Developing policies to use the EU’s power to promote peace and disarmament.

A suggested WDC/ARC CO-OPERATION Campaign


WDC Co-Chair March 2006


  1. Basic principles

Throughout human history there have been wars: organised armed conflicts between sovereign or would-be sovereign groups. Since the rise of the modern nation-state, these have been the main protagonists until recently, when intra-state conflicts between rival ethnic, religious or cultural groups – or simple power struggles between individual "leaders" - have become more common. In the past there may have been genuine reasons for these conflicts. The struggle for survival of the group or its culture in a world of limited resources could not be avoided. However, for much of that history war has also been glorified for its own sake, and soldiers are still generally thought of as admirable people – Henry V and all that; today "our brave boys". This must not, though, be overstated. History books generally do not dwell on the lives of ordinary people going about their business in peace, which they have done more than they are usually given credit for. Today almost everyone says they want peace, although to some people peace is still a dirty word. But Bush wants peace; Blair wants peace; Putin wants peace; Sharon wants peace – very strange that the world is still such a violent place!

Today, the situation is different in many ways from earlier centuries: whole populations are often involved ("total war") rather than only armies; the majority of casualties are civilians; modern technology has produced ever more powerful weapons, including the most devastating of all, nuclear weapons which have the capability of destroying the whole of civilisation if not of most life on earth. But modern technology has also reached the point where no one needs to live in poverty, if the world’s resources are shared fairly. As the saying has it: "there is enough for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed". Contrary to the famous dictum of Clausewitz, war can no longer be considered in any way a rational tool of politics or any sensible human aim. There are no winners in modern conflicts, only losers on all sides – except, of course, for the weapon manufacturers. Yet the majority of ordinary people and almost all national leaders, while proclaiming their desire for peace, still maintain the mindset of security through strength: "If you want peace, prepare for war". Annual world expenditure on the military, as we continue to point out, is over 1000 billion dollars - and every penny of that is for "defence"! No one, from Bush to Saddam, will ever admit that there is any aggressive intent in this. Yet defence is only necessary if there is attack or potential attack.

The result is that the world is awash with more weapons of all kinds than ever in history, and of greater destructive power than ever in history, even without considering the doomsday scenario of nuclear holocaust. Part of the mindset noted above is the argument the "weapons do not make war, people do", which is used to oppose any practical moves towards disarmament. Literally, it is of course true. But weapons make war possible and create the belief that war can be won; their possession by potential rivals creates tensions between them; one country’s "defence" is seen by their rival as a threat, leading to an arms race which further exacerbates the original tensions; their existence makes negotiations for a peaceful resolution more difficult (historically, arms races have almost always ended in war); and modern weapons make results of conflicts much more destructive. Further, a weapon is a source of power, both for an individual and for a group. It is rarely recognised that a primary function of armed forces is as the ultimate guarantor of the integrity of the state and the ruling group in that state. Even in democratic countries like ours, this is true. This function is often far more significant that the professed reason for their existence, defence against external threat.

A further aspect that needs to be explored is internal conflict. In fact, most armed conflict today (US versus Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc, excepted) is intra-state rather than inter-state. The reasons for this are widely recognised: poverty, injustice, discrimination, environmental degradation and ethnic and religious conflicts, fuelled again by the vast number of weapons in circulation, especially small arms. It can be taken as read that tackling these problems really seriously would make an enormous contribution to creating the peaceful world we seek. The Make Poverty History Campaign and the UN Millennium Development Goals, for example, have put these problems on the international agenda, but there is still a very long way to go to achieve these admirable ends. The resources going into them are still minuscule compared with those allocated to the means of death and destruction.


To sum up, peace is almost universally recognised as a "good thing", and lip-service paid to it by every leader, even many that most people would categorise as warmongers. So it is not enough just to preach peace. The mindset of both the people and their leaders must be fundamentally changed. That is a task way beyond the capabilities of WDC (World disarmament Campaign) and ARC (Arms Reduction Coalition), so our vision must be more limited than that. What should that vision be and what programme can we design to achieve it?

