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What does Disarmament Mean?

Non-Violence sculpture in front of UN headquarters NY
Photo credit: Wiki Commons

Disarmament - The reduction or withdrawal of military forces and weapons. (Oxford Dictionary Definition)

The concept of disarmament is central to the work of the United Nations, and to the League of Nations before that. It stems from the concern that the level of arms build up globally and the level of expenditure on weapons globally makes human beings, and our planet, less safe. Disarmament and arms control by states is about accounting for, controlling and eliminating weapons, as they work together in community to make the world a safer place.

A comprehensive explanation of disarmament has been published by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs - Disarmament: A Basic Guide


Warfare, militarisation and the build up of arms; conventional and nuclear, have wide reaching effects. In 2022, we are experiencing one of history’s largest arms build ups globally since the Cold War. The effects of this matter for our planet, for humanity, and for our children’s future. Not only do weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons threaten life on earth, but the amount of resources spent in this industry significantly impact on our ability to be able to address the crucial issues facing our planet, such as tackling climate change and being able to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

"The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded." Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General (2007-2016)

Disarmament matters because:

  • Today more wars are fought within states and the victims are overwhelmingly civilians
  • The past decade has seen an uptick in displaced people due to conflict, with over 82.4 million people (UNHCR, 2020) uprooted due to conflict - a global record high
  • More than 2.5 billion people live in dangerous places, in countries where there is a high incidence of violent death
  • The development of new weapons and technologies has outpaced legal regulations
  • Climate change is increasingly a ‘risk multiplier’ for further conflict, and those in areas experiencing conflict experience the effects of climate change to a greater degree.
  • The world is awash in arms:
  • An estimated 875 million small arms are in circulation
  • Nuclear weapons states possess approximately 13,150 nuclear weapons
  • Chemical weapons have recently been used in the UK, Syria, Iraq and Darfur
  • Dozens of countries still stockpile Cluster Munitions and attacks have been reported in Libya, Sudan, Ukraine, Syria, and Yemen in recent years
"In 2016, the world’s Governments spent US$ 1.69 trillion on military expenditures, amounting to US$ 227 for each person alive today."

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

To find out more about what the United Nations is doing to address disarmament, please see the UN Secretary General’s Disarmament Agenda - Securing our Common Future

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