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Introduction. A call to arms control


I. A widening window of opportunity

II. Growing concerns

III. Emerging opportunities

IV. Much work to be done


Read the full introduction [PDF].


The next one to two years will see far more high-level discussion and debate on the merits of arms control and disarmament. This emerges from a broadening consensus around the world that more serious and effective arms control and disarmament measures should be implemented. Two trends have converged in ways that raise the arms control policy debate to new and interesting levels. One points to increasing concerns about, threats to and the potential collapse of long-standing arms control and non-proliferation agreements and understandings. The other points to new and emergent opportunities for more effective arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament steps.


There are a number of reasons to see a widening window of opportunity for important gains in arms control. Disarmament and related confidence- and security-building measures by the two principal nuclear weapon powers—Russia and the USA—will be especially important, and these two states should take a number of critical steps forward in the near term. A broader, global effort will also be needed which reaches beyond these two countries, which pulls in both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states, and which firmly stakes out common ground across political divides.


Three caveats are in order which should cast a more realistic light on coming prospects for arms control. First, the priorities of the next US Administration will have a critical role in shaping the progress for arms control. Second, while progress on existing and potentially new multilateral treaties might garner most international attention, these approaches should not overshadow other mechanisms which hold out good prospects for concrete progress in arms control and disarmament. Finally, arms control and disarmament cannot solve all the world’s problems. For ‘arms control’ to have greater relevance, the traditional meaning of the term should undergo some broadening to encompass non-treaty- and non-state-based approaches to security building. These approaches can also effectively lower the threat of unnecessary and indiscriminate violence while building confidence among security actors at the international, national and sub-state levels.


Voices from across the political spectrum are coming to recognize again the value of arms control in the face of looming threats to humankind. While moving ahead faces tremendous obstacles, in the coming years a new window of opportunity will open even wider to realize constructive progress on arms control and disarmament. It is clearly in the interest of citizens and governments alike to take pragmatic and positive steps in the right direction.


Dr Bates Gill (United States) is Director of SIPRI.