Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
The end of the Cold War has created conditions that open the way for consideration of proposals to prohibit the possession of nuclear weapons. The committee recognizes that it is not clear how or when this could be accomplished. Fundamental changes in international politics would be a precondition for comprehensive nuclear disarmament, and this is not something that can be forced into an arbitrary timetable. Nonetheless, for the same reasons that the committee recommends rapid and substantial reductions in the size, readiness, and salience of national nuclear arsenals, the time also has come to begin to devote serious attention to the prospects for prohibiting those arsenals and to fostering the conditions that would have to be met to render prohibition desirable and feasible. Although the reductions recommended in Chapter 3 are logical steps on the path toward comprehensive nuclear disarmament, the final step of banning nuclear weapons should only be undertaken in circumstances such that, on balance, it would enhance the security of the United States and the rest of the world.
The committee uses the word "prohibit" rather than "eliminate" or "abolish'' because the world can never truly be free from the potential reappearance of nuclear weapons and their effects on international politics. Even the most effective verification system that could be envisioned would not produce complete confidence that a small number of nuclear weapons had not been hidden or fabricated in secret. More fundamentally, the knowledge of how to build nuclear weapons cannot be erased from the human mind, and the capacity of states to build such weapons cannot be eliminated. Even if every nuclear warhead were destroyed, the current nuclear weapons states, and a growing number of other technologically advanced states, would be able to build new weapons within a few months or few years of a national decision to do so.1 A regime for
comprehensive nuclear disarmament must, therefore, be embedded in an international security system that would make the possibility of cheating or breakout highly unlikely.
THE BENEFITS AND RISKS OF NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
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
attempting to acquire nuclear weapons if a global prohibition on the possession of such weapons were in effect.
A third advantage of comprehensive nuclear disarmament has to do with the uncertain moral and legal status of nuclear weapons. In the advisory opinion cited above, the ICJ unanimously agreed that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is strictly limited by generally accepted laws and humanitarian principles that restrict the use of force.3 Accordingly, any threat or use of nuclear weapons must be limited to, and necessary for, self defense; it must not be directed at civilians, and be capable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets; and it must not cause unnecessary suffering to combatants, or harm greater than that unavoidable to achieve legitimate military objectives. In the committee's view, the inherent destructiveness of nuclear weapons, combined with the unavoidable risk that even the most restricted use of such weapons would escalate to broader attacks, makes it extremely unlikely that any contemplated threat or use of nuclear weapons would meet these criteria.
Nuclear disarmament poses risks as well as benefits, however. First, there is the risk that the prohibition on nuclear weapons might break down. States might cheat if they believed that small nuclear arsenals could be used successfully for coercive purposes. States might also be impelled to withdraw from a comprehensive nuclear disarmament agreement if, at some point, they believed their vital interests could no longer be protected without nuclear weapons. To reduce these risks, a disarmament regime would have to be built within a larger international security system that would be capable not only of deterring or punishing the acquisition or use of nuclear weapons but also of responding to aggression of all kinds. This system would have to be structured so that no nation could believe that either it or any other state could obtain significant and long-lasting advantages from building or brandishing nuclear weapons or from nonnuclear aggression for which only a nuclear capability would serve as a deterrent. In a subsequent section examples are given of the sorts of arrangements that might be useful and necessary to meet this challenge.
Second, there is the concern that comprehensive nuclear disarmament would remove the moderating effect that nuclear weapons have had on the behavior of states, resulting in an increased risk of major war. The nuclear era represents the longest period without war between the major powers since the emergence of the modern nation state in the sixteenth century.4 More than 100 regional conflicts, including civil wars, have been fought since the beginning of the nuclear age, but none of these conflicts generated direct combat between the nuclear weapons states. It is reasonable to assume that the cautionary effect of nuclear weapons is at least partially responsible for this absence of major wars. Thus, it is argued, if the major powers believed that the risk of nuclear war had been eliminated, they might initiate or intensify conflicts that might otherwise have been avoided or limited. Complete nuclear disarmament might lead, then, to the frequent, large-scale conventional conflicts that characterized the prenuclear era, with the
additional risk that one or both sides would acquire and use nuclear weapons during a protracted war.
