Unilateral disarmament is a policy option, to renounce weapons without seeking equivalent concessions from one's actual or potential rivals. It was most commonly used in the twentieth century in the context of unilateral nuclear disarmament, a recurrent objective of peace movements in countries such as the USA and the UK.
Nations do not often choose to dismantle their entire military capability. Unilateral disarmament is usually sought in one technical competency, such as weapons of mass destruction. Non-violent political movements from that of Mahatma Gandhi to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament have recommended unilateral disarmament as a step toward world peace.
The only recent candidate for having performed an act of complete disarmament is Costa Rica, which unilaterally disarmed itself in 1948, writing its non-military status into its constitution in 1949. In a public ceremony to mark the occasion, the existing Commander-in-Chief handed the keys to Army HQ to the Minister of Education, for use as a school. Since that time, Costa Rica has been briefly invaded once, by Nicaragua, but has maintained its territorial integrity through reliance on diplomacy within international structures such as the OAS. Costa Rica's peace dividend has been reinvested well, as evidenced by infant mortality rates, life expectancy and literacy rates that are on a par or better than those of most developed countries.
President Richard Nixon's unilateral discontinuation of biological weapons development in 1972 is often characterized as a "unilateral disarmament".
- Purkitt, Helen E.; Burgess, Stephen F. (2005). South Africa's weapons of mass destruction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
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