By Andreas Zumach*
“Following a heated debate and in spite of a few remaining misgivings, my government has decided to sign the UN Convention for the abolition of all national armed forces and the simultaneous establishment of permanent UN troops and police contingents.” These were the words spoken by Washington’s ambassador, Richard Cheney Jr, to his 192 colleagues at the 2030 New York UN General Assembly yesterday morning which prompted minute-long ovations. “That was the longest applause for a US diplomat since ambassador Eleanor Roosevelt read out the UN Charter in San Francisco 85 years ago,” joked the representative from Cuba.
Such tongue-in-cheek comments were also made because Richard Cheney of all people, the son of the former US Vice President, who was responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in defiance of the UN Charter at the beginning of the millennium, was now announcing to the UN the ground-breaking decision to abolish the United States armed forces.
Following the positive decision taken by the US government, all 193 UN member states are now on board and the condition set out in Article 1 of the new UN convention that the latter can only enter into force if all UN members participate, has been met. Together with the USA and Israel, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and North and South Korea insisted on this pressure to achieve a consensus during the negotiation of the wording of the convention.
The UN convention for the abolition of all national armies has also been signed by all those member states, which have never had their own military forces or abolished these a long time ago. Also on board is the most recent UN member, Palestine, which expressly refrained from establishing its own armed forces when the state was founded in 2013. However, Palestine and Israel insisted on a guarantee, that the 25,000 strong UN peacekeeping force under US leadership deployed on the border of the two countries would be replaced by future UN task forces. This guarantee is set out in an annex to the new UN convention.
UN Secretary-General, Bosilka Delic, praised the UN convention at the General Assembly yesterday as ‘a milestone in the history of civilisation’. It stood “alongside the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the establishment of the League of Nations and the UN in 1919 and 1945 respectively, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention of 1948 as well as the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 1998”. Delic, a Muslim from Bosnia-Herzegovina, has campaigned tirelessly for the UN convention among reluctant governments since she took up office in 2026. Painful personal experiences contributed to this. As a young woman she was not only raped on several occasions by Serbian soldiers during the war in Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1990s, she was also forced into prostitution by the former commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia.
It is assumed within the UN Secretariat that within two years at the latest, i.e. by autumn 2032, all UN member states will have ratified the convention. Then, from January 2033, an initial ten year implementation phase would begin in which all member states will freeze their armed forces head count and military spending and then reduce these by at least 5 percent each year thereafter. Following a review conference, a second five-year implementation phase would begin in 2043 with an annual budget reduction of 10 percent. During this period totalling 15 years, member states must pay over at least 20 percent of the funds released from national military budgets to the UN for the setting up, training and equipping of a permanent UN task force of 30,000 soldiers and a permanent UN police force of 20,000 officers. Both should be ready for duty from 2050 onwards.
Most of the money released through national demilitarisation should be used by the member states to meet other obligations arising from the fundamental UN reform passed by the General Assembly in 2023. The member states agreed to increase their annual contributions to the UN budget, firstly to 2 and then to 3 percent of their gross national product. From 2050, all civil tasks performed by the global organisation and the permanent UN task force should be financed from the significantly increased UN budget. Previous resolutions, such as the one implemented by merely four UN member states in 1977 to increase development aid payments to 0.7 % of the national gross domestic product, have become obsolete with this fundamental reform of UN funding.
The UN Security Council reaches the decision regarding the deployment of future permanent military and police contingents with a two-thirds majority. There is no longer a veto option since in the course of the Security Council reform agreed in 2026, the right of veto and also the permanent membership of individual states will gradually be abolished before the hundredth anniversary of the United Nations in 2045. However, the Convention stipulates that Security Council resolutions regarding the deployment of permanent military or police units can be revoked by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly.
Men and women from all member states can apply to serve in the future UN military and police units and they will then be trained by the UN. The new UN women’s department at the New York headquarters, which had come into being three years ago as a result of the amalgamation of the to date four different UN bodies concerned with gender issues, insisted on a recruitment quota of 50% in order to ensure an equal number of women. With the help of a corresponding quota, which had been decided in respect of civilian employees in the UN in 2019, it was possible to increase the percentage of women to over 42% and also at the highest levels to at least 36%. The ultimate goal is to reach the 50% mark by 2045 at the latest.
The general euphoria surrounding the new UN convention yesterday was mixed with a few critical comments from non-governmental organisations. ‘The convention only binds member states and their governments, but not civil war groups and militias,’ complained German anti-small arms trade campaigner, Jürgen Grässlin. These groups can ‘only be successfully demilitarised through a strict ban on arms trading of any kind that is binding under international law and, if necessary, enforced by UN sanctions.’ In order to emphasise his demand, Grässlin erected another sculpture in addition to the one of a knotted pistol that has stood outside the UN headquarters in New York for decades: the sculpture of a broken G-3 rifle from German armament manufacturer Heckler & Koch. This rifle exported in millions around the world and its successors are, in addition to the Russian Kalashnikov, the ‘most successful’ instruments of mass murder in history since the founding of the UN.
The 82-year-old Grässlin has been fervently campaigning for an export ban on small arms since the 1970s. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize four years ago for his unwavering commitment to this cause. Much more important to him, however, is that ‘the UN ultimately enforces this ban.’
* Andreas Zumach is UN correspondent in Geneva. This articles was published first in the daily newspaper “taz”, 30 may 2009