“What's really strikes me about ACA is the potential to shape the next generation of leaders on arms control and nuclear policy. This is something I witnessed firsthand as someone who was introduced to the field through ACA.”
– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
June 2, 2022
July/August 2022
Edition Date: 
Friday, July 1, 2022
Cover Image: 

A Turning Point on Nuclear Deterrence

July/August 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of possible use of nuclear weapons against any state that might interfere with Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine have reawakened the world to the dangers of nuclear war. The possibility of military conflict between Russian and NATO forces has significantly increased the risk of nuclear weapons use. Because Russian and U.S.-NATO military strategies reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first against non-nuclear threats, fighting could quickly go nuclear.

Photo Credit: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear WeaponsPutin’s threats violate foundational understandings designed to reduce the dangers of nuclear deterrence, including the 1973 Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, in which the United States and Russia pledged to “refrain from the threat or use of force against the other party, against the allies of the other party and against other countries, in circumstances which may endanger international peace and security.”

As egregious, worrisome, and risky as Putin’s nuclear antics are, the reaction of the international community until recently has been far too mild. The U.S. response to Putin’s nuclear threats, as well as those of Western governments that also embrace nuclear deterrence ideologies and rely on the credible threat of nuclear use, has been particularly underwhelming.

At the outset of the Russian invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden, answering a question about whether U.S. citizens should be concerned with a nuclear war breaking out, said, "No." Then, in a May 31 essay in The New York Times, Biden referred to Russia’s “occasional nuclear rhetoric” as “dangerous and extremely irresponsible,” implying that some nuclear threats are more responsible.

Fortunately, a much needed, more forceful rejection of nuclear weapons and threats of use emerged from the first meeting of states-parties to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) held in Vienna June 21–23. Citing “increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric,” the TPNW states-parties issued the Vienna Declaration, which condemns all threats to use nuclear weapons as violations of international law, including the UN Charter. The declaration demands “that all nuclear-armed states never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances.”

The TPNW states-parties condemned “unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.” Far from preserving peace and security, “nuclear weapons are used to coerce and intimidate; to facilitate aggression and inflame tensions. This highlights the fallacy of nuclear deterrence doctrines, which are based and rely on the threat of the actual use of nuclear weapons and, hence, the risks of the destruction of countless lives, of societies, of nations, and of inflicting global catastrophic consequences,” they added.

The declaration underscores that, for the majority of states, outdated nuclear deterrence policies create unacceptable risks. The only way to eliminate the danger is to reinforce the norms against nuclear use and the threat of use and to accelerate stalled progress toward verifiably eliminating these weapons.

Nevertheless, NATO leaders insist that the alliance must double down on its dangerous nuclear deterrence posture to prevent a Russian attack on NATO member states. In reality, U.S. and NATO nuclear weapons have proven useless in preventing Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. At the same time, Russia’s brazen nuclear threats have failed to deter NATO efforts to supply Ukraine with weapons needed to repel the Russian onslaught.

Instead, Ukraine’s partners have responded with political, economic, and diplomatic means to help Ukraine defend its territory. The conflict has demonstrated that even for a state or alliance possessing a robust nuclear arsenal, such as NATO, conventional military capabilities are the key to deterring military attacks and to ensuring battlefield success.

The more NATO rhetoric emphasizes the value of nuclear deterrence and of possessing nuclear weapons, the more legitimacy it lends to Putin’s nuclear threats and to the mistaken, dangerous belief that nuclear weapons are necessary for self-defense.

The next global gathering concerning nuclear weapons will take place in August at the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). All states must seek to rise above their differences and work together to reverse today’s dangerous nuclear trends.

Non-nuclear-weapon states can build on the TPNW meeting by encouraging wider support for the norms against nuclear weapons. Rather than simply criticize Russian nuclear threats as “irresponsible,” NPT states-parties should condemn unambiguously all threats of nuclear weapons use. They must unite in demanding that the nuclear-weapon states undertake specific actions to fulfill the NPT’s Article VI disarmament provisions. This should include an explicit call for the United States and Russia to begin negotiations on new disarmament arrangements and for all NPT nuclear-armed states to freeze their nuclear stockpiles and engage in disarmament negotiations before the next NPT review conference, in 2025.

Given the growing risk of nuclear war, the first meeting of TPNW states-parties and the NPT review conference must become a turning point away from dangerous nuclear policies and arms racing that threaten global nuclear catastrophe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of possible use of nuclear weapons against any state that might interfere with Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine have reawakened the world to the dangers of nuclear war.

July/August 2022 Books of Note

July/August 2022

Averting Doomsday: Arms Control during the Nixon Presidency
By Patrick J. Garrity and Erin R. Mahan
December 2021

The nuclear arms control legacy of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon primarily concerns the successful negotiations of the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which produced the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the Interim Agreement.

Despite being real milestones, these agreements are only part of the Nixon administration’s efforts to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), whether nuclear, biological, or chemical. Other important accomplishments include the ratification of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the negotiation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the pursuit of the 1971 Seabed Arms Control Treaty, and the establishment of a Latin American nuclear-weapon-free zone.

Overall, the administration “represented a critical juncture in U.S. efforts to limit the number and to control the spread” of WMD, the authors write.

Drawing on an extensive collection of presidential recordings and documents not widely consulted, the authors bring together all aspects of the Nixon administration’s efforts “to combat germs, gases, and the bomb” and puts forward a context for better understanding the national security policies pursued by the president and his advisors.—SHANNON BUGOS



Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons
By Herbert Lin
October 2021

Over the next decade, the United States is projected to spend $634 billion to sustain and modernize its nuclear arsenal, to include the triad of nuclear delivery systems, nuclear command and control systems, and nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. This massive effort will include incorporating cyber technologies into the U.S. nuclear enterprise.

As the author writes, the question motivating this book is, “How, if at all, could increasing dependencies on modern information technologies lead to a nuclear war that no sane person would want?” Lin says the bottom line is that, “cyber risks across the nuclear enterprise are poorly understood.” As a result, nuclear modernization may serve to exacerbate rather than mitigate cyber risks.

The book explores cyber risks to the U.S. nuclear enterprise and makes suggestions for U.S. decision-makers to consider as they manage cybersecurity issues related to nuclear modernization. As one example, Lin notes that the entanglement of conventional and nuclear functions in operational systems increases the risk of inadvertent escalation. He proposes that the infrastructure to support conventional and nuclear integration should put nuclear needs first.—SHANNON BUGOS

Averting Doomsday: Arms Control during the Nixon Presidency
By Patrick J. Garrity and Erin R. Mahan

Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons
By Herbert Lin

Negative Security Assurances After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

July/August 2022
By Francesca Giovannini

On February 24, the international community took a catastrophic blow. Already battered by two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and deteriorating interstate relations, it stood in horror as Russian forces unleashed an unprovoked war on a neighboring country. Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine and reject Ukraine’s very existence as a separate state is ominous and highly momentous for the future of the world order.

A worker on a Ukrainian military base in 2006 cuts the nose off the last of Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3 bombers, also known as the "Backfire", a Soviet-made nuclear-capable strategic aircraft. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed as part of an agreement under which Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons on its territory to Russia in return for security assurances that have now been violated. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)The immediate consequences have been easily observable. More than seven million refugees have now crossed borders into other neighboring states, and many more remain internally displaced without supplies and assistance. Almost all major Ukrainian cities have been destroyed, and now a global food shortage is looming if agricultural exports from Ukraine and Russia are not promptly resumed. The long-term consequences might be, if possible, even more catastrophic.

There are legitimate growing concerns that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might herald a new era of territorial conquest. Whether the norm of territorial sovereignty is upended or endures largely depends on whether the international community as a whole, not only the Western bloc, decides to rebuff and isolate Russia. So far, the reaction against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s power grab has been lukewarm at best in many world capitals.1

The significance of the Russian invasion is even more acute if analyzed through the lens of nuclear weapons. More than any other non-nuclear-weapon state except Belarus and Kazakhstan, Ukraine, received through the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, an unprecedented set of tailored negative security assurances from Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the three depositary states of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). These assurances were extended at the time of Ukraine’s accession to the NPT as a potent political reward in support of the country’s decision to become a non-nuclear-weapon state by eliminating all nuclear weapons from its territory.

Thirty years later, the country has been set ablaze by the Russian army. Europe and the world are now held hostage by a Russian president willing to resort to the threat of nuclear weapons use. As the war in Ukraine rages on, it is fair to ask, Do negative security assurances mean anything at all in the age of irresponsible nuclear-armed states?

A Patchwork Regime

For years, as they sought to establish a collective norm that would allow a more predictable coexistence with nuclear-armed states,2 non-nuclear-weapon states have demanded negative security assurances as binding commitments from nuclear-weapon states not to threaten and not to use nuclear weapons against their territory.

As George Bunn once remarked, “Since the first attempts to negotiate the [NPT], security assurances to [non-nuclear-weapon] states have been considered an important component of a credible worldwide nuclear nonproliferation regime. They have been viewed by [non-nuclear-weapon states] as one of their major requirements for achieving an adequate balance between their obligations and those of nuclear-weapon states.”3 Achieving a universal regime of negative security assurances proved difficult from the start. The first UN Security Council resolution on security assurances passed with the support of the Soviet Union, the UK, and the United States and simply committed the signatory countries to provide assistance to any non-nuclear-weapon state coming under a nuclear attack.4

Over time, a patchy regime of negative security assurances has emerged although it remains incoherent, fragmented, and as the Ukrainian case demonstrated, profoundly inadequate to provide the kind of reassurances that non-nuclear-weapon states might require in a highly unpredictable global nuclear order.5 Today, there are four main mechanisms by which assurances are granted to a non-nuclear-weapon state: The UN Charter, unilateral pledges by nuclear-armed states, no-first-use policies, and regional nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties.

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits UN member states from using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. The charter should serve theoretically as the most authoritative guarantee. Yet, the irony of entrusting the five acknowledged nuclear-weapon states, which are also permanent members of the UN Security Council, to act as the main global security guarantors can be hardly missed. Although the charter in principle gives all member states a guarantee against threats to and attacks on their territory and sovereignty, the reality is that many such threats and attacks have occurred since the UN was founded. If states are worried about being threatened by states armed with nuclear weapons, the fact that each of the five acknowledged nuclear-armed states has a veto in the Security Council hardly offers much confidence that the council will be able to address a threat emanating from one of them.

Nuclear-armed states have also provided unilateral pledges that are important but also qualified upon specific conditions.

The 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review provides negative security assurances by stating that the United States “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” The document added the qualification that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.”6

Russia has made notable changes to its nuclear doctrine. For example, in 1993, to mitigate its own conventional military weaknesses, Russia adopted a defense posture heavily reliant on nuclear weapons and rejected the Soviet-era no-first-use pledge. Ever since, the Russians have reserved the right to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction or in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.”

