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9. Arms control after the attacks of 11 September 2001



I. Introduction

II. Salient characteristics of arms control

III. The Bush Administration and arms control

IV. International effects of the Bush Administration approach

V. The impact of the attacks of 11 September

VI. Conclusions


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Events in 2001 led both practitioners and observers to question the usefulness of arms control as an instrument for managing security problems. This was prompted by problems in implementing existing arms control agreements as well as an identified lack of momentum in discussions about new agreements. Two key events brought these problems into clearer focus: the change in the US administration and the 11 September terrorist attacks in the USA.


The new administration subjected a range of arms control processes to an unaccustomed level of critical scrutiny. Although there were discontinuities in arms control policy during the first year of the Bush Administration, the approach also reflected positions that had been evolving in Washington over several years. Two questions are at the root of US concerns about the role of arms control: the first is how to respond when parties violate an agreement to which they are a party, and the second is whether arms control processes and agreements can modify the behaviour of key states.


The policies adopted by the USA stimulated wider discussion of how arms control can contribute to international security. The discussions took on an added dimension after the terrorist attacks against the USA. These attacks reinforced the view in the USA that there is a close correlation between the states that sponsor and carry out terrorist acts and those that actively seek to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons through clandestine programmes; these same states are seeking to acquire ballistic missiles and other means that could be used to deliver one or more of these types of weapons.


While developments in 2001 have been seen as evidence of a loss of confidence by key actors—in particular the USA—in the capacity of arms control to manage security problems, the evidence suggests that they reflect an adaptation of arms control, which is in essence a framework in which structured dialogue can be organized around armaments policy. As part of this process of adaptation there may be a loss of coherence in the position of particular states. A state may agree measures in the framework of one regional process based on principles that would not be acceptable if applied in a different location or on a global basis. This may be a transitory phenomenon as new norms and principles develop in a changing security environment.


In 2001 this friction was felt in the discussion of the ABM Treaty, of a protocol to verify the BTWC and of a general rule to prohibit military assistance to non-state actors. Each of these discussions dealt with an important but contested underlying issue of principle. In helping to frame the issues and by providing a context for structured discussion, arms control was fulfilling one of its most important functions.



Dr Ian Anthony (United Kingdom) is the Leader of the SIPRI Internet Database on European Export Controls Project. In 1992–98 he was Leader of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project. His most recent publication for SIPRI is A Future Arms Control Agenda: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 118, 1999 (2001), for which he is co-editor (with Adam Daniel Rotfeld). He is also editor of the SIPRI volumes Russia and the Arms Trade (1998), Arms Export Regulations (1991) and SIPRI Research Report no. 7, The Future of Defence Industries in Central and Eastern Europe (1994), and author of The Naval Arms Trade (SIPRI, 1990) and The Arms Trade and Medium Powers: Case Studies of India and Pakistan 1947–90 (1991). He has written or co-authored chapters for the SIPRI Yearbook since 1988.

Dr Ian Anthony