United Nations Disarmament Commission

In 1952, the General Assembly, by its resolution 502 (VI) of January 1952, created the United Nations Disarmament Commission (UNDC) under the Security Council with a mandate to prepare proposals for a treaty for the regulation, limitation and balanced reduction of all armed forces and all armaments, including the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction. However, it met only occasionally after 1959.

From 1960 onward, disarmament negotiations were carried out by a succession of bodies, starting with the Ten-Nation Disarmament Committee. This body became the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee in 1962, the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament in 1969 and ultimately the Conference on Disarmament from 1978.

In 1978, the first special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament established a successor Disarmament Commission as a subsidiary organ of the Assembly, composed of all Member States of the United Nations. It was created as a deliberative body, with the function of considering and making recommendations on various issues in the field of disarmament and of following up on the relevant decisions and recommendations of the special session. It reports annually to the General Assembly.

In light of its function, the UNDC focuses on a limited number of agenda items at each session. In 1989, to allow for in-depth consideration, it decided that its substantive agenda should be limited to a maximum of four items. From 1993, it has, in practice, dealt with two or three items, each of which has usually been considered for three consecutive years. In 1998, by its decision 52/492, the General Assembly decided that the UNDC’s agenda, as of 2000, would normally comprise two substantive items per year from the whole range of disarmament issues, including one on nuclear disarmament.

The UNDC, which meets for three weeks in the spring, operates in plenary meetings and working groups, the number of working groups depending on the number of substantive items on its agenda. The five geographical groups take turns assuming the chairmanship of the UNDC and its working groups.

Over the years, the UNDC has formulated consensus principles, guidelines and recommendations (see below) on a number of subjects, which have been endorsed by the General Assembly. After 1999 and until 2017, it was unable to agree on any substantial outcome. In 2017 it succeeded in adopting consensus recommendations on “Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons”.

The UNDC is serviced substantively by the Office for Disarmament Affairs and technically by the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services.

Principles, guidelines and recommendations adopted unanimously by the Disarmament Commission since 1978

Year Title Report
2023 Recommendations to promote the practical implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities with the goal of preventing an arms race in outer space, in accordance with the recommendations set out in the report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities A/78/42
2017 Recommendations on practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons A/72/42
1999 Guidelines on conventional arms control/limitations and disarmament, with particular emphasis on consolidation of peace in the context of General Assembly resolution 51/45 N A/54/42
1999 Establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the region concerned A/54/42
1996 Guidelines for international arms transfers in the context of General Assembly resolution 46/36 H of 6 December 1991 A/51/42
1993 Guidelines and recommendations for regional approaches to disarmament within the context of global security A/48/42
1992 Guidelines and recommendations for objective information on military matters A/47/42
1990 Declaration of the 1990s as the Third Disarmament Decade A/45/42
1990 Issues related to conventional disarmament A/45/42
1990 Review of the role of the United Nations in the field of disarmament A/45/42
1990 Nuclear capability of South Africa: conclusions and recommendations A/45/42
1988 Verification in all its aspects A/S-15/3
1988 Guidelines for appropriate types of confidence-building measures and for the implementation of such measures on a global or regional level A/S-15/3
1985 Review of the Declaration of the 1980s as the Second Disarmament Decade A/40/42
1984 Guidelines for the study on conventional disarmament A/S-12/3
1980 Recommendations on agenda item 4 (a), “Consideration of various aspects of the arms race, particularly the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament, in order to expedite negotiations aimed at effective elimination of the danger of nuclear war”, and (b) “Consideration of the agenda items contained in section II of resolution 33/71 H, with the aim of elaborating, within the framework and in accordance with the priorities established at the tenth special session, a general approach to negotiations on nuclear and conventional disarmament” A/235/4
1980 Declaration of the 1980s as the Second Disarmament Decade A/35/42
1979 Elements of a comprehensive programme of disarmament A/34/42