Disarmament: A Basic Guide

English
Frequency
Irregular
ISSN: 
2522-7181 (online)
http://dx.doi.org/10.18356/a11f38dc-en
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International peace and security - and therefore disarmament - stand at the core of the UN mandate. The publications in this series are designed to inform, educate and generate public understanding of the importance of multilateral action, and to rally support for it, in the field of arms limitation and disarmament. Intended primarily for the general reader, the basic guides may also be useful for the disarmament educator or trainer. They are published by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in collaboration with the NGO (non-governmental organizations) Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security pursuant to the purposes of the United Nations Disarmament Information Programme.

 
Disarmament: A Basic Guide

Disarmament: A Basic Guide

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English
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Author(s):
Bhaskar Menon
31 Dec 2001
Pages:
65
ISBN:
9789213628553 (PDF)
http://dx.doi.org/10.18356/69a6cea5-en

Hide / Show Abstract

International peace and security - and therefore disarmament - stand at the core of the UN mandate. This publication is designed to inform, educate and generate public understanding of the importance of multilateral action, and to rally support for it, in the field of arms limitation and disarmament. Intended primarily for the general reader, this basic guide may also be useful for the disarmament educator or trainer. It is published by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in collaboration with the NGO (non-governmental organizations) Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security pursuant to the purposes of the United Nations Disarmament Information Programme.

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  • Foreword

    Arms control and disarmament issues are critical to the peace and welfare of our world, but all too often people feel that they can be understood only by “experts”. The main reason for this is that the issues are almost always couched in jargon.

  • Why do we need disarmament?

    The nature and implements of war have changed more dramatically in the last 100 years than in all of preceding human history. Before the 20th century, few countries maintained armies of more than 50,000, and they were armed with weapons that limited damage to the immediate vicinity of conflict. Although war has always been a barbarous activity that took a significant collateral civilian toll, the majority of those killed and wounded in pre-20th century conflicts were active combatants. In 19th century Europe with its mercenary soldiery, when the economic and political benefits of victory could outweigh costs, war was seen as a rational and indeed, necessary instrument of State policy. As the Prussian strategist, Carl von Clausewitz put it, war was “a continuation of policy, carried out by other means.”

  • Changing concepts of security

    International security is a condition in which States are free to pursue their own development and progress without danger of military attack, political pressure or economic coercion. The perception of how near or far States are from that ideal condition defines all efforts at disarmament.

  • Arms expenditures

    Declines in global military expenditures and arms production since the end of the Cold War seem to have bottomed out, and expenditures may be headed back up. Arms production has been level since 1995.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts The weapons of war

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    • Nuclear weapons

      The most dangerous weapons in the world are nuclear, which use the enormous amounts of energy released when the nucleus of a heavy atom such as uranium or plutonium is split in a chain reaction (fission), or when isotopes of a light element such as hydrogen combine in a thermonuclear bomb (fusion). The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, each with the explosive power of 20,000 tons of dynamite (20 kilotons), have long been dwarfed. By the 1970s, the Soviet Union and the United States, which have 98 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons, had in their arsenals thousands of 25 megaton warheads. (A megaton is equivalent to a million tons of TNT.) Far more powerful thermonuclear bombs have been tested.

    • Chemical weapons

      Chemical warfare is not unique to the human species, nor is it a recent development in history: as early as 431 B.C. the armies of Sparta used burning sulphur around the walls of besieged cities to disable the defenders. Modern use of chemical weapons occurred mainly during the First World War, when both sides had artillery-fired projectiles that released poisonous gases such as chlorine, phosgene and “mustard gas” (compounded of carbon, chlorine, hydrogen and sulphur). Poison gas created ghastly casualties, blistering the lungs, eyes and skin of soldiers, and subjecting victims to agonizing suffering. But it was not as efficient as conventional weapons, for effectiveness depended on uncontrollable external conditions: a turn of the wind could blow the gas from the intended victims to the attackers. That, plus general revulsion at the needless suffering inflicted, facilitated agreement on a ban on the use of poison gas, the 1925 Geneva Protocol on Gas Warfare. It was widely observed by all participants in the Second World War. However, chemical weapons were reportedly used by Italy in North Africa and Japan in China.

    • Biological & toxin weapons

      Biological and toxin weapons differ from chemical weapons in that they are derived from living organisms. Historically, organic poisons and diseases have not been widely used in war, perhaps because there is a natural aversion to practices that are extremely risky to the attacker and reek of weakness and cowardice. During the Cold War, both sides developed biological means of warfare, and it was not till the late 1960s that initiatives were made to control the proliferation of weapons using some of the deadliest diseases known to human beings. Multilateral negotiations in Geneva were given a boost in 1969 when the United States unilaterally renounced first use of lethal or incapacitating chemical agents and weapons and unconditionally renounced all methods of biological warfare. (Since then, the US biological program has reportedly been confined to research on strictly defined measures of defense, such as immunization.)

    • Missiles

      Rockets long predated artillery in war. They were used in medieval China against Mongol armies, in 18th century India against the British, and by the latter in Europe and the Americas in the 19th century. But the difficulty of precise targeting kept rockets from being a major factor in military operations till the Second World War, when the German V- 2, the first truly long range missile, came to be used as a weapon of terror. At the end of the war, captured German rockets and scientists helped begin massive missile development programs in the United States and the Soviet Union. Missiles made devastating nuclear attack possible at short notice.

    • Conventional weapons

      Positional warfare among States has become a rarity in the period after the Second World War, but governments continue to spend significant portions of their military budgets on heavy conventional weaponry. Since only a handful of States manufacture these weapons, efforts at the UN have focused on inducing greater transparency in international transfers. A UN Register of Conventional Arms has been published annually since 1992. Every year till 1997, it included information from over 90 member States on their imports and exports of seven main categories of conventional weapons: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, attack helicopters, combat aircraft, warships, and missiles and missile launchers. In 1998 the number of reporting States dipped to 82 but rose to 90 in 1999 (the latest report). States are also invited to submit information on military holdings and internal procurement; 26 did in 1999.

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  • The non-proliferation treaty

    The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), was adopted in 1968, came into force in 1970, and was indefinitely extended in 1995. It now has 187 States parties. Five of them are nuclear-weapon States (Britain, China, France, Russian Federation, United States), pledged to negotiate in good faith to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The rest of the membership is committed not to develop, acquire or possess nuclear weapons. The Treaty is generally viewed as a cornerstone of international nuclear security.

  • An arms-related chronology

    At the beginning of the new millennium, the world has some 30,000 nuclear weapons. This is more than enough to end life on Earth as we know it. The commitments made at the 2000 Review Conference hold out the hope — if meaningfully implemented — that we could eradicate this greatest of man-made threats to our future.

  • The United Nations and disarmament

    The United Nations system is a key proponent of disarmament, and deals with the issue through its most important organs and their subsidiaries:

  • Getting involved…

    Arms production and trade constitute a big and profitable industry, with strong links to the world’s political structures. The priorities they set affect all government spending decisions. If the industry and its allied politicians are not to keep the world in a perpetual state of insecurity and danger, they must be countered by ordinary people who understand what is happening and why. As this realization has grown in the period after the Cold War, ordinary people have begun to involve themselves with international security issues in unprecedented numbers. The impact has been considerable. For the first time in history, a major international treaty — the one banning land mines — was negotiated and agreed to primarily because of a non-governmental campaign. Currently, a number of non-governmental organizations are campaigning for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. Many are also engaged in the growing campaign against the proliferation and illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons.

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