The Control of the Arms Race: Disarmament and Arms Control in the Missile Age

By Hedley Bull; Richard Goold-Adams | Go to book overview

4
ARMS CONTROL AND UNILATERAL ACTION

i

A NATION'S armaments policy is nearly always unilateral, in the sense that it is carried out in the absence of reciprocal undertakings by other nations about their armaments policies.1 This is as much true of policies of disarmament as of policies of rearmament. The history of disarmament is, for the most part, the history of unilateral reductions of armaments: if we except the discriminatory disarmament imposed by victors on vanquished Powers, like that imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, it is doubtful whether any very substantial reduction (as distinct from limitation and regulation, of which there are examples) of armaments has been brought about by treaty in modern times. Unilateral disarmament is constantly carried out in respect of particular categories of armaments, as they become obsolete; and is carried out in respect of armaments generally, when, and to the extent that, it is believed that there exists no external occasion for their use.

What we commonly understand by 'the doctrine of unilateral disarmament', however, belongs to movements of dissent against official armaments policies, which arise not in periods of tranquillity but in periods of international tension, and are based less on the claim that there exists no external military threat, than on the claim that, for moral reasons, it should not be met; or the claim that, for practical reasons, giving up weapons or certain kinds of weapons, is the best way of meeting it.

It is no part of the present argument that policies of unilateral disarmament are in principle mistaken. The notion that there

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1
Armaments policies are often limited or controlled by international understandings, explicit or implicit: with allies, not to allow the armament of the nation to fall below a certain level; with opponents, not to allow it to rise above a certain level. But unilateral action, in the sense in which the term is used by those who, out of impatience with the progress of multilateral disarmament, demand it, is the most familiar form of military policy.

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