Preventing nuclear next-use


Nuclear security is clearly a paradigm global problem to be solved. Just what constitutes a solution varies from restraining proliferation of weapons to new state or non-state actors through to complete abolition. Preventing nuclear next use – creating the conditions that deny the possibility another use of nuclear weapons in war – can stand for the core problem to be solved.

In Global Insecurity and Nuclear Next-Use Peter Hayes focuses on drivers of both nuclear next use and global solutions to that danger. Hayes sets of the  predictable and unpredictable drivers stresses the role of complexity and interdependence of factors, none of which, considered separately,

would necessarily lead to nuclear next-use. Considered together, however, complexity and unpredictability associated with the interaction of these different players at different levels is more likely than not to overwhelm controls and rational decision-making somewhere, sometime, somehow.

Crucially, Hayes links this set of complexities internal to the nuclear problem with a set of linked global problems which, unless addressed simultaneously, have the capacity to erode gains that made be made on the core issue. In other words, one global problem is highly entwined with a number of others.

In Universal Compliance the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace sets out a detailed strategy to “achieve universal compliance with the norms and rules of a toughened nuclear nonproliferation regime.” Its concerns are closely focussed on the policy requirements that flow from its specification of a set of six broad obligations.

In fact, even with its close focus on required “policy changes, resources, and institutional reforms”,  the separate recommendations required to implement a strategy to achieve universal compliance with a non-proliferation regime – to say nothing of further goals such as preventing nuclear next-use or abolition of nuclear weapons all together – number almost one hundred. Were the Carnegie authors to contemplate Hayes’ list of related global problems – probably quite a limited one in fact, but all arguably salient to their task – the number of interventions required would be an order of magnitude higher.

Together these two diverse approaches begin to open up the question of re-framing nuclear in/security in the context of a wider, interdependent set of global problems, and the concept of global problem solving.



Global Insecurity and Nuclear Next-Use

Global Insecurity and Nuclear Next-Use: A Briefing Paper, Peter Hayes, Scenarios Workshop “Who Will Stop Nuclear Next Use?”, Nautilus Institute, 2004.

The focal question of this paper is whether and how nuclear next-use can be avoided, and if not, what should we do to prepare for this eventuality? The next- use of nuclear weapons is of unknown probability. Such next-use is defined here as detonation against military and civilian targets as distinct from mere threat of use expressed in coercive diplomacy and weapons displays of various kinds. Two types of nuclear next-use may be defined. The first is nuclear next-use by a state against any human target (precluding nuclear tests); the second is nuclear next- use by a sub-national actor against any human target.

Trend 1: The triangular nuclear standoff between the United States and its nuclear allies in Europe, the former Soviet Union, and China has shifted to general rather than immediate deterrence against the threat of pre-emptive attack.

Trend 2: Regional conflicts and local security dilemmas have driven small and regional powers to proliferate nuclear weapons in recent years—most obviously between India and Pakistan, but also in Korea and potentially in the future, Iran offsetting Israel’s nuclear force.

Trend 3: Transnational and networked terrorists and sub-national actors such as religious cults actively seek nuclear weapons capacities ranging from “dirty” radiological weapons to nuclear weapons that may leak out of state stockpiles kept by the great nuclear powers, or acquired from a small nuclear state.

Trend 4: The revolution in military affairs has rendered it easier for the great nuclear powers to extend deterrence without relying on nuclear weapons-of- mass destruction.

These four trends converge to increase the probability that nuclear weapons will be used in war in the coming two decades. Considered separately, none of these trends would necessarily lead to nuclear next-use. Considered together, however, complexity and unpredictability associated with the interaction of these different players at different levels is more likely than not to overwhelm controls and rational decision-making somewhere, sometime, somehow.

Nuclear next-use drivers and global solution drivers 

Linked global problems:

  1. Conventional warfare—as driver of conflicts with nuclear dimension; nuclear as substitute for conventional means of destruction; as combined threat with RMA making conventional wars more not less likely.
  2. Diversion of science and resources into nuclear weapons, lack of binding ethical frameworks for scientists and engineers.
  3. Arms trade and weapon diffusion (NWs the great equalizer).
  4. Misperception, ethnocentrism.
  5. Global nuclear war leads to climate change (ozone damage, nuclear winter).
  6. Militarization of space.
  7. Governmental secrecy and unaccountability.
  8. Nuclear testing and damage, nuclear fuel cycle.
  9. Global energy insecurity.
  10. Unaccountable and unrepresentative UN Security Council/UN system.
  11. Nuclear winter/climate change.
  12. Nation states and territorial sovereignty, especially border geopolitics and population management.

Universal Compliance

Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security, George Perkovich,  Jessica T. Mathews, Joseph Cirincione, Rose Gottemoeller, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. March 2005.

The new strategic aim of nonproliferation policy should be to achieve universal compliance with the norms and rules of a tough-ened nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Six obligations form the core of the universal compliance strategy. Each requires many subsidiary policy changes, resources, and institutional reforms. Some of the necessary steps depend on new national or international laws or voluntary standards, while others require only the will to live up to existing commitments. Of the nearly one hundred recommendations in the present volume, twenty are highlighted here as the top priorities. They are a combination of the steps with high impact that are achievable in the near term and those that will take longer but would be truly transformative.

Obligation 1.  Make Nonproliferation Irreversible. The nonproliferation regime must be adapted to changed conditions by making its fundamental bargains meaningfully enforceable and irreversible. International rules managing the production and distribution of nuclear weapon-usable materials need to be revised and the terms by which states can withdraw from the NPT need to be clarified and tightened.

Obligation 2. Devalue the Political and Military Currency of Nuclear Weapons. All states must diminish the role of nuclear weapons in security policies and international politics. The nuclear weapon states must do more to make their nonproliferation commitments irreversible, especially through the steady verified dismantlement of nuclear arsenals.

Obligation 3. Secure All Nuclear Materials. All states must maintain robust standards for securing, monitoring, and accounting for all fissile materials in any form. Such mechanisms are necessary both to prevent nuclear terrorism and to create the potential for secure nuclear disarmament.

Obligation 4. Stop Illegal Transfers. States must establish enforceable prohibitions against efforts by individuals, corporations, and states to assist others in secretly acquiring the technology, material, and know-how needed to develop nuclear weapons.

Obligation 5. Commit to Conflict Resolution. States that possess nuclear weapons must use their leadership to resolve regional conflicts that compel or excuse some states’ pursuit of security by means of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

Obligation 6. Solve the Three-State Problem. The unrealistic demand that India, Israel, and Pakistan (which never signed the NPT, and hence did not violate it in acquiring nuclear weapons) give up their weapons and join the NPT as non-nuclear states should be put aside. Instead, a policy should be pursued that focuses on persuading these three states to accept the same nonproliferation obligations accepted by the weapon state signatories. The three states should not be rewarded with trade in nuclear power reactors, but should receive cooperation to strengthen nuclear material security and reactor safety.

Universal Complicance: Summary of Policy Recommendations


Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
17 May 2008