As established in Article I(1) of the UN Charter, the purpose of the United Nations is to “maintain international peace and security.” Member States have consistently identified nuclear weapons as the greatest threat to humanity given the number of such weapons in existence and their destructive potential. The challenge facing the committee therefore is not new.
Contemporary international law pertaining to nuclear weapons comprises several multilateral treaties, principally the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Other frameworks include the not yet in force Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) as well as several agreements establishing regional Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ). These overlapping regimes have succeeded in preventing the further use of nuclear weapons in war. However, they have not succeeded in eliminating such weapons or in preventing nations from acquiring or attempting to acquire them. Since the NPT came into effect in 1970, three nations have conclusively demonstrated their acquisition of nuclear weapons. At least one additional nation is widely presumed to possess nuclear weapons and several more have had active development programs at one time or another. Frustrated by a lack of progress towards abolition under the terms of the NPT, a coalition of non-nuclear-armed nations worked together to adopt the TPNW. Some observers and international legal experts caution that the TPNW, which critically has not been signed or ratified by any of the recognized nuclear-armed nations, is fundamentally in conflict with provisions spelled out in the NPT. These issues, coupled with the continued risk that nuclear materials fall into the hands of non-state actors determined to cause harm, clearly demonstrate that more work remains.
The committee must determine how to advance nuclear disarmament despite significant disagreement among some Member States concerning the feasibility and desirability of this goal. Delegates must also reckon with the fact that possessing nuclear weapons is considered by some a necessary deterrent to threats of invasion. The return of strategic competition among major powers and the rising threat of direct confrontation between nuclear-armed nations lends renewed urgency to this task.
What steps are needed to induce current nuclear-armed nations to eliminate such weapons from their arsenals? Can states that see the acquisition of nuclear weapons as critical to their survival be convinced otherwise? Should more emphasis be placed on securing regional agreements covering those places where the potential for nuclear escalation is greater? What actions might meaningfully shift the incentives for acquiring and deploying nuclear weapons?
Resources from the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs: