Do Arms Control Treaties Work?
Perhaps the earliest example of arms control dates back to the eighth century BCE, when two cities in ancient Greece, Chalcis and Eretria, agreed to ban the use of “missiles” (Connor 1988, 19). In the centuries that followed, international actors used formal agreements to restrain the proliferation or use of poison bullets, the crossbow, naval warships, anti-ballistic missiles, biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel land mines, and other military technologies. Although arms control treaties were particularly common during the Cold War, they are by no means relics of a bygone era: today, some policymakers support creating international treaties to control emerging technologies, particularly drones and cyberwarfare capabilities. These agreements exist, in part, because some believe that they help to thwart potentially dangerous arms races. Yet many scholars argue just the opposite: that arms control treaties are ineffective (for example, Downs, Rocke, and Barsoom 1996). Arms control also has its fair share of critics in the policy community, some of whom see it as “unreliable, worthless, unsuccessful, [and] possibly even counterproductive” (Miller 2003, 16). Do arms control treaties work? More specifically, do such agreements constrain state policies and reduce the risk of arms proliferation, or do the commitments embodied in them merely reflect preexisting preferences? Our understanding of how treaties influence world politics has increased tremendously in recent years. Research examines the effects of international institutions governing human rights, the environment, humanitarian law, and economic relations (for example, Simmons 2000, 2010; Sikkink 2011; Lutz and Sikkink 2000; von Stein 2005, 2008, forthcoming; Hill 2010; Ritter and Wolford 2012; Conrad and Ritter 2013; Lupu 2013a, 2015). However, far fewer studies (for example, Leeds 2003; Mattes and Vonnahme 2010; Mitchell and Hensel 2007; Prorok and Huth 2015) systematically examine the effects of security institutions in general and arms control agreements in particular. We focus on a key arms control treaty: the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).