Disarming Our Planet - An Introduction to Global Disarmament

By Joanne Dufour

Welcome to Disarming Our Planet. This new addition to the UUA International Blog is devoted to building our knowledge of disarmament efforts then and now, with the goal of helping to create a more peaceful world with much fewer weapons. As the UN Charter indicates, there is a real need for security - and provision is needed for some measure of control - but certainly not at this level of such ridiculous military expenditure and ongoing military undertakings.

Disarmament is nothing new, but neither is war. For millennia, war was considered the legitimate means of righting wrongs. As described in the new book The Internationalists, war was an instrument of justice, which meant it was not only sanctioned but was relied on and rewarded: it allowed states to right wrongs with force. But when the human costs got a bit too gruesome, efforts were established to try to control methods or techniques as the history of Humanitarian Law reveals. After World War I, the League of Nations supported the concept of disarmament. The League of Nations Archives hold a variety of rich sources on disarmament in the inter-war period including the first World Disarmament Conference in 1932.

Statue from the United Nations Art Collection in New York "Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares" depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other, which he is making into a ploughshare

The bronze sculpture "Let Us Beat Our Swords into Ploughshares," was created by Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich. The sculpture symbolizes man's desire to put an end to war, and to convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of mankind. It is located in the North Garden of the United Nations Headquarters.

However, it was not until World War II ended that a complete world order based on the outlawing of war emerged. With the Charter of the United Nations, specific reference was made to the concept of disarmament in several articles (11 and 26), and the First Committee was established by the General Assembly (GA), charged with “disarmament, global challenges, and threats to peace that affect the international community.” (More detail on these will follow in future postings.) In 1952 The UN Disarmament Commission was created.

By the late 1960s, a number of collateral agreements had been reached, with the principal aim of curbing the expansion of the arms race into areas in which it had not yet extended. These included:

  • the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, providing for the demilitarization of Antarctica;
  • the 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, known as the Partial Test-Ban Treaty;
  • the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, known as the Outer Space Treaty;
  • the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco; and
  • the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, often called simply the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The 1970s were declared the First Disarmament Decade by the GA with the passage of more conventions. The General Assembly called for nuclear disarmament as well as the elimination of non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

Three special sessions of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament were held in 1978, 1982, and 1988 with the noteworthy efforts of Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Homer Jack – more on that in a coming blog post!. In 1980 The UN Institute for Disarmament Research was born, followed by the Department of Disarmament Affairs, now known as the Office for Disarmament Affairs, in 1982.

In the coming months, look forward to learning more detail of some of the above-mentioned terms, as well as the exciting current efforts such as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, aka Convention to Ban Nuclear Weapons, and other important initiatives to help disarm our planet.