disarmament, movements for: see peace congresses; pacifism.
disarmament, nuclear, the reduction and limitation of the various nuclear weapons in the military forces of the world's nations. The atomic bombs dropped (1945) on Japan by the United States in World War II demonstrated the overwhelming destructive potential of nuclear weapons and the threat to humanity posed by the possibility of nuclear war and led to calls for controls on or elimination of such weapons.

Public Pressure

Some of the scientists who helped make the bomb started the Union of Concerned Scientists, and since then many public groups have formed to campaign for disarmament, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in Great Britain, SANE and the Nuclear Freeze in the United States, and the worldwide Physicians for Social Responsibility. In addition, many local antiwar, ecological, and women's groups have focused on nuclear issues. Disarmament advocates have used political campaigns, mass rallies, blockades of facilities where weapons are manufactured or stored, and even attacks on nuclear weapons themselves, called "ploughshare actions." Disarmament groups have long opposed nuclear testing, beginning with the protests leading up to the Moscow Agreement of 1963, a partial test ban. More recently, the international ecological group Greenpeace tried to disrupt French nuclear testing in the Pacific, and there were coordinated protest campaigns against testing in Kazakhstan and in Nevada.

International Agreements

Official efforts at arms control have made some progress, but only very slowly. The first resolution (1946) of the General Assembly of the United Nations set up an Atomic Energy Commission to make proposals for the peaceful uses of atomic energy and for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. The commission concentrated debate on the Baruch Plan for an international agency to control atomic power and weapons and passed it, but the plan was vetoed by the USSR in the Security Council. As the cold war progressed, the commission reached an impasse (1948). With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, concern over the situation became more acute.

In 1952 a UN Disarmament Commission was formed under the Security Council. It became the repository for all disarmament proposals under UN auspices. In 1953 a commission subcommittee was set up, consisting of Canada, France, Great Britain, the United States, and the USSR. In this subcommittee, which met intermittently from 1954 to 1957, there was basic disagreement between East and West. The West held that an international control system and on-site inspection must be developed before disarmament could proceed; the USSR stated that the Western position would result in inspection without disarmament and proposed instead an immediate ban on nuclear weapons, without inspection but with possible later, but unspecified, controls. Conferences among the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union on the formulation of a treaty to ban nuclear testing began in Geneva in 1958. The same year these three powers agreed to suspend nuclear testing for one year. The voluntary moratorium continued until it was broken by the Soviet resumption of testing (1961).

The UN Disarmament Commission, expanded (1958) to include all members of the United Nations, was reduced in 1962 to 18 members. Soon afterward, France withdrew. In 1963 the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union reached the Moscow Agreement, which banned testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, and underwater. Other discussions were conducted simultaneously by the 18-member UN Disarmament Commission. No agreement was reached on arms limitation, although the Soviet Union and the United States moved closer together on the issue of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The two countries proposed (1968) to the commission a 25-year nonproliferation agreement that was later approved by the UN General Assembly and took effect in 1970; it was made permament in 1995. By the end of the century the treaty had been ratified by all nations save Cuba, Israel, Pakistan, and India. North Korea threatened to withdraw in the 1990s and did so in 2003. Pakistan and India have tested nuclear weapons, North Korea has conducted a subkiloton nuclear test, and Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons. Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and South Africa are known to have or are suspected of having attempted to develop nuclear weapons; South Africa actually produced a small nuclear arsenal but later disarmed.

A comprehensive test ban treaty was approved by the UN General Assembly and signed in 1996; over 170 nations have now signed. The treaty prohibits all nuclear testing, establishes a worldwide network of monitoring stations, and allows for inspections of suspicious sites. Conservative opposition to the treaty in the United States led the Senate to reject ratification in 1999; it was ratified by Russia in 2000.

The Soviet Union and the United States began Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in the late 1960s, and in 1972 agreed to limit antiballistic missiles (ABMs) and reached an interim accord limiting intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Another interim SALT agreement was reached in Nov., 1974, that limited ballistic missile launchers. SALT II, which banned new ICBMs and limited other delivery vehicles, was signed in 1979. It was never ratified, but both countries announced they would adhere to it.

