12 January 2001 - 14 January 2001

The future of arms control

Chair: Sir Michael Quinlan GCB

On a beautiful sunny weekend we set ourselves the formidable task of an overall review of arms control, its relevance to the post-cold war situation and possible future role.

We noted that the outgoing US Administration had left behind an extensive list of unfinished nuclear business which included the START III negotiations, the unratified CTB Treaty and the future of the ABM Treaty.  National and Theatre missile defences were also on the list.  In addition to uncertainties in US relations with countries such as Russia and China, there were also concerns over proliferating states such as India, Pakistan and, in another category, Iraq.  Important questions had been raised about the durability of the Non-Proliferation regime and the role of deterrence in a multipolar world.  This was a complex and challenging list.  We were also challenged by one participant to elaborate a new organising principle to replace the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction which had been the foundation of the key US/Soviet treaties.

In looking at the legacy of the decades up to 1989 we also acknowledged that the process of Treaty negotiation had of itself been beneficial.  One of the legacies of arms control had been the creation of a multilateral structure for cooperation and a habit of dialogue with a cumulative value reaching beyond the sum of its components taken piecemeal.  If any state, in particular the most powerful, were to give the impression that it was moving away from multilateral dialogue to unilateral decision taking, it could have far reaching consequences.  “States of concern” would be quick to follow such a lead.  The rule of law in international relations was, we agreed, still of fundamental importance.

We asked ourselves whether it would be possible to transform cold war treaties to meet our 21st Century security requirements.  We noted that the process of multilateral negotiation was laborious and slow.  The pace of modern scientific advances could outrun treaty making.  One participant suggested that “hybrid” treaties might be an answer.  The parties concerned could decide on the overall total of launchers, while leaving flexibility on the mix of defensive and offensive vehicles within that total, to be decided nationally.  We thought that this might be a response, but it would require a high degree of mutual trust or an enhanced level of verification to convince public opinion.  Overall we were inclined to believe that, of the NBC weapons, although nuclear was probably the least likely threat, it was still the case that the possession of nuclear weapons was seen as an important great power status symbol.

Within the range of the nuclear questions we discussed, NMD occupied a good deal of our time, both on account of its intrinsic importance and also because of its implications for US relations with a range of partners and allies.  At the outset we were told that while, under the Clinton Administration, NMD had been a Congress-driven policy, under the new Bush Administration the Executive itself backed the plan.  We should not underestimate the political backing for NMD and we should not waste our time seeking to prevent it happening.  A more intelligent approach for the US’s allies would be to seek to shape policy from within the circle of those who had accepted that a decision in favour of NMD would be taken.  This point of view was strongly opposed by two schools of thought.  The first argued against it on technical grounds.  A number of Presidents had decided in favour of a missile defence system but despite vast expenditure over many years no such system had proven to be effective, still less deployed.  The technology was complex and it was not clear that a decision to deploy could, within the lifetime of the next Presidency, actually be implemented.  Experts among us maintained that air and sea based systems for boost-phase interception would take even longer to deploy than a land-based system for mid-course interception.

The second school opposed a decision on NMD because in their view it would strike a blow at the ABM treaty, which had been the defensive element in the Soviet/US nuclear balance.  That, taken together with Congress’s refusal to ratify the CTB, would bring into question the NPT bargain only recently re-affirmed and give rise to the impression that the US was interested in achieving technological dominance on a unilateral basis.  Those who advanced this argument were inclined to point to the “N” in the NMD as its most objectionable feature.  Both schools emphasised the timing problem.  An early decision to deploy would give rise to a range of difficulties with the US’s allies and others when the actual deployment might not take place for several years.  Why not use the time available for negotiation and discussion to see if some of the objections to the system could not be resolved?  An answer might be to negotiate a wholly new ABM treaty.  The US Administration would be better advised to take their time – “they should get it right rather than get it started”.

In looking at the wider implications of NMD we foresaw the possibility of a chain reaction in the Pacific and Asia.  While Russia’s existing armoury would be able to overwhelm a low-level NMD by weight of numbers, China might well feel compelled to enhance its forces.  This could in turn cause Japan and Taiwan to re-examine their options.  India too would be unlikely to accept passively an enhancement of Chinese capability and, if India moved, Pakistan was bound to follow suit.

Those who were looking for ways of mitigating the potential effects of NMD were inclined to put great weight on a negotiated outcome between the Americans and Russians notwithstanding the latter’s deep opposition to the project.  Calls were made for a return to P5 cooperation and more generally a new look at the possibility of controlling missile technology so as to constrain the ability of “states of concern” to extend their area of threat.  Other suggestions were that the US could commit to a research and development programme for NMD while building an international consensus for a new strategic framework in which the emphasis would rest more on defence than offence.  This might develop into cooperative approaches to missile defences.  In this context US/Russian agreement for the joint monitoring of missile launches might play a useful role.  Finally, in the nuclear debate, some of us were hopeful that the Shalikashvili report might, with careful handling, be instrumental in unblocking Congressional opposition to the CTBT.

We also considered arms control in conventional, CW and BW areas.  We looked at state to state issues and thought that arms control could continue to contribute an element of security based on mutual confidence and verification.  But this latter point raised the difficult question of sovereignty from which even developed states were not immune.  In general we thought that state-to-state issues were probably better tackled on a regional or even a local basis.

