How Can We Reinvigorate General and Complete Disarmament?

Sebastian Brixey Williams

Project assistant, SCRAP Weapons

On the 10th February, SCRAP and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) held a joint Expert Panel on Disarmament at the Maison de la Paix in Geneva, to debate the different strategic approaches that could be utilised to reintroduce and rehabilitate General and Complete Disarmament (GCD) into the discourse of international relations and the practice of states. The panel consisted of five experts, with a range backgrounds and research specialisms in the field of disarmament. While the panel had heterogeneous opinions about which strategies should be adopted, it shared a common commitment to nuclear disarmament.

Dr Dan Plesch, the founder of the SCRAP project and the Director of the Centre for International Studies, gave an introduction to SCRAP’s work to date and described the project’s proposed strategy over the next few years. Drawing attention to pre-existing agreements about nuclear weapons – the provisions of the Vienna Accords, START – INF, and the recent Iran agreement, among others –Dr Plesch emphasised that the technical blueprint for GCD has been to a large extent already achieved. However, political negotiations remain the obstacle to seeing that blueprint realised.

Dr Plesch laid out three political strategies for SCRAP’s campaign:

1. Work with like-minded states to rehabilitate the concept of GCD, and reintroduce a resolution for a debate on the matter within the UN General Assembly. Such a debate, he noted, might prove to be of interest to countries without armed forces, the states of the Non-Aligned Movement, and to the P5.

2. Open up a dialogue with the Security Council and the P5 about Article 26 of the UN Charter, which delineates the Security Council’s responsibility to regulate armaments.

3. Explore the opportunities raised by Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

Timothea Horn, a Doctoral Fellow at the GCSP conducting comparative research on state behaviour during multilateral talks on arms control treaties, delivered the preliminary findings of her doctoral research. The conventions on cluster munitions and land mines, she noted, were negotiated without the participation of major arms producers such as the US, Russia and China, and the same approach could be adopted in the negotiations of a ban on nuclear weapons. Moreover, by excluding nuclear powers from the negotiations, non-nuclear states could make more meaningful progress on a total ban among themselves without being derailed. By contrast, UN negotiations are typically less directed and more prone to losing focus.

Alyn Ware, the Global Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), made the point that New Zealand had previously been able to use the UN to successfully mediate issues such as the occupation of East Timor and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, and that these kinds of mechanisms should not be disregarded.

Mr Ware also advocated cooperation with the UN Open Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament, whose mandate opens with an obligation to “substantively address concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that would need to be concluded to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.”

Finally, Mr Ware also suggested that GCD could be integrated into the selection process of the next UN Secretary General.

Ambassador Sergey Batsanov, the Director of the Pugwash Office Conferences on Science and World Affairs in Geneva and a long time practitioner and scholar in the field of arms limitation and non-proliferation, pointed to the mid-1990s as the period in which the disarmament debate began to lose focus. During this period, nuclear weapons discourses shifted their focus towards non- and counter-proliferation, rather than on multilateral disarmament; the use of force against potential proliferators as a policy was perceived to gain greater legitimacy; and security policy began to consider other forms of disarmament, such as disarming child soldiers.

Moreover, Amb. Batsanov raised concerns about excluding nuclear-armed states from the decision-making process. This would risk failing to address their security concerns, and could lead to the normative work around disarmament failing to translate into action.

Marc Finaud, a Senior Programme Advisor in the Emerging Security Challenges Programme of the GCSP and former French diplomat, began by drawing attention to Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which places an obligation on states to negotiate GCD without conditionality. This obligation was initially pursued with a step-by-step approach that focussed on individual types of weapon (chemical, biological, cluster munitions, land mines etc.), but this approach has since stalled and, according to Mr Finaud, needs to be revised.

Moreover, some weapons such as missiles are not covered by any treaty regulations, whether nuclear or conventional, and need to be brought under stricter control.

On the whole, Mr Finaud convincingly argued that legally binding and strongly enforced agreements on arms control were more stable and safe for all parties than the currently uncontrolled arms race that the world is exposed to today. States must be reassured that GCD does not mean the total dismantling of all weapons systems; rather, it means moving towards a cooperative security approach, a model seen for example in the Helsinki Accords.

The panel then took questions, one of which was on the subject of deterrence. Dr Plesch addressed this in two ways. The first was to question the value of deterrence by referring to the famous Washington Post article by the realists Kissinger, Schultz, Perry and Nunn from 2007, that suggests that the world survived the Cold War more through luck than by intent. The second was to highlight the considerably greater difficulty and danger of continuing to pursue a deterrence policy in a more unpredictable, multipolar world, compared to that of the Cold War.

SCRAP would like to thank again the GCSP for kindly hosting and co-organizing this expert meeting and look forward to working with link-minded countries and institutions to achieve GCD.

Sebastian Brixey Williams

Project assistant, SCRAP Weapons