Nuclear Disarmament Briefing Papers

US nuclear weapon test Romeo on Bikini Atoll in 1954 (photo courtesy of the US Dept of Energy)

Occasional briefing papers focussing on nuclear disarmament issues.


The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released February 2, 2018 views the world as a dangerous, lawless environment, marked by military competition among great powers. As to nuclear disarmament, the most the Trump NPR offers is a grudging general acceptance of arms control measures for purposes of stability and predictability with perfunctory references to the “long-term goal of eliminating nuclear weapons” and to pursuit of “political and security conditions that could enable further nuclear reductions.” It thus stands in marked contrast to the 2010 review conducted by the Obama administration, which committed the United States to seek the eventual achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons and addressed how to succeed in that endeavor in some detail. Instead, it resembles the 2001 review done under the George W. Bush administration.
The 2016 UN Open-ended Working Group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations (OEWG) and the preceding governmental conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons have changed the landscape for efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. This is true even though, aside from the agreement with Iran on limiting its nuclear program, in other respects the trends have been quite negative. All states possessing nuclear arsenals are maintaining and modernizing them, with full-scale nuclear arms racing underway in South Asia and testing by North Korea, and there are serious geopolitical tensions between the United States and Russia, and the United States and China. Notwithstanding these trends, the OEWG and the humanitarian conferences reflect the determination by many non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) to press forward; indeed in their view the global security climate makes it all the more urgent to do so. Three important results relate to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, the imperative of multilateral negotiations, and the nature of possible agreements.