Eliminating Nuclear Threats

A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers



GARETH EVANS and YORIKO KAWAGUCHI CO-CHAIRS                    Commission Members

8. Non-Proliferation: Constraining Demand and Supply

Limiting the Demand for Nuclear Weapons

8.1     The risks for the world involved in any new state now becoming nuclear armed were spelt out in Section 3. In meeting those risks two broad, and complementary, sets of strategies must be pursued. On the supply side, the task is to make it as difficult as possible for states to buy or build weapons, through a variety of policies designed to inhibit access to the necessary materials and technology: these strategies are summarized later in this section, and addressed in more detail in subsequent ones. On the demand side, on which this section focuses, the task – in many ways even more important to get right – is to persuade states they do not need or want nuclear weapons in the first place.

8.2     Why states have not acquired nuclear weapons. Most states do not in fact need either more constraints or more persuasion to be comfortable with their non-possession of nuclear weapons. There are a number of reasons – which tend to be mutually reinforcing – why the demand to acquire them is likely to remain limited. They can be summarized as normative, practical and political respectively.

8.3     Normative considerations – the concern simply to do, and be seen to be doing, the right thing – should never be underestimated in international affairs. Most states have, as a basic governing principle, a strong sense of commitment to their treaty obligations generally. Reinforcing that in this case is the particularly strong normative force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which is premised on the principle – even if some weapon states would prefer not to be reminded of it – that nuclear weapons are simply wrong: their acquisition is forbidden, their use taboo, and their indefinite continued possession unacceptable. It is critically important in this context that the NPT’s normative force be maintained, which means – as we have insisted throughout this report – constant attention to ensuring that its disarmament clause is taken seriously, and that its non-proliferation provisions are strong and effective in practice.

8.4     Practical realities, for a start, are that most of the world’s 194 independent states simply lack the financial, technical and human resources to be able to even contemplate a nuclear weapons program. But beyond that, most have never felt the need to as a practical matter because – while they may or may not have security concerns about some of their neighbours – they do not perceive any direct nuclear threat, or any other existential threat of a kind which could conceivably be deterred by possessing nuclear weapons.

8.5     There are an important group of states who have felt the need to consider acquiring nuclear weapons in the face of what they have seen as possible nuclear or other existential threats, and who have had the capacity to do so, but who have chosen not to because their practical security needs in this respect have been met by an “extended deterrence” umbrella provided by an alliance partner. As we noted in Section 3, there can be no doubt that the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella has been a major reason over the decades why states in Europe and North East Asia, in particular, have been willing to forego a nuclear weapons option even when perceiving themselves to be very vulnerable to nuclear attack. And as discussed in Section 6, in constraining the demand for nuclear weapons it will continue to be very important for allies benefiting from such extended deterrence to feel confident that their security is guaranteed (although it does not necessarily follow from this that a nuclear response should be available for non-nuclear threats: narrowing and limiting the role of nuclear weapons is a crucial step on the path to disarmament).

8.6     A further practical consideration that has inhibited at least some states from acquiring nuclear weapons is that they have perceived this as likely to encourage other states in their own region to do so, which would in turn not only tend to neutralize any strategic advantage gained, but generally make the neighbourhood more dangerous.

8.7     Political considerations – usually linked to normative and practical ones – have their own weight, both domestically and internationally. For some states – not least Japan, where the memory of the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains strong – domestic public opinion is so strongly opposed to nuclear weapons it is almost inconceivable that it could be ignored.

8.8     Internationally, notwithstanding the traditional perception that much status and prestige is associated with the possession of nuclear weapons, and a significant factor motivating their acquisition – with the fact that all Permanent Five members of the Security Council are nuclear-weapon states being seen as no coincidence – it is now becoming apparent that at least as much, and possibly more, international political respect attaches now to restraint on this front, and an overt commitment to being a good international nuclear citizen. Most of those countries, for example, with serious aspirations to become permanent members of a reconstructed Security Council – like Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Nigeria, Germany and Japan – have not seen a move to acquire nuclear weapons as being in any way helpful to that cause. And the emergence of the G-20 as a global policy-making forum of real significance has helped to further diminish the decades-old nexus between possession of nuclear weapons and the exercise of real institutional power.

8.9     Why states should not acquire nuclear weapons. So long as some states have nuclear weapons, however, there are other states who will be tempted to follow that path. Limiting their demand for nuclear weapons means understanding why they might think they need or want them; assessing whether any of their concerns have an objectively rational and defensible foundation; being as responsive as possible to those that do; and meeting those that may not with persuasive arguments that the would-be proliferator would be either no better off, or significantly worse off, going down that track.

8.10     What is involved in being responsive to legitimate security concerns will vary with each situation, and require case by case assessment of both legitimacy and response options. The latter include diplomatic and other support for conflict prevention and resolution, positive security assurances (that the state in question will be supported by allies, a regional organization or immediate reference to the UN Security Council in the event of an attack upon it) and negative security assurances (guarantees of non-intervention generally, or – as discussed in Section 17 – the non-use of nuclear weapons specifically).