In 1982 the United States and Soviet Union began a new set of negotiations, called START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks). In 1987, President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear forces, and a START treaty, signed by President George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev in 1991, called for additional reductions in U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals and on-site inspections. In response to increasing Soviet political instability, Bush announced (1991) the elimination of most U.S. tactical nuclear arms, took strategic bombers off alert status, and called for further reductions in ballistic missiles.

With the USSR's disintegration, its nuclear arms passed to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. The republics pledged to abide by existing treaties and remove outlying weapons to Russia for destruction. In 1993, Bush and Russian president Yeltsin signed a START II treaty that called for cutting nuclear warheads by two thirds by 2003 and eliminating those weapons most likely to be used in a first strike. Ukraine, fearing Russian domination, did not ratify START and the 1970 nonproliferation treaty until 1994, but by 1996 the nuclear arsenals of Belarus, Kazakstan, and Ukraine had been dismantled.

In 1997, Yeltsin and U.S. president Bill Clinton set a goal of further reducing the number of each nation's warheads to 2,500 or less, less than half that permitted under START II. President George W. Bush, regarding earlier arms agreements and the need for them as cold war relics, in 2001 agreed with Russian president Putin to reduce the number of warheads over the next decade to roughly two thirds that called for in START II, while at the same time essentially abandoning that agreement (which was still unratified by the United States) and its restrictions on the types of weapons permitted. This agreement was formalized in the May, 2002, Moscow Treaty. However, under the treaty, both nations are allowed to store the weapons that they remove from deployment, and the accord has been criticized for its lack of a mechanism to verify compliance. Following the U.S. abandonment of the ABM treaty (see below), Russia announced that it would no longer be bound by START II. In 2009, however, the United States and Russia agreed in outline to further nuclear weapons cuts under a new, unfinalized treaty intended to replace START I before its expiration in Dec., 2009, but as negotiations continued past the treaty's lapse both nations pledged to continue to observe START I.

In 1983, President Reagan proposed the development of a U.S. space-based defensive system to act as a shield against a missile attack. The Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars" as it was popularly known, was ultimately abandoned by the United States, but a more limited missile-defense system using ground-based missiles to provide protection against an accidental launching of a ballistic missile or against a missile attack from a "rogue" nation was proposed in 1991 by President G. H. W. Bush. Such a system would contravene the 1972 ABM treaty and was objected to by Russia, but development and testing proceeded during the 1990s. In 2001, President George W. Bush proposed accelerating and expanding the development and deployment of the system and called for the ABM treaty to be replaced by a new "framework" that would permit such defenses. The United States announced that it would withdraw from the ABM treaty in Dec., 2001, and officially withdrew in June, 2002.


See W. Epstein and B. Feld, New Directions in Disarmament (1981); J. Schell, The Abolition (1986); M. Thee, Arms and Disarmament (1987).

Reduction in armaments by one or more nations. Arms reductions may be imposed by a war's victors on the defeated (as happened after Germany's defeat in World War I). Bilateral disarmament agreements may apply to a specific area (such an agreement has kept the Great Lakes weapon-free since 1817). The term is most commonly used for multilateral reduction and limitation agreements, particularly in the context of nuclear weapons. Seealso arms control.

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Disarmament refers to the act of reducing, limiting, or abolishing weapons. The context of disarmament generally refers to a country's military or specific type of weaponry. The most common form of disarmament is abolishment of weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear arms. General and Complete Disarmament refers to the removal of all weaponry, including conventional arms.

Definitions of disarmament

Disarmament can be contrasted with arms control, which essentially refers to the act of controlling arms rather than eliminating them. Disarmament has also come to be associated with three things, none of which relate to the systematic and comprehensive reduction of weapons:

  • The aforementioned arms control, which is not associated with a schedule of gradually reducing and then eliminating major weapons systems. These agreements have been criticized in writings by Seymour Melman and Alva Myrdal.
  • Nuclear disarmament, which does not address civilian weapons and military systems whose firepower and extent of damage can be considerable. The war in Iraq has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. In the Korean War, hundreds of thousands have died. In so-called "New Wars" in Africa, millions have died. In none of these cases were nuclear weapons used. Yet, the extent of civilian and military deaths have been considerable, surpassing the damage caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War Two.
  • Unilateral disarmament, which seeks to reduce weapons systems in either an ad hoc fashion or based on initiatives within one nation. This approach fails to leverage reductions in one country for reductions in another, or series of countries. Furthermore, unilateral disarmament, as was advocated in the United Kingdom, fails to assuage the concerns of "realists" about the dangers of weapons systems and power projection by other countries.

