Conventional arms control: urgent need, limited oppurtunities

October 7, 2005 - nr.2

No. 2, April 1988

Exploring conventional arms control
The concept of conventional arms control has undergone a transformation over the past few years from a political instrument in the context of East-West relations into a term which is open to a wide range of highly disparate interpretations. It may be defined as an attempt to restrict the availability and use of conventional weapons in very divergent political situations, referred to in this report as the context of traditional inter-state relations, the context of the post-Cold War security situation in Europe and the context of tension and conflicts within states. The AIV has examined the various aspects of conventional arms control outlined in the request for advice in the knowledge that, whilst conventional arms control is often a necessity, there are only limited opportunities for putting it into practice.

Conventional arms control in Europe
Thanks to the CFE Treaty, military relations in Europe are now transparent and there is no longer any need in the present circumstances to worry about strategic surprise attacks and large-scale offensives. The process of modernising the CFE Treaty should not undermine its value for European security. This means that the ceilings, the openness in military relations (i.e. the exchange of information) and the intensive verification system must all be retained. In the opinion of the AIV, further reductions will have the effect of strengthening European security. The AIV believes that personnel deployed in paramilitary units should also be subject to the personnel ceilings laid down in the CFE Treaty.

The AIV recommends that the following action be taken in order to harmonise obligations in the field of arms control in Europe:
(a) Countries which are not party to the CFE Treaty should be asked to participate in the exchange of military information and in the procedures for verifying its accuracy. The first step could be voluntary participation, for example by countries which are members of the European-Atlantic Partnership Council;

(b) Countries wishing to join NATO should first become party to the CFE Treaty. This condition does not affect the first stage in the enlargement of NATO, i.e. the accession of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, as these countries are already party to the CFE Treaty. In the longer term, however, this requirement may help to harmonise obligations in the field of conventional arms control, as well as ensure that the enlargement of NATO remains a transparent process and has a confidence-building effect.

The AIV urges the Dutch government to ensure that adaption of the CFE Treaty is completed prior to the enlargement of NATO. Given that the new member states are due to accede in April 1999 (when NATO will be celebrating its 50th anniversary), this means that the adaption of the CFE Treaty would need to be completed by this date.

The AIV urges the Dutch government to ensure that any discrepancy between the agreed ceilings and the actual holdings of military equipment makes allowance both for the need for stability (i.e. the ceilings should have a confidence-building effect) and for the need for flexibility (i.e. there should be opportunities for taking military action in a crisis situation). A slight discrepancy may help to reveal a military build-up. More generally, the AIV believes that the CFE Treaty should be made more crisis-proof and, to this end, puts forward the following measures for the government's consideration:

1 One of the stabilising measures which the treaty parties could take in adapting the CFE Treaty in order to prevent any potentially threatening build-up of armed forces in particular regions, is the imposition of an obligation to report the actual use made, during an armed conflict, of the five categories of heavy equipment covered by the CFE Treaty. The information supplied would include any change in the location of the equipment, information on whether or not inspections are possible, etc.;

2 The next step is that the treaty parties are given an opportunity to discuss, in the JCG, the actual use of the equipment as referred to above;

3 Finally, the JCG could be given the power to dispatch inspection teams to the region in question, which means that the inspections would no longer be a national responsibility, but rather that all the treaty parties would carry joint responsibility for inspections. The data base with names of inspectors who are acceptable to all treaty parties could be used for this purpose.

The potential risk with abandoning the group structure in the CFE Treaty is that NATO may end up playing a less important role in the negotiations on the CFE Treaty and in its enforcement, and that bilateral negotiations may instead become more important. This in turn brings with it a risk that small countries such as the Netherlands may find themselves overshadowed. Against this background, the AIV urges the government to intensify cooperation with Germany in the field of verification and to embed this cooperation in the existing system of military cooperation between Germany and the Netherlands.

The AIV also believes that it should be possible to subject mobile, rapid response units (which can be put to good use for offensive tasks) to closer scrutiny through CSBMs. Possible measures include the exchange of more detailed information and CSBMs enabling observers to attend exercises involving 1,000 to 1,500 persons.