The major new phenomenon was the increase in armed conflict within failed states and among the rising number of non-state actors.  We noted the prevalence of light weapons in Africa, and elsewhere.  They might not be “weapons of mass destruction” but they certainly caused massive destruction.  It would not be enough to try to influence the suppliers by cutting off sources of finance like the sale of diamonds.  Some modest finance might be necessary to tackle the elimination or reduction of existing stocks.  Western countries which supplied aid as well as exporting weapons also bore a measure of responsibility.  But tackling solutions to instability in failed states would depend on “good governance” in those countries which needed effective uncorrupt police, customs etc.  This however, raised the fundamental question of whose values we were trying to promote.  If “we” meant the liberal, democratic west, then accusations of neo-colonialism would certainly be made.

BW was thought to be a particularly dangerous technology.  Biotechnology was likely to be the main area for scientific research in the 21st century.  It was probable that some advances could be used for terrorist and possibly war-fighting purposes.  One approach was to treat the biotechnology area as a whole as a public health and security issue.  The private sector should be fully engaged and additional resources put into WHO surveillance.  Another approach might be to try to anathematise BW weapons by stating collectively that the use of BW weapons in any form was unacceptable and that no sanctuaries would be open to those who waged biological warfare.  The mantra should be –“Biomurder will not pay”.

In this discussion, and elsewhere in the conference, the importance of public opinion was emphasised.  Without public pressure on politicians they would be unlikely to take the hard decisions that might be necessary.  And without a continuous informed public debate it would be difficult to handle the various crises that were certain to occur in the years ahead.  The developed countries of the West were inclined to see the relatively peaceful first post-cold war decade as typical for the future without appreciating the degree of instability that already existed and which could grow.  Whatever its merits or demerits NMD might serve as a wake-up call to address this whole complex of issues again, but with a sense of urgency.

The final word was a strong plea to move away from the term “arms control” which had described a particular situation at a particular time, to a new description which reflected more accurately the reality of our globalising world – “Cooperative Threat Reduction”.  A new organising principle?

This report reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman:  Sir Michael Quinlan GCB
Permanent Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence (1988-92)

Professor Michel Fortmann

Professor of Political Science, University of Montreal
Professor S Neil MacFarlane
Lester B Pearson Professor of International Relations, St Anne’s College, Oxford
Mr Paul Meyer
Director General, International Security Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Dr James R Mitchell
Sussex Circle Consultants

Madame Thérèse Delpech

Director, Strategic Affairs, Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique
Dr Bruno Tertrais
Assistant to Director of Strategic Affairs, Ministry of Defence

Ambassador Klaus Neubert

Commissioner of the Federal Government for Arms Control and Disarmament, Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Rt Rev Bishop Diarmuid Martin

Secretary, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Dr Kennedy Graham

Director, The United Nations University International Leadership Academy, c/o University of Jordan

Mr Yuri Kapralov

Director, Department for Security Affairs and Disarmament, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr Alexander Pikayev
Director, WMD Programme, Carnegie Moscow Centre
Mr Nikolai Uspensky
Head, International Security Department, Office of the Security Council

Dr Adam Daniel Rotfeld

Director, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Professor Christopher Bellamy

Professor of Military Doctrine, Cranfield University
The Rt Hon Menzies Campbell CBE
Member of Parliament (Liberal Democrat)
Professor Malcolm Chalmers
Professor of International Politics, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford
Professor Michael Clarke
Director, Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College, University of London
Mr Bruce Cleghorn
Deputy Permanent Representative, UK Delegation to NATO
Mr Quentin Davies MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative)
Commodore Tim Hare
Director of Nuclear Policy, Ministry of Defence
Mr Brian Hawtin CB
Director-General, International Security Policy, Ministry of Defence
Mr G W Hopkinson
Lately Deputy Director and Director of Studies, International Security Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs
Professor Sir Michael Howard CBE MC FBA
Emeritus Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford
Ms Rebecca Johnson
Executive Director, The Acronym Institute
Mr Ian Kenyon
Visiting Fellow and Director, Missile Proliferation and Missile Defence Project, University of Southampton
Dr Michael Rance
Lately Director, Directorate of Science, Ballistic Missile Defence, Ministry of Defence
Mr Paul Schulte
Director, Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat, Ministry of Defence
Colonel Terence Taylor
Assistant Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Mr Kevin Tebbit CMG
Permanent Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence
Professor William Walker
Department of International Relations, University of St Andrews
Mr Stephen J L Wright CMG
Deputy Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Honorable Avis T Bohlen

Assistant Secretary, Department of State, Bureau of Arms Control
Mr Joseph Cirincione
Director, Non-Proliferation Project, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington
Dr Lewis A Dunn
Senior Vice-President, Science Applications International Corporation
The Honorable Rose Gottemoeller
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington
The Honorable Robert E Hunter
Senior Adviser, RAND
The Honorable Spurgeon M Keeny Jr
Executive Director, Arms Control Association, Washington
Professor Catherine McArdle Kelleher
Director, The Aspen Institute, Berlin
Mr Michael Krepon
President Emertius, Henry L Stimson Center, Washington
Professor Theodore S Marmor
Professor of Public Policy and Management, School of Organization and Management, Yale University
Professor Janne Nolan
Director of International Programs, The Century Foundation, Washington