A fresh approach to world disarmament

Disarmament image
Baby Elephant by Ou Vanndy, constructed from small arms captured in Cambodia.

Scrapping the world’s weapons no longer needs to be a dream. The technical side of monitoring the world’s tanks, warplanes and ships along with chemical, nuclear, biological and cyber weapons is at hand in the age of Google Earth and big data. Cold War era treaties show how it has been and can be done. Compared to the technical challenges of climate change, weapons control is relatively simple. Join the SOAS University of London team that helped create a new UN initiative for world peace.

This is the first challenge faced by world disarmament: overcoming the idea that technically it is impossible. SOAS CISD team and supportive experts have shown that checking up on the world’s weapons is not rocket science. Arguing that disarmament can’t be done is an excuse that militarists use to confuse and disempower the public, when the fact is they simply don’t want to disarm and don’t want to admit the success of past disarmament.

We are still alive today because of luck in nuclear crises, and the weapons controls implemented due to public pressure. Nuclear weapons explosions happened weekly from the 1950s to the 1990s, but vast protest movements forced them underground in the ‘60s and then stopped them in 1996, except for a few tests by India, Pakistan and now North Korea. Nuclear testing now causes a global outcry.

All the nuclear armed states are racing to build new weapons, but there are far fewer than there were.

For fifty years, thousands of nuclear bombs were made to be fired from artillery cannons in order to shoot down warplanes, but public protest led them to be scrapped at the end of the Cold War. Most of the world is now part of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone invigorating pressure for the Nobel Prize winning nuclear ban.

Even in Syria, most of the country’s chemical weapons stocks were removed and scrapped in a joint US-Russia deal amidst the civil war. Had they not been, recent Syrian attacks could have been far worse. These systems need to be strengthened not abandoned.

Arms control treaties and people’s movements have had lasting impacts that mean we are still alive today to continue the struggle. Public and NGO pressure is also limiting landmines, cluster bombs and the global trade in arms. While none of these treaties is perfect and all need vigorous strengthening, without them, we can only see a spiral into greater and greater wars.

The UN has a new initiative on world disarmament led by Secretary-General António Guterres. It is the first time that any UN Secretary-General has produced a disarmament programme. This shows how worried the world has become about a world at war, and even the British, Chinese, French, Russian and US representatives in the UN Security Council did not risk blocking him, despite their dominant role in the world of weapons.

CISD students and staff have led research and policy development in partnership with the UN. Now we must take this policy research to the global public through our connections and the network of SOAS alumni. Media, politicians, NGOs, universities and UN societies and bodies have the chance to pick up Guterres’ plan, accelerate it and reinforce it.

Peace means more than the absence of war and weapons, but fewer weapons is key.

An AK-47 without bullets is just a club.

What happens now is up to us. CISD’s Dr Dan Plesch will moderate a panel of the Interparliamentary Union on world disarmament on October 1. In February, CISD students will take the message to the UN in Geneva. Help them!

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