Disarmament is the act of reducing, limiting, or abolishing weapons. Disarmament generally refers to a country's military or specific type of weaponry. Disarmament is often taken to mean total elimination of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear arms. General and Complete Disarmament was defined by the United Nations General Assembly as the elimination of all WMD, coupled with the “balanced reduction of armed forces and conventional armaments, based on the principle of undiminished security of the parties with a view to promoting or enhancing stability at a lower military level, taking into account the need of all States to protect their security.”
Before World War I at the Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907 government delegations debated about disarmament and the creation of an international court with binding powers. The court was considered necessary because it was understood that nation-states could not disarm into a vacuum. After the war revulsion at the futility and tremendous cost of the war was widespread. A commonly held belief was that the cause of the war had been the escalating buildup of armaments in the previous half century among the great powers (see Anglo-German naval arms race). Although the Treaty of Versailles effectively disarmed Germany, a clause was inserted that called on all the great powers to likewise progressively disarm over a period of time. The newly formed League of Nations made this an explicit goal in the covenant of the league, which committed its signatories to reduce armaments ‘to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations’.
One of the earliest successful achievements in disarmament was obtained with the Washington Naval Treaty. Signed by the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy, it prevented the continued construction of capital ships and limited ships of other classification to under 10,000 tons displacement. The size of the three country's navies (the Royal Navy, United States Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy) was set at the ratio 5-5-3.
In 1921 the Temporary Mixed Commission on Armaments was set up by the League of Nations to explore possibilities for disarmament. Proposals ranged from abolishing chemical warfare and strategic bombing to the limitation of more conventional weapons, such as tanks. A draft treaty was assembled in 1923 that made aggressive war illegal and bound the member states to defend victims of aggression by force. Since the onus of responsibility would, in practice, be on the great powers of the League, it was vetoed by the British, who feared that this pledge would strain its own commitment to police the empire.
A further commission in 1926, set up to explore the possibilities for the reduction of army size, met similar difficulties, prompting the French Foreign MinisterAristide Briand and US Secretary of StateFrank Kellogg to draft a treaty known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which denounced war of aggression. Although there were 65 signatories to the pact, it achieved nothing, as it set out no guidelines for action in the event of a war.
A final attempt was made at the Geneva Disarmament Conference from 1932–37, chaired by former British Foreign Secretary Arthur Henderson. Germany demanded the revision of the Versailles Treaty and the granting of military parity with the other powers, while France was determined to keep Germany demilitarised for its own security. Meanwhile, the British and Americans were not willing to offer France security commitments in exchange for conciliation with Germany. The talks broke down in 1933, when Adolf Hitler withdrew Germany from the conference.
Main article: Nuclear disarmament
Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated.
In the United Kingdom, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament held an inaugural public meeting at Central Hall, Westminster, on 17 February 1958, attended by five thousand people. After the meeting a few hundred left to demonstrate at Downing Street.
CND's declared policies were the unconditional renunciation of the use, production of or dependence upon nuclear weapons by Britain and the bringing about of a general disarmament convention. The first Aldermaston March was organised by the CND and took place at Easter 1958, when several thousand people marched for four days from Trafalgar Square, London, to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment close to Aldermaston in Berkshire, England, to demonstrate their opposition to nuclear weapons. The Aldermaston marches continued into the late 1960s when tens of thousands of people took part in the four-day marches.
In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy gave a speech before the UN General Assembly where he announced the US "intention to challenge the Soviet Union, not to an arms race, but to a peace race - to advance together step by step, stage by stage, until general and complete disarmament has been achieved." He went on to call for a global general and complete disarmament, offering a rough outline for how this could be accomplished:
Major nuclear disarmament groups include Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Greenpeace and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. There have been many large anti-nuclear demonstrations and protests. On June 12, 1982, one million people demonstrated in New York City's Central Park against nuclear weapons and for an end to the cold wararms race. It was the largest anti-nuclear protest and the largest political demonstration in American history.
Disarmament conferences and treaties
Definitions of disarmament
In his definition of "disarmament", David Carlton writes in the Oxford University Press Political dictionary, "But confidence in such measures of arms control, especially when unaccompanied by extensive means of verification, has not been strengthened by the revelation that the Soviet Union in its last years successfully concealed consistent and systematic cheating on its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention." He also notes, "Now a freeze or a mutually agreed increase is not strictly speaking disarmament at all. And such measures may not even be intended to be a first step towards any kind of reduction or abolition. For the aim may simply be to promote stability in force structures. Hence a new term to cover such cases has become fashionable since the 1960s, namely, arms control."
