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

By Hedley Bull | Go to book overview

6
CONVENTIONAL DISARMAMENT

THE VIEW that nuclear warfare is unique and sui generis has as its counterpart the division of warfare into nuclear and conventional, or non-nuclear. This was reflected in the division of the UN disarmament negotiations from 1946 to 1952 between an Atomic Energy Commission and a Commission for Conventional Armaments; and it remains a basic one in discussions of this subject. It can be misleading. It does not take account of the extent to which nuclear weapons have become conventional, nor of the factor of continuous innovation in non-nuclear armaments. Many of the most revolutionary military developments belong as much to non-nuclear as to nuclear warfare. No such clear distinction is recognized in actual military preparations: thinking about disarmament on this point, as on many others, is remote from thinking about strategy. Moreover, in so far as there are two varieties of warfare, nuclear and conventional, the latter is something which exists alongside the former and is shaped by it. It is sometimes assumed that the problems of conventional war remain what they were before the advent of nuclear weapons, when the object of what we now call conventional disarmament was to prevent the outbreak of what we now call conventional war. It is assumed that the object remains the same: that as nuclear and conventional war are both undesirable, we must have conventional disarmament to stop the latter just as we must have nuclear disarmament to stop the former. It is not the case, however, that nuclear weapons have merely added to the problems of conventional war and disarmament, without altering them.

The possibility of nuclear warfare is part of the background against which all war, or preparation for it, is now carried on. The very notion of conventional war is something which nuclear war has called into being. Nuclear warfare affects conventional warfare in a number of ways.

In the first place, it casts doubt upon its military importance. There appear to be two tendencies at work as regards the importance of conventional war and armaments competition among

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