As the international community faces a resurgence of threats and dangers related to the use of nuclear weapons, nuclear-weapon-free zones remain one of the best vehicles for advancing our collective goal of nuclear disarmament and play a fundamental role in shaping a more peaceful and stable world.

Developments and trends, 2022

In 2022, many regional organizations navigated the continued, albeit lessened, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased tensions resulting from the war in Ukraine to tackle a wide range of concerns related to weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms, in particular the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. While public health restrictions were gradually eased across regions, allowing a range of in-person activities to resume, virtual meeting technologies continued to provide valuable support in taking forward a range of projects and initiatives. The United Nations maintained regular engagement with regional and subregional organizations through regular policy dialogues, long-term projects and exchanges.

The war in Ukraine brought immediate implications for the regional security architecture in Europe. At the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Summit, held in Madrid on 29 June, Allied Heads of State and Government endorsed a new Strategic Concept and extended official invitations for Finland and Sweden to join the Alliance. The war affected key operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose member States could not find agreement to extend the mandates of its Special Monitoring Mission or Project Coordinator in Ukraine.[1]

Figure 4.1

area chart showing historical trend in military expenditures, by region

This graph shows the overall increase in global military expenditures from 2000 to 2022, as well as the regional shares in such spending. Military expenditures grew in four of the five geographical regions in 2022. The largest real-term increase was recorded in Europe (+13 per cent), followed by the Middle East (+3.2 per cent), Asia and Oceania (+2.7 per cent) and the Americas (+0.3 per cent). Spending decreased in Africa (-5.3 per cent).

SOURCE: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Fact Sheet and Military Expenditure Database, April 2023.

Regarding treaties on weapons of mass destruction, 14 States ratified or signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons during the year. In Africa, five States ratified the Treaty, and three signed it.[2] In Latin America and the Caribbean, three States ratified the Treaty, and one two States signed it.[3] In Asia and the Pacific, one State ratified the Treaty.[4] Separately, six States[5] ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, Namibia acceded to the Convention on Biological Weapons, and Oman and Tajikistan[6] joined the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

States parties and secretariats of nuclear-weapon-free zones actively participated in the tenth Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, including through reports on their respective activities (NPT/CONF.2020/16, NPT/CONF.2020/49 and NPT/CONF.2020/64). The five nuclear-weapon States of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty[7] maintained varying positions on the relevant protocols to each of the five nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, by which the States could commit to respecting the nuclear-weapon-free status of the corresponding regions and could undertake not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against States parties to the agreements. The five nuclear-weapon States had still not signed the Protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (Bangkok Treaty) as at the end of the year. For its part, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations saw the renewal of its Plan of Action to Strengthen the Implementation of the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone for the period 2023-2027. The General Assembly also adopted three resolutions related to nuclear-weapon-free zones: “African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty” (77/34); “Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco)” (77/35); and “Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia” (77/70).

States also continued to pursue the establishment of new nuclear-weapon-free zones, principally through efforts to create such a zone in the Middle East. At the third session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, held in New York from 14 to 18 November, the participating States, under the Presidency of Lebanon, adopted a substantive report (A/CONF.236/2022/3) in which they also laid out the agreed topics for discussion by its working committee during the forthcoming intersessional period. The participating States also reaffirmed their commitment to keeping the process open and inclusive in working towards the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Figure 4.2
Nuclear-weapon-free zones

pie charts showing nuclear-weapon-free zones in proportion to total land surface area, total world population and total UN membership

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), including 59 per cent of the United Nation's membership (113 Member States) and representing more than a third of the world population as of 2022.

On conventional weapons, Andorra and the Philippines ratified the Arms Trade Treaty, and Gabon accepted the agreement. In addition, Malawi acceded to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Meanwhile, the African Union implemented several initiatives to reduce the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and to promote regional disarmament. Yet, despite new efforts at the regional and national levels to control the possession and use of small arms and light weapons, the risk of armed conflict continued to expand, particularly in the hotspots of Libya, Liptako-Gourma and neighbouring areas (across Burkina Faso, Mali, the Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, the Lake Chad Basin, the Horn of Africa and the African Great Lakes region).

Director of the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa

Anselme Yabouri, Director of the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa, speaks to journalists on 5 September as the African Union's Peace and Security Council and the Office for Disarmament Affairs commemorate Africa Amnesty Month.

In 2022, the three regional centres[8] of the Office for Disarmament Affairs continued to support Member States in their respective regions and subregions in promoting the adherence and implementation of disarmament and arms control instruments. In particular, the centres assisted Member States in building their capacities to accede to and implement treaties and other agreements by providing information and assistance related to the Arms Trade Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons. The regional centres also continued to promote regional dialogue and confidence-building through the hosting of conferences, such as the twenty-first United Nations-Republic of Korea Joint Conference on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Issues.

[1] The closure of the field operations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Ukraine was announced by the organization’s Chairman-in-Office, Zbigniew Rau, and its Secretary General, Helga Maria Schmid, on 28 April and 30 June, respectively, following the Russian Federation’s refusal to join consensus on the extension of their mandates.

[2] Cabo Verde, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi ratified the Treaty; Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, and Sierra Leone signed it.

[3] Dominican Republic, Grenada and Guatemala ratified the Treaty; Barbados and Haiti signed it.

[4] Timor-Leste.

[5] Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu.

[6] Oman acceded to the Convention, and Tajikistan ratified it

[7] China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and United States.

[8] The United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (Lomé); the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (Lima); and the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (Kathmandu).