The nuclear order is under increasing pressure as the distance between nonaligned states and nuclear weapon states grows. Members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) regularly criticize nuclear weapon states for slow progress toward the ultimate goal of disarmament, as enshrined in the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Nuclear weapons states (NWS) maintain that they are making good faith efforts to fulfill this treaty obligation. This disagreement weighs heavily on relations between the two groups and threatens to stymie a host of nonproliferation initiatives. Carnegie hosted Harald Müller, one of Europe’s leading nuclear experts, to discuss this gap and several measures that could help to effectively bridge this dangerous divide. Carnegie’s George Perkovich moderated.

Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Cleavage

  • Disarmament: Article VI of the NPT calls on Parties to the Treaty to “pursue negotiations in good faith” on effective measures relating to nuclear and total disarmament.  Disarmament has been the most widely debated and divisive topics at NPT Review Conferences, Muller said; when past conferences failed to achieve a consensus, it was due to the disarmament issue.

  • Treaty Asymmetry: Disagreements over the NPT stem from the inherent asymmetry between Treaty parties and their unequal rights and obligations, Muller explained. 

  • Justice and International Relations: Muller added that foreign policy is not just about maximizing utility. Psychological and anthropological research reveals that notions of justice and fairness play a significant role in human thinking and practice. As such, feelings of injustice influence political interactions, especially between the NAM and NWS.

Two Philosophies on Disarmament

  • Non-Aligned Movement Perspective: Muller explained that the NAM and NWS hold different perspectives on how to fulfill the Article VI obligation. The NAM maintains that NWS must make decisive and unconditional steps towards disarmament in order to prevent procrastination and circumvention. They believe that NWS must line up the steps towards zero nuclear weapons in a time-bound sequence and commit to the whole process in a single treaty, the nuclear weapons convention. Muller outlined how this perspective is grounded in a historical experience of suppression and deprivation, giving the NAM countries an interest in avenging past injustices and reducing the power gap between NWS and themselves.

  • Nuclear Weapon State Perspectives: Muller explained that NWS believe in an incremental approach to disarmament. They contend that nuclear disarmament is only possible under specific circumstances and therefore cannot be pre-calculated. Furthermore, they argue that a stronger non-proliferation regime with verification and enforcement is needed to support an effective disarmament process. NWS defend their position for national security reasons, but also national interests and international role conceptions unique to each of the five nuclear weapon states.

  • Assessment: Muller contended that these different expectations are not entirely realistic nor do they reflect an appreciation or understanding of the other side’s position. While these two philosophies by NAM and NWS are antagonistic, they are not unbridgeable, Muller added.

Bridging the Gap

  • Taking Political Conditions Seriously: Muller argued that addressing divisive political conditions is an important step in mending the divide between the NAM and NWS. He suggested several ways to do so:

    • Parties to the NPT could establish a procedure in the preparatory process to address taking political conditions seriously.

    • A subsidiary body could be tasked with considering political conditions for the next NPT Review Conference.

    • There could be a resolution in the General Assembly of the United Nations addressing “conditions for nuclear disarmament.”

    • The P-5, NATO, and the EU could regularly address this issue in different groupings and consultations.

    • By making explicit the political conditions necessary for further disarmament, parties could be held fully accountable if they fail to actually seek to create such conditions.

  • Time-Bound Incrementalism: To advance the disarmament process, Muller recommended NWS:  

    • Set target dates for the conclusion of the next two or three disarmament steps, and create a system of accountability among the NPT community if a date is missed.

    • Establish implement dates and interim dates for any disarmament agreement.

    • Set target dates for achieving zero. Muller proposed the date of 2050/60.

  • The Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC): Muller contended that while the NWC could probably not be negotiated right away, an NPT or Convention on Disarmmament expert group could explore several of its aspects, including:

    • The definition of “zero.”

    • Modalities of dismantlement, verification, and enforcement.

    • Handling of civilian nuclear power.

    • Conditions for entry into force with a view to provide a useful operative input for later negotiations

Next Steps

Muller outlined several steps the international community could take to facilitate disarmament:

  • Arms Control Treaties: Muller recommended NWS ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, engage in Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations, and establish a treaty to prohibit the development and production of new types of nuclear weapons.  

  • Concrete Limits: Muller also suggested NWS create clear parameters on their nuclear capabilities and numbers. For example, he recommended all NWS declare ceilings of their arsenals and that the United States and Russia cap all warheads and delivery vehicles.  

  • Striking Deals: The NAM will probably not agree to new non-proliferation tools as long as there is no equivalent move on nuclear disarmament, Muller said. Thus, he recommended several ways treaty parties can advance disarmament steps in exchange for assistance in the realm of non-proliferation:

    • Treaty parties could negotiate packages in the preparatory process for the 2015 Review Conference that link specific disarmament measures important to the NAM to a non-proliferation measure useful for the regime.

    • Such non-proliferation measures could include: the application of the Additional Protocol as a verification standard, the establishment of procedures for withdrawal, making safeguards perpetual even after withdrawal, and support for multilateral fuel cycle arrangements.

    • First explorations could be tried by bridge-building groupings such as the North Atlantic Council and Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative.

Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons and the NPT

  • U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe: An additional source of contention between NWS and the NAM is NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangement and the deployment of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons in non-nuclear weapon states, Muller said. The NAM has always critiqued this posture, as it creates a third category of parties in the NPT that are under a nuclear umbrella and entitled to carry nuclear weapons to target in wartime.

  • Alternative Postures: Changing the current nuclear sharing arrangement would be beneficial to the NPT as well as NWS and NAM relations, Muller argued. He outlined several options for the Alliance: 

    • NATO could remove the bombs unilaterally and find alternative means of reassuring less secure members of the Alliance.

    • The United States could remove the weapons in return for asymmetric Russian concessions.

    • The Alliance could agree to a limited agreement with Russia that would, for example, separate warhead storage sites from carrier bases and consolidate weapons close to each side’s borders.

    • NATO could change its nuclear posture as part of a larger arms control package with Russia.