Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London dp27@soas.ac.uk

40 Acts to Save the World : Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament

WATCH: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres introduces his disarmament agenda.

We’ve summarised the Securing Our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament report released last month by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Office for Disarmament Affairs.

In the report, Guterres sets out a comprehensive framework for general and complete disarmament that places it at the centre of the United Nations’ work. It includes practical measures for disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, conventional arms and future weapons technologies.

Here are all the action points highlighted in the report:


Read More

UN Secretary General disarmament report a comprehensive agenda for disarmament

On 24th May, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres released his new agenda for general and complete disarmament at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, which included a plan to control and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons and new battlefield technologies.

The report includes a commitment by the Secretary-General to boost nuclear disarmament discussions together with Member States in three specific areas: resuming dialogue and negotiations for nuclear arms control and disarmament, extending norms against nuclear weapons and their proliferation and preparing for a world without nuclear weapons, including by encouraging states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty, enhancing nuclear-weapons free zones.

The report also promises to work to ensure the norm against the use of chemical and biological weapons remains, including by creating a new, impartial mechanism to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic.

In the field of conventional weapons, planned actions include: establishing a facility to support governments in tackling small arms and light weapons, as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing armed violence and the diversion of weapons, and promoting more effective State and regional action on excessive and poorly maintained stockpiles.

The report also includes actions to prevent the emergence of new weapons technologies, including through ensuring the security and sustainability of activities in outer space, reigning in destabilizing strategic weapons.

Read the Report – Securing our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament 

Briefing by Dr Dan Plesch at NPT PrepCom 2018 on ‘Could the US win World War III without using nuclear weapons?’

Fear of world war has crept back with alarming swings in the political mood.   Crises and hopes on the Korean peninsula and the NPT talks  in Geneva will be followed this month by the UN Secretary General’s new disarmament initiative, President Trump’s decision on the Iran nuclear agreement, and the Pentagon’s latest missile defense strategy

Dr Dan Plesch presented his disarmament research at the NPT PrepCom 2018 in three presentations.

On the first panel organised by Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, he joined Fabian Hamilton MP, the UK Labour Party disarmament spokesman (photo) to discuss CISD’s project scrapweapons.com with the International Parliamentary Union.

On the second panel organised by Western States Legal Foundation, he gave a briefing on US conventional military strength and addressed the question of his latest “The Conversation” article Could the US win WW3 without using nuclear weapons? .

“In analysing crises and the risk of war, there is a destabilising trend to overestimate US adversaries and underestimate the US military, which may even be able to disable Russian nuclear forces without using America’s own nuclear forces; and the US outclasses all other potential adversaries. Fortunately, the tested Cold War arms control agreements provide prototypes for global security.” said Dr Plesch who leads the www.scrapweapons.com project at SOAS.

On the third panel organised by Western States Legal Foundation, he discussed the tradition of Southern leadership on disarmament at the UN.

Link to Dr Plesch’s article “Could the US win WW3 without using nuclear weapons” in The Conversation – https://theconversation.com/could-the-us-win-world-war-iii-without-using-nuclear-weapons-94771

Prospects for Arms Control in North-East Asia

By Sid Bagri, MA Candidate, Centre for International Studies & Diplomacy, SOAS University of London and SCRAP student Ambassador.

The world is currently inching towards a precipice. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have put Asian security in a precarious position and it risks dragging in other world powers that also have a stake in the region, such as the United States. This state of affairs bears an uncanny resemblance to the Security Dilemma, which dictates that a state seeking to build up its military power in order to consolidate its security inevitably makes surrounding states less secure. This encourages other states to increase their military power as well, which in turn leads the original state to continue doing the same, culminating in an arms race that makes everyone more vulnerable. This is essentially what is happening in North East Asia. For decades the North Korean regime has seen America’s military presence in South Korea and Japan as a threat to its security, despite the fact that they are primarily there as a protective force (Gilsinan 2017). This would suggest that North Korea pursued nuclear weapons in order to increase its own security, but having a nuclear armed state like North Korea, which has repeatedly threatened to bomb both South Korea and the United States, has lowered security for everyone else, resulting in the situation today (BBC, 2015).