2. Lessons from the past

First, to recap a little history. WDC was founded in 1979 to work for the implementation of the Final Document of the 1978 First Special Session on Disarmament of the UN General Assembly. That final document was signed by every then member of the UN. Between then and 1982 WDC collected over 2 million signatures (over 100 million worldwide) on a petition to be presented to the Second Special Session that year. The Final Document was re-affirmed, but nothing done in practice. A third special session took place in 1988, again with input from a coalition led by WDC, but its outcome was even less positive. It is not unreasonable to believe that the signatories of the Document were completely cynical, having no intention of fulfilling their promises, just like the five nuclear powers in relation to the NPT. Nevertheless, WDC continued to base its campaigning on those sessions, and the prospect of a fourth special session which was agreed in principle in the 1990s. However, no date was ever fixed for this and it gradually faded from the agenda. There is little doubt that it is now a dead duck. Since 9/11 the idea of disarmament has been, not merely on the back burner, but completely banished from any official thinking.

On the other hand, one must not be totally pessimistic. As Dan Plesch has pointed out in his book, The Beauty Queen’s Guide to World Peace (reviewed in World Disarm! issue 80) there are many existing treaties which have actually achieved a certain amount of disarmament, and contain elements which could contribute to a more general disarmament treaty. However, in recognising this one must also be aware that the parties who negotiated these treaties did not do so out of the goodness of their hearts, or an acceptance of the arguments in 1 above, but for practical, pragmatic reasons concerned with their perceived self-interest. (The perceived self-interest of the leaders and elites of the countries concerned, that is. Again, can I refer to a review in World Disarm! issue 82 of the paper The Minds of Leaders: Delinking War and Violence in the book Preparing for Peace. "War is made in the minds of particular ‘men’ – those who are leaders" ) Somehow the people with power must be convinced that it is in their self-interest to promote disarmament. Until this is achieved petitions, demos, protest meetings and all the other traditional campaigning methods will have little real influence, as we have seen. The first leader of a major international power who genuinely eschewed violence and the "peace through strength" doctrine would go down in history as one of the greatest statesmen/stateswomen of all time, if not the greatest. Surely that would be a worthwhile ambition for any politician? But the mindset of the public, to whom leaders have to appeal to have any chance of success, even in non-democratic countries, must also be changed before any leader would have the courage to advocate such a policy. And there are tremendous obstacles in the vested interests that influence that mindset. The treatment of the Labour Party’s defence policy by the media in 1983 is a salutary reminder of what has to be overcome. There is also the folk memory of the 1930s, "appeasement" and Hitler’s rise to power, which still colours every debate on disarmament.

In sum, then, although there have been a few small victories, in general it can only be concluded that the "peace movement", despite all its efforts since the founding of the Peace Society in 1816, has failed in its primary purpose. This is not a recipe for despair or giving up – I would not be writing this if I thought so – but we must be absolutely clear as to the difficulties and the limitations on what we can realistically hope to achieve.

3 Brass tacks

What can a small organisation like WDC, or two small organisations like WDC and ARC, actually achieve in practice? What should they be trying to achieve. I suggest that the first (simple?) goal should be to get disarmament onto the public and political agenda, so that it can even be discussed as a concept. Referring back to the analysis in 1. above, it is surely at least plausible, to any thinking person, that the massive quantities of arms in the world do not produce security. It is not claimed that disarmament in itself is enough to prevent conflict. But it is an essential component of the creation of a world where conflicts can be solved without resorting to armed force. There is much evidence that conflict resolution can be effective. It is certainly less destructive and much cheaper than war. Reduction in the number of weapons in a given situation can both be an incentive to negotiate and make the negotiations more likely to succeed. There are organisations which have expertise in both the theory and practice of conflict resolution, and WDC is not competing with any of them. Our role, once again, is to emphasise that the presence of weapons in themselves limits the scope, at the very least, for peaceful solutions to problems.

The same applies to the question of poverty. Reduction of poverty reduces the scope for conflict and hence the "need" for weapons, while disarmament releases resources that in turn contribute to that reduction. We need to keep saying this, loud and clear. ...

 I have argued for some time that we should try to work through the EU and in particular the European Parliament. One reason why this could be a fruitful approach is that the EP is the only significant international body that is directly elected. So we have direct access to our own MEPs. It has limited powers, of course, but not negligible and they may be increased in the future. As to how we should go about this, although the proposed constitution is not being pursued at present, it may be revived at some point in the future. It can, therefore, be a starting point:

The draft EU Constitution, Article 3, THE UNION’S OBJECTIVES, Section 1 says

"The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples."

