The independent resource on global security

14. Major trends in arms control and non-proliferation



I. Introduction

II. The evolution of arms control and non-proliferation in 2003

III. The EU approach to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation

IV. The interface between the law of arms control and other branches of international law

V. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


In 2003 the issue of how to respond to the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons and their delivery systems continued to occupy a central place on the foreign and security policy agenda both of states and international organizations. Recent information has underlined the serious shortcomings in the level of knowledge about the NBC weapon programmes of states. Previously unknown weapon-related activities have come to light in several states, and new information highlights the need to re-evaluate what had been thought of as relatively solid conclusions about the pattern of NBC weapon programme development.


While the critical need to generate more accurate information and assessments of current trends and developments was underlined, multilateral arms control treaty regimes did not move any closer to agreement on how to identify violations of existing treaties and agreements, or how to respond where such violations are detected. The conflict in Iraq was preceded by a complete failure in the effort to develop a common approach to implementing the UN Security Council resolutions related to Iraqi disarmament.


In May 2003 US President George W. Bush announced the creation of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The purpose of the new initiative is to intercept ships, aircraft and vehicles suspected of carrying nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles, and related technologies to or from ‘countries of proliferation concern’. It allows participating states to detain and search suspect shipments as soon as they enter their territory, territorial waters or airspace. Bush’s announcement was quickly followed by the formation of a core group of 11 nations (Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States) that has begun pooling intelligence and organizing military exercises. Three additional countries (Canada, Norway and Singapore) subsequently began to participate in the activities of this core group while a large number of other states have associated themselves with it. Russia joined the PSI on 31 May 2004.


The legal basis for the PSI is the subject of controversy. Although activities carried out to date suggest that current national and international laws will provide a sufficient basis for most of what the PSI envisages, additional clarification will be needed in the case of shipments of dual-use items that have civilian applications as well as roles in constituting WMD—which international law does not address. The PSI could have a positive effect by bringing about closer international coordination among national agencies and authorities charged with the enforcement of existing export control laws and other relevant national legislation. A practical mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between these national authorities is currently lacking.


On 13 December 2003 the Council of the European Union adopted the EU Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The document drew on a set of basic principles agreed in June 2003 and set out in more detail the approach of the EU to addressing the threat of proliferation. The EU agreed an Action Plan in June 2003 that contained a specific and measurable set of projects, programmes and objectives as well as identifying the finances required to implement the agreed measures and specifying the source of that financing. At the time the WMD Strategy was adopted, the Council agreed on a procedure for monitoring and reviewing its implementation at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (in which the foreign ministers of the EU member states participate) on a six-monthly basis, thereby guaranteeing continued high-level political attention for the issue.


Arms control has focused on measures to help manage the potential security risks posed by militarily relevant quantities of weapons held by states. The attacks carried out in the United States on 11 September 2001 focused attention on two threats that were not previously addressed: weapons in the hands of non-state actors; and the threat posed by the use of items not normally thought of as weapons. In 2003 consideration was given to the role that a number of legal instruments which are not thought of as part of arms control might play in managing these threats. In particular, attention was paid to instruments that can help to secure sensitive materials and prevent their diversion to unauthorized end-users and dangerous end-uses.



Dr Ian Anthony (United Kingdom) is SIPRI Research Coordinator and the Leader of the SIPRI Non-proliferation and Export Controls Project. In 1992–98 he was Leader of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project. His most recent publication for SIPRI is SIPRI Research Report No. 19, Reducing Threats at the Source: a European Perspective on Cooperative Threat Reduction (2004). 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 (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992). He has written or co-authored chapters for the SIPRI Yearbook since 1988.

Dr Ian Anthony