Many notable figures in the past have tried to reduce tensions and decrease North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. One of the earlier efforts was led by the American President Bill Clinton in 1994. In exchange for North Korea discontinuing its plutonium reactors, America would help the North build light-water reactors and supply the North with fuel oil in order to, theoretically, make up for the loss, despite the fact that the reactors were intended to create nuclear weapons and were not connected to the power grid (Kessler 2017). However, American intelligence discovered that North Korea was pursuing nuclear weapons through enriched uranium. When confronted with this issue, the North confirmed it, leading the Bush administration to cut off the oil flow and abandon the construction of the reactors, which were far behind schedule (Kessler 2017). The “Agreed Framework,” as it was known, had broken down. A new approach was tried with the Six-Party Talks in 2003, which included North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and America. By this time, North Korea had left the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and would soon realize their goal of acquiring nuclear weapons, which likely happened around 2006. The six rounds of talks did not produce much progress, but it did result in a breakthrough where North Korea pledged to give up its nuclear weapons and dismantle its program and the parties agreed on a number of steps to implement this process (Davenport 2017). Unfortunately, the steps were never implemented and North Korea continued to improve its nuclear capabilities. The failure of these past approaches means that a new one must be considered, and to get an idea of what a more effective approach would look like, one should look to the Cold War.

One of the most innovative approaches used to manage tensions during the Cold War was the Hotline Agreement created in 1963 shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis revealed the necessity for direct communication between the Soviet Union and the United States and it became a concrete recognition of the perils of nuclear war (State Department). A direct communication link between the United States and North Korea today may not be a bad idea. One already exists between North and South Korea and it was established for similar reasons. The hotline had been essentially defunct since 2016, but in January South Korean officials made a call, to which the North stated that they had nothing to report (McCurry, 2018). Even a simple exchange such as this can have the effect of dampening tensions, even if it is temporary. Of course, in order for this to be plausible, America first must agree to engage diplomatically with North Korea on some level. One of the most straightforward ways of ending the uncertainty surrounding the current situation is to provide the option of direct communication between both heads of state, even though both the US President Donald Trump and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un are decidedly less rational than John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were. Trump’s infamous temperament may get the better of him if he were to speak with the North Korean leader directly, and Kim Jong-Un’s paranoia may not be placated by hearing the bluster of an adversary. However, the current situation does not offer a path to peace. North Korea can now legitimately threaten American cities in Guam and Hawaii, and Donald Trump’s insulting monikers such as “Rocket Man” have won him no favors (The Economist 2018). To make matters worse, the American government is considering military options against the North. Any sort of pre-emptive strike would be seen by Kim Jong-Un as a prelude to invasion, and would likely spark a war on the Korean peninsula (Jervis 2018). A hotline between America and North Korea would be risky but it would provide the opportunity to clear misunderstandings between the two countries and it would at least show that America is willing to extend a hand to the North. Also, it appears that North Korea has made attempts to ease some tension in recent months. In November of last year, North Korea tested some new missiles but followed up with a statement expressing its desire to be a responsible nuclear power and that it would not threaten any other country as long as its rights were not infringed (The Economist 2017). This could be a signal that North Korea can be reasoned with and does not wish for war. Donald Trump also values personal relationships a great deal, and having direct contact with Kim Jong-Un could provide a way to develop a personal relationship. The current path of bluster and disengagement has the potential to be catastrophic. Almost any other approach would be preferable.

When the Cold War ended in the early 1990’s, European nations signed several treaties, such as the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, and the Vienna Document, with the intention of limiting armed forces each nation could deploy and reduce the risk of war. Each of these treaties were specifically designed to work in a European context which is why they have been largely successful, but that does not mean certain aspects of them cannot be applied to places like Northeast Asia. The Vienna Document of 1990 was constructed for the purpose of military transparency and one requirement in particular can be plausibly applied to Northeast Asia. States involved must notify each other about major military activities ahead of time and they may invite other states to observe certain military activities (OSCE 1990). In Europe, this is a politically binding agreement that works well because most of the countries there are allies. It has also worked with countries such as Russia which has not been a traditional European ally, proving that even adversaries can cooperate on pressing military issues. Most countries in Asia see each other more as rivals than as allies which could make this recommendation difficult to sell, and of course it would have to be non-binding. However, tensions have been rising in Northeast Asia for several years and providing countries with an opportunity to reduce these tensions voluntarily may be appealing. No one in the region wants a war, and all want to be seen to be promoting security rather than threatening it. This logic could be used to help support this recommendation.