Who could disagree with that (assuming, that is, one knows about and agrees with its values)?

Section 4 adds:

"In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests. It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and protection of human rights and in particular children’s rights, as well as strict observance and development of international law, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter."

Again, admirable sentiments, although some critics of globalisation might query whether "free" trade and "fair" trade are totally compatible. Similarly, one might also query its "values and interests". Whose interests?

Nevertheless, starting from these statements, one could develop policies to use the EU’s power to promote peace and disarmament. The work already being done in relation to nuclear weapons could be a model for this. The EP has carried two detailed resolutions on nuclear weapons in the past two years, and there are to be two major conferences in the Parliament this year. The first, on 6-7 July, the 10th anniversary of the ICJ advisory opinion, is organised by Abolition 2000 Europe and others. The second, on 23 November, is again an initiative of A2000 Europe with support from others, but the most important fact about it is that it is likely to become an official EU conference, as it has gained support from key MEPs from the six largest political parties in the EP. A similar conference with terms of reference extended to the whole field of disarmament, like a mini SSD, would be a really worthwhile long-term goal.

A further item that was included in the draft constitution was a rule that any petition that reached one million signatures had to be considered by the Commission. Although the constitution is in limbo, it is quite possible that the Commission would accept the spirit of this rule. This would be another way of getting disarmament considered in the corridors of power, which is our aim.

I would therefore seriously propose this as our vision for the next few years, and try to build an international coalition to work for it. The IPB (International Peace Bureau)  call for a new worldwide campaign on Disarmament for Development, already noted, fits in well with this. This is where the international coalition would start. I do not wish to pre-empt Dan Plesch’s intended proposals for our Spring conference, which he has given me some notice of, but, though not quite the same as mine, they could complement my ideas.

My preliminary thinking centres around all the work that has been done in the past. First there are the existing treaties previously mentioned:

The UN Charter

Biological Weapons Convention, draft verification protocol

Chemical Weapons Convention

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and related IAEA safeguards

Regional Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaties

Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty

Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty

OSCE’s Open Skies Treaty and Confidence and Security Building Measures

UN and various international organisations’ programmes on small arms and light weapons

The proposed Arms Trade Treaty

Informal export control regimes including the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar agreement, the Australia group, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Zangger Committee

Landmines Convention

Inhumane Weapons

Outer Space Treaty

Then there all the reports and proposals that have been written over many years. Ones that come immediately to mind include:

Final document of SSD1;

An Agenda for Peace;

Memorandum on an Agenda for Peace (UNA-UK);

World Peace Action programme (WDC-UK);

The Unfinished Disarmament Agenda (Special NGO Committee for Disarmament at Geneva); Report of the Commission on Global Governance;

Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons;

The Model Nuclear Weapons Convention;

Fast Track to Zero Nuclear Weapons (the Middle Powers Initiative);

The World Court Judgement on the illegality of nuclear weapons;

The New Agenda Coalition Resolutions to the UNGA;

Global Action to Prevent War (c/o Institute for Defence and Disarmament Studies, Cambridge, Mass.);

Facing Nuclear Dangers: an Action Plan for the 21st Century (report of the Tokyo Forum for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament );

The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st century.

Report of the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change

A Conflict Prevention Service of the European Union (BASIC)

Millennium Goals

Warfare or Welfare? (IPB)

An agenda for the proposed EP conference would be based around all these, with the aim of producing something like the draft Nuclear Weapons Convention, but relating to the whole range of weapons. The EU could then adopt it and promote it with the UN.

5. Conclusion

If we believe that WDC still has a significant role to play in the peace movement, and is not to continue its recent slow decline, then it has to rejuvenate itself and go forward with an imaginative programme of work that will really impinge on the public consciousness. I have put forward my ideas on what that should be. If anyone has better ideas, I should be very pleased to hear them.

Finally. let me emphasise, as I have done a number of times before, that WDC’s particular niche is the physical act of disarmament – getting rid of existing weapons and preventing the creation of more. Other organisations exist to further all the other desirable ends like conflict resolution, culture of peace, tackling poverty and discrimination, etc, etc. These are all vital parts of the drive to create a better world, of which we are part. Disarmament has an advantage over many of these that it is possible to directly measure and quantify success and failure. In the past, regrettably, there has been more failure than success. Let us try to reverse that balance over the next few years.


WDC Co-Chair March 2006