It has been said that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most. During times of war, it is generally the most vulnerable members of society who are most affected. While the direct costs of war are often estimated in lives lost or disabilities
The tools of war, including land mines, bombs, grenades, and bullets, are all negative devices that maim and kill. Land mines, for example, kill or injure 28,000 men, women, and children a year. Those who survive often suffer lifelong disabilities.
Nuclear weapons are particularly destructive and pose an enormous threat to life. E. F. Frohlich has written that nuclear weapons "have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet…. The radiation released by anuclear explosion would affect health, agriculture, natural resources, and demography over a wide area. Further use of nuclear weapons would be a serious threat to future generations. Ionizing radiation has the potential to damage the future environment, food and marine ecosystem, and cause genetic defects and illnesses in future generations…. There are some forty thousand …nuclear weapons in storage in the world today, representing an unimaginable threat to people everywhere" (Frohlich 1997, p. 2). According to Frohlich, the major arguments for eliminating nuclear weapons are based on "their destructiveness, the risk of accidental and inadvertent use, and the threat to the security of all by the danger of proliferation" (Frohlich, p. 5).
The United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice have unanimously agreed that the only guaranteed way of eliminating the threat of nuclear war is to rid the planet completely of these destructive devices. International law, however, cannot dictate whether it is lawful or not to threaten or to use nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense in the face of an impending enemy attack. The International Court of Justice cannot legislate to fill this void, as it is not mandated to do so. One possible way around this problem would be to introduce a joint non-first use undertaking between concerned parties. "China has taken a lead in this regard, by having reiterated its support of the goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, and its undertaking not to be the first to use such weapons" (Frohlich, p. 5).
Nuclear weapons are not the only threat to the health and well-being of populations. Chemical and biological weapons also pose grave dangers, especially when they are in the hands of terrorist groups and aggressive regimes. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict has reported that "Sadam Hussein … used deadly gas to suppress the Iraqi Kurdish populations in 1998 and in 1995 the Japanese sect Aum Shinrikyo used sarin gas in a Tokyo subway. The desire for such inexpensive weapons of mass destruction has, according to some reports, prompted Libya to construct the largest chemical weapons factory in the world and the delivery systems to go with the weapons" (Holl 1996, p. 9).
Imposing sanctions are an effective way of making states realize that their actions can have consequences far beyond their own national boundaries. Sanctions can combine with military and diplomatic measures to limit a state's freedom and pressure it to correct inappropriate behavior. While sanctions can be very effective, they often cause innocent civilians to suffer. States under sanction "suffer economic hardship and fall behind in the increasingly competitive global economy, especially when important trading partners are not similarly constrained" (Holl, p. 12). Imposing more focused sanctions that directly target the malefactors would be one way of ensuring that only those directly responsible for the problem suffer.
Another effective means of combating violence is to work proactively to encourage peaceful, nonviolent solutions to tensions, conflicts, and potential threats. This is the core premise of preventive diplomacy. There is heartening evidence that "where sufficient political, economic, and military resources are properly mobilized for the task, conflict prevention can be successful…. Bestpractices of conflict prevention rely on well-developed systems of early warning, explicitly provide for resource pooling and burden sharing among a range of diverse actors and agencies, aim at redressing underlying structural problems as well as the proximate causes of conflict, and apply diplomatic and military leverage appropriate to the problem at hand" (Carnegie Commission on
The lives of innocent people are continually threatened by war, and responsible governments and concerned citizens must continue to devise ways to combat violence. The means employed to deal with the problems posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will vary depending on the kinds of weapon involved, the geographic location in question, and the underlying reasons for the prevailing violence. "Adopting a policy of doing nothing simply defers the problem to a later date when the level of destruction and the costs of intervening are higher and the risks of action are even greater" (Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, p. 5). Better frameworks for understanding the dynamics of complex violence and mass destruction are needed. Sanctions, the pooling of resources, invoking the international community, and employing preventive diplomacy measures and international conventions such as the Ottawa Convention for the elimination of landmines are some of the workable means of reaching peaceful solutions to these problems.
Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict (1997). Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict: Final Report. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.
—— (1999). Perspectives on Prevention Preventive Diplomacy, Preventive Defense, and Conflict Resolution: A Report of Two Conferences at Stanford University and Dichley Foundation. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.
CBR News (1999). "War on Children." In CBR News 32.
Frohlich, E. F. (1997). Towards a Nuclear Weapons Free World: The Next Step. Australia: Medical Association for Prevention of War.
Holl, J. E. (1996). Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict: Second Progress Report. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.