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
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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