Philosophically, disarmament should be viewed as a form of demilitarization, part of an economic, political, technical, and military process to reduce and eliminate weapons systems. Thus, disarmament is part of a set of other strategies, like economic conversion, which aim to reduce the power of war making institutions and associated constituencies. Disarmament need not be a "utopian" project in the sense of being misguided or naive. Rather, various strategies can be used to promote the political, economic, and media power necessary for demilitarization.


An example on the feasibility of the elimination of weapons is the policy of gradual reduction of guns in Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate. In two centuries, Japan passed from being the country with more guns per capita to producing (or importing) none.

Disarmament conferences and treaties



Nuclear disarmament

The United Nations has worked for nuclear disarmament ever since its first resolution in 1946 entitled "The Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy." In 1954, India became the first country to seek a complete nuclear test ban

There are three types of nuclear disarmament:

  • General Disarmament: allows nations to keep minimum necessary police force.
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Disarmament: involves overall reduction and abolition of only certain types of armaments.
  • Total Disarmament: the complete elimination of armaments.

Disarmament barriers

The political and economic barriers to disarmament are considerable, mostly based on the concentrated power of those supporting militaristic approaches to foreign policy. One key barrier is ideological. Many foundations and universities have failed to support research in disarmament, instead favoring more ad hoc and limited approaches like arms control, conflict resolution, and limits on weapons systems in specific countries. Part of this may be pragmatism, but often it is the result of a limited understanding of the history of disarmament (see References below). Attempts to restricting nuclear proliferation are of course a necessity. Bolstering these efforts would be assisted by checking the link between military intervention and nuclear proliferation. Many countries fearful of being invaded, particularly by the U.S., have tried to secure or develop nuclear weapons. As a result, policies to limit military interventions may be part of a larger demilitarization program.

Misconceptions about disarmament

In his definition of "disarmament", David Carlton writes in the Oxford University Press Political dictionary, "But confidence in such measures of arms control, especially when unaccompanied by extensive means of verification, has not been strengthened by the revelation that the Soviet Union in its last years successfully concealed consistent and systematic cheating on its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention." He also notes, "Now a freeze or a mutually agreed increase is not strictly speaking disarmament at all. And such measures may not even be intended to be a first step towards any kind of reduction or abolition. For the aim may simply be to promote stability in force structures. Hence a new term to cover such cases has become fashionable since the 1960s, namely, arms control.

The problem with this line of thought is that it gives the appearance of confusing arms control with disarmament, even though it acknowledges some difference. Disarmament by definition involves inspection and verification procedures. Thus, the book by Seymour Melman, Inspection for Disarmament, addresses various problems related to the problem of inspection for disarmament, evasion teams, and capabilities and limitations of aerial inspection. Gradually, as the idea of arms control displaced the idea of disarmament, the weaknesses of the present arms control paradigm have created problems for the idea of disarmament itself. Weak inspection procedures lead to cheating. Cheating discredits comprehensive disarmament, rather than the more superficial arms control regime. This kind of "guilt by association" is rather unfortunate and reflects a weakness in the academia in the understanding, teaching, and awareness of what disarmament really is.

Most citizens, students and even academics are unaware of the classic books on disarmament.

References and footnotes

Specific references: General references:

  • Jonathan M. Feldman. "From the From Warfare State to 'Shadow State': Militarism, Economic Depletion and Reconstruction," Social Text, 91, Volume 25, Number 22 Summer, 2007.
  • Seymour Melman, Editor, Inspection for Disarmament (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958).
  • Alva Myrdal. The Game of Disarmament: How the United States and Russia run the arms race (New York: Pantheon, 1978).
  • Marcus G. Raskin. "Draft Treaty for a Comprehensive Program for Common Security and General Disarmament," in Essays of a Citizen: From National Security State to Democracy (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 1991): 227-291.

See also

External links

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