Arms Control and Disarmament - Defining arms control and disarmament techniques




Although the terms "disarmament" and "arms control" have been widely used, there often has been, and still is, considerable confusion over their meanings. "Disarmament" became the fashionable term during the nineteenth century, particularly during and after the Hague Conference of 1899, to describe all efforts to limit, reduce, or control the implements of war. While some individuals may employ disarmament in the literal sense—the total elimination of armaments—most diplomats and commentators do not. The United Nations and its subsidiary agencies use it as a generic term covering all measures, "from small steps to reduce tensions or build confidence, through regulation of armaments or arms control, up to general and complete disarmament."

In the early 1950s, academic specialists linking the technology of nuclear weaponry to the strategies of the Cold War began substituting the term "arms control." For them "disarmament" not only lacked semantic precision but carried utopian expectations, whereas "arms control" involved any cooperation between potential enemies designed to reduce the likelihood of conflict or, should it occur, its scope and violence. Most arms controllers sought to enhance the nuclear deterrence system, and only occasionally sought force reductions, while literal "disarmers" dismissed arms control as a chimera and supported proposals seeking general and complete disarmament.

From a historical perspective the basic techniques that comprise arms control and disarmament undertakings may be divided into six general categories:

  1. Limitation and Reduction of Armaments. These pacts put specified limits on the mobilization, possession, or construction of military forces and equipment, and may result in reductions. The restrictions may be qualitative, regulating weapons design, as well as quantitative, limiting numbers of specific weapons.
  2. Demilitarization, Denuclearization, and Neutralization. Demilitarization and denuclearization involve removing or placing restrictions on military forces, weapons, and fortifications within a prescribed area of land, water, or airspace. Neutralization is a special status that guarantees political independence and territorial integrity, subject to a pledge that the neutralized state will not engage in war except in defense. The essential feature of all three is the emphasis on geographical areas.
  3. Regulating or Outlawing Specific Weapons. These agreements regulate the military use or the possession of specific weapons. Their rationale is that the unrestricted use, or any use, of a particular weapon exceeds recognized "just use of force."
  4. Controlling Arms Manufacture and Traffic. This approach involves restrictions, including embargoes, on the sale or transfer of weapons and munitions. It may prohibit the manufacture of specific weapons.
  5. Laws of War. These efforts seek to lessen the violence and damage of war. The principles underlying the rules of war (or laws of war) are (a) the prohibition of weapons that cause unnecessary or disproportionate suffering; (b) the distinction between combatants and noncombatants; and (c) the realization that the demands of humanity should prevail over the perceived necessities of combat.
  6. Stabilizing the International Environment. This technique seeks to lower international tensions through lessening the possibility of an uncontrollable cause célèbre provoking an unwanted war. In addition, it seeks to protect the environment from lasting damage due to the testing or use of military weapons.

Obviously, the six categories are not exclusive. The outlawing of weapons has the same effect as limiting them. Thus, a treaty that prohibits placing weapons of mass destruction in outer space (1967) is also an example of geographic demilitarization. In addition, a treaty may incorporate several arms control techniques: the Treaty of Versailles (1919), for example, limited the number of German troops, demilitarized specific zones, and outlawed German manufacture of military aircraft, submarines, and tanks.

The methods of achieving arms control and disarmament objectives may be classified into three broad categories—retributive measures, unilateral measures, and reciprocal measures—which can be subdivided into six general methods:

  1. Extermination. A retributive measure, extermination is an ancient and drastic means of ensuring no future warlike response from one's opponent, dramatized by Rome's destruction of Carthage or the elimination of some American Indian tribes.
  2. Imposition. Also a retributive measure, imposition results when victors force arms limitation measures on the vanquished, such as the terms imposed upon Germany and other enemy states in 1919 and 1945.
  3. Unilateral Neglect. Often confused with unilateral decisions, unilateral neglect refers to a nation's decision not spend for defense, as in the U.S. unilateral reduction of army and naval forces after the Civil War (1866) or the British and U.S. self-imposed arms reductions between the world wars.
  4. Unilateral Decision. A consciously decided policy of self-imposed military restrictions or limitations, as in Japan's post–World War II constitution and the Austrian Peace Treaty (1955), both restricting armaments to defensive purposes.
  5. Bilateral Negotiation. A reciprocal measure, bilateral negotiation is a traditional method by which two nations seek mutually acceptable solutions to tensions heightened by armaments, as with the Rush-Bagot Agreement (1817) and the SALT, START, and INF treaties.
  6. Multilateral Negotiation. Another reciprocal measure, multilateral negotiation is a common twentieth-century approach to regional and global military-political problems that involve the interests of several nations. The Hague treaties (1899, 1907) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968) are multilateral agreements. The Latin American denuclearization treaty of 1967 is a regionally negotiated pact.

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