Which Way for Disarmament?

A holistic approach to peace

A talk given at the Socialist Party Headquarters (Clapham, London)

Vijay Mehta vijay@anglo-sphere.com


We are today faced on the world horizon - nuclear proliferation threats from North Korea to Iran, conflicts raging from Darfur to Congo, and the marginlisation of the poor continue unabated. Furthermore, we wait to see how the situation in Iraq develops with the continuing fighting between the Iraqi’s and the occupying forces. If the security situation deteriorates, the anarchy we witness in Iraq risk sliding into a full-blown civil war. Against the backdrop of world wide violence and nuclear escalation, the need for disarmament is ever more urgent. These challenges cannot be resolved without tackling the more wider agenda of development and poverty reduction- that is holistic approach to peace.

Disarmament simply means halting the spread of arms, and eventually eliminating all weapons from small arms to nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). It also means absence of violence and wars, thus increasing the chances of peace, respect for human rights, poverty reduction, and better environmental protection. The ultimate aim of disarmament is to make citizens aware that global and human security cannot be obtained through military superiority.

A holistic approach towards peace and human security depend on a reallocation of the world's resources so that billions of people who never see more than $1 or $2 a day are not held hostage to unconscienable poverty. Peace and Human security depend on universal adherence to and respect for human rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights as well as civil and political.

The magnitude of the problem

More than 500 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation around the world — one for about every 12 people. They were the weapons of choice in 46 out of 49 major conflicts since 1990, causing four million deaths — about 90 per cent of them civilians, and 80 per cent women and children. Human security is under increasing threat from the spread of small arms and light weapons and their illegal trade. They have devastated many societies and caused incalculable human suffering. They continue to pose an enormous humanitarian challenge, particularly in internal conflicts where insurgent militias fight against government forces. In these conflicts, a high proportion of the casualties are civilians who are the deliberate targets of violence — a gross violation of international humanitarian law. This has led to millions of deaths and injuries, the displacement of populations, and suffering and insecurity around the world.

Nuclear weapons are the most devastating WMD. Nuclear weapons were exploded twice in the 20th century and many other threats to use them have been made. The first bomb, on 6 August 1945, destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima and killed about 100,000 people at once. The second, on 9 August, destroyed the city of Nagasaki and killed about 70,000 people. Many more have died since then as a result of the radiation effects of those bombs.

There are 30.000 nuclear warheads in the possession of the declared nuclear weapon states USA, Russia, France, UK and China on top of that there is worldwide proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology which is being deployed by countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Israel. When so much military hardware is available around the world terrorists can easily create mayhem by indiscriminate mass killing and destruction. Political violence, organised crime and inciting fear in the civilian population are becoming the hallmark of new terrorism.

World military spending in 2003 totaled $956 billion while the annual estimated cost required to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 stands at $40 billion-$70 billion, illustrating how governments are failing to address the most important issues of the global agenda. Thus limiting the chances of achieving the MDGs- agreed by heads of states at a UN summit in 2000, which was designed to reduce extreme poverty by 50 per cent by 2015.

According to the recent UN High-level Report on Threats, Challenges and Change, the problems facing the world today is not limited to international terrorism and the proliferation of WMDs- real though these threats certainly are. A much wider challenge includes the phenomena of weak states often leading to major regional instability and conflicts, and a whole range of issues which have not traditionally been considered as part of the peace and security nexus at all - poverty, environmental degradation, pandemic diseases and the spread of organised crime - to mention the most prominent.

The degradation of the environment and the decline in the quality of land has clearly either started or exasperated conflicts, especially, in parts of Africa. If the impact of global warning is not curbed, the future might hold an eruption of desperate all out wars for food, water and energy supplies (oil and gas).

This conclusion is reached not simply because in many parts of the world - in Africa, in Latin America - these so-called "soft" threats are often seen as even more menacing and imminent than the so-called "hard" threats of the narrower agenda, but also because we are all increasingly aware of the interconnections and overlap between the different categories of threat which rendered the whole "hard/soft" categorisation misleading and inadequate.

After all the greatest terrorist outrage in recent times was launched from a failed state, Afghanistan, and the greatest genocide in another, Rwanda. Organised crime has frequently undermined international efforts at post-conflict peace-building. Pandemic diseases like AIDS threaten the stability of many states, in Africa in particular. The correlation between poverty and insecurity leaps at you from the report. All these threats require a universal response if they have to be effectively solved. Only a broad, common agenda provides any hope of mustering such a universal response.

The role of the UN

Since its foundation, the United Nations has made the goals of multilateral disarmament and arms limitation central issues in the maintenance of international peace and security- as is enshrined in its charter. Highest priority has been given to the reduction and eventual elimination of WMDs, which have posed the greatest threat to humankind.

