nuclear war had been eliminated, they might initiate or intensify conflicts that might otherwise have been avoided or limited. But there have been, and continue to be, profound changes in the structure of the international order that are acting to reduce the probability of major war independent of nuclear deterrence. Moreover, even if all nuclear weapons were eliminated, the inherent capacities to rebuild them could act as a deterrent to the outbreak of major wars.
If the preconditions for agreed prohibition of nuclear weapons are met, however, the committee believes that a path to eventual prohibition can be found. One possible path for managing the transition to comprehensive nuclear disarmament would involve having an international agency assume joint or full custody of the arsenals remaining during the transition to prohibition. Alternatively, nations might find it preferable to bypass the intermediate step involving an international agency and proceed directly to negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons either globally in a single agreement or in steps involving successive expansions in the number and geographical scope of nuclear weapon free zones.
It will not be easy to achieve the conditions necessary to make a durable global prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons both desirable and feasible. Complete nuclear disarmament will require continued evolution of the international system toward collective action, transparency, and the rule of law; a comprehensive system of verification, which itself will require an unprecedented degree of cooperation and transparency; and safeguards to protect against the possibility of cheating or rapid breakout. As difficult as this may seem today, the process of reducing national nuclear arsenals to a few hundred warheads would lay much of the necessary groundwork. For example, the stringent verification requirements of an agreement on very low levels of nuclear weapons and fissile materials might by then have led to some new or expanded international agency with vigorous powers of inspection. The committee has concluded that the potential benefits of a global prohibition of nuclear weapons are so attractive relative to the attendant risks that increased attention is now warranted to studying and fostering the conditions that would have to be met to make prohibition desirable and feasible.
In any case, the regime of progressive constraints constituting the committee's proposed near- to midterm program makes good sense in its own right—as a prescription for reducing nuclear dangers without adverse impact on other U.S. security interests—regardless of one's view of the desirability and feasibility of ultimately moving to prohibition.