Matthew Bolton, Director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, asks questions on preambular provisions to states negotiating the proposed nuclear weapons ban treaty at the UN in New York.
Commentary by Matthew Bolton, Director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute in an interactive session on the preamble during the UN negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Thank you for the President’s kind invitation for input from academia, echoed by several delegations this morning. My comments here are intended to offer input derived from my research on preambles of disarmament and arms control treaties. Such preambles often reflect a commitment to ongoing normative development. It would be useful to hear the views of states and the panelists on this matter. In particular, I would like to focus on two elements of this question.
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.”