<< view all Publications

“Humanitarian Disarmament”: Powerful New Paradigm or Naive Utopia?

GCSP Geneva Paper – Research Series n°21

Release Date:

February 2017

Download publication

As early as the 19th century, international efforts led to the regulation or prohibition of the use of some means of warfare such as biological and chemical weapons, because of the possible consequences of their use for civilians and non-combatants. In the post-Cold War period, similar humanitarian motivations explained civil society organisation initiatives that convinced governments to regulate or ban some conventional weapons such as anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions, small arms and light weapons. Indeed, especially in internal conflicts and armed violence, civilians paid the highest price for the uncontrolled spread and use of such weapons. 

The more recent initiative to apply the same humanitarian paradigm to nuclear weapons because of the potentially devastating consequences of their use is gaining traction both among civil society and a majority of states. This initiative’s ability to convince the states that still consider the use of nuclear weapons as legitimate to move towards their prohibition remains to be demonstrated, but its initiators have already succeeded in leading the international community no longer to address nuclear weapons in national security terms, but through the lens of human security.