The slow steps to disarmament
Paradoxically the process of reduction of nuclear and conventional arms encountered less obstacles during the Cold War than after the fall of the Berlin Wall. An article by the Head of the Permanent Representation of Italy to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
by Ambassador Mario Maiolini
The negotiations on disarmament, in the nuclear sector and more generally of arms of mass destruction (AMD), are not, in recent years, registering advances comparable to those achieved up to the end of 1996, the year in which the Geneva Conference on disarmament succeeded in negotiating the CTBT (Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty), signed by 166 nations. The situation regarding conventional arms is different, however. The Ottawa Convention on the banning of anti-personnel mines in 1997, the New York Conference in July 2001 against the illegal traffic of small and light arms and the talks in the area of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), continue to make constant and positive steps forward. There are two distinct areas of negotiation – nuclear and conventional – which are subject to different influences.
Above, a Yugoslav soldier during a mine removal exercise in Kosovo
Because of the importance and scale involved, let me first look at how agreements on weapons of mass destruction are developing.
From the ‘sixties on, agreements of historical and global import have been negotiated that are a political and juridical acquisition of primary importance. The Treaty which banned nuclear experiments in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water (Partial Tests Ban Treaty of 1963), the Treaty which prohibited the deployment of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction on the seabed of 1971, the Treaty that regulated the activities of States on the moon and other celestial bodies of 1967, the Treaty for the total banning of nuclear experiments (1996), were the demonstration that governments, aware of the threat posed by the destructive capacity of atomic weapons and of the need to safeguard their own people, had listened to the cry of alarm raised by science and the raw experience of the first nuclear explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the same time there was also a gradual process of neutralization – if one can call it that – of entire geographic zones to which the creation of “nuclear arms free zones” contributed greatly (the Antarctic, by the Treaty of 1961, Latin America, by the Treaty of Tlateloco in 1967, the South Pacific, by the Treaty of Raratonga in 1985, South East Asia, by the Treaty of Bangkok in 1995, Africa, by the Treaty of Pelindaba in 1996).
To the “neutralization” of entire geographic regions the neutralization of the overwhelming majority of nations was added with the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970, to which 187 States adhered, and which recognized the status of nuclear power only to the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom.
The process of nuclear disarmament was consolidated in 1966 with the Prohibition of Nuclear Experiments Treaty (CTBT), while in the wider and more inclusive sphere of weapons of mass destruction both the Convention against Toxic and Biological Weapons (1972) and the Convention on the Banning of Chemical Weapons (1993) seemed to close the circle of commitments to peace and signal the understanding of the destructive capacity of new weapons and of their necessary banning.
All of this happened despite the Cold War, deterrence and the confrontation between two opposed worlds, divided by ideology, and fearful of their reciprocal destructive capacity.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended it seemed that disarmament, through the control, the reduction and elimination of weapons of mass destruction, could not encounter any further real obstacles.
In the beginning everything was carried along on this wave of expectation and optimism. With Resolution 984 of the Security Council in 1995, the nuclear powers pledged that non-nuclear countries would not be attacked with nuclear weapons, while the TNP was extended for an indeterminate period of time. In 2000 the nuclear members of the TNP gave assurances that their nuclear missiles were not specifically or preventively aimed at any State in particular.
But those were the last rays of light in the ADM sector. The truth is that, beginning in 1995-1996, the Geneva Disarmament Conference did not succeed in ratifying a treaty which banned the production of fissionable material for nuclear weapons; and the ad hoc Work Group for the conclusion of an agreement of application by the Convention of the banning of toxic and biological weapons, after ten years of negotiations, had to conclude practically with its own self-dissolution in July 2001.
Despite positive, though bilateral, agreements such as the Treaty of Moscow of May 2002 whereby the USA and the Russian Federation drastically reduced their nuclear missiles, why was it not possible to achieve progress at the multilateral level?
The answer lies essentially in two unprecedented developments which took place at global level. The first was the sensational technological development in the years since 2000 which has radically increased the destructive capacity of the new weapons and has given the United States the conviction it can achieve security and absolute military supremacy. Against that, other countries, fearful of being reduced to subordinate powers, made their negotiating flexibility in the nuclear sector conditional on precise US renunciations. The second development was the multiplication of national entities, principally after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, characterized by their fragility and unsettled borders.
The situation of conventional disarmament is different. Notable there, is the Convention on various Conventional Weapons (CCW), which came into being in 1980. It is fundamental not only because it connects directly to the humanitarian current that goes back to the Declaration of Saint Petersburg in 1868 and to the Hague Declaration in 1899, as well as to the well-known 1949 humanitarian Geneva Convention on the rules of war, but because it opened the way to the Ottawa Convention in 1997 on the prohibition of the use, accumulation, production and shipment of anti-personnel mines and on their destruction.
The Convention excludes or limits entire categories of weapons. It distinguishes between civilians and combatants, it forbids the use of weapons that produce “superfluous and inevitably mortal wounds”, weapons that kill by blast, laser weapons that blind, limits the use of mines, of explosive traps and incendiary weapons. The norms of the Treaty for the “non-state actors” introduce neutralizing prohibitions on anti-vehicle mines and regulate the disarming of the surplus war explosives and the return to civil society of the victims. It’s a direction that opens discussions on depleted uranium, in which one already sees quarrels looming about technologically advanced weapons of great penetration and destruction. Let us remember – only as an indication – that one of the reasons why the United States refused to ratify the treaty which banned nuclear experiments (CTBT) is precisely the temptation to experiment tactical and miniaturized nuclear weapons of great penetration. They are defined as “useful nuclear weapons”. There are always phrases that are tragically ironic. But without going too far, the application of the 1980 Convention not only goes a little ahead year by year but it could also open the way to new, specific, international conventions.