There is, however, no demonstrable relationship between the actual possession of nuclear weapons and the avoidance of war. First, even if all nuclear weapons were eliminated, the inherent capacity of major powers to build nuclear weapons would act as a deterrent to the outbreak of major conventional wars, since both sides would fear that the other might acquire and use nuclear weapons during a protracted struggle if its vital interests were threatened. In other words, existential nuclear deterrence, as discussed in Chapter 1, would remain to some extent even if nuclear arsenals were dismantled. Second, there have been, and continue to be, profound changes in the structure of the international order that reduce the probability of major war, independent of nuclear deterrence. These include the spread of democracy; the growth of information-based economic systems that do not depend on or benefit from territorial conquest; expanding economic interdependence and integration; the emergence of strong international political and financial institutions, such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund; the diffusion of global communications and shared culture, which limit the degree to which governments can control information and propagate negative images of adversaries; the advent of modern intelligence and surveillance systems that facilitate accurate assessments of military capabilities and which make surprise attacks less likely to succeed; the development of collective security arrangements, such as NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; and, more recently, deployment by the Western powers of modern conventional armaments, such as precision-guided munitions, which improve the effectiveness of defenses against armored attacks. In short, the avoidance of major war in the nuclear age can be attributed to many factors rather than to nuclear deterrence alone. It is not unreasonable to believe that a continuation of the trends mentioned above, together with the development of more robust collective security arrangements, the maintenance of modern and capable conventional forces, and the deterrence provided by the capacity of major states to build nuclear weapons, could be capable of deterring large-scale war among the major industrial powers just as effectively as the current system—and with fewer risks.
After considering these risks and benefits, the committee has concluded that an essential long-term goal of U.S. policy should be the creation of international conditions in which the possession of nuclear weapons would no longer be perceived as necessary or legitimate for the preservation of national security and international stability. The following section outlines the most important of these conditions.
PREREQUISITES FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
The balance between the risks and benefits of comprehensive nuclear disarmament will be determined first and foremost by the overall evolution of the
international political system. If deep animosities persist between major powers, if their governments are seen as unstable, unaccountable, or inclined toward treachery, or if technically capable states continue to challenge international norms of behavior, the balance will remain unfavorable. If, on the other hand, the major powers enjoy good relations, if their decision making processes and military deployments are reasonably transparent, if they have confidence that other states will abide by international norms, and if they are willing and able to take collective action to counter aggression, the prospects for prohibiting nuclear weapons will be greatly improved. The committee does not wish to imply that comprehensive nuclear disarmament would require the creation of a global utopia, but neither would it deny that a substantial positive evolution in international politics will be required. U.S. policy can play a significant role in helping this favorable evolution take place, but it must be borne in mind that the necessary changes will take time. The changes cannot be mandated, and in a nuclear disarmed world they must apply to all states, not just the present nuclear weapons states.
The elimination of armed conflict between states is not a precondition for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Although Article VI of the NPT calls for a "treaty on general and complete disarmament" in connection with nuclear disarmament, this is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition. States will not agree or adhere to a prohibition on nuclear weapons unless they are confident their vital interests could be adequately protected without such weapons. A fundamental attribute of sovereignty is the ability to defend oneself, whether this be through national resources alone or through alliance systems or other international means. The committee believes that serious efforts should be made to achieve comprehensive international arrangements to regulate conventional force structures and deployments at the lowest levels consistent with national and international security interests and at the lowest costs to the world economy. Such arrangements are beyond the scope of this study, but they would go a long way toward reducing the risk of conventional conflicts.
