Transparency and Strategic Stability

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Russia and the Dilemmas of Nuclear Disarmament
In contemporary discussions about nuclear disarmament, few pause to ask why–and indeed whether–transparency is desirable.
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In contemporary discussions about nuclear disarmament, transparency is often seen as an unalloyed good. Non-nuclear-weapon states and nongovernmental organizations regularly propose new transparency initiatives. Nuclear- weapon states, meanwhile, try to demonstrate that they already are highly transparent. Yet, in this virtual openness stampede, few pause to ask why – and indeed whether – transparency is desirable.

Many of the non-nuclear-weapon states and non-governmental organizations that advocate greater transparency see its main value in permitting closer scrutiny of the nuclear-weapon states and their commitment to disarmament. For fear of appearing to provide a tacit endorsement of nuclear deterrence, they are strongly disinclined to even consider whether greater transparency could, in some circumstances, negatively affect deterrence; instead, they prefer to assert – as though it were a truism – that greater openness would automatically result in greater security.

This approach is short sighted. The nuclear-weapon states have made it clear that abolition will be a gradual process with progress towards disarmament tied to changes in the broader international security environment. Given that nuclear weapons will continue to exist for some time, it is in the interests of all states that further transparency does not undermine the stability of deterrence by, say, precipitating an arms build-up or increasing the probability of nuclear use.

This chapter was originally published by IMEMO in the book Russia and the Dilemmas of Nuclear Disarmament.

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Comments (1)

  • North Korea and Nuclear Transparency.
    Thomas W. Makin, former 1972 exchange student to Switzerland and Envoy, Nixon Administration: It is unfortunate as a matter of difficult circumstances that an unrecognized nuclear state such as North Korea has been beset with the problem of facing the nuclear capable United States with armed forces in place on the southern border for most of our lifetimes. Obviously, this difficult situation prevents reliable disclosure of quantity and capability of the Nations weapon strategy. Obviously, it is crucial to recognize the theory that the United States and other Nations must work soundly to avoid repeating the steps that led to this miserable "faceoff". It is my opinion at this time that the United Nations recognize this difficult problem and accept the North Korean Government as a Nuclear State without requiring the normal standard disclosures. Negotiations will likely be smoother as time goes along, and disclosure transparency as you would like to occur might come forth someday.
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