World Leaders Talk Disarmament at UN Conference

Photo: U.S. Mission by Eric Bridiers

On January 21st, the UN Conference on Disarmament opened in Geneva.  With members from 65 countries including the world’s leading military powers, the conference is designed to create multilateral agreements on arms control and disarmament.  The conference, which began in 1979, has resulted in some of the most important treaties on non-proliferation, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the conference with a speech urging member states to overcome differences and move past the stalemate that the conference has experienced in recent years.  Speaking of the Syrian chemical weapons incident of 2013, and the unified voice that came from United Nations member states against such weapons, he encouraged the conference to use structured discussions and draw out new non-proliferation treaty frameworks.

While non-proliferation has become a strong point of rhetoric for many nations, the steps taken to reduce nuclear arms have fallen short of many expectations in recent years.  In a 2009 speech, President Obama vowed that the United States would “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” (as cited in Karp, 2012).  Yet, in early January, the U.S. Defense Secretary announced a plan to upgrade the United States nuclear forces that will total $1 trillion in cost over the next 30 years. These discrepancies between ideology and practice are not limited to the United States.  Russia, China, and India are all taking huge steps to expand their nuclear defense programs as well (Wittner, 2014). The Conference on Disarmament could be an important forum for bringing these discrepancies to light and developing structured and open discussions about their meanings.  Hopefully, member states will heed the words of Secretary General Ki-Moon and overcome their differences to engage in these discussions.

You can learn more about non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament with the sources below!

News Sources

UN chief encourages Conference on Disarmament to live up to world’s expectations – UN News Centre

Interview with Angela Kane, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

The Endless Arms Race: Despite Great Power Promises, New Nuclear Weapons Are On the Way – Huffington Post, Lawrence Wittner


Scholarly Articles

Doyle, J., & Streeper, C. (2012). Steps toward increased nuclear transparency. Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists, 68(2), 55-62.

Karp, R. (2012). Nuclear Disarmament: Should America Lead? Political Science Quarterly, 127(1), 47-71.

Lawrence Freedman (2013) Disarmament and Other Nuclear Norms, TheWashington Quarterly, 36:2, 93-108.

Tannenwald, N. (2013). Justice and fairness in the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Ethics & International Affairs, 27(3), 299.

Walker, P. F., & Hunt, J. R. (2011). The legacy of Reykjavik and the future of nuclear disarmament. Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists, 67(6), 63-72.


Books at UIUC Libraries

Chalmers, Malcolm. (2012). Less is better: nuclear restraint at low numbers. London : Rusi.

Jasper, Ursula. (2014). The politics of nuclear non-proliferation: a pragmatist framework for analysis. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon : Routledge.

Kutchesfahani, Sara Z. (2014). Politics and the bomb: the role of experts in the creation of cooperative nuclear non-proliferation agreements. New York, NY : Routledge.

Warren, Aiden. (2014). The Obama administration’s nuclear weapon strategy: the promises of Prague. Abingdon, Oxon : Routledge.


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