Comprehensive nuclear disarmament will require a highly effective system of verification to confirm that all nuclear weapons had been dismantled and that all fissile materials had been placed under international safeguards. The system would have to provide timely warning of any attempt to build new nuclear weapons or to reconstruct dismantled nuclear arsenals. Most or all of the required inspection procedures and surveillance capabilities would be developed in the course of reducing national nuclear arsenals to the level of a few hundred warheads, and in the course of improving the effectiveness of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. The main difference is that states are likely to demand an increasing degree of confidence in the proper functioning of verification systems as the number of nuclear weapons is reduced to zero, which will require an unprecedented level of cooperation and transparency among all technically capable states.
In support of a regime prohibiting nuclear weapons, technical means of verification could be supplemented by national and international laws making it a crime for any individual knowingly to participate in the development, production, acquisition, transfer, or use of nuclear weapons, together with measures designed to increase the probability of "leaks" or "whistle blowing" by those who may be aware of such activities. A comprehensive nuclear disarmament treaty could, for example, require parties to enact laws obligating citizens to report any information about possible violation of the treaty to the international inspection agency and make it illegal for states to retaliate against whistle blowers. Such measures could be particularly valuable in uncovering activities that are difficult to detect, such as the concealment of nuclear weapons or weapons materials. At least some individuals involved in a covert illegal national program might be expected to report such activities.
As long as nuclear power and other peaceful nuclear activities continue, there will be a risk that associated materials and facilities could be diverted to military purposes. The proper management and structure of civilian nuclear activities therefore will be of central importance in a nuclear disarmed world. The first nuclear disarmament proposal, the Baruch Plan, proposed by the United States in 1946, envisioned the creation of an "International Atomic Development Authority" that would control all mining, refining, and distribution of uranium; own all facilities capable of producing fissile materials; and inspect and license all other nuclear activities.5 Although an agency with this scope and authority would be impractical today, given that most nuclear facilities are privately owned and operated, some aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle that are especially worrisome could be limited or brought under international control. Stocks of weapons-usable fissile materials,6 as well as facilities that produce or use such materials (particularly enrichment and reprocessing), could be managed by an international agency. In addition, fuel cycles could be modified to increase barriers to the diversion of these materials and to decrease or possibly eliminate the production and use of fissile materials in forms directly usable in nuclear weapons.
Although the committee did not examine verification issues in detail, two points seem obvious. First, no conceivable verification regime could, by technical means alone, obtain high confidence that it had accounted for every nuclear weapon or every kilogram of fissile material that had been produced. It could not be ruled out that a former nuclear weapons state had kept a few "bombs in the basement" or enough fissile material to build a few weapons. Second, the inherent capability of many states to build nuclear weapons would make it difficult to provide timely warning of an attempt to do so, particularly if fissile materials were diverted from civilian facilities.
It is possible that these considerations would prove to be relatively unimportant. For example, if relations among all major states were as cooperative as are today's relations among the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, one might not worry about the possibility of "bombs in the basement" or breakout
among those states with maximum potential for rapid and massive revival of nuclear capabilities. Moreover, if the decision making processes of these governments were sufficiently transparent, states might judge that the probability that bombs or weapons-grade fissile materials could be hidden from inspectors for many years was negligible. It seems more likely that the potential for cheating or breakout would be regarded as cause for significant concern, in which case the disarmament regime would have to incorporate safeguards to deter and deal with these possibilities.
Safeguards might include security guarantees that pledge states to aid victims of nuclear attack or to punish nations that attempt to build, brandish, or use nuclear weapons; international nuclear or conventional forces of sufficient strength to deter, prevent, or punish the use of nuclear weapons; or preparations to rebuild national nuclear forces should the verification system detect violations. If collective security arrangements were strong, as measured by political will and military ability to punish violators, or if states believed that any advantage that could be obtained by violating the agreement would be short lived (e.g., because other states would quickly rebuild their arsenals), incentives to cheat or break out would be small.
As noted above, assessing the establishment of robust and comprehensive collective security arrangements or international military forces is beyond the scope of this report. The committee will, however, elaborate on one possible type of safeguard that has received considerable attention: maintaining the ability to rebuild national nuclear arsenals.