France and the UK have opted for strategic ambiguity and have left open the possibility of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states in specific cases, including in response to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats or to an attack from a state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state.”7

Unlike other nuclear-armed states, China and India have adopted no-first-use pledges but it is unclear how long they will maintain them. As Steve Miller has argued, if a no-first-use policy “is to be more than a declaratory policy, then it must be meaningfully reflected in the war planning and force postures of the nuclear powers. Because the possibility of first-use inheres in the possession of a nuclear arsenal, it is not easy to create a posture that effectively displays genuine fidelity to the [no-first-use] pledge.”8 Miller has suggested several steps to make a no-first-use commitment more than just an empty statement, yet none of these steps is necessarily irreversible and permanent in nature. No-first-use policies are malleable depending on the needs of nuclear-armed states and the context in which they operate.

Regional nuclear-weapon-free zones offer more protection in that they contain a nonuse additional protocol that binds nuclear-weapon states not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against state-parties to a zone treaty. As Leonard Spector and Aubrie Ohlde suggest, “Non-use guarantees provided in the latter context offer NPT non-nuclear-weapon states one crucial advantage in comparison to more generalized, unilateral negative security assurances: There is no question that, if a [zone] treaty is in force, duly ratified protocols to that treaty are legally binding vis-à-vis the zonal parties.”9

The record of the regional nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties is promising but mixed. The Treaty of Tlatelolco, affecting Latin America and the Caribbean, is the only one that has been ratified by all nuclear-weapon states. The impediments facing the others can be seen in the case of the United States. Although the United States signed additional protocols for the remaining zone treaties and submitted them to the U.S. Senate for ratification, the protocols are unlikely to be concluded soon given increasing U.S. political polarization.10

Even when a nuclear-weapon state ratifies a zone treaty, the commitment usually comes with qualifications that shrink the legal protection offered by the treaty.11 For example, in ratifying the additional protocols of the Africa-focused Pelindaba Treaty, France specified that nothing in “the protocols or the articles of the treaty shall impair the full exercise of the right of self-defense” as provided in article 51 of the UN Charter.12

Similarly, the UK imposed conditionality on its ratification of the Central Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone, arguing that it “reserve[s] the right to exercise the right to withdraw from the Protocol under Article 6, or where [it] considers that the threat, development and proliferation of other weapons of mass destruction, for example chemical and biological, make it necessary.

The case of the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty also reveals the insurmountable obstructionism of nuclear-weapon states when regional power projection is at stake. Since 1995, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been negotiating with the nuclear-weapon states to achieve ratification of the treaty protocols, but none of the five has done so. They claim that the treaty extends protection over continental shelves and exclusive economic zones, thereby potentially limiting port visits or landing rights for foreign vessels and aircraft.13 In a time of great-power competition and the U.S. pivot to Asia, it is plausible to argue that the fate of this treaty will remain in limbo for years to come.

All existing mechanisms are important but deemed insufficient even by many non-nuclear-weapon states. Several official statements over the years pointed out the need for a more comprehensive, legally binding multilateral treaty. During the opening of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the official statement of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) reiterated “the importance of concluding a universal, unconditional, and legally binding instrument on negative security assurances to the non-nuclear-weapon states as a matter of priority, pending the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”14

In 2015 the NAM argued even more forcefully that “pending the total elimination of nuclear weapons, it is the legitimate right of all non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to receive effective, universal, unconditional, non-discriminatory, and irrevocable legally binding security assurances against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons under all circumstances.”15

Finally, in a working paper tabled for the upcoming 10th NPT Review Conference in August, Algeria called for states-parties to “reaffirm the right of non-nuclear-weapon states to credible security assurances to ensure their security and sovereignty against the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons while awaiting nuclear disarmament.”16

The War’s Impact on Ukraine

Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty marks an inflection moment in the delicate relationship between nuclear-armed states and the rest of the international community and “sets a dangerous precedent by abrogating a longstanding convention and undermining the wider framework of security assurances and guarantees that nuclear-weapons states offer to non-nuclear-weapon states.”17

Although given security guarantees in 1994 when it gave up Soviet-era nuclear weapons on its territory, Ukraine today is in the fifth month of an unprovoked war by Russia that has killed thousands of civilians and destroyed countless cities. In photo, rescuers evacuate the body of a person from a building in Sergiyvka, near Odessa, that was hit by a missile strike on July 1, according to the Ukrainian emergency services. (Photo by Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images)As the war in Ukraine rages on, experts are debating how it will affect the security calculations of non-nuclear-weapon states. Some experts have claimed that the Russian invasion, if successful in its scope, could set a dangerous precedent so as to embolden other nuclear-armed states to launch military campaigns to conquer neighboring countries. The case of China over Taiwan is front and center in these specific discussions.

In a scenario where nuclear-armed states become increasingly predatory, non-nuclear-weapon states could seek protection by joining existing nuclear alliances. The hasty accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO seems to validate this argument. Yet, it is unclear how much political appetite exists in the United States to further expand nuclear guarantees to countries not already under the protection of U.S. nuclear extended deterrence.

Alternatively, the ruthless way in which Russia has chosen to disregard its commitments to Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and the glibness with which its leaders threaten the use of nuclear weapons today may prompt countries with advanced nuclear know-how to pursue or fast-track the development of their individual nuclear capabilities. The path to the bomb is not easy or cost free, however, and is not a choice that any country can pursue lightheartedly.

A more likely, less discussed, but equally consequential scenario is that the war in Ukraine will deepen alienation, grievances, and mistrust among non-nuclear-weapon states. Such estrangement could lead to even more fierce political obstructionism against any new nuclear policy and a dangerous institutional paralysis across multiple institutions. This scenario is not one the international community can afford to face.

Rethinking Negative Security Assurances

Nuclear weapons-possessing states, especially the five acknowledged by the NPT, have often defined themselves as responsible guardians of the nuclear order. Yet, from the perspective of many non-nuclear-weapon states, history is riddled with examples of lawless behavior by nuclear-weapon states that, hiding behind the shield of their nuclear arsenals, have embarked on senseless military adventures without ever being held accountable. If anything, the war in Ukraine has validated the security concerns harbored by many non-nuclear-weapon states and further exacerbated their mistrust of the current nuclear order.

In such a precarious moment, there needs to be an urgent rethinking of the relationship between the nuclear-armed states and the rest of the international community by launching and sustaining a global dialogue with the goal of developing a new regime of universal, unconditional negative security assurances as a first concrete step. This regime will build on the existing mechanisms while expanding the responsibilities of nuclear-armed states and deepening their accountability.

Specifically, the new regime should start with a UN Security Council resolution declaring that honoring unilateral pledges of negative security assurances is a precondition to maintaining veto power in the council. The UN General Assembly should then agree to convene a special session every year in which all nuclear-armed states recommit to universal, unconditional negative security assurances to be delivered during the annual meeting of its First Committee. Finally, the UN Economic and Social Council should adopt a resolution stating that all regional trade agreements concluded in regions with nuclear-weapon-free zones should include a clause obliging all nuclear-armed states to honor the commitment to nonuse and nonthreat of nuclear weapons. Even the simple threat of nuclear weapons use could be sufficient to invalidate a regional trade agreement if the regional contracting parties choose to do so.

To enhance the existing regime of negative security assurances, it is critical for the UN to take a leading role. For too long, discussions about negative security assurances have been relegated almost exclusively to the domain of the NPT review conferences. Yet, as the Ukraine war demonstrates, in an age of predatory nuclear-weapon states, protecting non-nuclear-weapon states from the threat of nuclear weapons has to be a priority for the international community. In addition and perhaps most promising, the Ukraine war is bringing about significant changes in the power distribution within the UN itself for the benefit of non-nuclear-weapon states.

In the aftermath of the UN Security Council’s inaction over the Ukraine invasion, the General Assembly on April 26 adopted a resolution aimed at holding the council accountable for its use of vetoes. The resolution grants power to the General Assembly president to convene a formal meeting of all 193 UN members to demand an explanation when a veto is exercised by one or more Security Council members and the results undermine the UN’s role in maintaining global peace and security. By itself, the resolution may not be radical, but it comes amid an expanding movement demanding significant reforms, including more democratization in UN operations. For the first time, UN members are insisting on more accountability from the nuclear-weapon states that hold veto power in the council. A coalition of countries could take the discussion further and work with the General Assembly on an initiative that links the veto power of the five permanent Security Council members to the provision of negative security assurances to the international community.

Trainees prepare for combat formation training in June in New Taipei City, Taiwan. More Taiwanese citizens are seeking gun training amid concerns of possible military action against the self-governing island by China, which experts say could be emboldened by Russian aggression against Ukraine. (Photo by Annabelle Chih/Getty Images)It is equally essential for all nuclear-armed states, not just the acknowledged five, to reaffirm their commitment annually to honor universal, unconditional negative security assurances to all non-nuclear-weapon states. Demanding accountability from all nuclear-armed states is critical if non-nuclear-weapon states want to establish and maintain a universal regime of security assurances. In this regard, it would be also important for the UN General Assembly to launch consultations between nuclear-armed states and the rest of the international community. An existing proposal that is part of the Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament calls for nuclear-weapon states “to deepen discussions on nuclear doctrine and declaratory policies, both among themselves and with the Non-Nuclear-Weapon States, at the upcoming NPT Review Conference and throughout the next NPT review cycle.”18

Finally, the new negative security assurance regime should aim to rebalance the enormous power asymmetry between nuclear-armed states and non-nuclear-weapon states. Such an asymmetry makes it challenging to keep nuclear-weapon states accountable. To do this, negative security assurances must be linked to domains that non-nuclear countries can reasonably control.

One such domain is economics. For countries seeking to receive negative security assurances, a possible way forward is to integrate these assurances into any economic agreement they sign with nuclear-weapon states. Given the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the vulnerability of the supply chain, economic agreements, especially those with natural resource-endowed countries in the global South, are crucial for many nuclear-weapon states. Linking security and economic demands could make compliance by nuclear-armed states more likely. An important study on the relationship between the United States and its allies notes that “statistical studies of extended deterrence have found that political and economic connections between a deterrer and its protégé are a good indicator of the interests at stake for the deterring state. The greater the ties the more likely extended deterrence is to succeed.”19

The Limits of Security With Nuclear-Weapon States

These proposals probably would not have halted Putin’s plan to conquer Ukraine. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that, in high-stakes crises, almost nothing will cause a predatory nuclear-weapon state to change course. In addition, some of these proposals could be too costly for non-nuclear-weapon states that seek commercial deals with countries such as China and the United States. In some instances, countries in the global South may decide it is more important to sign trade agreements with great powers than to gain negative security assurances.

