Nuclear proliferation is an issue of concern for international security. The UN General Assembly had highlighted the need for greater public awareness and education about the risks of nuclear testing and the necessity to put an end to such tests more than sixty (60) years after the use of nuclear weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The potential spread of nuclear weapons to new nations (horizontal proliferation) had come under increased scrutiny by the late 1950s. Additionally, the testing of those weapons was regarded as the primary component of the qualitative nuclear arms race, as did the continuous technological development of existing arsenals (vertical proliferation). Nuclear testing and horizontal proliferation had both made it into the United Nations agenda.
Peace and progress toward disarmament followed the end of the Cold War. As a result, several significant treaties were signed, including the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) in 1990, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I (START I) in 1994, the Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1997, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START I I) in 2000.
With the unanimous approval of resolution 64/35, designating 29 August as the International Day against Nuclear Tests, the United Nations General Assembly called attention to the efforts made in international peace and security in 2009. The resolution acknowledged that “every effort should be made to end nuclear tests to prevent terrible and dangerous impacts on the lives and health of people and the environment,” and that “the end of nuclear tests is one of the key means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.”
These encouraging developments, however, came to a halt when CTBT was rejected by the US Senate, START II fell through, the US withdrew from the ABM, and the 2005 NPT Review Conference caused a deadlock. Additionally, the détente was weakened by plans for missile shields in Europe and NATO expansion, which angered Russia. Arms Control was no longer a top priority for governments in competition and had fallen from their lists of priorities.
On April 5, 2009, President Obama gave a speech in Prague outlining the steps necessary to achieve nuclear weapons abolition. He stated, “The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War.” However, he did not mention how threat perception, security dilemma & arms trade contribute towards the arms race. The degree to which his recommendations face opposition within his own country, particularly among groups most interested in maintaining the status quo in the nuclear field, starting with the nuclear laboratories themselves, is another point that President Obama omitted to address.
The reality of nuclear zero may have been easier to achieve 60 years ago, but doing it now will require more time and visionary leadership. Moreover, none of the historical trends support complete disarmament or technological reversal. The US and Russia hold more than 90% of nuclear weapons. Approximately 4,000 of them are still operationally deployed, and 2,000 of them are being kept on high alert. That amounts to 2,000 nuclear bombs that might be detonated in the case of an assault in a matter of minutes. Nuclear weapons will inevitably be utilized at some point, whether on purpose, accidentally, or due to human error. The two countries with the largest stockpiles, Russia and the United States should drastically cut the number of warheads, especially those from non-strategic weapons.
The ultimate elimination of nuclear testing will reduce the probability of technological advancement in the nuclear arms race.
The writer is Research Officer at Centre for International Strategic Studies, AJK