Disarmament, arms control and nonproloferation


by Carla Zapata




An analytical essay, comparing disarmament and arms control as approaches to security.



The following essay aims to understand the importance of the study of disarmament and arms control, which is necessary to conceptualize each of these terms to later compare them and so to reach the different approaches to security. Subsequently, we will analyze the history; facts and the role of the UN in this topic. Finally come to a complete analytical analysis on disarmament and arms control, which has been a subject of international debate and interest.

During the last years it has been shown that a change is needed regarding approaches to security and arms control because for many years the U.S. was the only centerpiece of national security issues, thus the national security, arms Control and disarmament “must adapt itself to new arenas and new approaches.” (Larsen, 2002)

Sokolsky (2001) has argued that “The traditional arms control process of negotiating legally binding treaties that both codify numerical parity and contain extensive verification measures has reached an impasse and outlived its utility.”

Disarmament and arms control are different things, on one hand disarmament refers to the process of the total elimination of weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear, chemical and biological and for the other hand arms control refers to an agreement among states to regulate some aspect of their military capability or potential, also is a tool for enhancing national and international security, along with diplomatic, economic, and military measures.

Early theorists defined arms control in the broadest sense to discuss to all forms of military cooperation between potential enemies in the interest of ensuring international stability. In 1983, Bull conducted a study which showed that arms control is Cooperation between antagonistic pairs of states in the military field, whether this cooperation is founded upon interests that are exclusively those of the cooperating states themselves or on interests that are more widely shared”.

Arms control experts of the early 1960s were in agreement that the objectives of arms control were threefold:

In 1985, Schelling & Morton have argued that “They were reducing the likelihood of war, reducing the political and economic costs of preparing for war, and minimizing the scope and violence of war if it occurred”

The importance between disarmament and arms control is significant because disarmament is a way of increasing security, for this reason it is believed that the probability of war will decrease if states pursue disarmament in good faith; the goal of disarmament is ultimately to build confidence among states and reduce the impulse towards destabilizing arms races and war, which are caused by international anarchy and the security dilemma. While the importance of arms control “is intended to serve as a means to enhance a state’s national security. Arms control is but one approach to achieve that goal. Arms control can even lead states to agree to increases in certain categories of armaments if such increases would contribute to crisis stability and thereby reduce the chance of war.” (Larsen, 2002)

Arms control was conceived as a way to enhance national security. As Bull (2002) has explained: “arms control or disarmament was not an end in itself but a means to an end and that end was first and foremost the enhancement of security, especially security against nuclear war.”

From this point of view it can be argued that the two terms have different meanings; in 2002, Bull has ssuggested that Even though disarmament and arms control are not the same they nevertheless intersect. Disarmament is the reduction or abolition of armaments, whereas arms control is restraint internationally exercised upon armaments policy, addressing not only the number of weapons but also their character, development, and use”.

As Schelling and Halperin (2001) have specified near the end of their book: “the aims of arms control and the aims of a national military strategy should be substantially the same.” (Schelling&Halperin)

“This principle established national security as the dominant goal of arms control, not the reduction of arms per se. In fact it was understood that not all reductions were necessarily useful. There was an explicit recognition that arms control could be harmful if not properly guided by overall national security strategy.” (Gonzaga, 2010)

Another point in this approach is about the superpowers. According to Bull (2002) “The fact that the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a political and ideological conflict, one moreover that sometimes took a military form, did not mean that they could not recognize common interests in avoiding a ruinous nuclear war, or cooperate to advance these common interests.” Assumed, the superpowers shared a common interest in avoiding nuclear war; this common interest could and should be the basis for effective arms control agreements.

“This assumption was one of the most important and controversial conceptual departures from past thinking promulgated by the new arms control theory. Previously, it was assumed that relaxation of political tensions had to precede the achievement of substantive arms control agreements. The founders of traditional arms control theory, in contrast, believed that the threat of global nuclear annihilation was so paramount that it transcended political and ideological differences.” (Gonzaga, 2010)

“It was not necessary to fully resolve political conflicts before proceeding to negotiate arms control agreements; solutions to both could be advanced simultaneously.” (Gonzaga, 2010)

Moreover since the founding of the UN (United Nations) in 1945, much of this work has been devoted to the subject of disarmament, specially everything that has to do with arms control and nuclear decommissioning, all this in order to get cooperation on issues such as peace, international security, human rights, among others.

The overall or total disarmament is one of the most important goals of the UN.

Humanity has so far avoided the outbreak of another world war in part due to the measures taken by the United Nations for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, but the dangers are not over yet because it has increased the reserves of weapons and the number of people trained for war, for that reason since the end of World War II have lost 20 million of lives in 150 wars. Today there are at least 7 countries with nuclear weapons.

The United Nations have different entities whose mission is regulated and eliminate the use and manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. The General Assembly has required to establish principles that define disarmament and the regulation of these, The Conference of disarmament is a forum with 66 members, 3 are responsible for negotiating disarmament agreements, the Department for Disarmament Affairs (DDA) which is in charge of disarmament that is primarily related to weapons of mass destruction (chemical, nuclear, biological), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which is a forum for scientific and technical cooperation on the use of nuclear energy peacefully, in addition to inspecting all this, besides the support of the UNIDIR which is the United Nations Institute for disarmament research whose function is to investigate the issues of disarmament and security issues.

Over a long time the UN has achieved this objective approach contributing to international law, in various forms among which are; Ban Treaty Partial Nuclear Test, which prohibits same nuclear tests near to the atmosphere, Earth space and in lakes, rivers and seas. The Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which requires states without nuclear weapons not to produce them, and states with nuclear weapons to disarm, but without agreeing a specific timeframe or method for disarmament. The Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits the production and the use or storage of chemical weapons, The biological Weapons Convention which prohibits the production, use or stockpiling of biological weapons, the Ottawa Convention in 1997 banning the use, production and transfer of antipersonnel and as well as regulating the destruction of these.

In conclusion UN have helped greatly to reduce the proliferation of weapons, promote international cooperation through all its entities; otherwise the solution for arms control and disarmament is that all the states help to establish military balances at lower levels of armaments than would be the case in an exclusively self-help system. Communication between states can also reduce hostilities and build mutual confidence, it means that arms control and military strategy should work together to promote national security; with all this the entire world can live in an environment of peace and security.






Autora: Carla Vanessa Zapata Toapanta


Graduada de la carrera de Ciencias Políticas y Relaciones Internacionales de la Universidad de las Américas (UDLA) Quito-Ecuador. Actualmente, escribo para la Revista Acontecer Internacional de Argentina temas relevantes para el contexto internacional. Conjuntamente, redacto artículos de carácter cultural, histórico, actualidad, opinión, entre otros  para el Journal de la Alianza Francesa Quito.

carla_25z @hotmail.com




An analytical essay, comparing disarmament and arms control as approaches to security





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