The book by Seymour Melman, Inspection for Disarmament, addresses various problems related to the problem of inspection for disarmament, evasion teams, and capabilities and limitations of aerial inspection. Gradually, as the idea of arms control displaced the idea of disarmament, the weaknesses of the present arms control paradigm have created problems for the idea of disarmament itself.
References and footnotes
- ^UN General Assembly, Final Document of the First Special Session on DisarmamentArchived November 17, 2015, at the Wayback Machine., para. 22.
- ^Marriott, Leo (2005), Treaty Cruisers: The First International Warship Building Competition, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, ISBN 1-84415-188-3
- ^Kellogg-Briand Pact 1928, Yale University, archived from the original on 2012-05-09
- ^"The League And Disarmament: A Story Of Failure".
- ^John Minnion and Philip Bolsover (eds.) The CND Story, Alison and Busby, 1983, ISBN 0-85031-487-9
- ^"Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)". Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
- ^A brief history of CND
- ^"Early defections in march to Aldermaston". Guardian Unlimited. 1958-04-05.
- ^"Address by President John F. Kennedy to the UN General Assembly". U.S. Department of State.
- ^Jonathan Schell. The Spirit of June 12The Nation, July 2, 2007.
- ^1982 - a million people march in New York CityArchived June 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
- ^The UN office at Geneva - Disarmament in Geneva
- ^disarmament: Definition and Much More from Answers.com
- Jonathan M. Feldman. "From the From Warfare State to 'Shadow State': Militarism, Economic Depletion and Reconstruction," Social Text, 91, Volume 25, Number 22 Summer, 2007.
- Seymour Melman, Editor, Inspection for Disarmament (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958).
- Alva Myrdal. The Game of Disarmament: How the United States and Russia run the arms race (New York: Pantheon, 1978).
- Marcus G. Raskin. "Draft Treaty for a Comprehensive Program for Common Security and General Disarmament," in Essays of a Citizen: From National Security State to Democracy (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 1991): 227-291.
M. Shane Smith
|"Complacency and apathy are widespread in society "almost all societies" as there always appear to be more important problems to worry about than catastrophes that could lead to the end of the world." -- Jayantha Dhanapala|
In March of 1946, less than a year after the first detonation of an atomic weapon, a group of U.S. officials met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., to develop the first nuclear arms control proposal, calling for comprehensive nuclear disarmament. This plan was introduced on June 14, 1946, at the inaugural session of the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission by U.S. Ambassador Barnard Baruch. He proposed a complete transfer of all atomic weapons, facilities and know-how to international oversight. The proposal was viewed with skepticism by the Soviet Union and denounced as an attempt by the United States to maintain nuclear superiority. These fears were reinforced when the U.S. Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act to establish the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission as sole manager of all nuclear materials and facilities in the United States, and to prohibit all interstate exchanges of atomic information.
It was not only disagreement between the Soviet Union and the United States that cut short this attempt at nuclear disarmament. Britain and France were also unwilling to support the plan in light of their own nuclear ambitions. As the East-West confrontation of the Cold War became increasingly rigid, subsequent efforts toward disarmament were hardly given consideration. The world missed an opportunity to avoid a costly and potentially devastating nuclear competition, pointing to an intractable problem of distrust in the international system -- the security dilemma -- that presents significant obstacles to disarming. By the end of the Cold War, there were over 50,000 nuclear warheads able to make the world uninhabitable many times over, keeping tensions high and global security uncertain for nearly 50 years. Today, much of these arsenals remain intact.
A decade after the end of the Cold War, we are witnessing a renewed surge in worldwide defense spending, and the specter of nuclear catastrophe has again become headline news. Optimistic notions of eliminating bloated military expenditures and nightmarish weapon systems that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union have given way to cynicism, doubt, and a reemphasis on military prowess. However, alarm that has risen with the prospect of widespread development of weapons of mass destruction (generally encompassing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons) has led to many renewed calls for eliminating such armaments. Moreover, a realization that the overwhelming majority of the tens of millions of casualties from post-World War II conflicts have resulted not from advanced weaponry but from common and widely prevalent weapons, such as landmines and guns, has also heightened efforts toward disarmament of conventional weapons.
What is Disarmament?