Light arms
Light arms are a worldwide problem to which an effective solution cannot be found without international cooperation.

The emphasis in this report is on restricting the availability, proliferation and use of light arms. This does not detract from the fact that, in order to be successful, any measures taken need to be anchored in a broader political, social and economic framework. In this report, this approach is called an integrated approach. It is based on existing aid policy, notably in the field of development cooperation. In this connection, the AIV urges the Dutch government to step up its support in the training of senior army, police and customs officers in those cases in which the state structures need strengthening. Training programmes should not only meet professional requirements, but should also allow time to be spent on human rights issues and the principles of the constitutional state. Such assistance should be provided only on condition that the army, police and customs authorities are brought under civilian control and are required to be genuinely accountable to the civilian authorities.

Other measures which could be taken in relation to light arms are as follows:

­ The AIV urges the Dutch government to continue developing the EU's programme for preventing and combatting the illicit trade in conventional arms (which originated as a Dutch initiative), preferably so that the agreements made are of a legally binding nature, and to ensure that the programme involves not only the second pillar of the European Union (i.e. the common foreign and security policy) but also the pillar for internal affairs and justice. Against this background, the AIV also urges the Dutch government to set up a national committee whose task it should be to ensure that the Netherlands is neither the source of nor a point of transit for an illicit trade in conventional arms. The members of the committee should include in any event representatives from the Internal Security Service (Ministry of the Interior), the Military Intelligence Service (Ministry of Defence), the Central Criminal Information Department (Ministry of Justice), the Customs Directorate (Ministry of Finance), the Economic Investigation Service, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The committee's task would initially be to exchange general information and ultimately to exchange information of an operational nature, and also to coordinate the Dutch standpoint in international consultations, including within the European Union;

­ The AIV recommends that the issue of light arms control be discussed in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. Particularly now that it has been decided that the CD should address the question of anti-personnel mines (see below), it would seem logical to broaden the debate to include the whole range of light arms. This would be an excellent way of preparing for the eventual possibility of including light arms in the UN's Register of Conventional Arms or the Wassenaar Arrangement;

­ The AIV proposes that research be performed in the Netherlands with the aim of ascertaining whether it would be technically feasible to fit new light arms with an identifying mark showing where they were produced. Clearly, this approach does not offer any immediate solution to the problem of the large quantities of used light arms which are in circulation at present. It would, however, be possible to study the technical possibilities for fitting used arms with an identifying mark or sign in those situations in which the United Nations or other bodies collect light arms. The existence of a reliable system of registration could help to encourage the combatants to hand in their weapons to an intermediary;

­ A number of key producers of anti-personnel mines have failed to sign the Ottawa Land Mine Convention, including the Russian Federation, China and the United States (although it should be noted that the US government has observed a moratorium on the export of anti-personnel mines since 1992). The AIV believes that it would be desirable for countries, in particular those which have made a positive contribution to diminishing the use of anti-personnel mines, to become part of the Ottawa process in some way, without this weakening the agreement reached, i.e. a total ban on anti-personnel mines. One of the ways of achieving this would be by allowing the countries in question, including the United States, to append unilateral statements to the Ottawa Land Mine Convention. This would enable the scope of the treaty to be broadened while overcoming political differences at the same time. The AIV urges the Dutch government to argue in favour of this possibility in international fora.

Arms exports
The AIV recommends that arms should be exported from the Netherlands only to those countries which are participants in the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Such a measure would increase the transparency of Dutch export policy, and would add credibility to the Dutch argument for greater transparency in international imports and exports. (The arms register should also be adapted in the near future so that it covers exports of weapon system components; see also below.) In the longer term, this measure could also be embedded in an international framework, the most appropriate channel being its establishment as a ninth EU arms export criterion.