8.11     The main arguments to be deployed (already noted in Section 6 in the context of persuading states to disarm) may be summarized briefly as below. Some are more powerful than others, and none of them – as with any negative proposition – can be easily proved. But together they make a compelling case, particularly when the inherent risks involved in possessing nuclear weapons – physical and reputational – are brought into the equation.

8.12     Nuclear wars cannot be won. It is now almost conventional wisdom among military commanders that nuclear weapons are effectively useless as instruments of warfighting. Their application simply cannot be calculated and controlled in the same way as conventional weapons, they lack any kind of targeting finesse, reciprocal damage is likely to be immense, and “victory” unlikely to be meaningful.

8.13     Nuclear weapons are not indispensable in preventing or defeating large-scale conventional attack. The downside risks of waging aggressive war in a globalized interdependent world are seen today as outweighing almost any conceivable benefit. Security concerns of states that still feel vulnerable can be better met by positive security assurances and conventional force-balancing measures – as well as serious efforts to resolve issues generating tension.

8.14     Nuclear weapons are not indispensable in deterring chemical or biological attack. The destructive potential of these weapons is not in the same class as nuclear weapons, and the prospect of a crushing conventional response is as much military deterrence as is required.

8.15     Nuclear weapons cannot guarantee protection against forcible regime change. A regime relying on a handful of nuclear weapons to immunize itself against such attack would be seriously miscalculating. If it actually used such weapons in pre-emptive or other defence against an opponent with overwhelming nuclear, or even conventional, retaliatory capacity it would be guaranteeing its own complete destruction. And, unless it could afford the sophisticated and expensive defensive systems needed to keep its nuclear strike capacity intact, it would not in practice have any weapons to use.

8.16     Nuclear weapons are not a cheaper means of security than general-purpose forces. While an established nuclear force may cost less to maintain annually than comparable combinations of conventional forces, the calculation changes when the system’s whole life-cycle – including the expense of safe dismantlement and disposal – is taken into account.

Limiting the Supply of Weapons, Materials and Technology

8.17     The measures needed to stop, or at least dramatically limit, the supply of weapons, material and technology to would-be proliferators, are discussed extensively in later sections of this report. All are important, but none should be pursued in isolation from demand side strategies, designed to address the legitimate security concerns of states that feel themselves vulnerable (with both positive security assurances, as mentioned above, and negative security assurances in relation to the non-use of nuclear weapons, as discussed in Section 17, being centrally important tools in this respect). Nor – to repeat a central theme of this report – is much traction likely to be gained for these supply-side measures if major efforts are not simultaneously made to ensure that those with nuclear weapons move toward disarmament. For present purposes, the main supply-side strategies can be briefly summarized as follows.

8.18     Strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The critical non-proliferation (as distinct from disarmament) needs here, discussed in detail in Section 9, are to make more effective the safeguards and verification, and compliance and enforcement, provisions of the treaty, and to strengthen the associated institutional machinery of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

8.19     Strengthening non-proliferation disciplines outside the NPT. As discussed in Section 10, this means appropriate support for, and strengthening where necessary, of the myriad of proliferation-related institutions and arrangements not premised on NPT membership, including informal mechanisms like the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Proliferation Security Initiative. It also means finding ways of bringing the NPT non-members into a framework of equivalent obligations and commitments.

8.20     Banning testing. The critical need here, as discussed in Section 11, is to bring the treaty finally into force and guarantee the continuation of the informal moratorium that has been generally observed since 1998.

8.21     Limiting the availability of fissile material. The immediate priority here, as discussed in Section 12, is to negotiate and bring into force a treaty to verifiably ban the further production of high enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons purposes.

8.22     Securing loose weapons and material. As discussed in Section 13 in the context of counter-terrorism – but with application also to basic non-proliferation objectives – the objective here is to achieve complete implementation as soon as possible of the cooperative threat reduction and other programs that have been designed, with worldwide reach, to secure from theft or other unauthorized access dangerous weapons, material and technology.

8.23     Nuclear energy management. The objective here, as discussed in Sections 14 and 15, is progressive achievement of multilateralized fuel cycle arrangements, proliferation-resistant technologies, and other measures designed to reduce the proliferation risks potentially associated with the expansion of civil nuclear energy.


Recommendations on Overall Non-Proliferation Strategy

4. Nuclear non-proliferation efforts should focus both on the demand side – persuading states that nuclear weapons will not advance their national security or other interests – and the supply side, through maintaining and strengthening a comprehensive array of measures (addressed in following recommendations) designed to make it as difficult as possible for states to buy or build such weapons. [8.9–16; see also Sections 9–15]


Next: 9. Strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty