Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation

As the international community becomes increasingly globalized, the issues that states must contend with transcend national boundaries. To address these issues, leaders must decrease competition and increase cooperation with other states. One of the most important issues that world leaders must address in the next decade is nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Since the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war has loomed over statesmen as one of the most important international security issues. As the U.S. and Soviet Union increased the size of their nuclear arsenals, other states began to build their own, thereby increasing the aura of fear surrounding the possibility of a nuclear attack. In the late 1960s, as the world watched the U.S. and Soviet Union build up their stockpiles of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABMs), states began discussing ways to decrease the chances of proliferation and testing of weapons, while working towards disarmament.

These efforts resulted in a number of treaties, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the U.S. and Soviet Union, and eventually, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and a number of Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zones (NWFZs) around the world. The NPT is based on three main ideas: 1) non-proliferation, 2) peaceful use of nuclear energy, and 3) nuclear disarmament.  The SALT I and SALT II meetings led to agreements by the U.S. and Soviet Union to limit the amount of nuclear weapons in their respective arsenals. The CTBT calls for states to ban conducting tests of nuclear weapons. Finally, there are five NWFZs in effect for Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central Asia. Talks are currently going on to create one for the Middle East.

Even though the international community for the most part agrees that nuclear weapons should be limited and kept out of the hands of non-nuclear weapons states, disarmament has proved to be elusive. There are eight states known to have nuclear stockpiles- China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States- five of which have not signed the CTBT. In addition to those states, North Korea has tested nuclear weapons but does not have an arsenal. Most recently, the global community has expressed concern over Iran’s possible program to gain nuclear weapons.

When it comes to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, there are a number of high-priority issues, most notably the possibility that terrorists may acquire and use them and the current concern over Iran’s program. In order to prevent terrorists from seizing nuclear weapons, or even nuclear materials to build the weapons, states must take measures to ensure their nuclear energy facilities are properly guarded. States must also cooperate to crack down on the black market trade for radioactive materials and resources. When states do not cooperate, people like A.Q. Khan are able to sell materials to rogue states like North Korea.

States can take any number of actions towards Iran, including diplomacy, covert action, sanctions, preventive strikes, opposition support, public diplomacy, and do nothing (allow Iran to move forward with its plans). Leaders should start with small ideas before working up to bigger ones like encouraging democratic reforms and taking military action. One example would be to set up an exchange between teachers of both countries. If we can somehow encourage people from both countries to gain a better understanding of each other instead of feeding into the misconceptions, then perhaps options like diplomacy would be more feasible in the future.

Before states reduce or even eliminate their nuclear arsenals, there are a number of other issues that will have to be addressed. First, states must ensure that their actions are transparent and need to allow others to verify any such actions. In this case, leaders would do well to remember the words of President Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” The IAEA plays a pivotal role in verification, but states must be willing to allow inspectors into their borders and visit nuclear facilities. Iran’s willingness to allow inspectors to visit Arak in December 2013 was a small step toward greater transparency and verifiability.  States that are not transparent about their nuclear programs will most likely face punishment; in the case of Iran, punishment was in the form of sanctions.

A second major issue surrounding disarmament is negotiations. Leaders and officials must be willing to sit down at the negotiating table to come to agreements. While bilateral negotiations are important, multilateral negotiations are more crucial for global disarmament. Bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Russia, the states with the two largest arsenals, have been instrumental in leading to treaties like New START in 2010. The goal of New START was to limit and reduce the size of each state’s nuclear weapons, thereby bringing the world closer to disarmament. Other states that are historical adversaries, like India and Pakistan, need to be willing to negotiate to reduce their own arsenals. In the case of those two countries, this is especially important given the prevalence of terrorist networks in the region. Multilateral negotiations, like the P5+1 with Iran, must also continue to shape the future of disarmament. The more states that come to agreements regarding these matters, the greater the possibility of a comprehensive solution.

Multilateral negotiations can also lead to the establishment of NFWZs, another important factor in the issue of nuclear disarmament. The important aspect about those talks is that any agreement must come from the parties themselves; they must have ownership of the agreement. If more NFWZs exist, then there are fewer states involved with the proliferation of weapons. If fewer states have nuclear arsenals, then the chances for nuclear disarmament increase.

The role of security must also be taken into account when discussing disarmament. If a state feels that its security is weakened as a result of disarmament, then it might be less likely to engage in talks. For example, Israel might feel that its nuclear stockpile is one of the few variables guaranteeing its safety in the Middle East. Giving up those weapons would therefore be detrimental to its existence. This is especially the case given the concerns over Iran’s program.

Despite the international community’s goal of nuclear disarmament, states are hesitant to reduce or eliminate their stockpiles. In this situation, where nobody wants to take the first step for fear of weakening security, states must come together and cooperate. They must be transparent and agree to verifiability. Leaders must be willing to negotiate with adversaries, both past and present. Finally, states must rethink their military strategies so that the use of nuclear weapons is not an option.

Is this topic the greatest threat to international security, or do you think there are other more pressing matters?

Thanks for reading.

Editor’s Note: I wrote this post as a way to organize my thoughts as I prepared a lesson on this subject for the next school year.



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