Costa Rica, in its capacity as president of the Security Council in November, has called for a high level open debate on 19 November on “Strengthening collective security through general regulation and reduction of armaments: the safest road to peace and development”. Costa Rica’s president, and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Oscar Rafael de Jesús Arias Sánchez is expected to preside, and Panama’s president, Martin Torrijos, is expected to participate. UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio de Queiroz Duarte is likely to brief the Council.

A side event on the theme “development and arms spending”, also organised by Costa Rica on the same day, is expected to feature Jeffrey Sachs, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General, and Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics.

In a concept paper (S/2008/697) Costa Rica explained that the wide range of challenges facing the world today create an incentive to revisit article 26 of the UN Charter which mandated the Security Council to formulate plans to be considered by the General Assembly for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments. This is one mandate which the Council has conspicuously failed to implement, and it covers issues which the Council rarely discusses.

Costa Rica also made various proposals to orient discussions during the debate. In this regard it raised the following issues.

  • Strengthening collective security will be an essential precondition for states to agree to regulate armaments. A minimum level of confidence is required.
  • If expenditure on armaments can be reduced then resources would be available for other uses, especially development.
  • Strengthening collective security would involve increasing confidence that states will abide by the treaties they have signed.
  • Strengthening collective security will require enhanced cooperation between the UN and regional organisations not only in the field of regulation of armaments, but also in maintaining international peace and security, and the Council and regional organisations may need to consider becoming guarantors of compliance.

At press time discussions on a draft presidential statement proposed by Costa Rica were taking place.

Security Council Report is preparing for publication in January 2009 a detailed Cross-Cutting Report on disarmament and non-proliferation (including Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and conventional weapons) with a view to achieving better understanding of the Council’s performance in addressing those issues thematically and assessing the way in which such matters have been addressed in country-specific situations on the Council’s agenda. This report is expected to provide greater detail on the historical background, general data on production and use of weapons, the central role of the Council in individual cases, and the underlying dynamics.

Historical Background
There is a long history of multilateral efforts to limit conflict by regulation of armaments. The first attempt to address this issue in a comprehensive way emerged in 1945 with the adoption of the UN Charter which, in its preamble, committed the members to “unite our strength to maintain international peace and security” and, in article 1, to take “collective measures”.

A link between international peace and security and armaments was made in article 11 of the UN Charter which stipulates that the General Assembly may consider the general principle of cooperation in the maintenance of international peace and security, including the principles governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments, and may make recommendations to the members or to the Security Council or to both.

Article 24 established that the Security Council would have the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. And article 26 required the Council to undertake a proactive role, not just maintaining but promoting international peace and security by developing plans to ensure the least possible allocation of resources for armaments and the availability of maximum resources for human and economic needs. Article 26 provides:

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, the Security Council shall be responsible for formulating, with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee referred to in Article 47, plans to be submitted to the Members of the United Nations for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments.

The General Assembly, in resolution 41 of 14 December 1946 recommended that the Council formulate practical measures to provide for the general regulation and reduction of armaments and armed forces, and to assure that such regulation and reduction will be generally observed. In effect this resolution reaffirmed the Council’s obligations under the UN Charter.

However, the division of labour between the two organs was not easy from the outset, and inevitably it became mired in the difficult Cold War dynamics between the US and the Soviet Union. Because of those divisions the Council failed to implement its mandate in article 26, and eventually the General Assembly took over.

Also, an important distinction began to arise in discussions on arms regulation in the UN as the implications of the nuclear age became clear. Different tracks emerged for negotiations on atomic weapons (and other WMDs) and conventional armaments.

Atomic Weapons
In 1946 the US was the only power with nuclear weapons. A debate existed between those supporting the idea of giving up atomic armaments (because the scientific knowledge to make an atomic bomb could not be monopolised forever) and the proponents of US monopoly over atomic force who believed that retaining nuclear weapons was necessary to deter future aggression in Europe.

