A short history of disarmament and arms control
People have been hoping for disarmament and trying to control weapons and armed forces for thousands of years. Yet weapons systems have been modernized again and again as spending on arms rises. Annual global military expenditure had grown to more than US $1.7 trillion in 2012. That is 1,700,000,000,000 dollars! True, history has repeatedly seen breakthroughs by these efforts to agree arrangements on disarmament and arms control. But the world is still far from achieving anything like the goal of “general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”, to which almost every country committed itself in 1968 by signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The term “disarmament” refers to measures, usually formal agreements, to reduce or completely abolish military capacities and means (both weapons and troops). In contrast, “arms control” comprises agreements aimed at reducing the danger of war breaking out and minimizing the negative impacts of a war on human beings. This is why the concept of “arms control” also includes instruments to promote transparency and build confidence, for instance by means of reciprocal monitoring and inspection and the setting of ceilings for weapons. The application of international humanitarian law to protect people and the environment in war situations also falls under the concept of arms control. At one time, measures to control arms would often be subsumed under the umbrella term of “disarmament”. But after 1945, with the United States and the Soviet Union confronting each other with weapons systems and troops in the Cold War, the term “arms control” came to describe all the measures intended to reduce tensions between the nuclear superpowers. After the Cold War, the focus of arms control measures shifted to efforts to prevent proliferation to other powers, especially missile technology and nuclear weapons.