A rarely acknowledged irony of the post–cold war era is that it ushered in a moment when the world came closest to achieving “General and Complete Disarmament” (GCD) but, simultaneously, the concept was discursively marginalized and discredited as “unrealistic”. The sort of comprehensive disarmament envisioned by the GCD concept — reducing security forces and arsenals to no more than is needed for national safety—can now be talked about in policy circles only as something that is “done to” a former conflict zone, usually in the Global South. Reviewing the history of GCD reminds us that it was taken seriously by “serious people” and even written into international law. It allows us to pay attention to a concept that haunts the edges of our conventional wisdom about global security policy. The point is not to indulge in nostalgic “what if” counterfactuals, but to have the past challenge our present complacency and reintroduce GCD as a “thinkable thought.”
The academic journal Global Policy has published a Special Section on nuclear disarmament edited by Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, focusing on the Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons. As states meet in Geneva this week for the UN Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament, it is clear that the Humanitarian Initiative has created new openings for stigmatizing and prohibiting nuclear weapons.
Below are abstracts of and links to the articles, written by scholars and practitioners involved in the effort to change the way policymakers think about nuclear weapons, reframing them from instruments of security to a potential humanitarian catastrophe in the making.