Initially, there was agreement on a proposal to pass the responsibility for the control of atomic energy to a UN commission. This was endorsed by both the US and the Soviet Union in 1945, which saw it as useful to have a forum other than the plenary of the Security Council for discussing this issue. The first resolution adopted by the General Assembly, on 24 January 1946, established the UN Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC), composed of the Security Council member states plus Canada to deal with the problem of atomic energy, including for the elimination from national armaments of WMDs.

In June 1946 the US developed the Baruch Plan (named after Bernard Baruch, the US representative to UNAEC), which it presented to UNAEC, proposing that the US would abandon its monopoly in exchange for a mutual agreement with all other countries against the development of additional atomic bombs and the establishment of an adequate system of inspections. It also included proposals for enforcement that could not be vetoed by the Security Council, as well as specific onsite inspections whenever necessary. The Soviet Union rejected this plan, proposing that the US first eliminate its nuclear weapons before considering proposals for a system of controls and inspections. The US on the other hand insisted on retaining its weapons until it was satisfied with the effectiveness of international control.

The Security Council requested further discussions within the UNAEC (Security Council resolutions 20, 52, and 74), but because of the stalemate between the US and the Soviet Union it became clear that an agreement would be impossible. The US then embarked on an extensive nuclear weapons testing, development, and deployment program. The Soviet Union was already engaged in a secret nuclear weapons development programme and became a nuclear power in 1949.

The failure of UNAEC—and of the Baruch Plan—is widely seen as a turning point, because the failure to secure international control of nuclear weapons led to the nuclear arms race and to a turning away by the Security Council from its article 26 mandate.

The Commission became inactive and in 1949 decided to adjourn indefinitely.

Conventional Weapons
In resolution 18 of 13 February 1947, the Council recognised that the general regulation and reduction of armaments and armed forces would constitute a real opportunity to strengthen international peace and security. In an effort to implement its Charter obligations, the Council established the UN Commission for Conventional Armaments (UNCCA) to deal with armaments other than weapons of mass destruction with a mandate to make proposals for the general reduction of armaments (actual elimination of conventional weapons was never considered as they are necessary for states’ self-defense).

But discussions within UNCCA quickly suffered the same fate as UNAEC due to the underlying Cold War political dynamics. The Soviet Union pressed for immediate reduction of armaments. The US supported reductions only when an effective framework for collective security was in place. In 1950 the Soviet Union used the procedural issue of the representation of China in UNCCA as a basis for withdrawing participation. This effectively ended the work of the Commission which was dissolved in 1952 in Council resolution 97.

From that point the Council stopped playing a role on armament regulations and disarmament, and discussion of the article 26 mandate was never revived.

In 1952 the General Assembly recognised the situation in the UNCCA and UNAEC and decided to establish a new Disarmament Commission (resolution 502 (VI) of 11 January). Interestingly, the Assembly decided to make the new body accountable to the Security Council and tasked it to address both conventional and atomic weapons. However, negotiations within this new commission and separately among the US and the Soviet Union produced nothing substantive, and by 1958 it failed to even convene.

Twenty years passed before the United Nations was able to establish a clear institutional arrangement to address multilateral disarmament and arms control. During those years, several arrangements succeeded one another, such as the Ten-Nation Committee on Disarmament (1960), the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament (1962-68), and the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (1969-78).

The General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament in 1978 (see resolution S-10/2 of 30 June) was a byproduct of the limited détente of the era. It created what was intended to be an integrated disarmament machinery, which to this day remains the only UN institutional arrangement for international disarmament and arms control negotiations. The framework included:

  • the Disarmament Commission, which was expanded to include the full UN membership and transformed into a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly with the role of a deliberative body for considering and make recommendations on various problems in the field of disarmament.
  • The First Committee of the General Assembly was made responsible for preparing resolutions for adoption by the General Assembly; and
  • The Conference on Disarmament (created in 1979) was established to serve as the world’s single multilateral disarmament negotiating forum—it currently has 66 members.

Two further Special Sessions on Disarmament took place in 1982 and 1988 to discuss ways to comprehensively and effectively control, reduce, and eliminate global armaments. There are currently proposals to organise a fourth Special Session in order to reenergise the disarmament agenda.

