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International Arms Control and Disarmament: Retrospect and Prospect (1)

Sha Zukang

International trends in arms control and disarmament are closely bound with the security of all countries. They always occupy an important place in international relations, especially in the relations among the big powers. During the Cold War, arms control and disarmament were called a “barometer” of U.S.-Soviet relations. Today, with the development of a trend toward a relaxed international situation and multipolarization, arms control and disarmament are still important means to further the security of all countries and create a favorable international environment. The development of international arms control and disarmament will exert significant influence on trends in the overall international security situation.

In the past year, the international arms control and disarmament situation was generally stable, with some encouraging changes, but also some worrying factors.

(1) The anti-ballistic missile issue is still controversial and will affect international relations.

The international debate centering on the anti-ballistic missile issue concerns, in essence, what kind of world order will be established. It is a controversy between “unipolarization” and “multipolarization” and also between two security concepts, the one advocating the so-called “absolute security’’ at the cost of other countries’ security interests, versus that of pursuing universal security based on international cooperation. Precisely because of this, the U.S. development of a National Missile Defense system (NMD) has attracted concerns from all sides. It has become an important issue that affects current and future international security and the relations between big powers in particular.

Last year, the United States sped up the NMD development. In the 2000-01 budget, the U.S. Government requested that Congress add US$2.7 billion for NMD research and development. It also conducted two missile interception tests. Both tests failed.

Meanwhile, protests by the international community against the U.S. NMD program grew increasingly stronger. The Russian is firm. Moscow resolutely opposes revision of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. It clearly stated that if the United States tears up the agreement, Russia will withdraw from all arms control treaties. To undermine the U.S. pretext for developing the NMD system, Russia launched a series of diplomatic initiatives. It proposed the establishment of a global missile control mechanism and suggested that Europe and Asia cooperate on developing a theater missile defense system. Also, few of the U.S. allies favor the NMD development. At the 55th UN General Assembly, China, Russia and Belarus again jointly put forward a draft resolution on safeguarding and observing the ABM Treaty. The resolution won universal support from the international community and passed by a large majority. Although the United States repeatedly lobbied other countries, the majority of its allies did not join it in voting against the resolution. France voted in favor, proof of the unpopularity of the NMD program.

In light of insurmountable technological difficulties and universal international opposition, U.S. President Bill Clinton made a sensible decision in September when he announced he would not authorize NMD deployment for the time being but that the United States would continue the research and development. His decision illustrated the effectiveness of the international opposition to the NMD program, but it also indicated that this negative factor influencing the healthy development of international relations would not disappear quickly.

(2) Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation witnessed certain progress.

In 2000, Russia moved into the limelight on the stage of international arms control and disarmament. Besides a series of worthwhile proposals on the anti-ballistic missile, Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed the Duma to ratify START II and relevant protocols and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in April shortly after taking office. The move created a good international impression and invigorated a nuclear disarmament process that had been stuck for a long time. It was highly acclaimed by the international community. The positive Russian attitude contrasted sharply with that of the United States. Washington has not approved the relevant START II protocols, while the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the CTBT. In November, President Putin put forward a new proposal, suggesting that Russia and the United States reduce their nuclear arsenals to less than 1,500 missiles each. This also attracted international attention. The public hoped that the United States would react positively to this proposal, thus accelerating the process of Russian-U.S. nuclear disarmament.

Another significant event in the nuclear field was the success in May and June of the Sixth Conference on Deliberation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the first of its kind since 1995 when the discussion of the NPT was delayed indefinitely. The conference passed the final documents of the treaty. The negative developments in the field of international arms control and security, such as nuclear tests in South Asia and the U.S. refusal to ratify CTBT and its threat to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, aroused concern about the future of nuclear proliferation. Under the circumstances, this successful conference was particularly valuable, playing an important role in strengthening the system of nuclear non-proliferation. It once again proved that the prevention of proliferation is the trend of the times and the desire of the people all over the world. Any country that violates this international trend will face strong opposition from the international community. In the final documents, the five major nuclear countries—the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China—jointly promised for the first time to thoroughly eliminate nuclear weapons. The documents also put forward measures for the next round of nuclear disarmament. These developments will contribute to active promotion of the process of international nuclear disarmament.

(3) The international community intensified efforts in missile non-proliferation.

At present, various countries have different views on the causes for missile proliferation, evaluation of missile threat and channels to resolve the issue of missile proliferation. At the same time, however, the issue of preventing missile proliferation has aroused universal attention in the international community. This is an indisputable fact. Furthermore, more and more governments and personages concerned realize that resolving the issue of missile proliferation cannot be achieved by relying on discriminatory export controls, sanctions, pressure or extra-territoriality. Settlement of this issue cannot rely on the development of an anti-missile system or armed intervention, but depends solely on the universal participation of the international community in seeking a comprehensive and non-discriminatory multilateral solution.

(4) The issue of small arms continued to heat up.

Small arms have become a hot issue in international arms control and disarmament in recent years. It has been caused by the increasingly rampant, illegal production and trafficking of small arms, which has resulted in serious obstruction to the social stability and economic development in some developing countries and intensified domestic armed conflicts. Given the situation, the voice of the international community has grown louder and louder in calling for a settlement of the issue of illegal small arms production and trafficking. Therefore, the UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution urging all countries to pay great attention to this issue and take necessary actions. The resolution also called for an international conference in 2001 on the illegal trade in small arms and light weapons. Meanwhile, the Special Committee of the UN Convention on Suppressing Transnational and Organized Crimes began negotiating a firearms protocol in 1999 that aims to strengthen the means to stifle the illegal production and trafficking of firearms.

(5) On the whole, the multilateral treaties were executed well, but there are still many difficulties in the multilateral arms control negotiations.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has been in effect for more than three years and is being executed in depth. Although the CTBT has not come into effect, preparations for its organization and the construction of related international monitoring system are well under way. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) retains its supervisory role over the civil nuclear facilities. The “93+2 protocol”, which aims at strengthening the supervision and guarantee system, has been gradually accepted by the vast number of member countries.

On the other hand, multilateral arms control negotiations made little progress. Talks on strengthening the effectiveness of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) have continued for several years, with major issues settled. However, a few countries hold inflexible positions and have endeavored to evade their obligations, while adding to the burdens of other countries in executing the treaty. As the only disarmament negotiation institute in the world, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has been trapped in a long-term deadlock and cannot carry out substantial work. This is because some countries are self-willed and refuse to consider other countries’ security concerns.

(Beijing Review No.1 Jan.4,2001)

In This Series

Specific Efforts Called to Promote Nuclear Disarmament

Agreement Urged to Ban Arms Race in Outer Space

Outer Space Arms Race Opposed

NMD May Start New Arms Race



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