Finally, it will be argued that, after Ukraine, the time of progressive confidence-building steps between nuclear-armed states and the rest of the world has passed, that nuclear disarmament is more urgent than ever, and that efforts to achieve it should take precedence over modestly ambitious proposals. Although not wrong, in a time of great insecurity and higher nuclear risks, something ought to be done to bring together these two groups that have drifted further apart.

Establishing a process of confidence building between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states over the right of non-nuclear-weapon states to live in peace without the menace of nuclear weapons is an important starting point and something within reach. As a German official stated in a recent meeting,

In our eyes the rationale for moving forward with [negative security assurances] is simple: [they] serve as an important intermediary step on the way towards a world free of nuclear weapons and therefore constitute a concrete element of a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament. But they are—if granted and implemented in good faith—per se also an element of risk reduction in the overall strategic environment and a practical contribution to increasing confidence and trust in international relations.20

The pursuit of a nuclear-weapon-free world remains critical, indispensable, and non-negotiable. Yet, at this historical juncture, where near-anarchy reigns and normative principles are being lost, the international community must fully honor the request of many countries to be spared death by nuclear weapons.



1. Tanisha M. Fazal, “The Return of Conquest? Why the Future of Global Order Hinges on Ukraine,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2022, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2022-04-06/ukraine-russia-war-return-conquest.

2. “Nuclear-armed state” refers to all nuclear-weapon states, those within the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and those outside.

3. George Bunn and Roland M. Timerbaev, “Security Assurances to Non-Nuclear Weapons States,” The Nonproliferation Review, Fall 1993, p. 11, https://www.nonproliferation.org/wp-content/uploads/npr/buntim11.pdf.

4. UN Security Council, S/RES/255, June 19, 1968.

5. The first set of negative security assurances was ultimately delivered by the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and the Soviet Union in the face of mounting pressure during the First Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 1978, but the statements were not harmonized and differed in scope and language. China’s statement was unconditional. The Soviet Union granted negative security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states that did not host nuclear weapons on their territory. The UK and the U.S. statements delivered negative assurances, but made them conditional. Possible use of nuclear weapons was envisaged in case of an “attack from a nonnuclear weapon state against the territory of the UK and of the United States.” https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/NR0/753/40/IMG/NR075340.pdf?OpenElement

6. Arms Control Association, “Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances,” March 2022: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/declaratorypolicies#:~:text=These%20%E2%80%9Cpositive%E2%80%9D%20and%20%E2%80%9Cnegative,from%20pursuing%20nuclear%20weapons%20themselves.

7. Global Britain in a Competitive Age, The Integrated Review of Defense, Security, Development and Foreign Policy, March 2021: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/975077/Global_Britain_in_a_Competitive_Age-_the_Integrated_Review_of_Security__Defence__Development_and_Foreign_Policy.pdf

8. Steve Miller, paper produced for an internal meeting of the Pugwash Conferences on Sciences and World Affairs, October 2018. In the paper, Miller recommends making no-first-use pledges more credible by lowering the readiness of the nuclear force and eliminating specific nuclear capabilities such as nonstrategic nuclear forces.

9. Ibid.

10. The protocol to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty was submitted on May 2, 2011. S. Treaty Doc. No. 112-2 (2011). The protocol to the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty was submitted on May 2, 2011. S. Treaty Doc. No. 112-3 (2011). The protocol to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia was submitted on April 27, 2015. S. Treaty Doc. No. 114-2 (2015).

11. George Bunn, “The Legal Status of U.S. Negative Security Assurances to Non-Nuclear Weapon States,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Spring-Summer 1997): 1; George Bunn and Roland M. Timerbaev, “Security Assurances to Non-Nuclear-Weapon States: Possible Options for Change,” PPNN Issue Review, No. 7 (September 1996), p. 1.

12. UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, “France: Signature of Protocol III to the Pelindaba Treaty,” 2021, https://treaties.unoda.org/a/pelindaba_3/france/SIG/african_union.

13. Surya Subedi has argued that the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone does not in any way contradict or challenge the Convention on the Law of the Sea nor does it impede freedom of passage. He notes, that “since Article 2(2) makes it clear that nothing in the Bangkok Treaty shall prejudice the rights of States under the [convention], the whole question of the transport of nuclear weapons through the Southeast Asian NWFZ depends on how the rules of the law of the sea, especially the provisions of the [convention], are interpreted. From this perspective, the Bangkok Treaty seems to alter little so far as the freedom of navigation, the right of innocent passage, the right of transit passage and the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage are concerned. The concern of the nuclear Powers about the effects of an NWFZ for Southeast Asia seemed to have stemmed because of the tendency of certain States of the region to interpret narrowly the right of transit and archipelagic sea lanes passage. The language of the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty in no way contradicts international treaties such as the Law of the Sea.” In Surya Subedi, Problems and Prospects for the Treaty on the Creation of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in Southeast Asia, International Journal of Peace Studies, Volume 4 No 1, 1999, https://www3.gmu.edu/programs/icar/ijps/vol4_1/subedi.htm.

14. R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa, Statement on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) states-parties to the NPT, May 3, 2010, https://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2010/statements/pdf/nam_en.pdf.

15. Javad Zarif, Statement before the 2015 NPT Review Conference on behalf of the NAM states-parties to the NPT, April 27, 2015, p. 3, https://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/revcon2015/statements/27April_NAM.pdf.

16. 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, "Nuclear Disarmament: Working Paper Submitted by Algeria," NPT/CONF.2020/WP.11, October 29, 2021.

17. Sylvia Mishra, “The Ukraine Crisis and the Global Nuclear Order,” Truman Center for National Policy, March 4, 2022, https://www.trumancenter.org/issues-posts/the-ukraine-crisis-and-the-global-nuclear-order.

18. “Annex: Stepping Stones for Advancing Nuclear Disarmament,” n.d., https://www.government.se/497342/globalassets/regeringen/lena-micko-test/stepping-stones-for-advancing-nuclear-disarmament.pdf.

19. Jeffrey W. Knopf, ed., Security Assurances and Non-Proliferation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 9.

20. Peter Beerwerth, “CD Thematic Discussion on Negative Security Assurances (NSA)” (statement to the Conference on Disarmament, June 8, 2021), https://documents.unoda.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/20210608-Statement-DEU-for-web.pdf.

Francesca Giovannini is the executive director of the Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center of the Harvard Kennedy School.

As the war in Ukraine rages and nuclear-armed Russia makes threats, do these security assurances still have meaning?

The Middle Eastern WMD-Free Zone and the NPT

July/August 2022
By Tomisha Bino

Regarded by Arab states as an integral part of the package that led to the indefinite extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995, the “Resolution on the Middle East,” which calls for the establishment of a regional zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), has become one of the more contentious issues discussed at NPT review conferences. At times referring to the resolution as the NPT’s “fourth pillar,” Arab states continue demanding its implementation and sometimes condition their support for a review conference final document on making progress on the zone issue.

Adoption of a resolution calling for creation of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East was central to the indefinite extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference,  opened by UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (L), conference president Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka (C), and conference secretary general Prvoslav Davinic of the former Yugoslavia. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)They also emphasize the responsibility of the NPT depositary states (Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to ensure implementation of the resolution, which they co-sponsored. The zone issue is often seen as making or breaking consensus on the final document and will be a critical focus when the 10th NPT Review Conference is held in August in New York.1

Exasperated by the lack of progress on the zone’s creation, Arab states initiated through the UN General Assembly a conference process, which has held two sessions aimed at producing “a legally binding treaty establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

Despite the unclear fate of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; heightened global nuclear tensions; and Israel’s continued noninvolvement, Middle Eastern states have been able to hold substantive discussions on several key aspects of the zone treaty. At this stage, the negotiations have addressed the general structure of a treaty, agreed on a decision-making mechanism, and identified topics to be addressed in future sessions. Throughout the second session, it was clear that regional states were keen to develop a joint strategy to address the zone during the upcoming review conference.

A Long Legacy

At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the NPT depositary states were determined to secure the treaty’s indefinite extension without a vote. This offered an opportunity for Arab states, especially Egypt, to move forward their proposal for a WMD-free zone by conditioning their agreement to the indefinite NPT extension on the inclusion of a resolution on the zone. The United States and Egypt negotiated the resolution as part of the extension package deal, which “calls upon all states of the Middle East that have not yet done so, without exception, to accede to the treaty as soon as possible.”

Arab states insisted that the zone resolution include a specific reference to Israel, which has never joined the NPT and is believed to possess nuclear weapons. The United States, however, could not accept that demand, especially when other Middle Eastern states also had not joined the NPT. The eventual compromise removed the reference to Israel and “call[ed] upon all States in the Middle East to take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at making progress towards…the establishment of an effectively verifiable” WMD-free zone.2

In advance of the review conference in 2000, Arab states aimed to strengthen the 1995 resolution. They won support for inviting the UN secretary-general to prepare papers on implementing the outcomes of the 1995 review conference, including the Resolution on the Middle East, and to submit them to the 2000 review conference.3

The background paper on the issue of the Middle East prepared by the UN Secretariat for the 2000 review conference noted that following the accession of Djibouti, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates to the NPT, all Middle Eastern states except Israel are states-parties to the treaty.4 This language was later adopted as part of the review conference final document, which Arab states viewed as a great success given that publicly identifying Israel as an NPT outlier was a long-standing goal. In return, the United States insisted that an acknowledgment of Iraq’s noncompliance with its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement also be included in the final document.5

The 2005 review conference was troubled even before it began as its preparatory committee disagreed over procedural and substantive matters. Several agreements reached during the 2000 review conference were questioned retroactively, including whether those outcomes were relevant.6 As a result, the 2005 review conference started without an agreed agenda or work program.

Israel and its nuclear program are key factors in the debate about a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Experts say Israel has roughly 80 nuclear weapons but the government has refused to confirm a weapons program. This is an undated photo of Israel's nuclear reactor at Dimona. (Photo by Getty Images)Although the issue of the Middle East played a minor role in the failed outcome of this conference, there were a few noteworthy developments. All chair summaries from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 preparatory committees reaffirmed the importance and validity of the Resolution on the Middle East from 1995 and called for the establishment of a mechanism within the NPT review process to promote the resolution’s implementation.7 The 2003 chair’s summary even referred to the “road map” developed by the Middle East Quartet that was working on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and noted that “a view was expressed that the road map could be an important step in the direction of the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction.”

Responding to the road map reference, Egypt stated that “the creation of such zones should not be linked to political developments in the regions concerned.”8 Syria also objected, saying that “compliance with the NPT should not be conditional on any other measures and, in particular, that the creation of nuclear-weapon-free zones should not be tied to other issues.”9 At the 2005 review conference and within the subsidiary body focusing on regional issues, including the implementation of the 1995 Middle Eastern resolution, Egypt and Iran refused to allow any nonconsensus documents to be forwarded to the drafting committee, leaving it very little with which to work to produce the final document.10 Most of the 2005 review conference was consumed by organizational matters, leaving too little time to bridge divergent positions and produce a consensus document.

