Arms Control Does Not Control Arms

In 455, the Eastern Roman Emperor Marcian prohibited the export of all weapons, and materials for making weapons, to the barbarians. Plus ca change . . . The 1968 treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) bear more than a casual resemblance to Marcian’s policy enunciated fifteen-hundred years earlier.

But then, as now, a mixture of politics and greed rendered control over the supply of weaponry an expedient of only temporary and partial value, at best. In the same way that the problem with Americans is that they form a distinctly uncivil society rather than a domestically heavily armed one, so the dominant problem for international security is not armaments but rather the motives of communities to acquire and use them. Lethal instruments are not unimportant, but they acquire their significance from politics. The Huns and other barbarians no doubt found the Roman supply blockade of weapons to be an inconvenience. Today, the NPI and the MTCR similarly are inconveniences, but only inconveniences, to would-be acquirers of nuclear weapons and missiles.

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