The Paris Charter of 1990 also possesses certain aspects that could be applicable to Northeast Asia. Its emphasis on economic integration would be the most effective aspect to recommend, especially since much of that is already happening (OSCE 1990). The most difficult part would be the question of how much North Korea should be integrated into the regional, and by extension, world economy. An easing of sanctions and slightly looser rules on who can trade with North Korea would provide a signal that the world is at least willing to tolerate the Kim regime, and a greater openness could open North Korea to a greater level of scrutiny in case they do not remain peaceful. Unfortunately, it is difficult to imagine any other aspects from the charter that could be of use. Emphasizing a common culture in Asia is possible and has a basis in history, but the nationalist governments currently ruling much of Asia would likely twist this narrative for subversive purposes. China has been indoctrinating its youth with what they call a “patriotic education” and Japan has rewritten textbooks to fit its own cultural and historical narrative (Cain 2017). It would also be difficult to promote understanding among the youth for these same reasons. Putting an emphasis on common values would also be inadvisable since each country in Northeast Asia has a different political system. Japan, South Korea, and America are all liberal democracies that value concepts such as individual and human rights. China is an authoritarian technocratic country that more or less rejects both of these, and North Korea’s totalitarian dictatorship would never allow such concepts to cross its borders. Recommending anything else besides economic integration has the potential to derail any agreement. It is best to craft an approach that would start with something comparatively easy to agree with and then raise the other points depending on how the negotiations progress, a sort of “baby steps” approach.

The core of the CFE would likely be impossible to apply in Northeast Asia. The treaty essentially sets limits on the number of troops and military equipment that could be deployed on European soil with the specific aim of keeping both NATO and the Warsaw Pact from being able to dominate the continent. It also requires both sides to have a degree of transparency when it comes to military affairs (Kimball 2012). It is difficult to imagine that China, which has been increasing its military budget, Japan, which is currently trying to remilitarize, and South Korea, which is still technically at war with the North, would ever agree to limit their own military power. It would also likely be difficult for America, the guarantor of Asian security since the end of World War II, to agree to limit its own military forces in the region. The section of this treaty that could plausibly be recommended would be the issue of transparency. It would be difficult to convince rival powers that they should share more information about their military with each other, but a desire for regional peace could be the key driver for an agreement on this issue. Once again, a “baby steps” approach could work here. For example, Northeast Asian countries could start with providing more information on a smaller issue such as military budgets and once tensions begin to decrease, they could agree to go a few steps further. Building trust in today’s political climate will be extremely difficult, but considering the alternative, it is the only plausible way to start walking back from the brink.


Gilsinan, Kathy. 2017. “North Korean Nukes and the Grand International-Relations Experiment in Asia”. The Atlantic, (accessed 10 February 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/03/security-dilemma-north-korea/520023/

Davenport, Kelsey. 2017. “The Six-Party Talks at a Glance”. Arms Control Association, (accessed 10 February 2018), https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/6partytalks

Kessler, Glenn. 2017. “History lesson: Why did Bill Clinton’s North Korea deal fail?”. The Washington Post, (accessed 10 February 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/08/09/history-lesson-why-did-bill-clintons-north-korea-deal-fail/?utm_term=.2ba095562e2a

“Memorandum of Understanding Between The United States of America and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Link”. US Department of State, (accessed 10 February 2018), https://www.state.gov/t/isn/4785.htm

The Economist. 2018. “Donald Trump may be bluffing over a pre-emptive strike on North Korea”. The Economist, (accessed 10 February 2018), https://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21735583-do-not-count-it-donald-trump-may-be-bluffing-over-pre-emptive-strike-north-korea

Jervis, Robert. 2018. “Unpacking a US Decision to Use Force Against North Korea: Issues, Options, and Consequences”. 38 North, (accessed 10 February 2018), https://www.38north.org/reports/2018/01/rjervis013118/

“Ensuring military transparency – the Vienna Document”. OSCE, (accessed 10 February 2018), http://www.osce.org/fsc/74528

“Charter of Paris for a New Europe”. OSCE, (accessed 10 February 2018), http://www.osce.org/mc/39516

Kimball, Daryl. 2012. “The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and the Adapted CFE Treaty at a Glance”. Arms Control Association, (accessed 10 February 2018), https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheet/cfe

Cain, Sian. 2017. “China rewrites history books to extend Sino-Japanese war by six years”. The Guardian, (accessed 10 February 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/13/china-rewrites-history-books-to-extend-sino-japanese-war-by-six-years

British Broadcasting Corporation. 2015. “How Potent Are North Korea’s Threat”. BBC, (accessed 9 March 2018), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21710644

McCurry, Justin. 2018. “’Anything to report?’: Korean hotline reopens with little to say between foes”. The Guardian, (accessed 11 March 2018), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/04/anything-to-report-korean-hotline-reopens-with-little-to-say-between-foes

SCRAP hosts event at UN Geneva

On 12 February, 2018, SCRAP had its sixth annual appointment to the United Nations in Geneva, as part of an event hosted by the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan, discussing ‘Weapons Development and Disarmament: Challenges and Opportunities’.