Any agreement prohibiting nuclear weapons would have to specify what constitutes a nuclear weapon, and which activities related to nuclear weapons would be permissible and which would not. A continuous spectrum of weapons-related activities is possible under a prohibition, ranging from theoretical and experimental work on nuclear problems, to the construction and operation of civilian nuclear facilities, to sustaining an ability to design and fabricate nuclear weapons, preserving facilities for this purpose, and, in the extreme case, retaining stockpiles of weapons components. There are advantages and disadvantages to setting the demarcation line near either end of this spectrum.
Several authors have argued that allowing countries to maintain a capability to build nuclear weapons in a short period of time would strengthen the nuclear deterrent effect, thereby permitting nuclear weapons to be prohibited without requiring major changes in the international order.7 In this scenario, weapons-related facilities, activities, materials, or components would be placed under international monitoring. An attempt by any state to retrieve these components or use these facilities would trigger alarms in other nuclear-capable countries, leading them to assemble and disperse their nuclear weapons. The knowledge that any attempt to break out of the disarmament agreement would produce a rapid and offsetting response by other states would deter cheating in the first place, because cheating could produce no lasting advantage. Allowing states to maintain
the capacity to rebuild nuclear weapons also would diminish the incentive for states to keep a few concealed nuclear weapons as a hedge against the possibility that other states might do the same. Under the regime of permitted activities, it might be necessary to protect the weapons-building capacity of each state against preemptive attack by other states, through a combination of multiple sites, deep burial, or provisions for rapid dispersal.
There are two potential problems with this type of arrangement, however. First, allowing states to maintain the capability to build nuclear weapons on short notice would make it easier for a state to cheat while at the same time making it more difficult to detect cheating. Permitted weapons-related activities would be of great value for a clandestine program and would create a background of legal activity against which it would be more difficult to detect illegal activities. Second, having states poised to resume manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons could create dangerous instabilities in which states might rush to rearm during a crisis, thereby worsening the crisis. Drawing the demarcation line closer to the other end of the spectrum would simplify verification, allow more time to respond to signs of breakout, and build a larger firebreak to nuclear rearmament.
This discussion illustrates the importance of ensuring the stability of a comprehensive nuclear disarmament regime. If, in a crisis or other foreseeable circumstances, a prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons created incentives to cheat or strong pressures to rearm, the risk of nuclear war could be higher under disarmament than with small national arsenals. In order for the balance of risks to favor moving to comprehensive nuclear disarmament, the three factors mentioned above—international politics, verification, and safeguards—must interact in ways that do not create such perverse incentives or pressures. Unfortunately, it is not possible to be much more specific without knowing more about the political and technical circumstances in which comprehensive nuclear disarmament would be pursued.
ROUTES TO NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
The risks and benefits of comprehensive nuclear disarmament also would be affected by the way in which the transition away from small national arsenals is implemented. The committee has considered a number of possible means to achieve a prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons and does not mean to suggest that these approaches are the best or only ways to deal with the challenge. Any such proposal would require extensive study by the states themselves and intensive negotiations among them over an extended period. When the time came, the nuclear weapons states and other states might find some other arrangement more appropriate to the conditions and norms of international politics then in existence. The committee's treatment of possible routes to prohibition is thus necessarily exploratory, in contrast to the analysis in previous chapters that resulted in specific recommendations.
Any option for achieving a durable prohibition on nuclear weapons must address a number of fundamental questions about how the transition from small national nuclear arsenals to total prohibition would be managed and how such a regime would operate:
Who owns nuclear weapons during the transition? Would they be controlled by the existing nuclear weapons states? Might the nuclear weapons states create a multilateral organization? Or would a truly international organization be responsible for these residual capabilities?
Who controls nuclear weapons during the transition? Would nuclear weapons remain under the operational control, however circumscribed, of the current nuclear weapons states? Would some joint or cooperative arrangements be developed to share responsibility? If control would pass to an international body, who would belong to that body and how would decisions be made?
