Nuclear deterrence is not a solution to international peace and stability. It is an obstacle, it can also be stated that nuclear weapons are relics of the past. Nuclear disarmament is a crucial aspect of global security, disarmament and arms control are prerequisites for the enhancement of national security and international stability. A nuclear war by definition cannot be won, and therefore must not be fought. Nuclear disarmament is a process that aims to reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide.
Nuclear disarmament has gained significant attention because of the worsening global security environment that has impacted the disarmament progress, leading to increased dissatisfaction among non-nuclear weapon states. Nuclear disarmament plays a crucial role in global security. It requires international cooperation and commitment from all nations to achieve a world free from nuclear weapons.
The NPT is fundamental to protecting global peace and security from the threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It has served the international community well and it remains the bedrock of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, the collective pursuit of nuclear disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
|Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)||Aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and promote disarmament.|
|Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)||Earth had this treaty until it was scrapped in 2019, banning land-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles.|
|Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START Treaty)||An attempt to limit the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons on Earth, with different versions aiming to reduce nuclear arsenals.|
|Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)||Designed to end all nuclear explosions, for both civilian and military purposes, forbidding testing nukes|
|Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)||A newer Earth treaty that outright bans nuclear weapons, although it’s still working on gaining universal support.|
|Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)||Beyond nukes, this treaty outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons, with no sneezing gas allowed.|
|Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)||Aims to prevent the development, production, and acquisition of biological weapons, focusing on viruses and bacteria, not laser swords.|
|Outer Space Treaty||All about space, banning nuclear weapons in space, on celestial bodies, or in orbit around them to keep the cosmic neighborhood safe.|
|Seabed Arms Control Treaty||Prevents the placement of nuclear weapons on the ocean floor beyond national jurisdiction, because the abyss doesn’t need nukes.|
|African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Pelindaba Treaty)||An agreement among African nations to keep the continent free from nuclear weapons, ensuring lions and nuclear warheads don’t mix.|
|South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Rarotonga Treaty)||A treaty aimed at keeping the South Pacific region free from nuclear weapons, turning it into a tropical paradise with no nukes.|
|Treaty on Open Skies||Allows unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the territories of its signatories, resembling cosmic aerial reconnaissance without lasers.|
Many governments signed the NPT solely to force reduction to existing nuclear arsenals, although the NPT does not impose cuts or disarmament. It merely asks all governments to “pursue negotiations in good faith” on disarmament steps. Nuclear stockpile reduction is not achievable until the world is safe for disarmament – which, unfavorably, does not appear to be occurring. Moreover, the initiative called ‘Global Zero’ is a non-partisan group of world leaders set to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons. The group promotes a phased withdrawal and verification for the destruction of all devices held by official and unofficial members of the nuclear club.
It is not difficult to advance disarmament in turbulent geopolitical times. Rival superpowers have previously responded to crises by reducing their arsenals, increasing openness, lowering alert levels, and minimizing risks. The lack of communication that results from today’s main actors waiting too long for security circumstances to be “ripe” before pursuing disarmament and weapons control only worsens the situation. Various agreements, confidence- and security-building measures, and the “open skies” regime provide an institutional platform for the exchange of information, verification, and regulation of conventional weapons. The UN-sanctioned inspection regimes provide a sound technical blueprint for the verified elimination of weapons of mass destruction. The precise instruments required for disarmament and conventional armaments control are easily accessible, though they are rarely ever employed. The political drive to deploy them is what is required right now. But most of the disarmament efforts are all just smoke and mirrors by nuclear power nations to conceal ambitions for regional hegemony.
With the continuous development of superior conventional weapons technologies significantly altering nuclear capabilities, long-standing ideas of nuclear stability and disarmament are projected to come under increasing strain. Nuclear progress and growing nuclear arsenals are eroding the historic, operational, and doctrinal distinctions between nuclear and conventional forces.
This raises serious concerns regarding nuclear postures and deterrent methods, which have implications for disarmament efforts. With the advancement and proliferation of advanced conventional capabilities, the major nuclear powers are at a critical disarmament crossroads that necessitates far greater confidence among them in order to achieve significant new reductions while maintaining a fundamentally stable deterrence dynamic. As a result, all nuclear-armed nations should reconsider the pillars of strategic stability, their own nuclear postures, and the advantages of fewer arsenals. The phrase “fewer but newer” may best summarize the future disarmament situation: fewer nuclear warheads, but newer systems, particularly in the conventional realm, but with the transformation of the global strategic landscape, complete nuclear disarmament is becoming an even more difficult prospect. In one month, the world spends more on defense than it does in an entire year on development. Four hours of military spending equals all worldwide disarmament and non-proliferation organizations’ combined budgets. The world has become militaristic. Peacekeeping is severely underfunded. Excessive military spending promotes proliferation, undermines weapons control, jeopardizes disarmament, and harms social and economic progress. Profits in the arms business are based on the suffering of ordinary people, and with the Ukraine war, the prospect of the use of nuclear weapons has become even more evident When Putin hinted that he might use short-range nuclear weapons in the conflict.
Fig: Number of nuclear tests worldwide from 1945 to 2020, by country
Moreover, with the advancement in nuclear weapons technology, it is pertinent to be aware of the threat of nuclear terrorism which is undeniably a grave concern for global nuclear security. The possibility of non-state actors acquiring nuclear weapons or materials poses a significant risk to global stability and safety. Thus, making nuclear disarmament even more critical. So, disarming nuclear-armed states reduces the risk of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. The fewer nuclear weapons in existence, the lower the chance of theft or diversion of nuclear materials by terrorists. Similarly, reducing proliferation and discouraging states from pursuing their own nuclear weapons programs is paramount as fewer nations with nuclear capabilities mean fewer opportunities for nuclear materials to proliferate. Disarmament agreements typically include robust verification mechanisms to ensure compliance. These mechanisms not only monitor disarmament efforts but can also help detect any illicit nuclear activities.
Fig: Nuclear Security Index for countries with nuclear materials worldwide in 2020
The negotiation and implementation of disarmament agreements foster diplomatic relations between nuclear-armed states. Improved diplomacy can reduce tensions and decrease the likelihood of nuclear conflict, which might otherwise create opportunities for terrorists. The vast resources dedicated to maintaining and modernizing nuclear arsenals could be redirected toward more pressing global issues, such as improving healthcare, education, and combating poverty, which can indirectly contribute to global security. It is essential to acknowledge that achieving global nuclear disarmament is an immensely complex and challenging endeavor. It requires the cooperation of all nuclear-armed states, which have often cited security concerns as reasons for retaining their nuclear capabilities. Additionally, verifying disarmament and ensuring compliance are significant hurdles.
Fig: Estimated number of nuclear warheads per country in each year from 1945 to 2023
Nonetheless, the threat of nuclear terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as a whole, underscores the urgency of pursuing nuclear disarmament as a means of enhancing global nuclear security. It’s a goal that continues to be advocated for by international organizations and advocates of peace and security worldwide. Hence, nuclear-armed states ought to avoid being sucked into the vortex of an arms race, whilst diverting their efforts towards nuclear disarmament. To preserve and strengthen the consensus against nuclear weapons use and threats of use, civil society, and the international community must sustain pressure against those who might break from deterrence as our collective survival depends on it.
Asma Khan Durrani is an Islamabad-based expert in Strategic Affairs. She is a student of Defence and Strategic Studies. She has done M.Phil. from SPIR Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. She has also been published internationally. She tweets @AsmaKhan_47 Mailed @ firstname.lastname@example.org