Serious deliberations on a Middle East zone free of nuclear, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction would be an opportunity for the States of the region to engage in direct dialogue on arrangements that could address their security requirements.
António Guterres. Secretary-General of the United Nations

Developments and trends, 2019

The year 2019 saw the continuation of many regional activities in support of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control, with goals ranging from preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to countering the illicit manufacturing of and trade in conventional arms, particularly small arms, light weapons and their ammunition. In support, the United Nations engaged, coordinated and facilitated cooperation with States, regional and subregional organizations, relevant international organizations and civil society, including through exchanges and dialogues, capacity-building projects and information campaigns.

Meanwhile, the ongoing deterioration of the global security environment cast dark shadows over already-complex geopolitical realities at the regional and subregional levels. In the Middle East and North-East Asia, ongoing conflicts hampered progress in addressing pressing disarmament and non-proliferation issues. In addition, the gradual erosion of the disarmament and international security architecture contributed further to fears of a new arms race between major powers, with negative implications for regional and international security.

Notwithstanding, significant progress was made at the regional and subregional levels in adherence by Member States to multilateral treaties and regional conventions.

In the field of weapons of mass destruction, 21 States ratified or signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Treaty was ratified by eight States and signed by five, including two States that also ratified it. In Africa, the Treaty was ratified by two States and signed by three, including one State that also ratified it. In Asia and the Pacific, the Treaty was ratified by four States and signed by two. Separately, Zimbabwe ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in February, while Montenegro and Thailand ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism in February and May, respectively. In August, the United Republic of Tanzania ratified the Biological Weapons Convention.

In the area of conventional weapons, a degree of progress was made in the adherence by States to relevant global and subregional treaties. That was particularly the case in Africa, where Botswana ratified the Arms Trade Treaty in June and, in December, Equatorial Guinea became a State party of the Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and All Parts and Components That Can Be Used for Their Manufacture, Repair and Assembly (Kinshasa Convention, 2010). In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Plurinational State of Bolivia subscribed in May to the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (Firearms Protocol) of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. In Asia and the Pacific, the Philippines ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions in January, and Maldives acceded to the Convention in September.

Pursuant to General Assembly decision 73/546 of 22 December 2018, the Secretary-General convened the first annual session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction at the United Nations Headquarters from 11 to 22 November. That meeting represented the beginning of an annual process expected to continue until concluding the elaboration of a legally binding treaty establishing such a zone in that region.

In the meantime, States within existing nuclear-weapon-free zones continued efforts to strengthen those zones in 2019 by enhancing cooperation within and between them, thus contributing to the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime at the regional level. In particular, States in nuclear-weapon-free zones worked together to ensure full implementation of their respective treaties by building the capacities of their implementation agencies and fully utilizing their consultation mechanisms. They also enhanced cooperation between and among the zones, including by jointly planning the fourth Conference of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and Mongolia, to be held in 2020. Furthermore, those States continued engaging with nuclear-weapon States to resolve outstanding issues regarding assurances against the use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons. In the case of the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, States parties continued dialogues and discussions with five nuclear-weapons States to obtain their signatures or ratifications of the relevant protocol of the Treaty.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones

Nuclear-weapon-free zones strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, advance the case for global nuclear disarmament, and strengthen both regional and international peace and security. In parallel, nuclear-weapon-free zones are “landmark instruments” that cover roughly half the world’s land mass (86 million square kilometres), include 60 per cent of the United Nation’s membership (113 Member States) and represent more than a third of the world population as of 2019.

Meanwhile, in line with the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament, the Office for Disarmament Affairs and its three regional centres expanded their engagement with regional and subregional organizations to explore new opportunities and strengthen existing platforms for regional dialogue on security and arms control. As part of that effort, the centres assisted States and regional organizations to accede to and implement multilateral and regional treaties and conventions, as well as to build their capacities to manage conventional weapons and ammunition and combat their illicit manufacturing and trade. For instance, the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, in partnership with the Caribbean Community’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security, launched the Caribbean Firearms Roadmap, aimed at accelerating efforts to prevent and combat the illicit proliferation of firearms and ammunition in the region by 2030.

At the Firearms and Ammunition Evidence Management Course at La Paz, El Salvador, from 2 to 4 December 2019, where 25 participants received theoretical and practical training in firearm and ammunition identification and guidelines. The course also covered good practices for ensuring the competent management of crime scenes, evidence processing and analysis, as well as the correct utilization of the chain-of-custody system, among other useful tools to strengthen the investigation process and intelligence related to cases involving firearms and ammunition.

Photo credit: United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean

Furthermore, regional and subregional organizations deepened their activities to advance a range of disarmament goals. The United Nations supported those organizations by, for example, bolstering its support to the African Union flagship initiative on “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020”, particularly after the Security Council adopted a resolution on the matter in February. Other regional and subregional organizations also benefited from high-level political engagements, such as the Security Council’s consideration of United Nations cooperation with the League of Arab States in June and the Secretary-General’s participation in its summit in Tunis in March, as well as his participation in a high-level political dialogue with the Pacific Islands Forum leaders in Fiji in May. Furthermore, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe expanded their partnerships with the Office for Disarmament Affairs and its regional centres to carry out capacity-building projects and dissemination activities at the regional and subregional levels, providing further opportunities for cross-regional synergies.