Arms Control by the United Nations


In a world characterized by aggressive cut-throat competition in technology, weaponry development has not been left behind. As such, there is a need to curb their mass production by countries. Arms control is the restriction and limitation of the development, stockpiling, distribution, proliferation, and usage of weapons (Kolodkin). Further, it is seen as a form of cooperation between major producing countries to limit and reduce the likelihood cost of war among such states. The present paper addresses United Nations (UN) as the international organization for analysis. UN’s Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) which was re-established by resolution 52/12 of the General Assembly in 1998, controls weapon production through measures such as transparency, dialogue, and capacity building of militaries in addition to the demobilization of former combatants and their re-integration into society. Further, it has five branches: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), Conventional Arms, Regional Disarmament, Information and Outreach, and Conference on Disarmament Secretariat and Support branches, respectively (Won-Soo). This paper discusses effective strategies of the United Nations in general and the ODA, particularly in addressing arms control issues on an international level.

The Success of Arms Control by the UN

The history of arms control in an international arena is characterized by significant attention to the damage that uncontrolled weaponry might cause to humanity and multiple successful examples of efforts to minimize harm. Overall, according to Keck and Sikkink, “issues involving bodily harm to populations perceived as vulnerable or innocent are more likely to lead to effective transnational campaigns than other kinds of issues” (99). Arms being particularly subject to the issues related to bodily harm have long been targeted for control concerns. Although the actors and agencies involved have changed to some degree, the initiative’s purposes and objectives have remained functional and intact. In addition, it is important to note that the proliferation of weapons had emerged as a major world security concern during the post-Cold War era, which involved many countries across the globe. As a result, arms control has legal standing prohibiting its violation in international law (Kolodkin). The signed agreements deter violations, reduce tension between countries, and enhance self-confidence leading to arms reduction. Further, it offers a framework to use during talks aimed at more reductions.

Through the advocacy networks, various NGOs have allied with international organizations aimed at national behavior change, especially in human rights. The formation of alliances between countries such as the UN has realized peace and assurance and deterrence in the face of aggression. The UN’s commitment in terms of treaties prohibits decisions that initiate disputes since there are penalties and other repercussions for actors contravening the agreement. Although some alliances can provide assurances to start a war, international agreements play an important role in preventing it (Leeds 428). This shows the effectiveness of the overall performance of the UN in the international arena by transforming into a new security environment. There are several successful strategies aimed at arms control initiated by the UN through ODA’s treaties, programs, and policies. In essence, the ODA “promotes the goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and the strengthening of disarmament regimes” (Won-Soo par. 2). Overall, the general performance of the organization and its department for arms control is effective.

There are several international treaties aimed at arms control initiated by the UN. In particular, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has 93 signatory states and 191 state parties. The agreement was signed in 1968 and came into action in 1970 (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs [UNODA]). The strategy integrated into this agreement is based on preventing the spread of nuclear technologies and ensuring their peaceful use (Won-Soo). This strategy is successful because it integrates the countries’ efforts and unifies the national domestic efforts in a single global peaceful goal.

Another important example of ODA’s successful treaty is the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials, which was signed by 33 countries in 1997 (UNODA). This treaty helped regulate the trafficking of firearms between the countries of the South and North Americas. Moreover, regional treaties, such as South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, were effectively enforced to regulate the issues of particular concern for separate locations (UNODA). The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty was signed by 13 countries and entered into force in 1986. It was aimed at reinsuring the provision of Non-Proliferation protocols on these territories regarding the features of the countries involved. Overall, the UN’s strategy toward arms regulation includes large international agreements involving multiple nations that play a decisive role in global peace. Therefore, the UN’s overall efforts are effective in terms of preventing uncontrolled weaponry manufacturing, trafficking, and use. However, there are some imperfections in ODA’s performance that need correction in the future.

The Weakness of the ODA

UN is a large international organization that functions as a controlling body for maintaining peace, security, and beneficial coexistence of countries of the world. Since arms control is a challenging task for a non-military organization, the UN struggles to deliver its goals in a planned manner. As researchers note, Unlike NATO, which has a military structure, the UN fails to address war-related issues smoothly. Indeed, the “UN failed in Bosnia: it can do certain kinds of peacekeeping operations and humanitarian missions very well. But military missions require command and control” (Wallander 725). Therefore, there are several instances when the UN was not strong enough in enforcing international disarmament agreements.

The United Nations has challenges in realizing its goals in the international arena. Consequently, the legitimization of states’ behavior has both political and collective consequences in the global sphere. Some countries easily justify their foreign policy decisions, focusing on their citizens while aware that such unilateral determinations do not apply to international law. Further, such states seek approval for multilateral endorsement or legitimization of their positions without regarding the legal judgments rendered by international judicial bodies. Therefore, it leaves the United Nations seen as a rubber-stamp body for such states (Claude 370). Besides, collective legitimacy is not practically reserved for the UN since the United States relies more on other agencies aligned to it, such as the Organization of America States (OAS), to justify its policies.

One of the treaties where the UN and ODA, in particular, demonstrated a weakness is The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the difficulties associated with North Korea signing it and following its directions. In 2009, North Korea expressed disagreement with the regulations for nuclear weapon development and announced that it would not follow the UN’s directions (Won-soon). Therefore, it shows that some states abide by the UN’s decisions when they seem fit for their use and disregard them when the conditions are not favorable.


In conclusion, through the United Nations, governments agree not to produce weapons and reduce their arsenal size by signing conventions. Strategic and Tactical Arms Reduction and Non-proliferation Treaties have instrumentally brought peace and safety to the world. Furthermore, through alliances between states, the establishment of organizations, and advocacy networks, development has been realized globally. However, the UN’s failure to establish its influence within military settings weakens its positions and leads to some unsuccessful strategies. Lastly, impartiality in applying the law to some states by the United Nations during a crisis remains a weakness among international organizations.

Works Cited

Claude, Inis L. “Collective Legitimization as a Political Function of the United Nations.” International Organization, vol. 20, no. 3, 1966, pp. 367-379.

Keck, Margaret E., and Sikkink, Kathryn. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Cornell University Press, 1998.

Kolodkin, Barry. “Understanding Arms Control.” ThoughtCo, 2021.

Leeds, Brett A. “Do Alliances Deter Aggression? The Influence of Military Alliances on the Initiation of Militarized Interstate Disputes.” American Journal of Political Science, vol. 47, no. 3, 2003, pp. 427-439.

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Disarmament Treaties Database,” .

Wallander, Celeste A. “Institutional Assets and Adaptability: NATO After the Cold War.” International Organization, vol. 54, no. 4, 2000, pp. 705-735.

Won-soo, Kim. “United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs.” Nuclear Threat Initiative | NTI, 2020.

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