Disarmament: Four New Studies

UN Chronicle, January 1985 | Go to article overview

Disarmament: Four New Studies


Citing the "marked upward spiral" in the conventional arms race, a recently-published United Nations expert study states there is "a pressing need" for measures to halt and reverse that trend and to prevent conventional war.

The study, which was submitted to the 1984 General Assembly session, has been described by Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar as "the first effort at a comprehensive consideration of the subject as a whole".

Since the Second World War, the report states, there has been an almost uninterrupted series of wars fought with conventional weapons. The developing world has been "the stage, and indeed the victim", of almost all these conflicts, many of which might have escalated to situations dangerous for world security, the experts state in their report.

Developed countries have also been involved in a large majority of these conflicts--through intervention, sometimes at the invitation of one or both parties, varying from covert assistance and limited logistic support to full participation. "Current trends do not give any reason to believe that there will be a decrease in the incidence and severity of such engagements", they conclude.

As efforts continue towards achieving nuclear disarmament, which continues to have highest priority, additional efforts should also be made towards effective measures of conventional disarmament "in order to assist in diverting the sinews of war towards the better goal of social and economic progress", the Secretary-General observes in his foreword to the report.

More than 80 per cent of the world's military expenditure is spent on conventional arms and armed forces, the report states. "In a world in which hundreds of millions suffer from hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy and ill-health, the consumption of resources on such a scale for accumulation of arms runs counter to the objectives of promoting social progress and better standards of life."

The study, which is on "all aspects of the conventional arms race and on disarmament relating to conventional weapons and armed forces" (A/39/348), was requested by the General Assembly in 1980 (resolution 35/156 A) and carried out by the Group of Experts established by the 1981 Assembly (resolution 36/97 A).

Thirty-one experts from 24 nations held seven sessions between July 1982 and July 1984 to prepare the study. Skjold G. Mellbin of Denmark served as the Group's Chairman.

The 70-page report covers the nature, causes and effects of the conventional arms race, and principles, approaches and measures regarding conventional disarmament. It defines conventional weapons in terms of land, sea and air forces, and other kinds of armed services, and their weapons, and military technology, together with equipment and facilities.

150 Conflicts Since 1945

The document highlights a number of revealing facts and statistics relating to the conventional arms race:

* In World War II, more than 50 million lives were lost, most as a result of the use of conventional weapons.

* Since 1945, it has been estimated that more than 20 million people have died in some 150 armed conflicts. More than half of the United Nations Member States have participated in one or more of these conflicts, which were fought in the territories of more than 71 States.

* In this same "period of uneasy peace", the study observes, the world has consistently devoted between 4.5 to 7 per cent of its gross national product to military expenditures. By far the largest proportion of that total is attributable to the Soviet Union and the United States and their allies.

* Of the world's total expenditure for military purposes--estimated in 1983 at some $800 billion a year--more than four fifths is spent on conventional arms and armed forces. During the 1970s, the total increase in real terms was at an average annual rate of 2.5 per cent. …

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