Process of disarmament



March 28, 2022


M Ali Siddiqi draws attention towards an ongoing process

The most pressing problem humanity faces is the proliferation of arms that has put the world at risk. This singular issue has become almost an existential issue and is debated in most official and non-official circles with worries about it increasing by the day. The worries are not only confined to the nuclear arena but also pertain to non-nuclear arms that have become and international issue. The process of disarmament evolved over the ages to imply the entire range of efforts, both cooperative and imposed, to limit arms and weaponry. There were also examples of efforts to avoid conflict by cooperating to demilitarise likely regions of contact and to restrict the use of new and destructive technologies. In the current context, the process of arms control was adopted to capture cooperative efforts to contain the nuclear dangers of the Cold War and it subsequently became more focused gradually though emphasis was placed on nuclear disarmament between both superpowers.
However, the concept of bilateral arms control and broader efforts continued in the multilateral arena and were aimed at limiting and sometimes banning other weapons and systems, ranging from biological and chemical weapons to antipersonnel land mines. Traditionally, the term disarmament was used to indicate the full range of historical endeavors to reduce and restrict military weapons and forces. The concept was broadly used as an umbrella under which multiple and varied arrangements and means of implementation could reside. The period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was marked by dramatic increases in the lethality of warfare and concomitant efforts to ban the use of certain munitions, to limit the number of advanced systems deployed and to restrict the geographic employment of forces. The impact of destructive technologies and practices during World War I spurred a flurry of activity across the interwar period to limit or prohibit certain weapons. Part of this activity was undertaken in the League of Nations and much of the focus fell on limiting battleships and other major naval combatants and on outlawing poison gas.
The centrality of the concept of disarmament was supplanted by the term arms control early in the nuclear age. In the mid-1950s policymakers began rethinking an approach that had emphasised general and complete disarmament and instead considering limited, partial measures that would gradually enhance confidence in cooperative security arrangements. International security specialists began using the term ‘arms control’ in place of disarmament which they believed lacked precision and smacked of utopianism. Just as advances in military technologies and lethal practices had spurred an increased focus on disarmament following World War I, World War II saw the introduction of what many considered the ultimate weapon as well as a near-global means of delivery. With the failure of early proposals to eliminate or internationalise control over atomic weapons, the focus shifted toward limiting their development and spread and controlling their use and effects.
After the widely destructive Second World War, the three goals: avoiding war, minimising the cost of preparing for war and reducing the consequences if a war occurred, became the shorthand definition of the term arms control during the Cold War. Arms control in the nuclear age was framed first as a component part of an overall military and national security strategy—as an instrument of policy and an adjunct to force posture. It captured the more cooperative side of policy, focusing not on imposition but on negotiation and compromise, recognising a shared interest in avoiding nuclear conflict. These efforts were capped by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that sought to prevent future additions to the nuclear club. The agenda was then set by progress in other negotiations—either multilateral nuclear efforts or bilateral relations outside of the nuclear arena—or by triggering events such as international crises that created a sense of urgency to pursue heightened cooperation in the nuclear relationship.
The bilateral nuclear arms control process was so firmly established by the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that a brief series of unilateral initiatives allowed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) process to continue and the START II treaty was signed in 1993 and in this agreement both sides agreed to further reduce their nuclear arsenals. At the 1997 Helsinki Summit, both countries committed themselves to continue the strategic arms reduction process to even lower levels of nuclear warheads through a START III round. This negotiation never took place; instead, the two sides signed the 2002 Moscow Treaty officially known as the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. In the nuclear context, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was signed in Geneva in 1996 and discussions are still ongoing regarding a Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty. Also, several informal groupings of states, among them the Nuclear Suppliers Group, were created to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technologies. These efforts were very timely keeping in view that there are nine nuclear-armed states in the current world.
In addition, a whole range of conventional arms remains outside of any effective controls but it was noted that there were parallel multilateral efforts under way in other fields, often led by the United Nations Conference on Disarmament or by regional organisations. After practically capping the nuclear weapons’ proliferation, the attention shifted to ban the production, stockpiling, and use of biological and toxin weapons and in 1993 a similar convention on chemical weapons was agreed upon. There were also attempts made at securing agreements, both on bilateral and multilateral basis, on all forms of arms and the efforts are on.
After the end of the Cold War arms control is seen in slightly altered but no less important forms. The cooperative effort to dismantle, control and destroy the weapons-grade materials from thousands of weapons will be a difficult, expensive and often contentious process and it will be compounded and extended with each new round of cuts. There is likely to be a continuation of multilateral arms control and disarmament efforts, particularly toward halting and reversing the proliferation and development of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Work remains to be done in creating an implementation protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention. New and emerging arenas for arms control may include efforts to control or ban small arms and land mines, discussion of controls on advanced conventional weapons and emerging venues of interest in space and cyberspace.
It is more than obvious that the financial profits associated with military industrial complexes have made arms proliferation a very attractive field of activity. Amidst heightened proliferation concerns ranging from East Asia to the Middle East (where Saudi Arabia and the UAE are reported to be the largest importers of arms), efforts will be initiated and intensified to establish regional mechanisms for transparency and security. Global terrorism and actions well outside accepted norms of international behaviour by rogue and failing states raise critical challenges to the foundations of cooperation and diplomacy that lie at the heart of arms control. It is therefore pointed out that there is an increased emphasis on strengthened nonproliferation as well as an expressed willingness to pursue active counter-proliferation or preemption. Given the historical record and the net effect of all of these trends, there is reason to believe that arms control and disarmament will remain relevant into the foreseeable future and efforts in this respect would keep on producing results. TW

M Ali Siddiqi is a writer who contributes to leading periodicals


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