Would the authority to use nuclear weapons be part of the regime's mandate? If so, under what circumstances might they be used? How would decisions to use nuclear weapons be made? How would the possibility of use be made credible?
Who would maintain nuclear weapons capabilities? Who would oversee the cadre of technically knowledgeable people charged with maintaining the safety and reliability of the remaining weapons?
In what sequence would warheads and delivery vehicles be dismantled? If survivability remained a critical factor during the transition, how would the balance be struck between that and the need for reassurance and verification?
Very broadly, the committee notes two major approaches to managing the transition to complete nuclear disarmament, each of which has a number of possible variants. 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.
In their current conceptual state, neither option can provide convincing responses to all of the questions posed above. Each tries to address a particular set of problems among the many that would have to be resolved if the world were to embark on an effort to prohibit nuclear weapons. Together they illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, as well as the amount of effort and creativity that would be needed to make comprehensive nuclear disarmament a practical enterprise.
Option I: International Control of Nuclear Weapons
A transition to comprehensive nuclear disarmament could be managed by having an international agency assume full or joint custody of remaining nuclear stockpiles. A new agency could be created for this purpose, or the IAEA could be expanded and given this mission. This approach would be designed to ensure that the remaining nuclear weapons would no longer be instruments of national policy. During the transition, nuclear weapons under international custody would serve the core function of deterring the threat or use of nuclear weapons that might be retained or acquired by renegade states.
The membership of the agency, and the mechanisms by which it would reach decisions, would be the subject of much study and negotiation. The current nuclear weapons states undoubtedly would want a major role in the operation of the agency in return for agreeing to its creation. A key issue would be the degree of consensus that would be needed to take action. A balance would have to be achieved between ensuring that decisions regarding nuclear weapons enjoyed very broad support, and giving particular states or a small group of states veto privileges.
After the agreement establishing the agency entered into force, the agency would assume custody of all remaining nuclear weapons as well as all nuclear weapons-usable materials. Note that custody implies a legal responsibility but not necessarily physical possession, operational control, or ownership. In fact, custody of the weapons and materials could be managed in several ways.
One method for managing the warheads would be the design of a "dual-key" control system. Each nuclear weapon would be placed under the joint control of the international agency and the nuclear weapons state in physical possession of the weapon. The fire control system of the weapon would be modified so that the weapon could not be used or readied for use without the explicit approval of both the international agency and the owning state. Implementing such a system appears to be technically feasible.
Another method would have the nuclear weapons states move all their nuclear weapons into internationally safeguarded enclosures on their territory. The removal of warheads from these enclosures would require either concurrence of the agency or, at a minimum, would alert the agency that a withdrawal had taken place. This method is roughly analogous to the physical control maintained by the United States over nonstrategic weapons placed under the operational control of European NATO commanders.
A third method would be to transfer ownership and operational control of all remaining nuclear weapons to an international agency, which would be under the authority and command of the United Nations Security Council. This international nuclear force would be responsible for managing, maintaining, and, if necessary, using nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons would be authorized only in response to the actual use of nuclear weapons by a state; there would be
no authorization to threaten to use nuclear weapons to counter any other transgressions. This would preserve the core function of nuclear weapons—deterrence of the use of nuclear weapons—without the risks associated with continuing national control. At some point, the Security Council could determine that this deterrent function was no longer needed, at which time the international nuclear force could be disbanded and its weapons dismantled.
The establishment of such a force was envisioned by the Baruch Plan in 1946; it provided for temporary international custody of nuclear weapons pending their destruction once international controls were in place. With U.S.-Soviet relations deteriorating rapidly and the Soviets engaged in a major program to build a nuclear weapon as quickly as possible, the proposal did not lead to any agreement. Now that the Cold War is over, security concepts proposed at the end of World War II might finally find acceptance, albeit in a world where technical and military capabilities are far more widely diffused than they were 50 years ago.