The 2010 review conference produced the most progress on the WMD-free zone, but it was not easy. Alison Kelly, who headed the Irish delegation and chaired the negotiations on the Middle Eastern zone, conducted marathon consultations with key stakeholders to achieve a consensus report. It contained a number of practical steps, including the decision to convene a conference in 2012 on the establishment of a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone, as well as the appointment of a host government and facilitator to this end.

Once the consensus final document was adopted, however, the United States expressed reservations about the paragraph that reaffirmed the “importance of Israel’s accession to the [NPT] and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.” It said the reference to Israel jeopardized the U.S. ability to help create the conditions needed for a successful Middle Eastern conference.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry addresses the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, during which Egypt made a proposal that set deadlines for a planned meeting on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)With the postponement of the 2012 Middle Eastern conference and the failure of all subsequent attempts to revive it, Arab states entered the 2015 NPT Review Conference determined to reaffirm the commitments made in 2010 and to adopt a concrete plan to implement them. The Arab Group pushed to have the UN secretary-general convene a WMD-free zone conference within six months after the review conference. A Russian working paper wanted the conference no later than March 1, 2016, nine months after the review conference.

Canada, the UK, and the United States rejected the language on the Middle Eastern zone in the draft prepared by the review conference president, Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, which reflected the Russian proposal. They said the zone conference needed to be held on the basis of arrangements freely agreed by states in the region. In closing remarks, the United States described the Arab states, especially Egypt, as “not willing to let go of these unrealistic and unworkable conditions included in the draft text.”

Since then, some experts have pointed to the WMD-free zone issue as “one of the main reasons behind the failure to produce a consensus final document” at the 2015 review conference.11 Others have cautioned that this argument is “at best misleading and, in some of its guises, disingenuous.”12 Yet, the former view has become the commonly held belief, to the chagrin of the Arab states.

A New Approach

Amid growing frustration, the Arab Group in 2018 tabled a proposal at the UN General Assembly First Committee on convening a conference on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. The group acted a few months after the United States submitted a working paper to the 2018 NPT preparatory committee arguing that the NPT review cycles were not an appropriate forum for the zone issue.

Washington defined its role as a co-sponsor of the 1995 resolution as “supporting the regional states in undertaking practical steps and facilitating direct regional dialogue to establish conditions conducive to a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems.” Whether this was a factor in the Arab states’ decision to take the issue to the General Assembly is unclear. A League of Arab States resolution from March 2018, a month before the 2018 preparatory committee meeting, suggests the league already had decided to take action through the General Assembly on the 1995 resolution.13

The General Assembly adopted the Arab draft decision by a vote of 103–3 with 71 abstentions (Israel, Micronesia, and the United States were against). The UN secretary-general was asked to convene an annual, week-long conference at UN headquarters on producing a legally binding treaty establishing the zone. Israel called the decision “another platform to single out Israel,” while the United States described it as a “divisive, short-sighted approach” and one that “will cause profound damage to international efforts to advance” the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.

Since then, the zone conference has held two sessions that yielded positive preliminary results and momentum. The first session took place November 18–22, 2019, with the participation of 21 Arab states and Iran. China, France, Russia, and the UK attended as observers. Having voted against convening the conference, Israel and the United States stayed away. Although debating procedural rules consumed much of the time, the conference issued two decisions on the presidency and the annual dates of future sessions. It also agreed on a political declaration that reaffirmed the commitment of participating states to the zone conference and urged those states that had not participated to do so in the next session.14

The second session, held November 29–December 3, 2021, also was attended by most members of the League of Arab States and Iran. As in the first session, Israel and the United States were absent. The meeting built on the first session’s momentum by overcoming some past disagreements, notably by establishing the conference rules of procedure and creating a mechanism for organizing intersessional work.

Kuwait, which served as president of the second session, followed the example of Jordan, which presided over the first session, in conducting extensive preconference consultations to shape the outcome of the meeting.

Significantly, the Kuwaiti presidency forged an agreement on procedural rules that specify that all conference decisions, whether on procedural or substantive matters, must be made by consensus. Another rule, on decision-making, states that the final text of a treaty on the zone can be adopted formally only if all conference members are present and vote in favor of the draft. Given that rule 2 defines “members of the conference” as all 22 Arab states, Iran, and Israel, Israel would have to reverse its opposition and join the process if the conference is to adopt a treaty text.

This language may be intended to give concrete form to the stated commitment of participating conference members to an inclusive process. It is unlikely, however, that Arab states will be able to change Israel’s decision not to participate by making overtures that solely address the conduct of the conference when Israel disagrees fundamentally with the conference’s approach and mandate.

The August Review Conference

Arab states see the upcoming NPT review conference as a crucial point for them to gain support or, at the least, acknowledgement for the process they have been building since 2018. It also will present an opportunity to gauge the Biden administration’s position on the zone conference, which will be revealed by whatever language prevails in the review conference final document. Although Israel and the United States broke consensus on the Middle Eastern zone resolution in the UN General Assembly in 2018 to 2020, the Biden administration changed that vote to an abstention in 2021. Whether this change reflects a change in position on the zone conference also might be revealed at the upcoming review conference.

An overview of the statements delivered during the general debate of the zone conference second session shed light on expectations for the NPT review conference. Most states highlighted the responsibility of the three NPT depositary states, as the co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution, to ensure implementation of that resolution and connected that to support for the zone conference. The statements were clearly aimed at the United States, the only one among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council that has not attended the first or the second sessions of the zone conference.

With the NPT review conference originally planned for roughly a month away from the second session of the zone conference, several states spoke about the link between the zone conference and the 1995 Middle East resolution.15 They stressed that one does not replace the other and that the zone conference represents an opportunity at long last to implement the 1995 resolution. These statements did not include specifics, however, about how the issue might feature at the NPT review conference.

The Egyptian statement held that the success of the zone conference second session would result in a positive outcome at the review conference, without explaining what that meant in practice. Qatar and Lebanon had more concrete suggestions, with the former suggesting that the zone conference submit a report to the review conference and the latter calling on the review conference to “express its strong support to the process launched by this [zone] conference…as an essential mechanism for the implementation of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East.” Jordan’s statement called on the participating zone conference members to formulate a unified position ahead of the review conference.

Perhaps the clearest indicator of the result that Arab states would want to achieve at the review conference can be found in the Arab Group working paper submitted to the 2019 NPT preparatory committee. It recommended that the review conference “welcome and provide support” to the new zone conference process and urge Israel to participate in it. In making this recommendation, Arab states might have hoped for an outcome similar to that in 2000 and 2010, when recommendations in their working papers were reflected, at least partially, in the final documents. The outcome of the upcoming review conference is more likely to look like that from 2005, when changes in the global context and tensions between nuclear-weapon states impeded the conference.16

In looking at the history of nonproliferation and disarmament advances in the region and with the zone treaty, it is clear that many positive developments, such as the convening of the arms control and regional security working group following the 1991 Madrid peace conference, the dismantlement of Syria’s declared chemical weapons program, and the conclusion of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, occurred when there was a conducive global environment and cooperation between major powers, especially Russia and the United States.17

Despite initial optimism that the Biden administration’s approach to nuclear diplomacy could positively impact the NPT, current global challenges and tensions, most acutely due to the war on Ukraine, could pose an insurmountable challenge for a constructive review conference.18 In such a climate, in contrast to previous review conferences, it is unlikely that the Middle East will be the issue that has the biggest impact on the review conference as some may fear.



1. Chen Zak Kane, “Pathways Forward for the ME WMDFZ Process and 2002 NPT Review Conference,” UN Institute for Disarmament Research, 2020, p. 8, https://unidir.org/sites/default/files/2020-04/ME%20WMDFZ%20Feb%20Conference%20Report%20-%20final_0.pdf; Michal Onderco and Leopoldo Nuti, eds., “Extending the NPT? A Critical Oral History of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2020, p. 149, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/extending-npt-critical-oral-history-1995-review-and-extension-conference.

2. Onderco and Nuti, “Extending the NPT?” p. 130.

3. 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Report of the Preparatory Committee for the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” NPT/CONF.2000/1*, May 21, 1999, para. 26–27.

4. 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Implementation of the Resolution on the Middle East Adopted by the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Background Paper Prepared by the United Nations Secretariat,” NPT/CONF.2000/7, April 10, 2000, para. 15.

5. Rebecca Johnson, “The 2000 NPT Review Conference: A Delicate, Hard-Won Compromise,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 46 (May 2000), http://www.acronym.org.uk/old/archive/46npt.htm.

6. John Simpson and Jenny Nielsen, “The 2005 NPT Review Conference: Mission Impossible?” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 12, No. 2 (July 2005): 271–301.

7. The summary from the preparatory committee in 2004 was not issued. For a draft, see Rebecca Johnson, “Report on the 2004 NPT PrepCom,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 77 (May/June 2004), http://www.acronym.org.uk/old/archive/dd/dd77/77npt.htm.

8. Preparatory Committee for the 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Summary Record of the 19th Meeting,” NPT/CONF.2005/PC.II/SR.19, June 30, 2003, para. 26–27.

9. Ibid., para. 32.

10. Simpson and Nielsen, “2005 NPT Review Conference.”

11. Nir Hassid, “Thinking Outside the Box: Preserving the NPT While Advancing the Middle East Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction-Free Zone,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 24, Nos. 1–2 (October 2017): 155–166; Naeem Salik, “NPT Review Conference 2015 in Perspective,” CISS Insight Journal, Vol. 3, Nos. 1–2 (July 2015).

12. See Tomisha Bino, “The Pursuit of a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East: A New Approach,” Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, July 2017, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/2017-07-27-WMDFZME.pdf. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2017/07/pursuit-wmd-free-zone-middle-east.

13. League of Arab States Ministerial Council resolution 8251, March 7, 2018, https://unidir.org/sites/default/files/2020-07/2018-03-07_EN_LAS%20Ministerial%20Council%20adopts%20SOC%20action%20plan%20for%20the%20implementation%20of%201995%20Resolution%20on%20the%20Middle%20East.pdf.

14. For a more detailed description of the first session of the conference, see Tomisha Bino, “A Middle Eastern WMD-Free Zone: Are We Any Closer Now,” Arms Control Today, September 2020, pp. 11–16.

15. When the second session was held November 29–December 3, 2021, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference was planned for early January 2022. It was later postponed until April, and then August, 2022.

16. Simpson and Nielsen, “2005 NPT Review Conference.”

17. Kane, “Pathways Forward for the ME WMDFZ Process and 2002 NPT Review Conference.”

18. Rebecca D. Gibbons, “Nuclear Diplomacy in the Biden Administration,” European Leadership Network, January 2021, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/commentary/nuclear-diplomacy-in-the-biden-administration/.


