A guide to parliamentary action in support of disarmament for security and sustainable development

The importance of parliamentary action

In January 2020, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to the possible end of civilisation. Explaining the move, the group cited two parallel existential threats that humanity faces: nuclear war and climate change. The increased threat from nuclear weapons comes as nuclear arms control agreements are collapsing, nuclear-armed States are developing new weapons systems, and conflicts between nuclear-armed States are becoming hotter. Meanwhile, governments are now spending nearly $2 trillion per year on weapons and militaries, and over 1 billion small arms and light weapons are circulating world-wide, causing the deaths of approximately 220,000 people every year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that neither nuclear weapons nor conventional weapons and armies can prevent the spread of infectious diseases, nor address their impact on public health and economies. Rather, the flow of weapons tends to stimulate armed conflict and hinder the implementation of public health measures required to respond to serious pandemics.

Nor do nuclear weapons, conventional weapons and large armies assist in addressing climate change or in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, military operations are amongst the largest contributions to carbon emissions. And the financing for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) struggles to be met whilst governments maintain excessively large military budgets. Climate action and implementation of SDGs are better served by disarmament, diplomacy and conflict resolution than continued militarisation.

Parliamentary action is vital to shift national security priorities from a primary focus on military security to a stronger focus on cooperation and human security. Parliamentary engagement is necessary to advance the key approaches in Securing our Common Future, the disarmament agenda released by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, as well as to ensure the effective implementation and sustainability of disarmament policies and initiatives.

Parliaments and parliamentarians have responsibilities to authorise ratification of disarmament agreements and adopt national implementation measures, allocate budgets to support disarmament, monitor government’s implementation of disarmament obligations, highlight and replicate exemplary policy and practice, and build cooperation between legislators and parliaments regionally and globally.

This handbook provides examples of good practice plus recommendations so that parliamentarians can take action to make a real difference and to Assure our Common Future.

Izumi Nakamitsu, USG and High Representative for Disarmament. Photo: UN Photo / Mark Garten
Role of parliaments

Parliaments, as the direct representatives of citizens have both norm-setting and oversight responsibilities to perform. They can use moral, fiscal and legislative pressure to make sure governments move the world closer to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The international networks created by parliamentarians have been successful in achieving progress and strengthening the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime, not just for nuclear weapons but for all weapons of mass destruction, and other weapons judged to be inhumane, such as landmines or cluster munitions.

Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, New Zealand parliamentary symposium, March 10, 2020.

This page is part of Assuring our Common Future, a handbook for parliamentarians.