The event was held at the Palais des Nations and featured a lively panel discussion on the future of weapons technology and regulation, and provocative questions from the audience, which included post-graduate students from SOAS University of London.

Her Excellency Mrs Zhanar Aitzhanova, Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, chaired the panel.

His Excellency Mr Michael Møller, Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference provided opening remarks. (The full text of his speech is available here through the United Nations Geneva website.)

The panel speakers were as follows:

His Excellency Mr Guilherme Patriota, Deputy Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva;

Amb. (Ret’d) Sergey Batsanov, Director, Pugwash Office in Geneva;

Ms Kerstin Vignard, Acting Director, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR);

Mr Toralf Pilz, Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to the Conference on Disarmament;

You can find the full event report below, which will be downloaded as a Word Document:


SOAS students part of the Nobel Laureate anti-nuclear campaign

This post originally appeared on the CISD website on 9 October 2017.

The Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation (SCRAP), as a member of ICAN’s coalition of partner organizations, is thrilled that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has been awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its role to achieve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. SCRAP is a student-led disarmament project developed by the Centre for International Studies & Diplomacy at SOAS University of London. During the negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, it successfully worked with states to include a preambular clause on General and Complete Disarmament which was adopted as paragraph 16 of the Treaty. SCRAP is now working with a group of like-minded states at the UN to pass a resolution on General and Complete Disarmament.

Dr. Dan Plesch speaks about SCRAP at the UN in New York

In an interview with MA International Studies and Diplomacy student Alexandra MacAulay Abdelwahab, Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) at SOAS University of London, speaks about SCRAPS recent meeting at the United Nations in New York City in the 18 and 19 October 2017.

Reflections on the General Debate of the First Committee, General Assembly of the United Nations

This blog post was written by Panida Wayrojpitak, a second-year international relations student at SOAS University of London.

To learn more about this subject, or to follow the UN debate yourself, please visit the following:

It comes with little surprise that the nuclear disarmament agenda is heavily supported by multilateral institutions and member states that are non-nuclear. Getting nuclear-armed states on board with the disarmament agenda will be a strategic challenge, especially in light of the embeddedness of ‘deterrence’ in military doctrines, of which delegates of non-nuclear-armed states have expressed anxiety against. Several representatives of nuclear-armed states cite the ‘current global security environment’ as justification to not consider further reductions, but one should keep in mind that disarmament requires political will, and continuance of the existence of nuclear weapons only serves as a threat to international security, with regards to, but not limited to, the amount of close calls on accidental usage. This was pointed out eloquently by the representative of Sweden, “A difficult relationship was no excuse not to act.” Another related issue is the usage of terms such as ‘selective approach’, step-by-step’, ‘building block approach’ and ‘gradual approach’, which is simply another excuse to slow down the disarmament process by nuclear-armed states.

Delegates widely praised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, emphasizing the potential of multilateral diplomacy to resolve intricate issues, with the representative of Iran pointing to its conclusion as a ‘win-win achievement’. This perhaps bring hope for the crisis on the Korean Peninsula to be resolved through diplomatic means. However, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea stands firm that its ‘deterrence’ policy is for self-defence and a ‘legitimate right of its sovereignty’, as well as pointing to the United States on retaining its nuclear weapons

Despite disagreements in various parts from delegates on the best practice for global security, one of which is the lack of support from key stakeholders on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. However, if anything, three themes do arise whereby there is a general broad consensus, excluding of course certain member states: condemning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ballistic missile and nuclear weapons development, calls for transparency in the alleged chemical weapons usage in Syria, and calls for a nuclear-weapon-free-zone to be established in the Middle East. This demonstrates, that despite disagreements, international norms do have an effect, rendering the possibility of further progressive norms constructions possible, including reinvigorating the General Complete Disarmament (GCD) discourse.

