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A Coordinated Approach To Disarmament
By Charles C. Walker
The necessity for universal disarmament is generally recognized. How to achieve it has been the subject of prolonged and frustrating debate. The tendency has been for discussion to polarize into contrasting positions: negotiations vs. unilateral actions; all at once vs. step by step; security first vs. disarmament first.
It is not surprising that deep-seated differences should have arisen. Disarmament means the liquidation of the war system. This is a formidable task, no less a task than replacing a system which has functioned for six thousand years. The emergence of a new international system in which war has been eradicated and a stable peace effected will be one of the great landmarks in human history. Inevitably it will bring in its wake far-reaching changes in human attitudes, behaviour and institutions. A task of this size and complexity cannot be accomplished without the dedicated labour of many people working at various facets of the problem.
The time has come when it is both necessary and possible to coordinate several approaches to working for disarmament, and to develop a comprehensive strategy of action. I would suggest five major fronts.
1. Universal Disarmament: This is the objective towards which all disarmament advocates press, by whatever route it ultimately comes. For example, unilateralists would not be content if their nation alone disarmed, faced indefinitely with an armed and threatening world. Nothing less than the abolition of the war system itself can pave the way for the emergence of a durable peace.
When USSR Chairman Khrushchov and British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd made speeches at the United Nations in 1959, calling for general and complete disarmament, the peace groups in the US, whatever the approach of their particular organizations, united in trying to persuade the US Government to declare general and complete disarmament to be an avowed objective of US foreign policy. There were powerful forces in the Kennedy administration that viewed disarmament as nothing more than wishful thinking, or even dangerous nonsense. Over these objections, President Kennedy made such a declaration in a speech at the UN.
Those who have emphasized universal disarmament have usually relied almost exclusively upon negotiation as the instrument for achieving it. The record of these negotiations is a discouraging story. They have usually been a part of the power struggle rather than an alternative to it, as each side has tried to put the other on the spot and make itself appear to be the “peace-loving nation”. There is much truth in the statement that negotiations do not change fundamentals, they register “situations of fact” (a phrase of Dean Acheson’s).
Within the past few years, it appears that among experts in the nuclear powers there is a new willingness to look seriously at the possibility of universal disarmament. The present international system is clearly becoming unmanageable. Even such tentative steps as tacit agreements to limit the arms race (e.g. not to take civil defence very seriously), attempts to prevent accidental war, various forms of arms control, etc., may be the first signs of a new direction. For some, they may be adjustments to try to save the system―to make the world safe for World War II―but on the other hand they may initiate a trend that could gather momentum and inaugurate a fundamental system change.
However, negotiation alone, and the advice of experts, are not enough to counteract the fantastic momentum of military technology, as well as the persistence of old ways of thinking and acting. Other approaches are required which may help to produce a situation where negotiations can be more fruitful.
2. Demilitarization: This means the actual achievement of disarmament in a geographical area. It should not be confused with “demobilization” or any other measure short of the liquidation of military forces in a specific area.
Demilitarization can be accomplished by force, agreement or by unilateral action. At the end of World War II, Germany and Japan were forcibly disarmed by the Allied Powers. Some proposals for disengagement have envisaged demilitarized zones in Central Europe. Frequently, a crisis situation will lead to proposals for demilitarization of the critical area, e.g. Berlin.
US military expert Walter Millis has pointed out that no South American nation is today in a position to wage a successful war against a neighbour. Since the Chaco wars earlier in the century, the possibility of war on that continent has receded. The national military forces are for internal use. This situation might be carried a step further: abolish the armies and make all of South America a demilitarized zone. However, this would have revolutionary implications for the internal structure of the nations and societies. If a non-violent revolutionary movement took root in South America, one of its political objectives could be the demilitarization of the entire continent.
An area from which military forces have been withdrawn will find it difficult to remain so in the absence of a movement towards universal disarmament. Much depends upon the dynamics of the larger situation of which the area is a part. Demilitarization can be a means for limiting a danger that could become explosive; such situations are likely to be transitory. To be significant for the cause of disarmament, demilitarization would take place in a context where nations are genuinely moving towards general and complete disarmament.
3. Unarmed Areas: If demilitarization refers to removal of military forces, the term “unarmed areas” is used for those areas, even nations, where arms are not introduced in the first place. For example, the continent of Antarctica has been declared an unarmed area, by way of a treaty signed by fourteen nations, including the US and the USSR. There have been proposals advanced in the United Nations to the effect that no nation should use outer space for military purposes.
Some of the new nations in Africa have not fully decided whether to build a conventional military establishment; Tanganyika, for example. It is not inconceivable that several nations in East Africa might experiment with this course of action: Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) under the leadership of Kenneth Kaunda, Mozambique, Tanganyika, possibly Kenya. The likelihood would be greater if a joint approach could be worked out among these nations in East Africa.
The very existence of an unarmed state refutes the conventional theory that the nature of the state requires military power. Regional groupings of unarmed nations would be of even more significance, and would provide a valuable opportunity to study the dynamics of a situation that may foreshadow the demilitarization of the African continent. So far this is a slender hope but it cannot be ruled out.
4. Unilateral Disarmament: Costa Rica, in Central America, is the only nation unilaterally disarmed today. By its 1959 constitution it is not permitted to have a standing army. The reasons for this action are not pacifist ones, and no provisions for nonviolent resistance have been made. Costa Rica relies upon the Organization of American States for protection. When Nicaragua invaded, the OAS gave stern orders to withdraw, and Nicaragua did. But again, the fact that a nation has taken this action disproves the contention that it can’t be done.
The British Labour Party for a short time was on record for unilateral nuclear disarmament of Great Britain. Hugh Gaitskell successfully led the fight to rescind that position. In any case, it seems to me, nuclear disarmament is a halfway house in which one cannot live for long. Complete unilateral disarmament would be a more realistic as well as more creative course. Leading non-pacifists in Britain have said already that within a decade, given present trends, this may be the most realistic policy for Britain to take.
A demilitarized Germany does not seem to be a step which the US and USSR are prepared to negotiate; possibly the time for that has passed. This leaves the German people three board choices: (a) a divided Germany as now, indefinitely; (b) united and armed by unilateral action of the German people; or (c) united and unarmed by similar unilateral action. Only the third is a choice with hope. It may be a long time away, but so is any resolution of the German problem, it would appear.
India may one day decide to embark upon unilateral disarmament as the only viable alternative to a protracted and ultimately disastrous arms race with China, and deeper involvement in the Cold War. Japan may be faced with a similar choice.
There could be a transitory moment when the US or the USSR would strike out on a sudden and radical course of unilateral disarmament. That moment would be the time of a large-scale accidental war. The world would be so terror-stricken, with the danger of all-out war so imminent, that a “crash program for disarmament” might be inaugurated by a nation with the sense and initiative to do so. Leading military experts in the US have urged that plans be drawn up for this eventuality.
New books appearing on the subject of disarmament almost invariably have a chapter or article on unilateral disarmament something very unlikely only a few years ago. It would be ironic if non-pacifists began to take unilateral disarmament seriously when many pacifists have dismissed it out of an all too soft and unrealistic “realism”. A mass movement for unilateral action would impart impetus to all other efforts for disarmament, all the more so if such movements could develop an international strategy.
5. Unilateral Initiatives: This term describes an action that a nation may take, depending neither upon threat nor negotiation, which is itself a step in the direction of disarmament. (Technically, unilateral disarmament is an extreme unilateral initiative.) Examples of initiatives a nation might take are those ending nuclear tests, whether other nations do so or not; ending research and stockpiling of biological or chemical weapons; pledging only non-military uses of outer space; ending conscription; withdrawing from military bases.
A series of such steps, taken with special care as to timing and sequence, could help break through the vicious circle of fear and distrust that surrounds the arms race.
It is possible that a nation could take a number of such steps without impairing its relative power position. Thus the significance and effectiveness of unilateral initiatives will depend upon the motivation and context of such actions. If they are steps taken only to limit the extreme dangers of the arms race, or to gain a temporary propaganda advantage, they will be only ripples in a current. If they are, on the other band, firm and scheduled steps by way of implementing a decision to proceed to general and complete disarmament, then the strategy of unilateral initiatives can be of great value. It is the political platform on which a number of disarmament and more broadly based peace groups can unite for common organizational efforts. It is the basis for Turn Towards Peace in the US, and is likely to be the basis for action in an international confederation.
This analysis has been confined to disarmament alone. It has not proposed to deal with priorities, timetables, alternative international systems, economic or political consequences, etc. All of these have their place but it is the steady drive to universal disarmament that gives order and drive to the whole effort. What conclusions can be drawn?
A parallel from the anti-colonial struggle may be instructive. There were many factors that undermined the theory and practice of colonialism. Three major factors may be singled out; (a) the organization of national resistance movements which forced the pace and made ultimate victory certain; (b) the unfolding logic of the colonial process and structure often driven home by friends of anti-colonialism within the system itself (c) the impact of large-scale related events, such as the two World Wars.
To draw the parallel with the struggle for peace, first of all, mass movements for war resistance and disarmament, cooperating across national lines, are essential. Without these, other developments can too readily be thwarted and corrupted. Within this context, as war becomes ever more irrational and unworkable and this is realized by military experts themselves, they may be able to function within the councils of state in a way that gives substantial impetus to the drive for disarmament. There will also, no doubt, be great moments of decision, appearing suddenly and unpredictably, where the course of history can be changed and new epochs opened up for the human race. Thus, we should work away guided by our best lights, working with conviction but not dogmatism, with dedication but not intolerance.
Whether progress towards disarmament comes haltingly or rapidly, it will come through the vision and labours of unnumbered people who have performed that task it was within their power to do. However, it is this generation of all others which has the historic task of bringing these efforts to fruition.