The SCRAP Agenda for General and Complete Disarmament

Eloisa Romani

Project Assistant, Scrap Weapons

Report on Dan Plesch’s contribution to Session 4 of City University of London’s webinar series ‘General and Complete Disarmament: Contemporary Perspectives on World Peace Through World Law Confirmation’, 13th October 2021

SCRAP Weapons’ Project Director Prof. Dan Plesch participated in the webinar ‘General and Complete Disarmament as a Near Term Objective Without UN Reform’ on 13th October 2021, hosted by City University of London. 

In illustrating the theoretical framework that underlies the SCRAP project, whose research focuses on General and Complete Disarmament rather than merely on the nuclear agenda, Plesch explained that SCRAP conceptually exposes and challenges the strategic culture of the dominant Atlanticist foreign policy structure as a patriarchal discursive practice. This provides a rationale for the continuous militarisation of security and for channelling states’ resources into the military industrial complex. Because it is this very culture of power projection that allows economies of war to prosper, it is crucial to direct efforts to change this culture. The problem of the nuclear agenda is not isolated, it needs to be situated in the broader picture, which also includes conventional means of warfare, and the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons.

The conduct of International Relations continues to be informed by the doctrine of strategic stability even after the end of the Cold War, and nuclear deterrence is heralded as the key ingredient for a Pax Romana of the modern times, characterised by the absence of war among superpowers and a gathering of consensus behind the Anglo-American foreign policy establishment. The irony is that this equilibrium rests on the very realistic potential of self-destruction by nuclear powers. The logic of deterrence is premised on the unfounded illusion that there will never be an actual risk of nuclear conflict, because nuclear powers will always behave rationally. But irrational behaviour is a possibility that cannot be ignored, and the problem of human survival cannot be dismissed as abstract moralism. In policymakers’ circles, the existential threat posed by nuclear arsenals is considered mostly a matter of technical concern, that is being overseen by epistemic communities of scientists and experts, and which cannot thoroughly be understood by civil society actors. Thus, it cannot be convincingly challenged. 

Yet, as Prof. Plesch noted, the question of human survival was not always at the margins of IR theory; rather, it sits at the heart of the school of classical realism. In its renewed version, starting from the 1960s, Hans Morgenthau, one of the founding scholars of realism in IR, revolutionised his perspective at the outset of the nuclear arms race, and argued that realpolitik meant placing the onus on international cooperation at the light of the very real danger of human extinction in the context of nuclear war. Plesch explained that Morgenthau, in his later work ‘A New Foreign Policy for the United States’ (1969) presented the argument that the strategy of nuclear deterrence cannot be forced into the traditional foreign policy structures at the light of the emergence and proliferation of nuclear weapons; rather, it is the latter that should be radically reconstructed to reflect the new historical conundrum.

SCRAP’s efforts are therefore centred to promoting a change of foreign policy culture. To this end, Plesch pointed out, a first step should be made by academics. They can prepare the intellectual ground for a change of culture in IR, starting from teaching the historically ‘forgotten’ later works of Morgenthau, which set to change established assumptions in classical realism. In this sense, the position of classical realism is aligned to feminist theory in foreign policy, which challenges the culture of masculinity that characterises the military industrial complex and which informs the economy and politics of war. The function of academics is, first and foremost, to contribute to the understanding that the nuclear agenda is a political problem, not a technical one. It does not belong to the experts. The question of advancing programmes of nuclear disarmament, as well as global and complete disarmament, is a matter of political will, and it should be owned by global publics. 


In this regard, SCRAP sets out to put in the hands of governments two practical precision tools to enable them to progressively implement the disarmament agenda. The first tool is technical and is represented by the Global Weapons Tracking Service. This provides an instrument of technical verification of illicit arms production and traffic through satellites, built on open source intelligence, whose data is interpreted by an epistemic community of specialists. The second tool is legalistic: it is constituted by a draft treaty developed by SCRAP’s experts, which builds on the provisions of other existing international agreements, and which provides a framework for governments to move towards comprehensive disarmament. SCRAP aims to present this draft, called ‘Framework for a Treaty on General and Complete Disarmament’, to the upcoming 2022 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. It is built on the legal obligation, outlined in Article VI of the NPT, for signatory states to undertake ‘to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control’. 

Here is a link to SCRAP’s draft treaty:

We invite governments to contribute to discussing with SCRAP aspects of the treaty in view of tabling it in January 2022 at the NPT Review Conference.

Eloisa Romani

Project Assistant, Scrap Weapons