Tomisha Bino is a researcher with the Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone project. Her expertise includes arms control, disarmament, nonproliferation, and Middle Eastern security policy.

The zone issue, often key to consensus on NPT review conference final documents, again will be a focus when the next conference takes place in August.

A Better Way to Detect the Origins of a Pandemic

July/August 2022
By Angela Kane and Jaime Yassif

The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruption to regional and global security, including raising concerns about the potential use of unconventional weapons.1 Not least of these concerns is the dangerous Russian disinformation campaign alleging biological weapons development in Ukraine, which has led to fears that Russia itself may use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine as part of a false flag operation.2 In addition to highlighting the critical need to guard against biological risks, these allegations have drawn attention to serious gaps in the global biosecurity and pandemic preparedness architecture.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia holds documents as he speaks during the March 11 UN Security Council meeting called by Russia to discuss its claim of U.S.-supported chemical and biological weapon labs in Ukraine. Kyiv and Washington denied the allegations and called them Russian disinformation. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)This development comes in the midst of continued uncertainty and debate about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the international community may never fully resolve. Regardless, the world must be better prepared for future biological events that could arise from a wide range of sources, including naturally emerging outbreaks, deliberate biological weapons attacks, or laboratory accidents, with potentially catastrophic consequences. The ability to rapidly discern the source of emerging pandemics is critical to mitigating their effects in real time and to protecting against future risks.

To meet this need, it will be important to bolster the capabilities of the United Nations to investigate the origins of high-consequence biological events. This includes strengthening and investing significantly more resources in existing capabilities such as the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, which has the authority to investigate allegations of deliberate biological weapons use.3

The World Health Organization (WHO) is already engaged in efforts to strengthen its capabilities to respond to outbreaks of ambiguous origin, including by establishing the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens.4 Although these initiatives are laudable, WHO’s key operational strength, as well as the political comfort zone of its member states, remains its ability to assess and respond to naturally emerging infectious disease outbreaks. It is unclear how far WHO is willing or able to go in assessing origins of human-caused biological events, such as accidents or biological weapons attacks.

As a result, a critical gap remains between the authorities and capabilities of existing mechanisms across the UN system. Although uncertainty persists as to whether SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, emerged naturally or was accidentally released from a laboratory, the secretary-general’s mechanism cannot be deployed in this case because its mandate is limited to investigating allegations of deliberate attacks with biological or chemical weapons. At the same time, WHO has experienced difficulties investigating the source of the COVID-19 pandemic due to technical constraints coupled with the political realities of the organization’s need to maintain trust and support among all its member states.

Furthermore, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), whose review conference will commence in November 2022, contains procedures for convening consultative meetings of states-parties or for lodging with the UN Security Council allegations about the development, possession, or use of biological weapons.5 Such complaints could be taken up by the Security Council and investigated, yet in the 47 years since the BWC came into force, no complaint has been made, and no investigation has ever been conducted. This is despite ongoing concerns among BWC states-parties about noncompliance, including serious allegations of deliberate biological weapons use.6 Such inaction calls into question the utility of and trust in existing procedures.

A Promising Response

How can this gap among existing UN mechanisms be addressed? In a 2020 report, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, working with international partners, explored the possibility of establishing a “joint assessment mechanism” to determine the source of high-consequence biological events of unknown origin.7 The report was based on a senior-level exercise hosted in conjunction with the Munich Security Conference, where participants were presented with a fictional scenario in which the world confronts a disease outbreak from a dangerous, apparently human-engineered pathogen suspected of originating in a country with biotechnology ambitions. Ultimately, an international investigation reveals that the suspect country had been conducting illicit biological weapons research, and an accidental release from one of its laboratories was the source of the outbreak. In the scenario, the resulting global pandemic leads to more than 50 million deaths worldwide.

The Munich Security Conference and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) have hosted senior-level tabletop exercises to identify gaps in global capacities to prevent and respond to high-consequence biological events. Participants from this 2019 exercise included Angela Kane (L to R),senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation; Elhadj As Sy, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Ernest Moniz, co-chair and CEO of NTI; and Sam Nunn, NTI co-chair. (Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Threat Initiative)The exercise highlighted how determining whether the outbreak was due to poor laboratory practices or malicious intent proved critical to the effectiveness of the international response. The idea of the joint assessment mechanism emerged as a way to provide this capability, and since then, the concept has been further refined in consultation with international experts and stakeholders. This proposed mechanism would address cases where there is ambiguity about the source of a biological event—whether it emerged naturally or was deliberately or accidentally released from an academic, commercial, or governmental laboratory. This exercise took place in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequent developments have underscored the importance of rapidly discerning pandemic origins and the salience of the proposed joint assessment mechanism. Given the devastating global effects of COVID-19, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called in 2021 for more investment in preparedness and response capabilities to combat future pandemics.8 Now, the war in Ukraine has raised the specter of another potentially catastrophic risk: the possibility of Russia covertly using chemical or biological weapons under a false flag operation.

The joint assessment mechanism should take an approach that is rapid, transparent, evidence based, and legitimate in the eyes of the international community. It would include a standing capability with a small team responsible for integrating and analyzing data from multiple sources on an ongoing basis, as well as the capability to launch on-site assessments when necessary.

This should be a 21st century mechanism, taking advantage of new tools, methods, and technologies, such as bioinformatics, data science, and artificial intelligence, to build a capability suited to today’s threat environment. Substantive questions remain, however, in discussions with international stakeholders and experts regarding how best to build political support for the joint assessment mechanism, what its core mandates and functions would be, how it would relate to existing mechanisms, how to incentivize compliance, and how to incorporate modern scientific and technological tools.

One core challenge would be securing the cooperation of a country deemed to be the source of the biological or chemical event. Such engagement will be critical to a credible process and would require strong incentives and global norms to encourage cooperation.

Establishing a home for this mechanism within the office of the UN secretary-general would provide the needed authority and flexibility to activate and deactivate the mechanism as necessary, as well as pull together relevant other resources from across the UN system.

No one knows where the next global biological catastrophe will come from, nor does anyone know when it will occur. Having the capacity to establish the facts about an outbreak of unknown origin will improve the international community’s ability to prevent or respond effectively to the next biological catastrophe. If designed correctly, the mechanism could also deter bad actors from employing biological weapons by making it far more likely that they would get caught.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need to fill critical gaps in global capabilities, as well as to establish public trust in the source of relevant information. The joint assessment mechanism could be the instrument to achieve both.


1. Ahmet Üzümcü, “Will Chemical Weapons Be Used in Ukraine?” Project Syndicate, March 15, 2022, https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/will-chemical-weapons-be-used-in-ukraine-by-ahmet-uzumcu-2022-03.

2. Carol E. Lee and Teaganne Finn, “U.S. Warns Russia Could Use Chemical Weapons in False-Flag Operation in Ukraine,” NBC News, March 9, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/us-warns-russia-use-chemical-weapons-false-flag-operation-ukraine-rcna19391.

3. UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), “Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (UNSGM),” n.d., https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/secretary-general-mechanism/ (accessed June 25, 2022).

4. World Health Organization, “Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens,” n.d., https://www.who.int/groups/scientific-advisory-group-on-the-origins-of-novel-pathogens-(sago) (accessed June 25, 2022).

5. UNODA, “Biological Weapons Convention,” n.d., https://www.un.org/disarmament/biological-weapons/ (accessed June 25, 2022).

6. Jonathan B. Tucker, “The ‘Yellow Rain’ Controversy: Lessons for Arms Control Compliance,” The Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, pp. 25–42, https://www.nonproliferation.org/wp-content/uploads/npr/81tucker.pdf.

7. Beth Cameron et al., “Preventing Global Catastrophic Biological Risks,” Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), 2020, https://media.nti.org/documents/NTI_BIO_TTX_RPT_FINAL.pdf; Angela Kane, Jaime M. Yassif, and Chris Isaac, “Joint Assessment Mechanism to Determine Pandemic Origins,” NTI, n.d., https://www.nti.org/about/programs-projects/project/joint-assessment-mechanism-to-determine-pandemic-origins/ (accessed June 25, 2022).

8. “Our Common Agenda: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations, 2021, https://www.un.org/en/content/common-agenda-report/assets/pdf/Common_Agenda_Report_English.pdf.


Angela Kane is the Sam Nunn Distinguished Fellow at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) with a focus on global threat reduction. Previously, she served at the United Nations as assistant secretary-general for political affairs and high representative for disarmament. Jaime Yassif is the NTI vice president of Global Biological Policy and Programs, overseeing work on reducing global catastrophic biological risks, strengthening biosecurity, and advancing global health security.

The United Nations needs to bolster its capabilities to investigate the origins of high-consequence biological events.

Seeking the Bomb: Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation

July/August 2022

Nuclear Proliferation Is Nuclear Strategy

Seeking the Bomb: Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation
Vipin Narang
Princeton University Press
381 pages

Reviewed by Douglas B. Shaw


Vipin Narang’s Seeking the Bomb: Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation is a triumph. It offers important actionable recommendations for nuclear proliferation policy. It presents discoveries that significantly advance scholarly understanding of nuclear proliferation. It is also an accessible, authoritative introduction to nuclear proliferation for leaders, undergraduate and graduate students, and the public.

The book is a clear, essential guide to nuclear proliferation policy. It identifies two key policy levers for preventing nuclear proliferation. The first is to delay nuclear weapons programs to buy time for political change. The second is to fracture the domestic political consensus for nuclear weapons acquisition in states of nuclear proliferation concern. These recommendations apply the key finding of nuclear proliferation scholarship over the last generation: nothing stops a state determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

Although Narang is appropriately skeptical of the possibility of preventing a state determined to acquire nuclear weapons from doing so forever, he challenges the common assumption that most nuclear proliferators sprint to the bomb by predicting the future prevalence of hidden nuclear weapons programs. This unexpected finding suggests that improving capabilities for finding hidden programs should be a policy priority.

Narang cites the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), among China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union, and Iran, as a model policy application of his theory. The JCPOA aligned with his research findings by delaying Iran’s nuclear program and reinforcing fractures in the Iranian domestic political consensus on nuclear weapons acquisition. Describing the JCPOA’s success in reversing Iran’s progress toward the bomb, the author observed that “the biggest threat to the success of the JCPOA proved to be…domestic politics in the United States,” thus highlighting the essential problem looming over all future efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Cracking a Nuclear Puzzle

Theoretically, Narang cracks a methodological puzzle that has bedeviled nuclear proliferation scholarship for more than a decade: how should states’ progress toward acquiring nuclear weapons be measured? In his chapter in Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century, Scott Sagan clarified this puzzle in 2010 as “how quickly could individual governments…develop a nuclear weapon if they chose to do so”? Examining various coding schemes and the complexities of nuclear fuel-cycle technology choices, Sagan concluded that “any general measure of ‘nuclear latency’ is likely to be a chimera” and recommended an expansive “multi-disciplinary research agenda” incorporating several complex, interrelated political, economic, and technical considerations.