Some of UN achievements have been the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 1968 (NPT), Anti-Personnel Landmine treaty 1997, the chemical weapons convention 1992, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 1996 and many multilateral and bilateral agreements including creation of nuclear weapon free zones. The next major event on disarmament is the NPT Review Conference in May 2005. It takes place every five years, where the NPT states meet in New York.

The NPT is the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. Article VI of the Treaty obliges its signatories "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control".

The way forward for a holistic approach to peace

ARC believes, during the first 50 years of the UN, the five permanent members of the United Nations, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, have flooded the world with weapons bringing untold misery to the world. Despite Article 26, little has been done to end this obscene trade. Every member of the UN General Assemble should demand that the pledge in Article 26 be honoured.

ARC believes in demilitarising the economy and building an alternative security.Regions of conflict must be at the center of efforts to build peace regionally. Peace building includes conflict prevention through early warning and the presence of mediators and facilitators as well as post conflict peace building. Today, peace making is at the center of political attention. This narrow view of security, while sometimes creating political and diplomatic breathing spaces to search for political solutions for conflicts, is not sufficient.

Most conflicts have deep-rooted causes that can only be addressed by civilian means of mediation and facilitation between the different needs of the people involved. Post-conflict peace building must be an integral part of efforts to secure human security in areas of conflict and tension. Unless societies and economies are demilitarized, there will be no lasting peace.

Most nations have economies geared towards preparation for war as well as industrial infrastructures geared to meeting these and not other needs. The true peace dividend is not simply the amount of money saved in the military budgets or in shifting it from one pocket to another. Rather, it is the opportunity to reallocate substantial resources to other productive activities. Like the establishment of the current permanent war economy, conversion will require large and long term investment. Internationally, all states should commit themselves to a thirty year Global Action Plan to Prevent War by reducing military budgets. A 5% reduction over 5 years would be a first step and would make available one half billion dollars a day. In all these efforts, non-governmental organizations and other civil actors must be directly involved.

    1. large and growing military budgets in the face of ravaged health and education services in most of the West, as well as many developing countries;
    2. refusal by the USA, the world’s most powerful nation, to uphold important disarmament treaties such as Anti Ballistic Missile treaty and Start II, or to sign international treaties such as Kyoto and the International Criminal Court;
    3. Some 30,000 nuclear weapons still in the world’s arsenal;
    4. The profitable and prolific trade in small arms;
    5. Billions of dollars already being spent in the USA (and probably Britain) on missile production; the USA’s so-called Missile Defence Shield, and the possibility that Canada and Japan may also join.

The solutions are:

    1. Diverting the $950 billion military budget routinely spent could be used instead to feed, house and educate all the peoples of this world.
    2. Seek justice and settle disputes in a non-violent way, through dialogue, the UN, the ICC and the ICJ.
    3. Peace education in schools is essential and through a national database, can be used as a way of networking and informing the general public. At a global level, the role of UNESCO is important to spread its message of a culture of peace to overcome violence and conflicts.
    4. Peace education should be linked to the wider expression of ideas. Such ideas need to be exciting to the younger generation. Peace hero’s, rather then military hero’s, should be made more visible in our cities, monuments and museums. We should glorify acts of humanitarianism and not acts of war.
    5. Peace Education is a set of human values and not simply a subject. It is a life time endeavour which doesn’t always bear immediate results but rather requires perseverance.


The challenges of security, poverty and environmental crisis can only be met successfully through multilateral efforts based on the rule of law. All nations must strictly fulfil their treaty obligations and reaffirm the indispensable role of the United Nations and its primary responsibility for maintaining peace.

There are various approaches to disarmament as there are indeed various ways to achieve peace. But after long and hard thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to general and total disarmament can only be achieved through a holistic, multilateral and universal approach based upon collective security combined with a set of ethics - freedom, equality, and solidarity. The process of disarmament should go hand in hand of building a viable social and sustainable development along with economic justice, poverty reduction, respect for human rights and a better environment.

Peace is not a dream. It is hard work. In today’s society, violence has been glamorised and wars have become a common occurrence. How do we counter this trend? We must deligitimised war as a way of solving disputes. Our leaders must support their rhetoric of peace with laws. For example, every country should pass a law which prevents its military budget from exceeding its spending on education and health care.

We must choose to work and persevere even when prospects for success look dim and believe in our capacity to achieve our objectives. If we can prepare and wage wars, we can also prepare and work towards peace. From kindergarden to schools, universities to global institutions we need to infuse a culture of peace.

To take forward the disarmament agenda, here are some action plans for major events in the coming year:

Thank you for listening.