The AIV wishes to make the following comments in the light of the debate on sales of unwanted military equipment to developing countries whose defence spending is excessively high:

­ Should a particular percentage of GNP be used as a reference in assessing whether defence spending in developing countries is too high, care should be taken not to award such a figure any permanent official status. In addition to the question of the proportion of resources in the country in question which are taken up by defence spending, the other criteria of the European Union for the approval of arms exports should also continue to be applied. Moreover, an assessment should also be made of the impact of any sale on security policy, with account being taken both of the international political situation and of the security and defence policies of the country in question;

­ Once it has been decided (regardless of whether or not a percentage figure has been used as a reference) that defence spending in a given country is unacceptably high, the consequences of this decision should not be restricted simply to the export of arms (and components) from the Netherlands. Such a decision should also have a practical impact on development cooperation ties, more so than has been the custom to date. One of the features of the government's recent review of foreign policy has been the removal of the Chinese walls standing between the various aspects of policy. The AIV urges the Dutch government, where the need arises, to adopt an integrated approach to relations with the country in question.

Now that the UK presidency has proposed an EU code of practice for arms exports, all efforts should be focused on strengthening arms export policy in the European Union. The AIV urges the Dutch government to continue to support the UK initiative, and to do its utmost to ensure that substantive agreements are reached. The AIV has suggested a number of practical measures, based on activities on which agreement has already been reached within the European Union and within the framework of the CFSP, for harmonising the arms export policies of the member states in relation to regions in and around Africa. This region-specific policy can also help to promote a political dialogue between exporting and importing countries.

The European Commission has stepped up its efforts to incorporate arms export policy in the body of EU law. It remains to be seen whether the Commission is successful in this respect. The AIV nevertheless urges the government to support the efforts of the European Commission, because this will open up more opportunities for international regulation and harmonisation, not just of the arms export policy, but of the activities of the defence industry in general.

The AIV has concluded that the only talks on arms exports that are held with the United States are those in the framework of multilateral regimes (the Wassenaar Arrangement in particular). Given that the United States is the largest exporter of conventional arms, no policy on arms exports can be effective without some form of consultation between the European Union and the United States. For this reason, the AIV favours the inclusion of arms exports on the transatlantic agenda. This may also help to strengthen the position of the European Commission in this field.

The Wassenaar Arrangement should be strengthened to take account of the role played by civil technology in military applications, as well as the importance of the technological development of components for weapon systems. This is necessary as these factors are making it increasingly difficult to control the proliferation of arms, components and technology.

Regional arms control
The problems associated with the selection of countries and the definition of regions make regional limitations on conventional arms an attractive concept in theory, but a proposal difficult to realise in practice. There are all sorts of obstacles that stand in the way of regional arms control. It is not possible simply to replicate in other parts of the world the experience gained in Europe with multilateral conventional arms control. At the same time, certain elements may prove useful (see below). Bilateral agreements and agreements between small groups of countries are relatively common. In many cases, the institutions and organisations which are required to effectuate broader, multilateral agreements are not in place. This obstacle can be overcome if sufficient political pressure is brought to bear by the international or interregional community such that the parties in question are forced to take action.

The following aspects of the experience gained in Europe may be relevant to conventional arms control in other regions of the world:

­ the principles and objectives may act as examples for other countries and regions;
­ the presence of a consultative body which can provide a setting for negotiations is of immeasurable value;
­ the exchange of information, the performance of inspections and the presence of a reliable data base can help to improve military relations;
­ CSBMs should be introduced in a region in such a way that there is a progressive increase in the impact of each subsequent CSBM.

The regional arms control measures with the best chance of success are CSBMs.

The UN Register of Conventional Arms
The AIV supports the principle of strengthening the UN Register of Conventional Arms, but would like to see the register take account of the following points:

1 It has frequently been suggested that light arms should be included in the register. However, the AIV suggests that the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva provides the best forum at which to stage the negotiations on the setting of targets for light arms, including the illicit production of and trade in such weapons. The reason for not including light arms in the arms register at present is that interesting suggestions have been made for improving the current register which would only be complicated by the addition of a completely new category of arms.

