Lessons for the disarmers

As the United Nations' second special session on disarmament moves forward, it might be useful to examine some lessons from the first session in 1978.

First, the essential task must be to establish machinery that makes the goals of disarmament achievable. Many international conferences face the problem which became apparent last time: under time pressure deadlines, delegates to the special session became less focused on the substantive issue at hand and more committed to an exercise in treaty drafting and negotiation in order to produce a comprehensive final document. This special session, if need be, should sacrifice breadth of coverage for a set of realizable goals which states can act on.

Second, the sessions must speak more directly to the issue of security. In the first session, delegates focused on global insecurity fostered by the presence of highly destructive weapons.

While logically sensible, this direction produced an agenda aimed at general disarmament which was not politically attainable. If delegates focus some attention on the creation of alternative security systems which are less dependent than our current security system on weapons of mass destruction, then disarmament will become more politically realistic.

Third, the superpowers must find ways, quite possibly through the prodding of their allies, to move away from a ''train yard'' philosophy of arms reduction. The 1978 session occurred as the US and the USSR were disposed to view their bilateral approach of SALT II as the locomotive giving power to their participation in other efforts of arms reduction. As such an engine, it had to proceed first.

Now, as the US and the Soviets undertake START and other arms control proposals, these states ought to think seriously about ways to reinforce their bilateral negotiations within the special session's multilateral framework.

Finally, some clear visible disarmament must take place soon after the session in order for it to be a success. Despite the dynamic agenda and new committee structures generated in the 1978 session, the harsh reality is that it failed. Not one tank or one air fighter was eliminated, nor one nuclear sub withdrawn from the planning board, in the name of the first special session.

The unique contribution of the present session could be that some states would take action. One or two states could reduce some particular weapons, work on the implementation of new security systems, and begin to channel the savings and expenditures to the tasks of human development. Such action is essential. It is directly related to the creation of a clear plan and the multilateral support mechanisms for such undertakings which the session must provide.

To forge plowshares from the highly destructive swords of modern weaponry is the difficult task which the delegates to the special United Nations session have established for themselves. Their contributions to this effort must be intensely practical, frank, and obtainable for the world to have much hope for a third special session to build on the new security with disarmament generated by its predecessor.

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