By asking a novel question, how do states pursue nuclear weapons instead of whether states will or how long it will take, Narang sidesteps what Sagan calls the “quixotic goal” of measuring nuclear latency directly. Instead, Narang offers a comprehensive, mutually exclusive typology of six nuclear proliferation strategies. Three are “hedging” strategies among states that are retaining an option for future nuclear weapons acquisition but have not yet decided to build a nuclear weapon, and three are strategies of active nuclear weapons pursuit.

Narang connects these six strategies through a handful of variables in sequence. The first variable is whether the state faces an acute security threat. If not, Narang predicts it will engage in a strategy of “technical hedging,” that is, developing relevant technologies to hold an option for nuclear weapons development “explicitly not now, but implicitly not never.” If the state does face an acute security threat, the second variable comes into play: can the state mitigate its acute security threat by a formal security guarantee from a great power? If yes, he predicts the state will adopt a strategy of “insurance hedging [which is to say] explicitly not now, but explicitly in the future if X happens.” That means that a state will take steps to reduce the time it will take to acquire nuclear weapons if triggered by a change to its security situation (fig.1).

Source: Vipin Narang, Seeking the Bomb: Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation, p. 28.Narang illustrates insurance hedging vividly with the case of Japan, citing the explicit communication by Japan and the acknowledgment by the United States that “Japan would go nuclear without an unequivocal American security guarantee.” He describes Japan’s conscious use of a civilian nuclear energy program as a “latent deterrent,” a term used by Satoshi Morimoto while he was the Japanese defense minister. Narang observes that “any time there has been a perturbation in the external security environment…Japanese leaders—across all parties—have not so subtly publicly mentioned the threat to go nuclear” and each time “the United States has obliged in reaffirming Japan’s request for an ‘unshakable nuclear umbrella.’” He raises an intriguing possibility that Japanese threats of nuclear proliferation could be constrained not just by U.S. security assurances but by “a lack of domestic consensus,” which has never been demonstrated.

Without a formal security guarantee from a great power, the third variable becomes decisive: does the state have a domestic political consensus in support of nuclear weapons acquisition? If not, Narang predicts the state will adopt a strategy of “hard hedging,” which is distinguished from insurance hedging primarily by the absence of any condition for deciding to pursue nuclear weapons beyond building domestic political consensus. Hard-hedgers stand on the threshold of the nuclear proliferation decision, and their position toward nuclear weapons is “explicitly not now, but explicitly not never.”

If a state does have a domestic political consensus in favor of pursuing nuclear weapons, it moves on from hedging to one of three strategies of active pursuit of nuclear weapons. Some states “sprint” toward nuclear weapons because they are large or advanced enough to be invulnerable to military or economic efforts to prevent their success. The United States and Russia were sprinters. Narang observes that most nuclear proliferation literature assumes that future proliferators will be sprinters, but his theory predicts that this is unlikely because most remaining potential proliferators are susceptible to prevention. If a state is vulnerable in this way but “the proliferator has found itself useful to a major power for other domestic or geopolitical reasons that override nonproliferation concerns,” Narang predicts it will adopt a strategy of “sheltered pursuit.” For example, he observes that following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States prioritized confronting the Soviet Union over preventing nuclear proliferation by Pakistan and thus sheltered Pakistan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Narang predicts that most states will be susceptible to prevention and therefore proceed to acquire nuclear weapons through a hidden program. He concludes that many future nuclear weapons aspirants will be “hiders,” concealing their pursuit of nuclear weapons and expecting “a violent fate if discovered.”

Narang’s book is an outstanding educational tool for students and the public. It offers a broad foundation of knowledge with a clear theoretical frame explicated through concise, authoritative case studies. He digs into the question of weapons-usable nuclear materials in new and enlightening ways.

Common Constraints of Nuclear Research

Alongside dramatic advances in understanding nuclear proliferation, Seeking the Bomb reflects the many persistent constraints on the study of nuclear proliferation. The book accepts as correct the view that nuclear weapons are “the one capability that can essentially indefinitely insure their regime or country,” and thus the book excludes perspectives that may be vital for human survival. It treats the danger of a nuclear war resulting from accident, miscalculation, or blunder as the summation of the responsibility of individual nuclear-armed states rather than as the product of an incomplete, flawed, and fragile global architecture of nuclear deterrence. Assuming that the prevailing understanding of nuclear weapons is correct reinforces this understanding without evidence.

The scale of damage that nuclear war threatens to impose on human civilization and the planetary environment are outside the book’s scope, as are the shocking human security costs of nuclear weapons programs, as explained by Togzhan Kassenova and others. Focusing almost exclusively on states as the relatively timeless objects of interest in shaping world politics risks turning a blind eye to the potential future collapse of nuclear-armed states, which in the case of the Soviet Union posed dramatic dangers for international security and nuclear proliferation.

Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi  (2nd from the right) visited Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in May. Japan has an advanced civilian nuclear energy program that could shift to weapons uses if the United States did not guarantee Japan's security.  (Photo by STR/JAPAN POOL / JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)Narang’s proliferation strategy theory describes approaches to statecraft and military policy without deep consideration of the role of science and industry. Careful observation of the scientific and industrial dimensions of nuclear technology dispels notions of a smooth, continuous technological line separating “bad” nuclear proliferation activities from “good” peaceful activities. The complex reality of a global nuclear energy industry that produces and, in some cases, separates large quantities of plutonium has consequences for nuclear proliferation risk. Similarly, future advances in nuclear fuel-cycle technologies could make it easier to hide the pursuit of nuclear weapons, especially if technology for detecting these activities does not keep pace.

Narang’s case selection is impressive within the common practice of examining states that have explored the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons. This is understandable in a book that responds to the expert community’s continuous demand to explain the most difficult cases. By excluding states that have not considered nuclear proliferation seriously, Narang accepts the common assumption that acute security threats are the cause of such consideration. Although this assumption that security threats drive nuclear proliferation is plausible, rigorous tests of other common assumptions are what distinguish this book as outstanding political science and a validation of the idea that careful observation can reveal what casual observation does not. Because he selects cases without variance to whether nuclear proliferation is considered, Narang’s theory tells us nothing about the behavior of the majority of the world’s states, which have forsaken nuclear weapons and are non-nuclear weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in good standing. As a result, it tells us nothing about how or why states that never explored nuclear weapons acquisition made that decision, even when they have invested substantially in developing nuclear technology.

Narang gives surprisingly little attention to the 1994 Agreed Framework between North Korea and the United States, which is especially noticeable in the context of his enthusiastic support for the JCPOA. While it lasted, the framework posed a verified obstacle to North Korean use of the Yongbyon reactor to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. North Korea’s pursuit of a uranium pathway to nuclear weapons while the framework was in force, the U.S. delay in fulfilling its commitments, and the framework’s eventual collapse are additional reasons to compare it rigorously with the JCPOA. The two deals share characteristics as coerced, bespoke, highly intrusive, one-sided nonproliferation verification schemes targeting states that the other parties to the deals do not trust. These are ample reasons to compare them carefully.

A Path to Future Research

The book opens pathways to potentially transformational future research. Narang’s identification of multiple nuclear strategies prior to nuclear weaponization suggests the possibility of identifying additional nuclear strategies to describe the behavior of states that have not considered nuclear weapons acquisition and those who rely heavily on large nuclear arsenals. One can imagine moving further up and to the left on Narang’s research chart to describe the behavior of states without nuclear weapons, states that act to promote restraint internationally, and states that mediate between nuclear-weapon states and others. Such a comprehensive typology of the nuclear strategy of all states would create an alternative, not only to the technical measurement of nuclear proliferation latency as Sagan defines it, but also to the challenge of measuring “universal latency” that authors Raymond Juzaitis and John McLaughlin identified in 2007 as essential to progress toward nuclear disarmament. Those authors called for an “explicit and nationally supported program of technology development to prepare for the eventuality of getting close to zero [nuclear weapons] and therefore needing greater transparency than current techniques are likely to provide.” Such a national innovation ecosystem is required equally and independently for the important national security objectives of reducing the risk of nuclear war, preparing to fight nuclear-armed adversaries, preventing nuclear proliferation, and implementing possible nuclear disarmament.

These challenges remain daunting conceptually, organizationally, and technologically. By offering policy solutions to nuclear proliferation that do not depend on the technical measurement of nuclear latency, Narang points the way to advancing these objectives in ways that could guide innovation in detection, monitoring, and verification technology. Identifying nuclear strategies further away from weaponization could create a comprehensive, mutually exclusive typology of all possible nuclear strategies. Such a map could embrace the horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferation choices of all states and describe nuclear arsenals of all sizes. In “A World Without Nuclear Weapons” in 2009, Thomas Schelling imagined a “schedule showing how many weapons (of what yield) a government could mobilize on what time schedule” to which tailored standards of verification inspections could be applied for all states. Implementation of Schelling’s vision was blocked at the time by the challenge of measuring nuclear proliferation latency. Narang’s breakthrough research could reinvigorate the disarmament agenda by creating a comprehensive typology of observable nuclear weapons behavior for all states.

Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to more states is often considered to be a background condition for preventing war through nuclear deterrence. The established nuclear- weapon states will never reduce their arsenals if they fear the nuclear weapons club will grow. By creating a context for recognizing nuclear proliferation strategies as ways states use nuclear weapons to pursue their security, Narang opens the door to a much wider understanding of nuclear coercion as a global phenomenon in which many states participate. This expanded view of nuclear strategy will be necessary for responding to the dangers that nuclear weapons technology will pose far into humanity’s future.

Douglas B. Shaw consults on nuclear weapons policy research and education and is a research professor of international affairs at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Vipin Narang’s book presents discoveries that significantly advance scholarly understanding of nuclear proliferation.

UN Official Brands Disarmament System ‘Miasma of Dysfunction’

July/August 2022
By Izumi Nakamitsu

UN Secretary-General [António] Guterres has described the war in Ukraine, which started on February 24 this year by the Russian invasion, as “an absurdity in the 21st century” and simply “evil.” The war has shaken the international system and order, weakening the guardrails against the use and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But it is, in many ways, the culmination of multiple trends that have been festering for years.

Izumi Nakamitsu, UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, addresses the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association on its 50th anniversary. (Photo by Allen Harris/Arms Control Association)We see openly hostile relationships between nuclear-armed states, where distrust has replaced dialogue. Arms spending is at historic levels. Cyber[space] and outer space have become potential new domains of conflict. Game-changing technologies have been repurposed to create new generations of conventional weapons with strategic capabilities. They have also lowered the barriers to [weapons of mass destruction (WMD)] acquisition, especially in the case of biological weapons. The taboo against chemical weapons, as we all know, has been repeatedly broken.

