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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Nuclear Weapons, Unilateral Steps, and Gradualism

Conflict Resolution
International Relations
Jens Heinrich
University of Rostock
Jens Heinrich
University of Rostock

Arms control seems to be in a dead-end. New disarmament treaties between the United States and Russia seem unlikely, the non-proliferation regime has to deal with its well known asymmetries (status, power, obligations vs. privileges) and its exclusiveness, the nuclear powers, whether officially acknowledged or not, are modernizing their arsenals, and treaties (CTBT) or treaty negotiations (FMCT) are put on hold or are being blocked.
To put it short: the formal arms control process with its negotiations and treaties is facing challenges.

But how does the picture looks like if arms control is not only seen from a “formal” perspective? Is the prospect for “arms control”, “non-proliferation”, and “disarmament” better, when informal methods are being used? Experts like Thomas C. Schelling, Jerome B. Wiesner and Hedley Bull argued that arms control, whether it means disarmament or controlled arms build-ups, could be done in an informal and unilateral manner. The “treaty method” is only one way to deal with arms races and proliferation. Treaties and negotiations should be seen as means not as ends.

Sociologists (Amitai Etzioni) and psychologists (Charles E. Osgood) took this perspective and looked for ways to stop the arms race during the Cold War and create the conditions for trust and disarmament. This “transformative” element of changing a relation of mistrust to one of cooperation could be a route to stability and/or disarmament. One way of doing this is a gradual or “step-by-step” approach, also known as gradualism or “GRIT” (graduated reductions in tensions). Could gradualism/GRIT be used in times of trouble for arms control? Is it an alternative? How does such a process of unilateral initiatives look like? Further relevant questions are: What are the conditions for such a strategy? What are the limiting factors? What is the relation between informal and formal approaches? What are the negative effects? Where are the methodological problems? Is there any empirical evidence that GRIT works (e.g. JCPOA)? Can it work in different regional settings e.g. South Asia? Thinking creatively about arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament is one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.
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