Furthering the disarmament agenda will require states to move beyond national interests to ensure security for all, but how will this gap be bridged when there remains a general ‘realist’ distrust between states?

For other discussions on this subject, check out this post by Reaching Critical Will (RCW), the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the oldest women’s peace organisation in the world.

Lobby the General Assembly for a resolution on General and Complete Disarmament

Join our campaign to pressure the United Nations General Assembly for a resolution on General and Complete Disarmament (GDC).

Send a letter to your country’s UN representative:


Letter Template

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you to ask that (insert state name) play an active part in supporting a resolution on General and Complete Disarmament (GDC).  We are aware of the difficulties that members of the General Assembly face in implementing this obligation, but the disastrous increase in wars and armaments must now be checked. (personalise)

As you are likely aware the General Assembly has held three Special Sessions devoted to Disarmament (SSOD): SSOD-I in 1978, SSOD-II in 1982 and SSOD-III in 1988. Since 1995, the General Assembly has been calling for a fourth session on disarmament. It then established Working Groups in 2003, 2007 and 2016 to discuss the agenda and the possibility of establishing a preparatory committee for an SSOD-IV.

I ask in particular that the Assembly should start with consideration of the publication by the UN’s own Office Disarmament Affairs of Occasional Paper 28 (Rethinking General and Complete Disarmament in the 21st Century – https://www.un.org/disarmament/publications/occasionalpapers/no-28/).

In closing may I draw your attention to the work of our group at www.scrapweapons.com

I look forward very much to hearing from you and am grateful for your consideration.




You can find the contact information for your country’s delegation in the UN’s Blue Book.

UN discussions of General and Complete Disarmament

Over the last several years, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs have discussed General and Complete Disarmament (GCD) more regularly.

Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu

In June 2017, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, addressed the final session of the open-ended working group on a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament. In her speech, she spoke about how all nuclear-armed states continue to invest billions into their weapons, while the pursuit of reductions in arsenals “seems to have come to a halt.”

She also added challenges to disarmament efforts reach beyond the nuclear field, adding “the illicit trade in small arms and their ammunition continues to devastate already-fragile societies, hampering their abilities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The use of chemical weapons has caused unspeakable human suffering and is undermining the global
norm against these unacceptable weapons.”

But, she said, in spite of all this she remains optimistic.

Click to open her full speech in a new tab.

Mr. Kim Won-soo

In April 2017, acting UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Mr. Kim Won-soo, didn’t mince words in his opening remarks to the 2017 Session of the United Nations Disarmament Commission. He warned: “We are witnessing rising global and regional tensions; new and destabilising arms competitions in both strategic and conventional weapons; worrying policy trends that threaten to roll back the gains made since the end of the Cold War; and a dearth of outcomes from disarmament institutions, including this body.

“We need to work harder to reverse these trends.”

Click to open his full speech in a new tab.

At a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York in March 2017, acting UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Mr. Kim Won-soo, warns that the Doomsday Clock– which measures how close humanity is to global catastrophe– was set at two and a half minutes to midnight in January 2017, stating “This is the worst since 1953 and worse than even at the height of the Cold War.”

He says to move forward we need to modernize our historical vision of general and complete disarmament, explaining: “This approach has led to important instruments, including the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones as well as bans on nuclear testing, various inhumane weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions.”

Click to open his full speech in a new tab.

Ms. Angela Kane

At a speech in Prague, in December 2014, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane, set-up the agenda for the 2015 Review Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons by remarking that “nuclear disarmament contributes to peace and security, yet it also benefits from progress in cultivating a wider environment of trust, cooperation and mutual confidence.”

She added “as we reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons, we must also limit conventional arms, substantially improve existing mechanisms and institutions for resolving disputes peacefully, and promote even larger goals of justice and prosperity.”

Click to open her full speech in a new tab.

At a speech in Moscow in November 2014, then UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane, warned that “possession without disarmament… invites nuclear proliferation,” and pushed for the Russian Federation and the United States to fulfil the disarmament commitments made at Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conferences and in Article VI of the treaty itself.

Explaining: “The more these are reflected in actions by the Russian Federation and United States, the brighter will be prospects for—getting other nuclear-weapon possessor states into the disarmament process, halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and achieving nuclear disarmament.”

Click to open her full speech a new tab.

Copies of these speeches were first hosted on the UN website.