The global disarmament and nonproliferation regime has achieved remarkable results in shielding the international community from the horrors of WMD. But cracks in the façade were beginning to show even before Ukraine. Expensive modernization programs, coupled with expanding roles and dangerous rhetoric, illustrate clearly how nuclear weapons are trending in the wrong directions. Regional conflicts are fueling proliferation drivers. The conflict in Ukraine has propagated the false narrative that nuclear weapons provide the ultimate security guarantees.

Meanwhile, the disarmament machinery is a miasma of dysfunction. Divisions over the pace and scale of disarmament have widened into chasms. The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), for so long the bedrock of the entire regime, faces unprecedented challenges. The use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic and elsewhere has undermined the historic achievements of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The failure to hold the perpetrators of these horrific acts accountable would really imperil the entire regime.

Now, turning to another WMD, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a global lack of preparedness and demonstrated the disruption that could be caused if biological agents were to be used as weapons of war or terror. Yet while it remains a pillar of international peace and security, the Biological Weapons Convention’s (BWC) lack of a mechanism to verify compliance severely limits its effectiveness. I would like to come back to these issues of the CWC and BWC later because these are extremely important.

This is not a pretty picture. The guardrails against WMD use and acquisition are eroding. The war in Ukraine with its veiled nuclear threats and near-daily allegations regarding chemical and biological weapons has placed a spotlight on existing damage. The questions, therefore, are “What can we do” and “What should we do”? When it comes to nuclear weapons, current events have highlighted two urgent near-term objectives: the development of measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war and the reinforcement of the norm against use. But clearly this is not enough. For our collective security, we need to reverse course and take practical steps along the path to a world free of nuclear weapons. Arms control and disarmament efforts are instruments for our security, not an idealistic dream.

None of these objectives can be achieved without dialogue and engagement. Although the current situation makes it difficult, the United States and the Russian Federation need to return to dialogue at the first available opportunity, if only to ensure the efficacy of crisis communication. Even during the hottest moments of the Cold War, these states were able to engage in dialogue. [The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] will expire in four years. Time is running out to negotiate a successor, and that cannot happen without dialogue and engagement.

I hope this doesn’t sound too strange in this audience, the world’s top arms control experts. After major crises, there would always be windows of opportunity that would open up for engagement and negotiations in arms control because it is necessary for our security. In this context, now is the time to identify key issues and prepare ourselves for that day so that the moment the window of opportunity opens up, we will be able to immediately start substantive negotiations and engagement.

In that regard, I cannot stress enough the importance of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states’ engagement. In an increasingly multipolar world, coordination among these five is essential. They carry special responsibilities.

This brings me to the NPT and its 10th review conference taking place in August, just around the corner. As I said, the NPT faces unprecedented challenges. Even before the war in Ukraine, issues like regional proliferation crises, submarine propulsion, and divergence on disarmament threatened a consensus outcome. Despite all this, I hope that states-parties still will do their best to strengthen the NPT and, by extension, the regime itself. This treaty is simply that important.

The absence of consensus will not necessarily undermine the regime. What will jeopardize the NPT and the tangible benefits it provides is if states-parties do not approach the review conference with a willingness to listen, negotiate, and compromise. A review conference wracked by divisive actions will endanger the central role of the treaty, and we don’t want to see that happening.

Having said that, I believe there are several areas in which this review conference would still be able to make progress to reinforce disarmament and nonproliferation guardrails.

First, all states-parties can reaffirm their commitment to the norm against the use of nuclear weapons. Even under the current circumstances, the [five recognized nuclear-weapon states] should reaffirm their January joint statement. States-parties should also reaffirm their commitments to strengthening the norms against proliferation and testing.

Second, states-parties should reaffirm the commitments they have undertaken as parties to the NPT, especially under Article VI. They should engage in dialogue about accountability for the implementation of these commitments.

Third, states-parties should agree to a set of measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war, including at the nexus between technology and nuclear weapons. These could include transparency and confidence-building measures or doctrinal changes.

Fourth, the positive impact of peaceful uses is growing, including on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Ensuring access for all states-parties to these benefits would be a clear success.

Fifth, the conference should strengthen the safeguards system, including through universalization of the Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement, and ensuring the [International Atomic Energy Agency] has the necessary financial and human resources.

Last year saw the entry into force of a new guardrail, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The TPNW’s first meeting of states-parties later this month is an opportunity for this instrument to demonstrate its complementarity with the broader regime and to strengthen its important focus on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

The TPNW’s membership base remains relatively small, and I think even the most ardent supporters would agree that its implementation will take some time, but I have been impressed with the pragmatic and principled way states-parties are working towards these goals.

Now, I said I’d come back to chemical and biological weapons issues, so let me quickly talk about what I see as key issues. The scourge of chemical weapons should have been consigned to history, yet the last decade has seen repeated use of these heinous weapons. Twenty-five years after its birth, the CWC remains one of the most important achievements in disarmament. Through the verifiable destruction of 99 percent of global declared chemical weapons stockpiles, the CWC has made the world a safer place.

However, the norm against chemical weapons has been subjected to repeated challenges, driven by failures of compliance, the rise of nonstate actors capable of acquiring and using chemical weapons, and developments in science and technology. Perhaps most disheartening has been the inability so far to hold the perpetrators of chemical weapons use accountable. Such profound violations of international law cannot continue to go unaddressed.

Recent challenges to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) technical authority and to the professionalism of the Technical Secretariat not only undermine efforts to eliminate chemical weapons but also the entire disarmament and nonproliferation regime.

So, let me use this opportunity to once again thank the OPCW Technical Secretariat for its professionalism, impartiality, and dedication. I know these sentiments are held by the vast majority of CWC states-parties, but they need to openly demonstrate that support, especially regarding the investigation into and identification of the perpetrators of chemical weapons use.

Ultimately, the only way to reinforce the taboo against chemical weapons is for all states-parties to the convention to strictly abide by their obligations. But the [UN] Security Council needs to do its job as well, by uniting to end the crime of use with impunity.

Next year, the Fifth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention will be an important milestone in the life of this treaty and provides an opportunity to strengthen the norm against chemical weapons use and set a strategic direction for the OPCW for the next five years and beyond. My call is, let us start working together to fully restore this very important convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Now turning to the BWC, as I noted earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic brought into stark relief the need for a fully operationalized, properly institutionalized, and fit-for-purpose BWC in the 21st century. We should be grateful that no country today professes a desire to acquire biological weapons, nor a need for such weapons for national security reasons. But as recent events have shown, we cannot take this for granted. The erosion of the taboo against chemical weapons sets an alarming precedent.

This year, BWC states-parties will hold the convention’s ninth review conference in November and December. The review conference is an ideal opportunity for states to unite and strengthen this vital convention. State-parties could consider a range of different options, but today let me just mention four issues.

First, states-parties should operationalize the convention by giving teeth to its provisions supporting peaceful scientific cooperation, enhancing transparency in research, and promoting beneficial applications of new technologies. States should also establish mechanisms supporting national implementation and investigating and responding to alleged violations.

Second, states should institutionalize the convention, providing it with the necessary human capital to oversee its many functions. Regimes against chemical weapons and nuclear proliferation and testing already benefit from organizations that engage in outreach, training, and capacity-building and as a result have larger memberships and higher levels of implementation.

Third, the governments must adequately fund the convention. Ahead of the review conference, they should prepare for a significant increase in the convention’s budget.

Currently, most of its states-parties pay less than $1,000 a year.

Finally, states should explore how to verify compliance with the convention’s obligations. This issue was last explored over 20 years ago, and much has changed in the meantime, both the threats and the technologies to ensure adherence to the rules.

As we seek to strengthen the BWC, we should remember that member states of the United Nations also have another tool when it comes to investigating the use of biological weapons.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s Mechanism for investigation of alleged use of chemical, biological, and toxin weapons is not related to the BWC, and its mandate relates only to the investigation of alleged use, nor is the mechanism a standing body. It relies on the generosity of member states to maintain its roster of state-nominated laboratories and experts that can be called on to conduct investigations at short notice.

However, the Secretary-General’s Mechanism is currently the only international mechanism for the investigation of alleged use of biological weapons. In the absence of a BWC verification mechanism, it is essential that the independence of the Secretary-General’s Mechanism is preserved and its preparedness strengthened. I want to stress that there are many arrows in the international quiver for dealing with the threats posed by WMD. Those arrowheads really need to be kept sharp and ready for use.

The rapidly evolving geostrategic environment also demands a reassessment of whether the international community has everything it needs to confront the dangers of WMD, whether existing structures should be adapted, and whether we need new tools. In other words, should we not have a new updated vision for arms control and disarmament?

In his report “Our Common Agenda,” the secretary-general of the United Nations stated that “[r]isks to peace and security are growing…. The world is moving closer to the brink of instability.” In response, he called for a new agenda for peace that would include “a renewed effort to agree on more effective collective security responses.” This new agenda will also serve to “update our vision for disarmament so as to guarantee human, national and collective security.”

This update would need to address many of the challenges that I have mentioned, as well as new elements regarding ungoverned spaces such as missiles or nonstrategic nuclear weapons. It should also support efforts to place guardrails around areas that do not have them, from cyber[space] to outer space and artificial intelligence, and we should also look at linkages between these new issues and traditional WMD. We also need to look at responsible behavior, capabilities, and qualities, not just quantities, and specific types of weapons.

Finally, we should seek to ensure that disarmament and arms control takes it rightful place as a pillar of the international peace and security architecture. Obviously, we have much work ahead of us. I’m counting on you, and I know that, with the necessary political will and readiness to engage, our goals are indeed achievable.

Remarks by Izumi Nakamitsu, UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, to the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association, held June 2 in Washington, D.C. They have been edited for clarity and length.

The guardrails against acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction are eroding, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN disarmament chief, said.

DOCUMENT: U.S. President’s Letter to the Arms Control Association

U.S. President’s Letter to the Arms Control Association

NATO Strengthens Eastern Flank, Eyes Russia, China

July/August 2022
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

NATO leaders have approved a new strategic concept, announced major plans to strengthen the military force posture, and agreed to begin accepting two new members as the alliance continues to push back against an increasingly aggressive Russia and a rising China.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (L) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid on June 28. The talks, which also included Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, appeared to resolve Turkey's objections over Finland and Sweden joining NATO. (Photo by Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)In a world where “pervasive instability, rising strategic competition and advancing authoritarianism challenge the alliance’s interests and values…[w]e will significantly strengthen our deterrence and defense posture to deny any potential adversary any possible opportunities for aggression,” they declared in the strategic concept, the blueprint of alliance goals and principles.

