In this second interview, longstanding disarmament activist and Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, Dr Dan Plesch, answers questions on SCRAP (or Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation).
Part I of the interview can be accessed here: ‘Disarmament is the Cinderella while Weapons and Non-Proliferation are the Mean Sisters’
By David J. Franco, 23 Feb, 2012
This interview has been conducted at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. After reading History in Nottingham and working for several NGOs focusing on the abolition of nuclear weapons, in 1986 Dr Dan Plesch founded the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), which he directed from Washington DC until 2001. After leaving DC, he was appointed Senior Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall and worked with various TV and print media from 2001-2007 when he was appointed Director of the SOAS Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy where he set up the Disarmament and Globalisation Research Programme. The programme seeks to break assumptions of security, based on a pre-atomic and pre-globalised era.
In 2011 the CISD formally launched SCRAP, a holistic approach to global disarmament that proposes the adoption of an international legally binding agreement for complete and general disarmament with a ten-year implementation period. Originally developed in Dr Plesch’s book, the Beauty Queen’s Guide to World Peace, SCRAP was recently presented at the UN Headquarters in Geneva, during a Consultation on Disarmament Education co-organised by the Costa Rican and the Philippines delegations to the UN, the International Peace Bureau, and the CISD.
Franco: Good morning Dr Plesch, and welcome to a conversation with InPEC. In 1986 you founded BASIC, whose principal raison d’être continues to be the elimination of nuclear weapons. Now, as Director of the CISD, you have launched SCRAP, a strategic concept that advocates for complete and general disarmament. Why this move from nuclear to global disarmament?
Dr Plesch: Well BASIC was also involved in conventional forces, indeed my first MacArthur grant was to report on the diplomacy in Vienna on conventional forces. Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, CAFE talks. We planned a newsletter called CAFE talks with a steaming cup– implying no action, and the State Department changed it to CFE. We became a main source for NGOs and the media and pioneered the NGO-reporter function. I was also involved in critiquing NATO strategy, the Land Mines campaign, and helped start efforts on the Arms Trade and Small Arms.
Some years ago reflecting on the collapse of efforts by the end of the Clinton Administration I started to look at how we could use the strongest achievements as platforms for greater progress and restart the CFE style effort.
From left to right: H.E. Ambassador Christian Guillermet, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Costa Rica to the United Nations, Mr Colin Archer, Secretary-General, International Peace Bureau, H.E. Ambassador Evan P. Garcia, Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations, Dr Dan Plesch, Director, CISD-SOAS, and Jesus “Gary” S. Domingo, PhD Consul General and Minister (Humanitarian & Disarmament), Philippine Mission to the United Nations. United Nations, February 2012
Franco: SCRAP stands for Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation. Can you please explain what the words ‘strategic’ and ‘concept’ in the title convey?
Dr Plesch: SCRAP conveys carting off and destroying metal– that is what we are about- just read the verification and elimination protocols in CFE, INF, and START 1– they are great fun.
‘Strategic’ means all encompassing, while ‘Concept’ means system of ideas for social or physical activity or both.
Franco: How is SCRAP different from other existing disarmament initiatives and campaigns?
Dr Plesch: SCRAP picks up the agenda of the 3rd UN Special Session of the General Assembly on Disarmament and provides an agenda for the pending 4th Special Session.
It is non-discriminatory with respect to states and all encompassing with respect to weapons and verification.
Franco: How does the SCRAP proposal differ from past UN Resolutions calling for global disarmament?
Dr Plesch: It says ‘look, we know how to do disarmament, we have great achievements- let’s remember them, build on them, and finish the job that already helped end the Cold War. SCRAP has the basic outline of a treaty and would use proven implementation and verification measures. It also can be phased. First steps can be partial -for example by additional states joining the Open Skies Treaty to enhance confidence.
Franco: Disarmament advocates are usually concerned with the long term while states are mainly concerned with short term threats to security. In your view, how can this tension be reconciled and does SCRAP offer, and if so how, a viable remedy?
