Neither the governments attempting to negotiate with North Korea, nor the drafters of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, define what verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons and associated infrastructure would entail, whether in one country or in all.

What model for nuclear disarmament might a nuclear-armed state demand of its adversaries and accept for itself? If states were to commit to dismantle their nuclear arsenals, what would be the key benchmarks for assessing the progressive implementation of such a commitment? 

Toby Dalton
Dalton is the co-director and a senior fellow of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment. An expert on nonproliferation and nuclear energy, his work addresses regional security challenges and the evolution of the global nuclear order.
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Designing sustainable, effective nuclear disarmament—of North Korea or any other nuclear-armed state—requires much more than dismantling warheads and controlling fissile material stocks. Disarming states would need to collectively agree what types and numbers of delivery systems (especially missiles) would be permissible. Both nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-weapon states would need to determine what peaceful nuclear and space activities may remain during and after nuclear disarmament, and under what reassurance/monitoring conditions. At least some states would press for monitored limits on research and development activities vital to building or reconstituting nuclear arsenals.

The paper starts from a logic that could inform a denuclearization agreement with North Korea and how to manage its retention of nuclear weapons-related capabilities, including nuclear energy production, conventionally armed ballistic missiles, and a space launch program, among others. The paper then explores comparable political and technical choices that would need to be made in the disarmament of other nuclear-armed states, focusing on six challenges that will shape negotiations on dual-use capabilities and activities that would remain during and after disarmament. Finally, the paper examines challenges in verifying compliance and surveys the often-avoided problem of enforcing disarmament agreements.

George Perkovich
Perkovich works primarily on nuclear strategy and nonproliferation issues; cyberconflict; and new approaches to international public-private management of strategic technologies.

The authors do not pretend that a particular disarmament roadmap could be charted today; rather they suggest how progress toward disarmament could be defined and assessed in light of challenges that are likely to exist. Thinking through and debating what would be involved in nuclear disarmament—and how it could be done in ways that would not make major warfare between states more likely—can constructively inform policy decisions that states are making now.

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This article was originally published by the Center for Global Security Research, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.