The NATO summit in Madrid on June 29–30 opened on a strong note after Finland, Sweden, and Turkey signed a trilateral memorandum clearing the way for the Nordic states to join the alliance. Turkey lifted its hold on the membership bids after 11th-hour talks on June 28. As a result, Turkey received assurances that Finland and Sweden would commit to preventing the activities of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has killed civilians in Turkey, and other terrorist organizations. Meanwhile, the United States signaled a new willingness to sell upgraded F-16 jet fighters to Turkey.

Guided by the strategic concept, the new force plans include deployment of a brigade-level military presence on NATO’s eastern flank and an increase in its high-readiness joint task force from 40,000 troops to 300,000 troops by 2023. The alliance also agreed to prioritize the integration of air and missile defenses in its deterrence and defense posture.

Although NATO members reaffirmed that arms control, disarmament, and meaningful reciprocal dialogue are imperative to Euro-Atlantic security, they also asserted a robust recommitment to NATO’s nuclear capabilities in order “to preserve the peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression.”

The main difference from the previous strategic concept, released more than a decade ago, appears to be an acknowledgement that NATO is operating in a radically different security environment, with Russia now identified as the most pressing challenge. “The Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace. [Russia] has violated the norms and principles that contributed to a stable and predictable security order,” the new strategic concept states.

By contrast, NATO members in the 2010 concept envisioned a true strategic partnership with Russia and viewed the NATO-Russia Council, established more than 20 years ago by the NATO-Russia Founding Act, as a crucial mechanism for dialogue and joint action.

By 2021 the tone was already changing as NATO deemed Russia a threat. “We face multifaceted threats, systemic competition from assertive and authoritarian powers,” NATO leaders said in a statement at the time. “Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security.”

The allies also first acknowledged that China’s growing influence presented a challenge. (See ACT, April 2021.) The new strategic concept takes that further and says China’s “malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target allies and harm alliance security.”

The new concept highlights numerous issues of strategic importance for the alliance defense and deterrence force posture, including air and missile defense capabilities. In NATO’s determination to “defend every inch of allied territory…we will ensure a substantial and persistent presence on land, at sea, and in the air, including through strengthened integrated air and missile defense,” the concept says. The move reflects NATO’s concerns about Russia’s indiscriminate use of missile systems in Ukraine. (See ACT, June 2022.) The concept also emphasizes the importance of new and emerging technologies. To this end, NATO leaders agreed to launch a $1 billion fund for emerging technologies.

Despite the shifts in force posture, NATO leaders reaffirmed the importance of arms control to a credible deterrence posture and reiterated their commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Nonetheless, the new concept does not provide a strategy for moving forward with nuclear arms control and disarmament and does not differ from NATO’s previous policy. The new concept states that the allies “will pursue all elements of strategic risk reduction, including promoting confidence building and predictability through dialogue.”

Effectively, the new security environment is accelerating existing NATO policies. When the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO withdrew nearly all forward-based troops from Eastern Europe. After Russia’s illegal invasion of Crimea in 2014, the alliance developed an “enhanced forward presence” comprising four rotational multinational battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland as a trip wire to deter Russia. NATO also increased military exercises in the Black Sea. (See ACT, June 2022.)

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the alliance doubled the number of rotational multinational battlegroups; established four more battlegroups, in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia; and placed more than 40,000 troops under direct NATO command. These troops are part of NATO’s Response Force, a multinational, multidomain force that can be deployed quickly. NATO also expanded its air police missions and military exercises.

At the summit, the alliance reinforced its military position in other ways. The multinational battlegroups established in 2016 on the alliance’s eastern flank will be enhanced up to brigade levels. After 2016, the battlegroups totaled about 3,000 troops. In June 2022, NATO said the approximate troop strength in all battlegroups, including in Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia was 9,641. NATO’s high-readiness joint task force, which NATO said had 4,000 troops in 2021 and 40,000 after Russia’s invasion, will be increased to 300,000 troops under a new force model.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced that these new deployments would include additional U.S. forces in Europe, including, but not limited to, a permanent headquarters in Poland for the U.S. Army Fifth Corps, enhanced rotational deployments in the Baltics, and an additional brigade in Romania underscoring continued U.S. leadership in supporting European security. “Earlier this year, we surged 20,000 additional U.S. forces to Europe to bolster our alliance in response to Russia’s aggressive move, bringing our force total in Europe to 100,000,” Biden said.

Russia’s reaction was swift, with media quoting President Vladimir Putin as saying, “We have nothing to worry about in terms of Finland and Sweden's membership in NATO. They want to join NATO—please. Only they should clearly imagine that there were no threats to them before, but if military contingents and infrastructure are deployed there, we will have to respond in a mirror manner.”

Before the summit, analysts wondered if NATO would ditch its commitments under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, which stipulated that NATO has no intention, reason, or plan to deploy nuclear weapons, or nuclear storage sites, in the territories of states that joined NATO after the Soviet Union disintegrated.

Although the new strategic concept did not formally abrogate the act, NATO is looking at conventional options to strengthen deterrence beyond the limits implied in the act. The act’s “substantial combat forces pledge” states that NATO will not permanently deploy substantial conventional forces, assumed to mean more than one brigade, in new member states. Russia has accused NATO of violating the act with rotational deployments. At the summit, NATO did not announce a permanent force deployment in the Baltic states and likely will argue, in response to Russian accusations, that rotational forces do not violate the act. Possible contributions by Finland and Sweden are not included.

“Russia has walked away from the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and while that is unfortunate, it’s done, and we are certainly going to look at conventional deployments that would not be necessarily considered under the NATO-Russia Founding Act. But more importantly, I think we just don’t think it applies anymore to the world that we’re facing,” a high-ranking NATO official told Arms Control Today.

At the summit, the allies agreed on a comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine. “Over the longer term, we will help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era military equipment to modern NATO equipment and further strengthen its defense and security institutions,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

The leaders also recommitted themselves to the alliance’s long-standing open-door policy and formally invited Finland and Sweden to join. (See ACT, June 2022.) Next, the parliaments of NATO’s 30 member states must ratify Finland’s and Sweden’s accession protocols.

NATO approved a new strategic concept, announced plans to boost its military force, and began accepting
two new members as it pushed back against Russia and China.

Iran, U.S. Agree to Resume Nuclear Talks

July/August 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran and the United States agreed to resume indirect negotiations aimed at restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell traveled to Tehran to quell escalating tensions between the two countries that threatened to derail a return to talks.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian (R) walks to a press conference with Josep Borell, the European Union foreign policy chief (C), at the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran on June 25. Borrell appeared to succeed in getting Iran and the United States to resume indirect talks over restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Image)In a June 25 press conference following his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, Borrell said his trip had “one main objective,” which was to “break the current dynamic of escalation and to break the stalemate of the negotiations” to restore the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He said it was of “paramount importance to give new momentum” to negotiations and that talks will resume “in the coming days.”

The European Union serves as coordinator for the group of states known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that negotiated the JCPOA and facilitated indirect negotiations between Washington and Tehran for a year before talks stalled in March.

Borrell said that he and Amirabdollahian agreed to “try to solve the last outstanding issues” and that there are “decisions that have to be taken in Tehran and in Washington.”

Borrell was likely referring to the Biden administration’s refusal to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, an issue that caused the stalemate in negotiations, without reciprocal commitments from Iran to reduce tensions in the region. (See ACT, May 2022.)

Amirabdollahian confirmed Iran’s willingness to resume talks and said he hoped the Biden administration will “realistically and fairly engage” in negotiations. He said Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s priority is to reach a deal that ensures that Iran will receive the full economic benefit envisioned by the JCPOA.

Amirabdollahian’s comments, along with statements from other Iranian officials over the past several weeks, suggest that Iran may have softened its position and may be willing to accept a package that does not include removing the IRGC from the list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Amirabdollahian also said he and Borrell agreed to “end the tension that has existed in recent days."

The agreement to resume talks comes at a critical time in the negotiations as an escalatory spiral of actions had threatened talks to restore the deal.

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors passed a resolution censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with an agency investigation into undeclared nuclear materials and activities from the pre-2003 period, Iran retaliated by disconnecting 27 IAEA cameras surveilling key Iranian facilities and equipment monitoring enrichment levels.

The IAEA has not had access to the data from these cameras since February 2021 when Iran reduced agency verification activities. But IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi reached an arrangement whereby Iran would allow cameras to collect data that would be handed over to the agency later when the JCPOA was restored.

That arrangement staved off a crisis by ensuring that the agency would be able to reconstruct a history of Iran’s nuclear activities during the period of reduced monitoring. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Any gap in monitoring could prevent the IAEA from maintaining that continuity of knowledge about Iran’s nuclear activities, which could make it more difficult, if not impossible, for the agency to establish the baseline necessary to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear program under a restored JCPOA.

Grossi said on June 9 that Iran’s decision to unplug the cameras would be a “fatal blow” to JCPOA restoration efforts within three to four weeks. After that period, the IAEA would not “be able to give them the accuracy that [the parties to the JCPOA] require” to implement the deal, he said.

Although the United States appears to believe the window for restoring the accord is longer than the three to four weeks that Grossi referenced, the three European parties to the deal said Iran’s actions “will only aggravate the situation” and “cast further doubt on Iran’s commitment to a successful outcome.” In a June 9 statement, France, Germany, and the UK urged Iran to seize the opportunity to restore the JCPOA and to “cease its nuclear escalation.”

In addition to further reducing monitoring, Iran informed the IAEA that it began installing IR-6 centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, at its Natanz facility. The IAEA confirmed this in a June 8 report to the agency’s Board of Governors.

Iran was prohibited from producing enriched uranium with its IR-6 centrifuges under the JCPOA; production and testing of those machines were also limited by the accord. If Iran completes installation of the new cascades, it will have installed about 1,000 IR-6 centrifuges.

The IAEA also confirmed in a May 30 report that Iran has produced 43 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent uranium-235.

The advanced centrifuge machines, along with Iran’s growing stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent uranium-235, a level just short of the 90 percent considered weapons grade, decrease the amount of time it would take to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb. Laura Holgate, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said in a June 7 statement to the IAEA board that Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 60 percent U-235 “has no credible peaceful purpose.”

The Biden administration, also seeking to ratchet up pressure, announced new sanctions targeting companies in China and the United Arab Emirates that are engaged in exporting Iranian oil in violation of U.S. sanctions.

In a June 16 press release, Brian Nelson, undersecretary of treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that “absent a deal” to restore the JCPOA, the United States will continue to use sanctions to limit Iran’s exports of petroleum and petroleum-based products. These sanctions would be lifted if the JCPOA were restored.

Iran and the United States agreed to resume indirect negotiations aimed at restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal but failed to seal a deal.


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