Dr Plesch: I don’t think this is so. Some disarmament advocates are concerned about small arms use in their neighbourhood and some states have very long term strategies even if politicians are only looking a few months ahead. The actors may change but the script has more continuity.
Franco: SCRAP proposes to bring together nuclear and other WMD, conventional and armed forces, and humanitarian disarmament. What is the rationale behind such approach?
Dr Plesch: First – these groups are not in touch with one another and have common experiences they can learn from.
Second, the humanitarian movement currently engaged in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) needs a next step and this can be to move from the trade in weapons to their possession and production.
Third, the nuclear disarmament and proliferation movement does not engage regional security and conventional weapons and these are obviously linked so there is a clear common interest in both wings of the present effort in converging in the area of conventional weapons and Confidence Security Building Measures (CSBMs). Once such a convergence begins then the humanitarian movement’s experience would be to include areas not currently in the WMD sector’s concerns -such as space weapons.
Franco: You have also conducted a fair amount of work on CSBMs. Can the adoption of a resolution in the lines proposed by SCRAP amount to a CSBM in itself?
Dr Plesch: Yes
Franco: SCRAP proposes the adoption of an international legally binding agreement for complete and general disarmament with an implementation period of ten years from the adoption of the treaty. Why ten years and is this not unrealistic given the current state of play?
Dr Plesch: This is about the time for INF and START implementation — CFE was bigger by far in its requirements than these but done much quicker- in three years or less if I recall correctly.
Franco: What are the main pillars upon which SCRAP rests (ie UNSCOM, UNMOVIC, CFE, etc.)?
Dr Plesch: Well these three plus the IAEA nuclear inspections in Iraq, the IAEA additional protocols, and the CSBM agreement that accompanied CFE. These really cover what would otherwise be needed from START & INF.
Franco: How does SCRAP relate to other disarmament projects with a regional or less holistic approach (for example the project for the establishment of a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (MEWMDFZ) or projects/campaigns for nuclear disarmament only)?
Dr Plesch: They are complimentary. There are elements of SCRAP which provide powerful examples that can help other efforts, notably the effort on a nuclear weapons convention. The UN-authorised inspection regimes for Iraq provide a very intrusive and comprehensive regime that is proven, whereas a key argument against abolishing nuclear weapons is the secure verification. Also, the Iraq regimes have a certain ironic political value in asking for them to be applied to the weapons states. The argument that nuclear disarmament makes the world free for conventional war is also addressed by introducing both an initial phase of confidence and security building measures and a comprehensive approach to conventional weapons -whether land, sea or air- using other proven mechanisms.
Franco: Building on from the previous question, is SCRAP in competition with other disarmament projects/campaigns?
Dr Plesch: The intention is to stimulate synergy and new thinking. The great achievements of the past were accomplished rapidly and in parallel, rather than at a snails pace and one after another as is the case with the present agenda. There is a real need to unify the energy in the anti-WMD and humnanitarian disarmament movements.
Franco: Humanitarian disarmament seeks to regulate the stockpiling, possession, trade, and use of weapons capable of inflicting indiscriminate suffering to combatants and civilians alike, be they adults or children. Such a definition seems to imply that WMDs and conventional weapons are acceptable. How does SCRAP approach this question?
Dr Plesch: SCRAP should include more explicit humanitarian objectives, Norway is seeking to address nuclear weapons from a humanitarian perspective and this is commendable, but Norway is not addressing possession of conventional weapons.
Franco: World military spending continues to be very high despite recent cuts. Does SCRAP seek to educate people in matters of disarmament and, if so, how?
Dr Plesch: As a concept SCRAP is a tool to be used. It is designed to enable non-specialists, be they in society at large or in treasury departments, to engage with specialists in defence and foreign ministries in their own terms and specialisms. SCRAP contains a clear and powerful programme that can produce great savings in expenditures, and thus in taxation and government borrowing, and provide more resources for nations to invest in the civil sector.
Franco: Thank you Dr Plesch for finding the time to talk to us.
As part of their action plan, SCRAP will host a one day event at SOAS on April 17th to celebrate the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS)