The long-standing legal commitment to general disarmament embodied in the NPT is in sight. Just as the acronym START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) denotes the nuclear-arms talks leading to the treaties of 1991 and 1993, and New START in 2010, today’s equivalent could be SCRAP – a Strategic Concept for Removal of Arms and Proliferation.

In 1989, NATO and the Warsaw Pact began talks on arms reductions. Within two years, they had signed a treaty that saw 52,000 tanks, warplanes, artillery guns and helicopters destroyed. Similarly, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev reached agreements that dismantled 20,000 nuclear warheads, leaving some 30,000 intact.

In this same period, near-universal agreement banned the test-firing of nuclear weapons; as a result, whereas previously both the U.S. and Soviet Union had been test-firing hundreds of nuclear weapons a year, global test-firings since 1996 have been reduced to almost zero.

We have also had other successes. IN 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) came into force in 1975, becoming the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban the production of an entire category of weapons. While the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) came into force in 1997, prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons. In 2017, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced it had verified the elimination of 67,851 metric tonnes of Category I chemical weapons, which is equal to 96 per cent of the world’s declared chemical weapons.

The continuation of the Nunn-Lugar programme and recent initiatives to revive the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) talks, including U.S. President Trump’s administration’s statements that it will support negotiation of an FMCT at the 2018 NPT Preparatory Committee are positive signs. Useful innovations in practical – including non-violent – methods of controlling dangerous commodities including nuclear materials, for example in transport and logistics, have come gradually as the disarmament and arms control mainstream has both dwindled and split.

The novel legislative approach embodied in UNSCR 1540 (2004), which is aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, their means of delivery and related materials, is certainly a step in the right direction in the battle against illicit WMD transfers, but it has suffered problems of implementation at the state level.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Ban Treaty) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 7 July 2017. Signatories to the treaty agree never to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The text was passed with 122 votes in favour, 1 against (Netherlands) and 1 abstention (Singapore). Sixty-nine countries did not vote, including all of the NATO members except the Netherlands and all of the nuclear weapon states.

With respect to conventional arms, the ATT entered into force on 24 December 2014. It has been ratified by 94 states and a further 41 states have signed but not ratified it, and reflects an increased will to regulate the trade of weapons in order to contribute to peace and reduce human suffering. However, to achieve these ends, this concern needs to also be directed at initiatives to reduce holdings of major weapons systems, ordnance stocks and production, and not only to the control of the conventional weapons trade.

Moreover, the parallel surge of interest by the international donor community, reflected in the OECD Development Assistance Committee, in using such standards to measure the success of security sector reforms requires the development of an integrated, risk-based approach to equipment and weaponry, and hence to disarmament, in the re-shaping of military, security and policing institutions – one without the other will not deliver sustained security.

What is needed is not to set aside the useful aspects of the new, piecemeal approach towards proliferation but to reunite them with a renewed ‘classical’ process based on strategies towards disarmament and the use of treaty and rule of law methods – with the associated principles of equity, objectivity, universality and transparency.

This new combination could achieve a more rational division of labour and subsidiarity. Such an approach should fill dangerous gaps in the pattern of coverage and effort, and minimise the double-think and double standards that are rife in current policies and practices.

How can you become involved in SCRAP?

SCRAP proposes timetables and a draft treaty for consideration at the United Nations General Assembly, which takes place in September every year. Support our efforts to have SCRAP introduced at the UN General Assembly by sending a letter of support to your government.

If you are a SOAS student interested in working for SCRAP, please fill in this form here