Disarmament Insight


Monday, 7 January 2008

Disarmament & Globalisation: Old & New Wisdoms

Around the time that the Wall Street Journal published a well-received and watershed opinion-editorial by Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, Charles Schultz and others signalling a potential new beginning in nuclear disarmament public policy, a new project emerged—entitled ‘Disarmament and Globalisation’—based at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, United Kingdom. As was reported on this blog later in 2007, momentum picked up in June when the UK Foreign Secretary echoed the op-ed’s call and those of many others for a world free of nuclear weapons. Great: the ‘D-word’ was making something of a comeback, this could only be a good thing and we pressed on with our work.

However, with this apparent progress there still seemed to be a disparity between calls for nuclear disarmament and the Trident renewal in the UK or the continuing debate over the Reliable Replacement Warhead program in the United States.

What also appeared evident, and at SOAS we heard it most clearly, was that there were still no clear links being made between disarmament of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and the problems caused by conventional weapons, especially the huge stocks and holdings of heavy conventional weapons, that are so damaging to development in the Third World. Efforts to understand demand for WMD by smaller countries—perhaps in order to counter Western conventional supremacy—must be given greater emphasis. It should also be recognised that the fallacy that interstate conflict was a thing of the past actually permitted the decline of the arms control and disarmament agenda.

Our project aims to build on the growing consensus in many constituencies that action on disarmament must be a priority for national governments in the run up to what will be a crucial review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2010, and that this should be done by reference to disarmament in its humanitarian context. A large part of this emerging work will be an emphasis on the development of public policy surrounding both issues—nuclear and WMD disarmament on the one end and conventional weapons and the impact on development on the other. Currently, work on these two large fields is largely undertaken in separate universes, both in the way policy is developed (i.e. in separate departments) and in the way it is studied and taught. Yet there is no logic for them to do so.

There is also often a disparity between the academic findings on disarmament issues and the policy development at the national and multilateral levels. John Borrie and Christian Ruge have written about a gulf between policy-making and research communities in disarmament that can be difficult to bridge. Policy-makers sometimes pay only cursory attention—if any—to research. It is also the case that academic research, particularly in the International Relations field, has fallen behind reality. Bridging these gaps is a key part of finding innovative solutions to old problems, as well as emerging ones.

We hope to play a part in understanding how governments formulate their approach to a major multilateral process like the NPT, in understanding how civil society and the media above all can influence this at the national or regional level. Don’t forget that without the public campaigns backing up the scientific evidence, negotiations on climate change, for example, could not have progressed to the extent they have, with even the US making major changes to its traditional standpoint in order to reach consensus.

The project aims to culminate in a world summit in 2009 or early 2010, timed to coincide with the NPT RevCon and impact on it. An interesting research theme will be to research how it is possible to reverse the negative expectations surrounding these negotiations, especially considering the failure of the 2005 NPT RevCon to produce a final document. A thread of the work then will focus on affecting governmental negotiation positions and on creating useful advocacy proposals both for national representatives and the major intergovernmental or supranational institutions.

Article VI of the NPT requires States to negotiate both nuclear disarmament and a final treaty for general and complete disarmament. While the latter is generally regarded as being a long way off, it is our belief that we actually possess a good number of effective treaties (the ‘old wisdoms’) that can be extended and combined with the newer legislative and export-control measures encapsulated by UNSCR 1540 (the ‘new wisdoms’) to produce a comprehensive approach. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that by establishing and reinforcing the notion that disarmament commitments under the NPT do not just end at the comma, an effective trajectory for arms control in the 21st century can be found.

After a year or so of start-up, the project launches at a conference on 7 January 2008. I hope to report back on progress in the coming months.

This is a guest blog by Poul-Erik Christiansen, a researcher at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, at the School for Oriental and Asian Studies (www.cisd.soas.ac.uk).


Photo of United Nations Security Council chamber in New York, courtesy of Paula Eyzaguirre and Thomas Nash.


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