No alternative to disarmamentUntil the issues of poverty, inequality and discrimination are addressed, armament will not stop.
One of the cardinal goals of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security. To this end, achieving disarmament is crucial. Despite the existence of the universal body, its organs, legal instruments and all other efforts, armament continues unabated. Why have we failed to achieve the goal of disarmament? And what can be done to achieve the desired results?
The nature of wars changed in the 20th century. After the balance of power between the European countries was disturbed, the world witnessed two world wars. In World War I, an estimated 8.5 million soldiers were killed and civilian casualties ranged from 5 to 10 million. In World War II, around 55 million people lost their lives. A variety of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons, were developed; and the arms race between the powers moved ahead at full pace. World War II came to an end with the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. As most countries of the world were involved directly or indirectly, the wars shattered human societies and their social fabrics.
The arms race
Even after the end of the Second World War and the establishment of the United Nations, the world faced the looming threat of war as a result of the Cold War between the blocs led by the United States and the then Soviet Union. This led to the development and growth of weapons of mass destruction. In the realist world, it is claimed that armament is unstoppable due to security concerns. This theory assumes that due to the perception or misperception of a possible threat from the opponent, the first country is forced to develop the required weapons for its own security, and this triggers the second country to develop even more advanced weapons, and this cycle of armament goes on and on.
At the beginning of the 21st century, acts of terrorism increased sharply. September 11, 2001, was a day that was beyond anyone’s imagination. Persons trained as pilots in the United States hijacked four passenger aircraft and used them as lethal weapons of mass destruction with the loss of thousands of lives. This perplexed the world community in defining the nature of weapons of mass destruction. Advancements in communication and information technologies like cyber technology and artificial intelligence like ‘drone’ aircraft for war and lethal autonomous weapons (killer robots), among others, are being misused for destruction. This forces the United Nations to think in a different way to tackle such misuse of technologies.
Trading weapons of any kind through legal or illegal channels has been a lucrative business for many countries and groups. Easy availability of small arms and instigation of inter-state or intra-state conflict for the individual benefit has resulted in disruption of social systems, a mass outflow of citizens as refugees, sexual exploitation and impoverishment of countries. Such moments resulted in poverty which is the most destabilising and major source of conflicts.
The United Nations was established in 1945 mainly with the objective of maintaining international peace and security. It has six main organs—the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice and Secretariat. The General Assembly and Security Council are the major organs to maintain international peace and security. The Security Council has some binding power to implement its decisions including disarmament if it is able to garner the consent of all five of its permanent members.
The United Nations has passed various conventions, treaties and resolutions to manage, discourage, minimise and finally eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Among the major conventions and treaties, some have yielded the expected results. The Convention on Cluster Munitions, Mine Ban Convention and Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons have proved to be effective. The United Nations recently published a book entitled Securing Our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament. Most of its agendas have a direct or indirect aim of disarmament. But the most important thing is how much effort the world community puts in to achieve the goal of disarmament. The bitter truth is that if the leading powers don’t find such negotiations in their favour, they choose not to comply with the provisions because, for them, the world runs chaotically rather than systematically, and power ultimately prevails.
If the major countries cut their expenditure on militarisation even slightly, and divert the savings to promoting human welfare and building fundamental structures in the developing world, the world will be a safer and more peaceful place to live in. It seems that the world order is on the cusp of change. There are also some serious issues that are threatening world peace. Such issues are, among others, the abrupt decision of the United States to pull out from the Paris Agreement, mounting tensions in the South China Sea, escalating border disputes between India and China, the trade war between the United States and China, and the origin and spread of the pandemic and its devastating impact on human lives and world economies.
As for the problem of climate change and global warming, the United Nations and the international community have to give special attention towards countries like Nepal which are bearing the costs without being a party to the problem. There is a nexus between climate change, poverty and conflict. Until the issues of poverty, inequality and discrimination among peoples and nations are addressed, the process of armament will go on unchecked, and disarmament will prove to be a distant dream.
Though the major responsibility of maintaining international peace and security falls on the United Nations, the problems we are facing are matters of concern to everyone. Not only the state, but all non-state actors including civil societies, persons with international stature, scholars and individuals should put in their efforts and show their solidarity to make the world free of all kinds of weapons. Whatever we gain from such efforts, it will be highly in favour of all in general, and the developing countries and their peoples in particular. By and large, disarmament is a matter of moral ethics and commitments of the international community rather than legally binding contracts under international law. In this civilised world, every nation, civil society, private sector and individual must assume the moral obligation to make the world free of arms. We want long-lasting peace and security.