The independent resource on global security

11. Conventional arms control


I. Overview

II. Control of inhumane weapons

III. European arms control

IV. Building confidence and security in the OSCE area

V. Conclusions



Read the full chapter [PDF].


The effort to control ‘inhumane weapons’ at the global level achieved a remarkable breakthrough in 2008. The Oslo process, which was launched in 2006 to stigmatize and effectively tackle cluster munitions, resulted in a legally binding convention, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). Despite continued claims of the military usefulness of cluster munitions and the limited effect of the convention due to the non-participation of major users, producers and stockpilers, it is hoped that the CCM will contribute to the moral and political stigmatization of cluster munitions to such an extent that governments which are not party to the convention will be increasingly reluctant to use such weapons.


The situation in European conventional arms control in 2008 remained troubling. After Russia’s decision to ‘suspend’ its participation in the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty) in December 2007, the treaty was in abeyance during 2008. The Western states’ ‘parallel actions’ proposal remained on the negotiating table, while Russia sent vague signals about a broader European security treaty. All of the CFE states parties except Russia have thus far fully implemented the treaty’s provisions but, despite goodwill on their part, the treaty’s continuing erosion risks reaching a point of no return. On the other hand, the current crisis creates an opportunity to rethink the pertinence of the CFE regime to the new realities of European security. A future conventional arms control regime, if it is to be relevant, will demand much improved security cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic area, which is currently lacking.


In contrast to the plight of the CFE Treaty regime, the subregional arms control framework in the Western Balkans continued to operate smoothly. Confidence- and security-building measures in Europe are now focused on select areas, while similar initiatives elsewhere have not progressed satisfactorily. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) community strives to counter multidimensional threats, increasingly of a non-state nature. The practical assistance given to the OSCE participating states through the implementation of projects on small arms and light weapons and on stockpiles of conventional ammunition as well as the updating and streamlining of the 1994 Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security are considered a key component in the improvement of security and stability in the OSCE region.



Dr Zdzislaw Lachowski (Poland) is a Senior Fellow with the SIPRI Euro-Atlantic Security Programme.


Svenja Post (Germany) was an intern with the SIPRI Euro-Atlantic Security Programme in 2008–2009.