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12. Reflections on continuity and change in arms control

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Summary

Legal and diplomatic means are being restored as the preferred method to control arms, and efforts to promote dialogue on international politico-military aspects of security remain valid and necessary. The multilateral arms control treaties form one part of this emerging regime, but the treaties are increasingly being supplemented and supported by a number of other measures. These measures generally lack three characteristics of cold war arms control—symmetry, reciprocity and universal participation. However, UN Security Council Resolution 1540 does have these features.

Improvements in verification and a tendency towards greater transparency facilitated arms control agreements during a short period after the end of the cold war. These gains have now been lost. The changing view on the desirability and feasibility of verification has complicated arms control compliance assessment and enforcement and will continue to do so in future.

Arms control was traditionally focused on items specially designed and developed for military use. Some recent initiatives have focused on items that can have civilian as well as military uses. However, a strategy based on the elimination or complete denial of access to dual-use items is neither feasible nor desirable. Dual-use technology is not a threat in and of itself, and denial of access to dual-use technology is only sought when the technology concerned is going to be misapplied or when the risk that it will be misapplied is unacceptably high.

Arms control was traditionally an activity confined to states. However, recent thinking has focused on how the capabilities available to non-state groups that may be planning acts of mass impact terrorism can be controlled and access to them denied on a selective basis. In a more positive context, non-state actors, including the private sector, are becoming engaged in security building.

 

Dr Ian Anthony (UK) is SIPRI Research Coordinator and Leader of the SIPRI Non-proliferation and Export Controls Project.

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