Despite huge negotiating efforts, progress in a generic sense on global disarmament and arms regulation within the United Nations disarmament machinery has been negligible, although the Conference on Disarmament and its predecessors have provided an arena for negotiating some multilateral arms limitation agreements relating to specific environments and specific weapons systems. Some examples include:

  • the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, signed between the US, the Soviet Union and the UK, bans the placement of WMDs in orbit around the earth, the installation of WMDs on the moon, on any other celestial body, or in outer space, and the use of the moon or any celestial body for military purposes;
  • the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
  • the 1971 Seabed Treaty banning the placement of WMDs on the ocean floor beyond a 12-mile coastal zone;
  • the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (Biological Weapons Convention);
  • the 1977 Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques;
  • the 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention); and
  • the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

Since 1996, though, negotiations within the Conference on Disarmament have been stalled because member states have been unable to agree on a programme of work. The atmosphere has also been affected by growing controversy about the implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, particularly the obligations under article VI which stipulates that “each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Progress on regulation of armaments, particularly nuclear weapons, tended to occur on a regional basis or amongst groups of like-minded states. Examples of regional arrangements currently in place or recently defunct are:

  • the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty limits the nuclear arsenal of both the US and Russia to 1700-2200 warheads each—it came into force on 1 June 2003 and is set to expire 31 December 2012;
  • the 1992 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe limits conventional armaments in Europe to under 40,000 battle tanks, 60,000 armoured combat vehicles, 40,000 pieces of artillery, 13,600 combat aircraft and 4,000 helicopters;
  • The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed between the US and the Soviet Union barred those two countries from deploying nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles—it is now defunct as the US withdrew on 13 June 2002; and
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones are regions in which countries commit themselves not to manufacture, acquire, test, or possess nuclear weapons. Currently, there are five such zones in the world, covering Latin America and the Caribbean, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa (not yet entered into force) and Central Asia.

Examples of non-universal arrangements developed by groups of like-minded states outside the UN auspices include:

  • the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons);
  • the 1997 Mine Ban treaty (or Ottawa Convention); and
  • the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (or Dublin Convention).

The only clear progress of a generic instrument at the global level is the UN Register of Conventional Arms, established in 1991 by the General Assembly. It is the main global instrument for enabling UN member states to publicly report on their imports and exports of major conventional weapons. But this instrument is not binding and the submission of data has been rather limited. For instance in 2007, only 66 countries reported (39 percent of UN member states).

Also, currently the General Assembly is considering an Arms Trade Treaty which would regulate arms transfers according to international humanitarian standards. A group of governmental experts was established and a report was submitted on 26 August 2008 (A/63/334). A draft resolution was adopted by the First Committee on 17 October (A/C.1/63/L.39 ) establishing an open-ended working group to consider where consensus could be developed for an eventual legally binding treaty on the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.

It is fair to conclude that, contrary to the expectations in 1945, and despite the very specific mandate in the Charter, little has been achieved in terms of general and complete disarmament, and the Council has failed to discharge its responsibilities. The stalemate since 1996 is particularly noteworthy, especially since there is no longer the excuse of the Cold War to justify inaction.

Military Expenditures and Development
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military expenditures in 2007 were estimated to amount US$1,339 billion, which constitutes a real increase of 6 percent from 2006. Over the decade 1998-2007, world military spending increased by 45 percent in real terms. In 2007, military spending corresponded to 2.5 percent of the world gross domestic product, and was about US$202 per capita.

The chart below shows the spread of military expenditure by region (in 2007 US dollars):


Expenditure in 2007

Percent of world total

Increase 1998-2007 in percent


18.5 billion




640 billion



North America

596 billion


Central and South America

43.9 billion


Asia and Oceania

219 billion




370 billion



Middle East

91.5 billion



The top twenty countries with the highest known or estimated percentage of gross domestic product used for military expenditures, in 2006, were:


  1. Oman: 11.2 percent
  2. Saudi Arabia: 8.5 percent
  3. Israel: 8 percent
  4. Iraq: 7.8 percent
  5. Georgia: 5.2 percent
  6. Syria: 5.1 percent
  7. Jordan: 5 percent
  8. Singapore: 4.7
  9. Burundi: 4.7 percent
  10. Iran: 4.6 percent
  11. Lebanon: 4.6 percent
  12. Colombia: 4 percent
  13. US: 4 percent
  14. Greece: 3.8 percent
  15. Angola: 3.7 percent
  16. Morocco: 3.7 percent
  17. Azerbaijan: 3.6 percent
  18. Chile: 3.6 percent
  19. Russia: 3.6 percent
  20. Bahrain: 3.5 percent

Key Issues
The first issue expected to be raised during the 19 November debate is whether a concerted effort—internationally and regionally—to reduce armaments could release significant resources that could then be used by countries for development needs.

By way of analysis of needs, the following chart provides 2005 data in the context of the Millennium Development Goals, by region:


Infant mortality rate

(per 1,000 live births)

Population undernourished

(% of total population)

Education Index

Life expectancy


Youth literacy rate

(% aged 15-24)

Maternal deaths (per 100,000 live births)

Arab States





160 (Western Asia – not including Northern Africa)

East Asia and the Pacific







Latin America and Caribbean







South Asia







Sub-Saharan Africa

















*Average drawn from the combined total of deaths in three regions (Oceania, South-Eastern Asia, and Eastern Asia) as given in the Millennium Development Goals Report 2008

A second issue relates to the added value that the Security Council can bring in 2008, given the institutional overlaps that have occurred since 1945. In this context it should be recalled that the General Assembly regularly addresses the question of the existing link between development and disarmament. It has done this since the 1987 International Conference on the Relationship between Disarmament and Development. The last draft resolution prepared by the First Committee was adopted on 16 October 2008 (A/C.1/63/L.23). In it the General Assembly:

  • urges the international community to devote part of the resources made available by the implementation of disarmament and arms limitation agreements to economic and social development;
  • encourages the international community to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to make reference to the contribution that disarmament could provide in meeting them, as well as to make greater efforts to integrate disarmament, humanitarian and development activities; and
  • invites member states to provide the Secretary-General with information on measures taken to devote resources made available by disarmament and arms limitation agreements to economic and social development.
  • But it has to be acknowledged that in the twenty years that the General Assembly has been pursuing this issue its achievements in the real world have been negligible.

A related issue is the link with the 2006 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development. In this declaration, states acknowledged that efforts to prevent and reduce armed violence and prospects for sustainable development are closely linked. They agreed in particular to strengthen their efforts to integrate armed violence reduction and conflict prevention programmes into national, regional and multilateral development frameworks and strategies, as well as into humanitarian assistance, emergency and crisis management initiatives. A General Assembly resolution is currently being negotiated which would address this issue and seek the view of member states on how to implement those commitments. top

Options and Dynamics
The fact that the General Assembly, although fully engaged in the past fifty years on disarmament and arms regulation, has made little progress, and that military spending continues to augment every year, raises legitimate questions about the need to review options for renovating the whole field of disarmament and the links with collective security and resources for development. The current global financial and food price crises underline the situation.

Possible options for the Council include:

Option 1
It seems clear that some Council members, including the P5, are not ready to negotiate generic issues related to disarmament and arms control in the Security Council. One option therefore for the Council is to take no action at all.

The P5 seem to be stressing (contrary to what is often heard on other issues) that the Council should not encroach on General Assembly’s activities on disarmament. They point out that the division of labour between the General Assembly and the Security Council now gives prominence to the Assembly, in practice, and that at this stage in history the Council should not make proposals for the regulation of armaments. (It may be that this is not the real motivation and that the reluctance relates to a deeper opposition to generic negotiations over armaments, perhaps out of concern to preserve unilateral decision making in this area, but perhaps also out of a desire to protect export industries.)

Some Non-Aligned Council members also seem hesitant to give a role to the Security Council. The Non-Aligned Movement has usually argued that negotiations on disarmament should take place within the widest and most representative framework possible.