2 The UN member states are only obliged to provide information on the seven categories of arms insofar as they are used for military purposes, i.e. by the armed forces of the state in question. This, at least, is the way in which this obligation has been interpreted to date. In other words, customs officers, border guards and members of paramilitary forces are exempt from this obligation. The AIV believes that this obligation should be given a broader interpretation.

3 By definition, imports and exports of components of weapon systems are not included in the arms register. The AIV believes that the Dutch government should pay special attention to the question of imports and exports of components in relation to the UN arms register, and proposes that the register should be extended to include such imports and exports. It would seem logical for both the country from which the components are exported and the country in which the weapons are assembled to supply data for the register. Such a proposal would add to the credibility of the Dutch insistence on transparency, given that the Netherlands is primarily an exporter of weapon components.

4 One of the ways of dealing with discrepancies in the data supplied by exporting and importing countries would be by using a system of 'points of contact' that would work on bilateral lines. This would allow importers and exporters to correct discrepancies in their figures by mutual consultation, thus enhancing the reliability of the register.

Advice request

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Bezuidenhoutseweg 67
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague
Telephone: 070-3486486
Telex 31326

Professor R.F.M. Lubbers
Chair, Advisory Council on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague

Date: 29 May 1997
Ref.: DVB/WW - 268/97

Re: Request for advice on the future of conventional arms control


Most of the armed conflicts which have broken out during the post-War period have been settled with the aid of conventional weapons. Nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945, and other weapons of mass destruction (i.e. chemical and biological weapon) have been used only sporadically. And yet international talks on arms control have consistently centred on weapons of mass destruction. Whilst worldwide treaties (such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemicals Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention) have been signed to control the latter by setting verifiable limits, only in Europe has it proved possible to make genuine progress in controlling conventional arms. The term 'arms control' should be given a broad interpretation in this context, by the way, to include disarmament, elimination and confidence-building measures.

The significance of conventional arms control

The changing world order has strengthened the role of conventional weapons. At the time of the Cold War, the threat that weapons of mass destruction might be deployed was a clear check on the use of conventional weapons. Europe, in any event, found itself in a situation of relative stability. Now that the Cold War has come to an end, however, the possibility that weapons of mass destruction might be used - at least by states - has distinctly receded. In addition, the very same circumstance has enabled major progress to be made in terms of controlling such weapons: the conclusion and enforcement of the Chemicals Weapons Convention and the signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty being cases in point. These developments have helped to lower the threshold for the use of conventional arms.

Now that the East-West conflict is no longer there to occupy minds, the spotlight has been turned onto intra-state conflicts, many of which are caused by processes of social transformation. With one or two exceptions, the parties involved in this type of armed conflict generally rely on basic conventional arms. As an additional factor to bear in mind, non-state actors, such as separatist movements and guerilla groups, necessarily play a key role in such conflicts. Traditional forms of arms control, designed as they are for inter-state relationships, are less suited for these situations.

Finally, unlike the situation in most European countries, defence spending in some areas of the world (such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia) is on the increase. Uncontrolled international flows of arms (both legal and illegal) and excessive accumulations of conventional arms can have a destabilising effect and endanger international peace and security. Moreover, large stocks of weapons may also constitute a grave threat to a country's internal stability, particularly in the period immediately after the ending of a conflict. Land mines, for example, may lead to harrowing humanitarian problems long after a conflict has actually ended. For these reasons, conventional arms control has become a vital part of crisis prevention and control 1 , more so than ever before.

At the same time, conventional arms control is a far from straightforward matter. After all, Article 51 of the UN Charter recognises each state's right of self-defence, and it is generally accepted that states are entitled to arm themselves (with conventional weapons) for this purpose. In other words, it is not really feasible to subject conventional arms (with the exception of certain types of non-discriminatory weapons; see below) to the same comprehensive prohibitions as were agreed for weapons of mass destruction. In theory, every state is entitled to decide for itself how many of what type of conventional arms it needs for its legitimate defence requirements. In practice, however, political ambitions, perceived threats and economic opportunities are the main determinants of a state's level of armament.