In general, disarmament is the reduction in size or destructive capability of an actor's capacity for violence. Despite pessimism that generally befalls discussions about disarmament (e.g., labeling such proposals as unrealistic and euphoric), there is reason to believe that disarmament is a viable tool for reducing the likelihood and dangers of conflict. Even during the Cold War, President Nixon unilaterally declared that the United States would disassemble its biological weapons program, encouraging others to join the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention and helping pave the way for detente between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. More recently, as the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States dramatically and unilaterally withdrew its tactical nuclear weapons deployed abroad. Moscow responded in kind, helping alleviate the chance of a nuclear exchange as the Soviet leadership lost command and control of its military forces. Disarmament measures, however, have not solely been aimed at state-to-state relations. Domestic initiatives have employed disarmament efforts toward reducing violence at the inter-group and local levels. For instance, citywide gun exchange programs in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago have been successful in reducing the number of local firearms and arguably overall gun-related injuries.
There are three different ways of viewing disarmament -- unilateral or voluntary, through bilateral or multilateral agreements, and forced disarmament. Unilateral and bi/multilateral arrangements are often overlapping initiatives. As the preceding paragraph suggests, unilateral disarmament is often an effort to encourage others to follow suit. For instance, during the 1990s, South Africa voluntarily disclosed and dismantled its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs, which led to a region-wide moratorium on atomic weapons through the development of an internationally recognized African Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. Additionally, actors in an ongoing conflict sometimes seek to defuse tensions through disarmament measures. Recognizing that one's own weapons generate fear among potential rivals that can feed uncertainty and hostilities, an actor may choose to decrease such anxieties by voluntarily reducing the size or destructiveness of its own arsenal in hopes of reciprocal behavior from others. This was the case when the United States dismantled developments in its biological and tactical nuclear weapons.
Over the last century, several efforts have also been made toward global elimination of weapons deemed too cruel or unnecessarily injurious. For instance, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention and the Anti-Personnel Landmine Ban are international agreements that outlaw the development, sale, and use of such weapons. While not universal, these arrangements often require many states to remove specified weapons from their existing arsenals. The result is multilateral disarmament even while others in the international system continue to possess the capability and potential willingness to use such weapons. This suggests a strong inclination for some countries to risk disadvantage if confronted with such weapons in the future, in favor of trying to establish norms for the conduct of war Moreover, these efforts to stigmatize particular weapons have led to calls for meaningful verification and enforcement of the agreements through global pressures in the form of sanctions and incentives.
Recent crises in the Persian Gulf demonstrate that forcible disarmament is also an approach that is often taken on the grounds of lessening the potential for future conflict. In short, actors may seek to disarm others who they deem irresponsible or belligerent. In 1991, international forces expelled Iraq's military from Kuwait. The resulting ceasefire agreement between the United Nations and Iraq stipulated the dismantlement of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and limited the mobility of its military within its own territory. Continued suspicions that Iraq was undermining these agreements compelled other actors in the international community -- led by the United States -- to again use military force, in an effort to see through the disarming stipulations. This, however, is not the first time such actions have been taken. Rather, after every war there is generally some type of disarmament imposed upon the loser. It is often, but not always, the case that these arrangements are resented and create challenges on their own (e.g., Germany after World War I versus Germany after World War II).
Why is Disarmament Important?
It is generally difficult for actors to ensure that rivals will not attempt to gain undue influence over them through the use of violence. Trust is often lacking in social relations, particularly during times of uncertainty and hostilities. This often leads opponents to seek increasingly greater capacity to inflict violence on others that can result in the stockpile of overly threatening or pernicious weapons. This heightens mutual skepticism and significantly reduces the prospects for resolving differences peacefully and through negotiation.
Unilateral disarmament can be used to reduce these fears and tensions and pave the way for greater cooperation. In other words, disarming can defuse a dangerous situation because it is generally seen as a gesture of benign intent and decreases the perceived threat that one poses to others. Moreover, it can encourage reciprocal behavior among would-be adversaries. Bilateral or multilateral agreements can be used to acknowledge mutually non-threatening intent and can further cooperation that increases transparency and dialogue between potential rivals. However, the very skepticism that characterizes adversarial relations makes initiation of such efforts unlikely during times that they are most needed. Thus, much of the world has focused on banning weapons deemed inhumane prior to conflict situations in order to stigmatize and curtail their use when hostilities do erupt. While forcible disarmament is an ancient practice, it has the potential to generate social resentment that may foster aggressive behavior in the future. Yet, this is not always the case, as shown by the current friendly relations between the victors of World War II and Japan and Germany.
 For fact sheets, local reports, and handbooks on gun exchange programs, see "JoinTogether Online" at http://www.helpnetwork.org/frames/pubs.2.html (no longer available as of March 5th 2013). Also see, the World Council of Churches' Web site at http://www.cephasministry.com/world_wcc_disarm.html
Use the following to cite this article:
Smith, M. Shane. "Disarmament." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: October 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/disarmament>.