Skip to main content

Arms Control and Disarmament: Non Nuclear

Arms Control and Disarmament: Non Nuclear. “Arms control,” or “arms limitation,” generally refers to efforts to refigure arsenals or to limit their growth. “Disarmament” refers to more ambitious efforts to reduce or eliminate certain weapons. Historically, disarmament efforts came first. The Rush‐Bagot Agreement of 1817 between Great Britain and the United States disarmed the Great Lakes and gradually made the U.S.‐Canadian boundary the longest undefended border in the world.

The idea of negotiating disarmament among sovereign nations in peacetime is relatively recent. In 1899 and 1907, Czar Nicholas II of Russia instigated The Hague Peace Conference with the declared aim of ensuring universal peace and reducing excessive armaments. The Czar's motives were not entirely altruistic. He hoped to freeze the military modernization efforts of the Austro‐Hungarian and German empires and cause them to spend on industry and commerce, not armaments. The Conferences outlawed the use of dumdum bullets and asphyxiating gases; regulated the use of underwater mines; improved arbitration procedures; and codified certain laws of war. However, the disarmament goals were unfulfilled because of fears of eroding national sovereignty and suspicions that others would gain strategic advantage.

Following World War I, assertive, widely supported peace and antiwar movements emerged, dedicated to promoting general disarmament among the major powers. The public drew the lesson from the prewar Anglo‐German naval race that arms races led to war. Disarmament would eliminate the means to wage war and also restrain weapons manufacturers, at the time called “merchants of death,” who were thought to profit from and to stimulate war. In the United States, an unprecedented movement to disarm emerged. The idea that maintaining peace required arms reductions was enshrined in President Woodrow Wilson's famous Fourteen Points (1918).

The Treaty of Versailles, negotiated after the war, imposed on Germany the most complete and rigorous disarmament in modern history. It severely restricted Germany's army and navy, forbade aircraft and submarines, and drastically curtailed the manufacture, import, and storage of arms. However, general disarmament did not occur.

The first extended effort to limit arms in the history of the United States were the treaties negotiated to end the naval competition among the United States, Great Britain, and Japan in Washington in 1922 (the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaty), and the London Conferences of 1930 and 1936. In 1921–1922, invoking the analogy of the Anglo‐German pre–World War I naval race, Republican Senator William Borah generated passionate public support for naval limitation to halt a competition in building among the three great naval powers. Borah argued that the arms race was the basic cause of World War I and of war in general. Borah's views echoed popular conceptions. They also meshed with demands for economy and sound fiscal policy. Businessmen welcomed arms limitations to reduce spending and lower taxes. Isolationists were attracted to the prospect of arms reduction without alliance or the League of Nations. There was even some support with the U.S. naval establishment that helped to mute the impact of naval opposition. Naval limitation fit well with America's desire for peace and a strong economy, and with its isolationist sentiments. Over the course of fifteen years, the leading naval powers limited their navies, established spheres of influence in the Pacific, and pledged to uphold the territorial and administrative integrity of China, the naval treaties initially diffused tensions but cooperation began to collapse by the late 1920s under the pressures of worldwide depression, the Nationalist unification of China, and German rearmament.

Further the 1932 Geneva World Disarmament Conference fell victim to European politics. France would not disarm for fear of losing military superiority over Germany. After France conceded to arms equality with Germany, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, scuttling any hopes for disarmament.

Given the failure of disarmament efforts in the 1920s, 1930s, and after World War II, the idea of disarmament fell from favor. In the late 1950s and 1960s, “new thinking” on arms control emerged, chiefly in the United States, partly in response to early failures at disarmament within the United Nations framework. “Arms control” diverged from traditional disarmament doctrine in its emphasis on managing the U.S.‐Soviet rivalry and fostering strategic stability between superpowers with growing arsenals. The goals were to reduce the probability of war, reduce the destructiveness of war should it occur, and to save money. Arms control might or might not reduce levels of armaments. Arms control also came to encompass measures to verify compliance, to build confidence among states through measures that increase transparency over military exercises, deployments, budgets, and doctrine, and to reduce the risk of accidental war.

Post–World War II conventional arms control was overshadowed by its nuclear counterpart, emerging on the east‐west agenda only in 1973 with the Mutual Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks. In 1966, U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield called for unilateral reduction in U.S. forces stationed in Europe and this catalyzed both U.S. and Soviet leaders. The Nixon administration feared the impact on western defense and NATO's viability; Soviet leaders feared that large‐scale reduction in U.S. forces would lead to an increase in German forces. MBFR, however, was largely a stalemated process, foundering as past conventional arms control efforts had on the difficulty of defining parity given asymmetries in geography, force structure, and doctrine, and of constructing a verification regime, particularly for manpower. The Soviet Union opposed Western calls for asymmetric troop reductions to compensate for geographic proximity. Not surprisingly, more progress was made in promoting “soft” arms control, or confidence and security building measures, under the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) process launched in 1975.

The Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) negotiations produced more rapid progress. Begun in 1989, one month after the MBFR talks ended, CFE successfully concluded with the signing of the CFE Treaty in Paris in 1990. The treaty is the first significant conventional arms control agreement to cover most of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. CFE benefited from the MBFR experience, but success stemmed largely from Soviet desires to address their dire economic situation and to close a perceived technological gap with the West. The treaty was modified after the break‐up of the Soviet Union with the Oslo Document, and follow‐up negotiations concluded with the CFE‐1A Agreement of 1992. Despite its successes, CFE still confronts several thorny issues, particularly turmoil along Russia's borders, which have raised Russian concerns about flank limitations. CFE will also have to adapt to newly emerging European security issues including NATO enlargement, Russian and Turkish policy in the North Caucasus, Russia's future relations with former states of the Soviet Union, Russia's developing relationship with the West, and Russia's domestic political problems.
[See also Arms Control and Disarmament: Nuclear; Arms Race: Overview; Arms Race: Naval Arms Race; Cold War: External Course; World War I: Postwar Impact.]

Emily O. Goldman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Arms Control and Disarmament: Non Nuclear." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Arms Control and Disarmament: Non Nuclear." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arms-control-and-disarmament-non-nuclear

"Arms Control and Disarmament: Non Nuclear." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved October 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/arms-control-and-disarmament-non-nuclear

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.