And in fact from Protocol II of the same Convention, the protocol limiting the use of mines, came the Ottawa Convention of 1997 banning the production of anti-personnel mines. It was truly a triumph of civilized society that not only mobilized itself through the ONG but was also able to make itself felt. Remember Princess Diana among the mutilated children of Cambodia or the large lame wooden chair – with only three legs, because one is broken – in the Place des Nations in Geneva which symbolizes the fight against anti-personnel mines? Public opinion – almost public outcry - led governments to negotiate and then backed them in destroying their stock and aiding victims. The exact statistics make one shiver. Who would ever have thought that Italy, great producer and exporter of anti-personnel mines, would have been capable of closing its industries and destroying in a few years a stock of over seven million mines? Italy is without doubt the country that faced up to its responsibilities most quickly. But much remains to be done, not only in order to make important countries like the USA, Russia, China and India adhere to the Convention, but to continue to finance the rehabilitation of millions of victims.
Despite positive, though bilateral, agreements such as the Treaty of Moscow of May 2002 whereby the USA and the Russian Federation drastically reduced their nuclear missiles, why was it not possible to achieve progress at the multilateral level? The answer lies essentially in two unprecedented developments which took place at global level...To these successes another must be added. It concerns a sphere in which half a million deaths are caused each year.
It is the Plan of Action passed in New York in July 2001 at the Conference against the illegal traffic in small and light arms.
One hundred and sixty-nine countries recognized that the problem could not be resolved by individual states but required a global strategy, with measures to put a stop to the traffic, with controls on exports, identification marks on arms produced, destruction of confiscated stock, aid to victims, sanctions against the dealers. The next stage is planned for 2006.
One may wonder whether, despite the obstacles, the process of disarmament will continue .The reply is positive. In the sphere of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological) advances have been made in these last years which, even if not sensational, might have been the case if the Geneva Disarmament Convention functioned harmoniously. By the Moscow Agreement of May 2002 the USA and the Russian Federation agreed to limit the number of atomic missiles deployed to 1700-2200. The ABM and START II agreement was unfortunately rejected. It should be recorded, on the other hand, that Cuba in 2002 adhered to the TNP and the five nuclear powers announced their guarantee of security to Mongolia as a non-nuclear state, while India and Pakistan declared their acceptance of the moratorium on nuclear explosions. On 27 June 2002 the G8 agreed on a Global Partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction, with a consequent concrete financial commitment in favor of specific programs of cooperation.
In November 2002, the Code of conduct against missile proliferation was launched.
In the session of November 2002 the Conference for the revision of the Convention against toxic and biological weapons, which had been suspended on 7 December 2001, agreed to resume working out the basis for a reduced program of agreements and sanctions.
Concrete and continuous advances – even if laborious – have been achieved in the last two years towards the elimination of chemical weapons and meanwhile 8,000,600 of them have been inventoried.
... The first was the sensational technological development in the years since 2000 which has radically increased the destructive capacity of the new weapons and has given the United States the conviction it can achieve security and absolute military supremacy. The second development was the multiplication of national entities, principally after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, characterized by their fragility and unsettled borders.Nowadays science is launched in the pursuit of new advances without restraint. Just as it is caught up in the spiral of knowledge of the genome, so too it has discovered that nuclear explosions with limited effects can be produced, that a system of perfect defense from enemy missiles can be attempted, that artificial genetic modifications, lethal bacteria and microbes of immense destructive capacity can be produced with limited costs. At the same time these discoveries can lead to beneficial innovations of great economic utility. It follows that this prospect stirs ambitions and jealousies in those who can exploit this research and makes them reluctant to undergo controls or to make statements about programs in the course of development. It therefore prevents the signing of precise international pledges that would limit national autonomy. Think of the profits to whoever discovered the antidote to AIDS or to SARS. It is forgotten however that only the political will of countries is the best guarantee against the possibility that such discoveries be manipulated or fall into the hands of terrorist organizations. One can reply to those who claim that there are no effective controls, that every agreement has its deficiencies, but that also every law has its transgressors. This does not prevent laws from being useful and from being made.
The multiplication of the member states of the international community (there are now 191) has led to reviewing how many of them are fragile and seeking guarantees of security and consolidation of their sovereignty. This should lead to the realization that it is necessary to reinforce the role of the United Nations in guaranteeing the independence and the sovereignty of states. Unfortunately some undermine the multinational institution by their unwillingness to recognize and respect certain fundamental treaties. In the case of the TNP, for example, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel have no wish to sign.
Politicians in some countries indeed are aware of the dangers of terrorism but do little to increase the power and range of the AIEA or avert the dangers of biological weapons through negotiation.
The involvement of civil society in the support of disarmament in general is now a very considerable force. It is a force which feeds and shapes the current for “humanitarian intervention” (or better “the responsibility to intervene”) which is already strongly in favor of the measures for conventional disarmament. More can be done in backing this through financial generosity and more intense dialogue between the ONG, politicians and governments. One thinks of the positive implications of the idea presented in the bureaucratic sphere by the secretariat of the United Nations of an international conference devoted to the role of women in projects for disarmament. Women involved in the various parliaments can give political support to this objective. In conclusion, if science and the complexity of geopolitics create new problems and dangers, mankind through its power of decision can always be the decisive and determining factor.