Without wishing to deny the internationally accepted right of any state to arm itself for the purpose of self-defence, the Government believes that conventional arms control is an aim that is worthy of pursuit. Not only is it conducive to international peace and security, but it is also an important humanitarian goal. The question therefore arises as to whether it would be possible to develop a policy that can encourage conventional arms control at a regional and/or global level, as a means of continuing the good work already performed in this field. It is worth bearing in mind that the Netherlands has traditionally played a pioneering role in the field of arms control. If the country is to continue to perform this role, we must carefully examine the options ahead of us in the future.

The current state of arms control in Europe

Following a long and difficult series of negotiations, Europe has decided to impose on itself drastic restrictions on its holdings of conventional arms. The Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (the CFE Treaty), which is rooted in the Cold War despite the fact that it was not actually signed until 1990, provides the main legal framework for this decision. Under the terms of this treaty, the NATO countries and the former Warsaw Pact countries have agreed to accept quantitative limits on certain categories of heavy conventional arms and to destroy any stocks of arms which are in excess of the agreed limits. These obligations are accompanied by a radical verification regime based on a system of mutual inspections. The CFE Treaty is currently in the process of being modernised. It will definitely lose its bipolar structure (i.e. the group ceilings for NATO and Warsaw Pact countries and the 'zonal' limits), which will probably be replaced by territorial and national arms ceilings. The new structure will make it possible for European countries which are not yet signatories to the treaty to accede. The Government believes that this is a desirable development.

Alongside these 'hard' forms of arms control, a number of 'softer' arms control agreements have also been reached in Europe. These also have their roots in the context of the Cold War, and the majority have been developed in the framework of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE system of military confidence-building measures (most of which are set out in the 1994 Vienna Document, as it is known) was designed as a means of cautiously easing East-West tension. The underlying philosophy was that transparency, i.e. the provision of information on each other's military activities and capacities, and mutual military contacts would enhance mutual trust and could hence reduce the risk of any violent conflicts occurring.

The agreements reached in Europe in the field of arms control have also been used as examples outside their direct area of application. The CFE Treaty and the 1994 Vienna Document were used as models for the arms control agreements formulated for the former Yugoslavia under the Dayton Accord. It has not, however, proved possible to reach agreement on a regional arms control treaty for the former Yugoslavia and the neighbouring countries (which the Dayton Accord also calls upon the parties to do). Similarly, very little progress has been made to date in making arrangements for regional arms control in areas bordering on the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. Finally, by no means all European countries have signed the CFE Treaty and there have been no obvious signs to indicate that non-NATO and non-former Warsaw Pact countries wish to accede to the treaty. In summary, one may conclude that, whilst good progress has been made with conventional arms control in Europe, it remains unclear as to how arms control is likely to further develop in the future.

1 In the opinion of the AIV, what should be the Government's prime concerns as regards conventional arms control in Europe, now that the CFE Treaty is in the process of being modernised and in the light of the confidence-building measures developed in the framework of the OSCE?

Regional arms control beyond Europe's border; global arms control

No 'hard' agreements have been reached yet on forms of regional arms control beyond Europe's borders. At a global level, agreement was reached in the UN in 1980 on a convention which imposes limits on the use and transfer of certain categories of conventional arms which are presumed either to be non-discriminatory in their action or to cause an excessive degree of suffering (e.g. certain types of land mine, fragmentation bombs, incendiary bombs and laser weapons). However, only a small number of states have signed this treaty for the time being. In part in the framework of this treaty, there is now a growing body of opinion in favour of a total global ban on anti-personnel mines. This movement has now gained momentum in the international political arena, mainly because of the large number of civilian casualties which these weapons cause. It remains unclear, however, whether the talks on this issue are likely to generate concrete results in the near future.

The example set by Europe has been followed in other regions of the world, such as Asia and Latin America, where cautious attempts have been made to introduce 'soft' forms of arms control. Many states are apparently prepared to sign such agreements only if they do not include any provision for a system of verification. In addition, the UN Register of Conventional Arms represents a first step in the direction of worldwide transparency in conventional arms transfers. The register is limited to seven categories of heavy conventional weapons which are capable of undermining stability if accumulated to an excessive degree.

