What it is:  A restriction which one or more countries, either independently or by agreements, place on the manufacture, strength, type, or deployment of their weapons.  It also refers to controls placed on the arms industry and on the arms trade and export of weapons.

What it means: The term 'arms control' has been particularly applied to nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The aim of arms control is to reduce the chance of war, or at any rate to limit destruction if there is one, and it was used for this purpose during the Cold War.  Arms control generally can be a way of inviting trust, but it has nothing to do with reducing the hostility between powers or their determination to hang on to their military might.  Some conventional weapons (i.e. not weapons of mass destruction) have been banned, under a 1980 Convention forbidding the use of weapons that 'may be deemed to be excessively injurious or indiscriminate'. In 1997 the Ottawa Treaty prohibited 'the use, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines', by 2005 146 states had acceded to it, but 8 countries had only signed without ratifying it, and several other countries, including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the USA, were still refusing to sign it. The military and their lawyers have come up with arguments for using banned weapons, reasons which are unconvincing but postpone judgements against them. In 1998, the then 15 member States of the European Union adopted a European Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, aimed to set 'high standards for the management of and restraint in arms exports from the EU', but by 2003 had yet to find ways of enforcing controls or checking out whether states were actually sticking to the Code. And in 2003 the UK government, which had promised to extend restrictive laws to cover arms dealers 'wherever they are located', announced that the laws wouldn't apply to British dealers operating abroad - which was hardly a restriction at all.

Think about it: A UK politician said in 2003: 'At a time of concern over gun crime and terror around the world, we should be seizing every available opportunity to tighten our arms controls.' What does arms control depend on? If weapons exist, can they really be controlled?

| non-proliferation |