 Option 2

A second option is for the Council to adopt a resolution or a statement recognising the underlying issue but focusing instead on explicitly strengthening collective security, including the role of the UN, both the Council and the Secretariat, and regional organisations in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, mediation and peacebuilding. Many believe that the issue of collective security is a vital one and that the Council contributes to it in important ways through its country-specific work but that this could be enhanced by a series of thematic debates examining how the Council could improve the quality of its work, in particular under Chapter VI.

Other options for the Council to contribute to strengthening of collective security are:

  • encouraging states to enter into regional arrangements for arms regulation and acting as a guarantor for those arrangements;
  • reiterating language adopted in the 2005 summit outcome document on the vital importance of an effective multilateral system to achieve progress in the areas of peace and security, development and human rights; and
  • addressing the 2005 summit outcome document language regarding the composition, mandate and working methods of the Military Staff Committee.

Option 3

A third option is to have a hard look at the historical relevance of article 26. If implementation of article 26 is not feasible or appropriate in the current context, perhaps the Council could suggest that article 26 needs to be revisited in the framework of a debate on Security Council reform. However, some members actually believe that article 26 should be available as a tool to strengthen collective security, in particular conflict prevention initiatives and that the Council should be more active in these areas.

Option 4

A fourth option may be for the Council to recommend to the General Assembly that it concentrate and intensify efforts to regulate arms flows and promote general and complete disarmament.

Option 5

Overall, the dynamics in the Council seem to be affected to some extent by confusion as to what the focus of the debate should be and the shortness of time to address what is a fundamental issue. Some consider that the core issue is how the Security Council can contribute to reinforcing collective security so that states will feel more secure and therefore more inclined to reduce their armament spending. Others consider the debate as an opportunity to address ongoing disarmament activities. This may suggest that Council members should also consider the option of remaining seized of the issue and committing to a more in-depth debate in 2009. 

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/255 (19 June 1968) recognised that aggression with nuclear weapons or the threat of such aggression against a non-nuclear weapon state would create a situation in which the Security Council, and above all its nuclear-weapon state permanent members, would have to act immediately.
  • S/RES/97 (30 January 1952) dissolved the Commission for Conventional Armaments.
  • S/RES/74 (16 September 1949), S/RES/52 (22 June 1948), S/RES/20 (10 March 1947) requested further discussions within the Atomic Energy Commission.
  • S/RES/18 (13 February 1947) recognised that the general regulation and reduction of armaments and armed forces constitute a most important measure for strengthening international peace and security, and established the Commission for Conventional Armaments to deal with armaments other than weapons of mass destruction with a mandate to make proposals for the general reduction of armaments.
  • S/RES/1 (25 January 1946) established the Military Staff Committee to advise and assist the Council, composed of the chiefs of staff of the Council’s permanent members.

Selected General Assembly Resolutions

  • A/RES/46/36L (9 December 1991) established the UN Register of Conventional Arms.
  • A/S-12/32 (9 July 1982) was the final document of the General Assembly’s second Special Session on disarmament.
  • A/S-10/2 (30 June 1978) was the final document of the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament.
  • A/RES/502 (VI) (11 January 1952) replaced the Atomic Energy Commission and the Commission for Conventional Armaments with the Disarmament Commission.
  • A/RES/192 (III) (19 November 1948) recommended the Security Council pursue the study of the regulation and reduction of conventional armaments and armed forces through the Commission for Conventional Armaments.
  • A/RES/41 (I) (14 December 1946) recommended that the Council formulate practical measures to provide for the general regulation and reduction of armaments and armed forces, and to assure that such regulation and reduction will be generally observed. In effect this resolution was a reiteration of Council’s obligations under the UN Charter.
  • A/RES/1 (I) (24 January 1946) established the Atomic Energy Commission.
  • S/2008/697 (10 November 2008) was the concept paper presented by Costa Rica for the 19 November thematic debate.
  • A/C.1/63/L.39 (17 October 2008) established an open-ended working group to consider where consensus could be developed for an eventual legally binding treaty on the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.
  • A/C.1/63/L.23 (16 October 2008) was the latest draft resolution on the link between disarmament and development adopted by the General Assembly First Committee.
  • A/63/334 (26 August 2008) was the report of the Group of Governmental Experts on the Arms Trade Treaty