2 What opportunities does the AIV believe exist for making more far-reaching arrangements for conventional arms control at a global level, or at a regional level outside Europe? What are the AIV's views in particular on specific arms control measures, the types of weapons to which such measures could apply, the need for and feasibility of verification, and the ways and fora in which agreement could be reached?

3 Does the AIV believe it would be possible and desirable for the agreements made in Europe on arms control to be extended to other regions? If so, how should this be done and which regions would be the most likely candidates?

Although very few, if any, international measures have been taken to date on light arms, i.e. arms which can be carried by foot soldiers, increasing interest is being shown in such action. It is worth mentioning in this connection that the Government is responsible for initiating an EU 'Programme for Preventing and Combating Illicit Trafficking in Conventional Arms' (see enclosure), which focuses primarily on light arms. Other regions have also displayed a desire to address this issue. West Africa is a good example; here, proposals have been made for a regional moratorium on imports and exports of light arms. The Government feels there is a need to identify any other measures which could be taken in order to prevent excessive and destabilising build-ups of light arms. Both the supply and the demand side of the market should be examined in this connection.

4 What opportunities does the AIV believe are available, in addition to the initiatives which have already been taken, for ensuring that the problem of uncontrolled accumulations of light arms around the world receives more attention in the international arena, taking account of the fact that non-state actors play a particularly significant role in relation to this category of weapons?

Arms exports and export controls

A number of arms exporting countries have devised instruments for restricting the supply of arms, one of the reasons for this being that there are virtually no such instruments to regulate the demand for conventional arms. The main instruments affecting the Netherlands are the eight criteria for arms export policy agreed by the EU member states, on which the national arms export policy in each member state is now based. In practice, however, the EU member states tend to place different interpretations on these criteria. This means that there is a need for harmonising the way in which the criteria are applied.

5 How could the Government seek to ensure that the eight criteria for arms export policies, as agreed by the EU member states, are interpreted by all states in a uniform manner?

The problem of the absence of limits on the demand side of the market also affects two export control regimes, i.e. regimes aimed at combating the undesired proliferation of certain weapons and technologies. The first of these regimes is known as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and provides a framework for agreement between a number of highly industrialised countries on methods for preventing certain missile systems from being developed in countries which do not have access to them at present, despite the fact that they are not actually forbidden from doing so under the terms of a treaty. The second regime is the Wassenaar Arrangement, which is intended to control exports of conventional arms and relevant 'dual-use' goods and is another example of the unilateral imposition of restrictions on the supply side of the market.

The MTCR is in the progress of developing a transparency programme the aim of which is to create the conditions for a dialogue with countries which are not members of either of the export control regimes. A similar dialogue could also be pursued in relation to conventional arms, and the Wassenaar Arrangement may well provide the necessary opportunities for this.

6 Does the AIV believe there are any opportunities, either in the context of the EU or otherwise, for starting a dialogue with countries which are purchasers of weapons and weapon technology, with the aim of agreeing on international limits for conventional arms? Such a dialogue might have the effect not only of encouraging the exporting countries to further harmonise and refine their policies on export controls, but also of fostering understanding among the importing countries for the objectives of such policies. The further development of the Wassenaar Arrangement may be able to bring about this type of interaction between exporting and importing countries.


7 In the light of the above, which policy instruments does the AIV feel would be most suited as a means of stimulating regional and global conventional arms control? We should like the AIV not only to identify the opportunities offered by the various sectors of foreign policy (following the removal of the Chinese walls between them), such as trade policy and development cooperation, but also to indicate how enforcement procedures can be anchored in an international framework so that their effectiveness is guaranteed.

We should be grateful if the AIV could report to us on these questions, and also advise us on any other aspects relating to the future of conventional arms control, preferably by mid-December if possible.


1 See also report No. 111 of the National Advisory Council for Development Cooperation: Ontwikkelingssamenwerking tussen Oorlog en Vrede ('Development Cooperation between War and Peace'), December 1996.

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