Update Report

Posted 18 September 2009
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Update Report No. 1: Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament

Expected Council Action
On 24 September the Security Council will hold a summit-level meeting on the issue of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. The meeting will be chaired by US President Barack Obama. A draft resolution is currently being discussed by Council members and is expected to be adopted at the end of the meeting. 

Please see our in depth report The Security Council’s Role in Disarmament and Arms Control: Nuclear Weapons, Non-Proliferation and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction of 1 September 2009 for a detailed background on the past role of the Security Council in arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.

Key Developments
In 1992 the Council held a similar summit and adopted a presidential statement on disarmament and non-proliferation issues. The statement also addressed issues like multilateral commitment to collective security, peacemaking and peacekeeping. (That meeting was chaired by the then Prime Minister of the UK, John Major, as president of the Council for that month. Also in attendance were the Premier of China and the presidents of France, Russia and the US.)

In early September 2009, the US circulated informally a concept paper to Council members proposing themes for the 24 September meeting. (A formal text was later issued as a UN document.) The paper suggested that the meeting should draw attention at the highest levels of government to the nuclear dangers confronting the world and the need for concrete steps to address those challenges.

The US has also indicated that the meeting should focus on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament in a generic way, without attempting to deal with specific situations.

It seems that other key topics which members will discuss will include strengthening the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and illicit trafficking in materials of proliferation concern.

On 11 September a draft resolution was made available to all Council members. The text was the product of intensive preparatory discussion among the permanent members of the Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US). Discussion of the draft started at the expert level on 14 September. Highlights of the draft resolution reportedly include:

  • calling for signatories of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to commence discussions on nuclear arms reduction and to negotiate a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, and calls on all other states to join in this endeavour;
  • calling for the completion of a new treaty to ban the production of fissile material made specifically for nuclear weapons;
  • urging all states to refrain from conducting any “nuclear test explosion” and to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and bring it into force;
  • supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency and encouraging states to submit to the agency’s enhanced inspection regime by ratifying the Additional Protocol (intended to detect clandestine nuclear weapons activities.); and
  • encouraging a positive outcome for the 2010 NPT review conference. (The last review conference in 2005 failed.)

On 11 September the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) presented to the Security Council a set of ideas for the summit meeting and expressed the hope that these would be taken into consideration. (NAM argued for a fair and balanced treatment of the issues of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, as well as the peaceful use of nuclear energy.)

At time of writing Council members were discussing a revised draft resolution.

Key Issues
A key issue for the Council is whether the draft resolution will be perceived as sufficient to enhance international support for multilateral nuclear arms control treaties and ongoing nuclear disarmament efforts or whether it will be seen as a missed opportunity.

A closely related issue is whether the Council will be able to overcome past criticism that it has been unbalanced in addressing issues of non-proliferation but largely ignoring issues of nuclear disarmament.

Another key issue is whether the Council can establish ongoing momentum and whether it will maintain its attention and determination to address these issues.

An initial indicator may be whether the Council will take up the issues again in more detail and, in particular, whether it will allow an opportunity for non-Council members to participate in a subsequent debate.

Council Dynamics
The P5 members seem to be pleased with the results of their efforts to reach common ground in the draft resolution.

However, some elected members seemed concerned that the collective P5 position reflected in the draft was much less ambitious than might have been expected given the national positions identified by most P5 members recently:

  • France: On 21 March 2008 French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced major cuts in the French nuclear arsenal and new levels of transparency.
  • The UK: On 4 February 2009 UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced a new initiative on nuclear disarmament. Subsequently, this was elaborated in detail by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s “Road to 2010” strategy paper on 16 July.
  • The US: On 5 April 2009 US President Barack Obama, in a speech in Prague, pledged to reduce the US nuclear stockpile and committed to work with others to do the same with an ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. He also committed to support the treaty banning nuclear testing, the CTBT, and a new treaty to end production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.
  • Russia and the US: On 6 July 2009, following bilateral talks on nuclear weapons between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, an outline agreement for a new strategic arms reduction treaty was signed. Commitments were announced to cut stockpiles to below 1,700 warheads.

China is the only P5 member which has not publicly announced a national position involving reduction in its nuclear weapons stockpile. It is unclear whether this signals substantive concerns in Beijing about potential restrictions in that regard. China has worked together with Council members in recent times to take stringent action in support of non-proliferation.

Elected Council members seem to prefer to see more meat in the draft and worry that the balance between non-proliferation and disarmament is not yet fairly reflected in a balanced manner that reflects the obligations undertaken by the P5 members in Article VI of the NPT. The P5 seems cognisant of this problem but appear to have found more common ground on references in the draft resolution to the issues of non-proliferation than disarmament. It may be, however, that the negotiations will produce stronger references designed to take on board such concerns.

At the time of writing it was unclear whether the Council as a whole had formed any view of follow-up action to maintain momentum.

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/2009/463 (15 September 2009) was the concept paper circulated by the US for the 24 September Summit meeting on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
  • S/PV.6017 and resumption 1 (19 November 2008) was the verbatim record of the thematic debate of the Council on disarmament.
  • S/2008/697 (10 November 2008) was the concept paper presented by Costa Rica for the 19 November thematic debate on disarmament.
  • 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
  • S/235000 (31 January 1992) was the note/statement by the president of the Council declaring that the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction constituted a threat to international peace and security and committing the Council to working to prevent the spread of technology related to the research for or production of such weapons.