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Review 2018-2019 - Volume 57

S. Casey-Maslen and T. Vestner, A Guide to International Disarmament Law y
(Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge, 2019), 252 pp., ISBN: 9780815363873


International disarmament law covers the rules pertaining to, broadly speaking, the elimination of weapons. Its traditional focus was on weapons capable of destroying humankind (known as weapons of mass destruction), however, in recent times the scope of international disarmament law has extended to include conventional weapons (it now also covers subjects such as the elimination of specific munitions from stockpiles and the destruction of explosive remnants of war). Ultimately, it has the goal of furthering and achieving world peace.

The lack of academic literature explaining or attempting to analyse the various legal rules of disarmament law appears unusual, disconcerting even, given the highly important branch of international law this topic constitutes.

Numerous global disarmament treaties have been created and have entered into force during the course of the last half-century, yet there are few comprehensive textbooks dedicated to the analysis of and comparisons between their respective provisions.

It is precisely this gap in the literature, Stuart Casey-Masen (Honorary Professor of International Law at the Centre for Human Rights in the University of Pretoria, South Africa) and Tobias Vestner (Head of Security and Law Programme at the Geneva Centre for Security (GCSP) in Switzerland) undertook to fill by writing and publishing A Guide to International Disarmament Law.

The Guide creates a framework to enable a better understanding, interpretation and consequent implementation of international disarmament law rules. It also aims to help and support legal practitioners, policymakers, diplomats, security experts, international humanitarian law and disarmament practitioners alike (as well as journalists and legal scholars) for the creation of future international documents of disarmament through its analysis of disarmament treaty provisions.

It also provides the historical context of disarmament and documents the actual use of certain weapons. For example, chlorine, which is somewhat surprisingly not a “scheduled toxic chemical” (“scheduled toxic chemicals” are chemicals listed in the Annex on Chemicals of the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, either in Schedule 1 which lists chemicals that can either be used as chemical weapons themselves or used in the manufacture of chemical weapons and which have no, or very limited, uses outside of chemical warfare or in Schedule 2 or 3 which lists chemicals that can be used as weapons or in their manufacture but also have legitimate applications), was used in chemical warfare originally by German forces during World War I and more recently by Syrian government forces in 2014 (p.123). The description of these incidents complements the interpretation and analysis of legal provisions.

The Guide, furthermore, conveniently contains numerous text boxes that illustrate how the theoretical concepts discussed in each chapter translate in practice in the disarmament treaties. These text boxes contain provisions on, inter alia, grounds of withdrawal and subsequent withdrawal procedures in disarmament treaties and conventions, prohibition on use of weapons and prohibition on transfer of weapons provisions.

There are ten chapters (as well as an introduction and outlook) ranging from broader topics such as definitions and core concepts to more specific aspects of disarmament such as stockpile destruction and the obligations of States to address the effects of particular weapons they prohibit.

Chapter 1 contains definitions of the main concepts that are addressed in the Guide such as disarmament (which, incidentally, is not defined in any of the disarmament treaties), weapons and arms. It also addresses the notions of scope and jurisdiction in disarmament law and its relation to international law sources: treaties (key international disarmament treaties are enumerated), customary international law, and general principles of disarmament law.

Chapter 2 enunciates the principle elements contained in disarmament treaties such as the notions of stockpile destruction; destruction of used weapons (e.g. mines and cluster munitions); transfer of weapons; prohibitions of development, testing and use of given weapons; processes of victim assistance (where harm has resulted from the use of a weapon), verification and withdrawal from treaties.

These two opening chapters helpfully introduce the subject matter of the book before delving deeper, in the following chapters, into the different aspects of international disarmament law.

Chapter 3 explains the notion of disarmament in the context of international affairs. It also explains the framework of the UN for disarmament and disarmament’s respective relationship to arms control (the managed limitation of armaments between military powers with a view to enhancing mutual security) (pp. 55-60), non-proliferation (which aims at preventing the spread of weapons, in most cases of weapons of mass destruction) (pp. 60-66) and the law of armed conflict or international humanitarian law (which used to be a separate area of law to that of disarmament) (p.66-70).

In chapter 4, the authors discuss the disarmament treaties’ respective stances and provisions on the use and, in rarer cases, the threat to use weapons. This is done by firstly presenting the prohibition of use clauses in global treaties (such as the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions and the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons), followed by the more general prohibitions on the use of force in the context of the law of armed conflict and ending with a focus on the relationship between certain weapons and the law on inter-state use of force (jus ad bellum).

Chapters 5 and 6 are devoted respectively to the (prohibitions on) development and testing (5) and the transfer (6) of weapons.

The focal point of chapter 7 is stockpile destruction of weapons. This is one of the core objectives of disarmament and it is often addressed in the form of deadlines (which are set in terms of months or years) in the treaties by which State parties have to have destroyed all the relevant weapons in their possession.

In chapter 8, the authors also elucidate the various treatments for injuries suffered due to respectively nuclear weapons (certain treatments for radiation sickness), chemical weapons and mines and cluster munitions. The authors also describe at length, in the chapter, techniques for the optimal clearance of munitions, namely anti-personnel mines and cluster munition remnants (pp. 158-163). It also contains compelling accounts of environmental remedies and the problems encountered, namely with regards to irradiated soil (citing the examples of the dome placed over radioactive debris following the nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. in the Marshall Islands between 1948 and 1958) and soil contaminated with Agent Orange, the chemical agent used by the U.S. in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The penultimate chapter outlines the various reporting, verification and compliance procedures and mechanisms accompanying the main objectives of disarmament treaties. It is a thorough, substantive, instalment in the Guide. A doubtless necessary one due to the key role these review mechanisms and measures play in global disarmament-related international instruments.

The final chapter, chapter 10, is compelling. Moving away from the analysis and explanations of treaty provisions it describes disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR), a program started in the 1980s aimed at stabilising conflict-afflicted societies and facilitating their longer-term development. It details the different generations of DDR since the 1980s as well as its evolution in terms of the activities through which its objectives are to be achieved as well as the historical evolution of the very concept and original approach of the program (from what originally was meant to be post-conflict programmes based on consent, with the aim of building sustainable peace, to programmes of a more coercive nature, conducted during conflict and hostilities, with the aim of “achieving peace”) (pp. 216-217).

The book ends on what could be perceived as an unoptimistic, perhaps simply realistic, note quoting the observation of a former UN Secretary-General that the world is ‘over-armed’ while peace ‘is underfunded’. The authors conclude that disarmament is largely a question of commitment. The United States’ declarations concerning its suspension of the INF Treaty, followed by Russia’s abrupt withdrawal in February 2019 are perhaps testament to this cynical reality.

A Guide to International Disarmament Law is a welcome addition to the literature on international disarmament law. Through its contextualising nature it is a practical instrument to be used in conjunction with more specific disarmament-related textbooks (such as The Chemical Weapons Convention: implementation, challenges and opportunities by Ramesh Chandra Thakur, Ere Haru and the United Nations University (2006)).

The authors set out to make this a concise work but this does not undermine its coherence and efficiency with regard to the task it seeks to accomplish. The conciseness and clarity with which the authors treat each subject, mean that A Guide to International Disarmament Law is rendered accessible to more than just legal practitioners and diplomats. It will also be a valuable tool for students possessing an (academic) interest in military law and the law of war and also those studying international law in a more general context.