A World without WMDs? Modern Challenges to Nuclear Non-Proliferation

Harvard International Review, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

A World without WMDs? Modern Challenges to Nuclear Non-Proliferation


DR. HANS BLIX is the chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, a nongovernmental project funded by Sweden. He served as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981-1997, and led the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Disarmament Commission in Iraq until 2003.

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You have voiced your belief that a new arms race is actually occurring in the world today--both on land and in space. What leads you to this conclusion?

It is clear that the United Kingdom has decided it will prolong the Trident Program for nuclear-tipped missiles, which will take them far into this century. The US administration wants to develop a new, standardized nuclear weapon. It may well be that the Russians are developing further modernizations of their nuclear weapons, and we do not know about the Chinese and others. So there are timetables being drawn up for new nuclear weapons, even though Article 6 of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) requires that the nuclear weapon states should move in the opposite direction and negotiate toward disarmament. As of today, the Russians have been testing a new missile for nuclear weapons, which I presume is a response to the missile shield.

There exists another big power competition when it comes to outer space. The United States and Russia have pursued this race for many years, but actions by the Chinese now demonstrate that they would have the capacity for military action in space. So I conclude that activities leading to more weapons are significantly prevailing over negotiations toward disarmament, despite the fact that there are no longer any real conflicts between the big powers. The total expenditure for military purposes in the world last year was about US$1.3 trillion, and yet there are no longer any real conflicts between the great powers. It has been about 17 years since the end of the Cold War. How can these expenses be justified?

You recently suggested that a way to inspire a suspension of Iran's nuclear enrichment program would be for nuclear countries, with the United States in the lead, to follow through with disarmament. Can you explain your reasoning behind this suggestion?

Let's consider the case of Iran. The Iranians may get to the point where they can decide whether to move toward nuclear weapons. So far they publicly reject the option. I am sure they feel that the fact that the United States and the United Kingdom are continuing on a nuclear path and prolonging their programs is something that will undermine the authority of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a party. If Iranians see that the actions of the United States and the United Kingdom are not conforming to the treaty's requirements, then why wouldn't they also feel that the treaty is not much of a barrier to them? The same applies to the North Koreans.

The absence of significant disarmament weakens the authority of the treaty precisely when there is a great need for it to be strong. Maintaining the authority of the treaty is essential to its effectiveness. I do not foresee the NPT having any real influence on the nuclear weapons policies of the United States or the United Kingdom. I note, however, that the United Kingdom did say, when it informed other countries about the continuation of Trident, that it was absolutely committed to an elimination of nuclear weapons around the world through a stepwise agreement on mutual and balanced reductions. Such declarations are nice to hear, especially at the moment when the United Kingdom is expanding and continuing its nuclear program. One would hope they are sincere and will take initiatives accordingly.

Some have said that demanding nuclear disarmament in the United States in the hope that other states will do the same is a dangerous fantasy. Is it possible that potential rogue states would see the loss of US deterrent capabilities as an open path to unfettered nuclear development? …

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