comprehensive nuclear disarmament must, therefore, be embedded in an international security system that would make the possibility of cheating or breakout highly unlikely.


In exploring the desirability and feasibility of prohibiting nuclear weapons, the balance of benefits and risks that this course of action would entail must be evaluated. A durable prohibition on nuclear weapons would have three main advantages. First, it would virtually eliminate the risk that nuclear weapons might be used by those states now possessing them. Even the smallest nuclear arsenals have immense destructive power. No matter how carefully and conscientiously these arsenals are constructed and operated, there will be some risk that they might be used, either deliberately or accidentally, authorized or unauthorized. In a sense, a prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons is a logical extension of the dealerting measures recommended in Chapter 3, extending from hours or days to months or years the time required to reconstitute an ability to use nuclear weapons. A durable prohibition would expand as far as possible the firebreak between a decision to ready weapons for use and the ability to launch a nuclear attack, thereby allowing as much time as possible to resolve the underlying concerns, and decreasing the risk of nuclear catastrophe to an irreducible minimum.

Second, a prohibition on nuclear weapons would reduce the likelihood that additional states will acquire nuclear weapons. Although the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) currently enjoys almost universal adherence, the nuclear weapons states cannot be confident of maintaining indefinitely a regime in which they proclaim nuclear weapons essential to their security while denying all others the right to possess them. The recognition that a permanent division between nuclear "haves" and "have-nots" is unacceptable is captured in Article VI of the NPT, in which all parties promise to pursue complete nuclear disarmament. This commitment was reaffirmed by the United Nations Security Council in connection with the 1995 NPT extension conference. In a recent advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) underscored the "vital importance" of satisfying this obligation under Article VI:

In the long run, international law, and with it the stability of the international order which it is intended to govern, are bound to suffer from the continuing difference of views with regard to the legal status of weapons as deadly as nuclear weapons. It is consequently important to put an end to this state of affairs: the long-promised complete nuclear disarmament appears to be the most appropriate means of achieving that result.2

Moreover, the current lack of a serious commitment to comprehensive nuclear disarmament undermines the authority of the United States and other nuclear weapons states in combating proliferation and responding to violations of the NPT. It would be easier to marshal decisive international action against countries

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