Nuclear weapons are an existential threat to mankind. While eliminating these weapons for the survival of humanity appears to be a straightforward solution, the strategy of mutually assured destruction and nuclear deterrence prevents such a solution from becoming a reality, and nuclear weapons continue to feature in conversations about international security. So then, what can we do about nuclear weapons?
The challenges associated with nuclear weapons can be resolved with purposeful and inclusive negotiation on a global platform for non-proliferation dialogue. The upcoming Review Conference (RevCon) on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), coupled with the first meeting of the states party to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), provides a unique opportunity for world leaders to resolve their complex political stances on nuclear weapons and advance the discourse on non-proliferation.
The paradox of nuclear weapons
The possession of nuclear weapons is believed to increase global security through the principle of nuclear deterrence, which is based on the threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Most states rely on MAD and deterrence to prevent a nuclear war, instead of accelerated and consequential efforts toward trust-building, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The need for states to possess nuclear weapons with no intention of ever using them is a paradox that needs to be called out and addressed.
Reliance on nuclear deterrence has in part led to horizontal and vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons, both increasing the global number of warheads, as well as the number of states that possess nuclear weapons. This strategy means that states with nuclear weapons are unwilling to give their weapons up for the sense of security they provide, and the states that do not possess them wish to develop them or be part of nuclear alliances to amplify their own security. This is evident through recent nuclear proliferation efforts by the United Kingdom (UK), India and China.
Despite the trust in nuclear deterrence, state leaders have also sought assurance and security through bilateral and multilateral negotiation and cooperation. This has led to the initiation of multilateral