It is difficult to define today the circumstances under which the nuclear weapons states would transfer to an international organization full authority over the control and use of nuclear weapons. Such an act would presuppose a degree of confidence in international organizations, and a level of trust and cooperation between major powers, that would seem to make the deterrence provided by the international force unnecessary. Although an international force would ameliorate the risks associated with national control of nuclear weapons, it would raise a whole new set of questions, not the least of which is ''Who would police the policeman?"
Option II: Prohibit Nuclear Weapons by Direct Diplomatic Process
Nations might find it preferable to bypass the intermediate step of transferring custody of residual stockpiles to an international agency and proceed directly to a prohibition on nuclear weapons. One route would be to convene an international conference of the five nuclear weapons states with the goal of agreeing to eliminate their nuclear arsenals according to a specified schedule. A convention among the nuclear weapons states, supplemented by the provisions of the NPT, would establish a worldwide legal framework prohibiting nuclear weapons.
A convention limited to the five nuclear weapons states would be relatively straightforward and uncomplicated, but failure to include other states in the negotiation could compromise international support for the resulting agreement and would forego the opportunity to negotiate constraints on nuclear proliferation beyond those contained by the NPT. In addition, a five-power agreement would have to include some mechanism for addressing the problem of the undeclared states. As indicated in Chapter 3, it is possible that one or more of the undeclared states might eliminate their nuclear arsenals and join the NPT in advance of a universal prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons, particularly if
progress is made toward resolving the regional security concerns of these states. If undeclared states remain at this stage, the process of bringing them into the prohibition regime will have to be structured so that a declaration of their nuclear capabilities would not lead to instability or otherwise impede progress toward disarmament.
A second approach to comprehensive nuclear disarmament would be an international conference charged with creating a new treaty to prohibit the possession of nuclear weapons. This new treaty would replace the NPT and possibly other treaties such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The negotiations leading to the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions are examples of an international process to outlaw an entire class of weapons. Although this approach would undoubtedly take much longer than a five-power negotiation, it would have the advantages of engaging all states as equal partners and of permitting an opportunity to create additional nonproliferation measures, such as anytime-anywhere inspections and restrictions on the production or use of weapons-usable materials, that go well beyond the NPT.
A third approach would be to convene a conference to amend the NPT to prohibit the possession of nuclear weapons by all parties. Under Article VIII of the NPT, amendments must be ratified by a majority of all NPT parties, which must include all of the nuclear weapons state parties and all parties that were, at the time, members of the IAEA Board of Governors. This approach would have the advantage of instantly capturing all of the states now party to the NPT, but the problem of the undeclared nuclear states would remain.
A fourth approach to prohibition would be through an expansion in the number and geographical scope of nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs). When all of the current and new NWFZs are in force, nuclear weapons will be prohibited in all of the southern hemisphere (except the oceans) and in significant portions of the northern hemisphere. Frequently suggested candidates for additional NWFZs include Central Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and Northeast Asia. By negotiating additional NWFZs that include regions of potential conflict between nuclear-armed states and, ultimately, all nuclear-armed states, a global prohibition on the possession or use of nuclear weapons could be achieved in a piecemeal fashion.
The committee cannot predict when, whether, or under what conditions the nuclear weapons states and undeclared states would be willing to accede to a regime that, under any of the proposals suggested above, would require the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. The assumption here is that these states, having agreed in earlier years to unprecedented transparency measures and reductions, would be more prepared than at present for such a step. The world of several decades hence is still malleable, and future initiatives by the United States and Russia could well make the transition to comprehensive nuclear disarmament much less visionary and uncertain that it looks from the present vantage point.
Achieving the conditions necessary to make a durable global prohibition on the possession of nuclear weapons both desirable and feasible will not be easy. 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 potential benefits of comprehensive nuclear disarmament are so attractive relative to the attendant risks—and the opportunities presented by the end of the Cold War and a range of other international trends are so compelling—that the committee believes increased attention is now warranted to studying and fostering the conditions that would have to be met to make prohibition desirable and feasible.