P. Ingram "Nuclear Disarmament: Futures after the Ban Treaty"

Where next for realistic disarmament? The Ban Treaty will be open for signature from 20 September and a significant push will lead to a majority of states joining. But the big effort is in translating this into actual disarmament, and it’s not at all clear how this treaty can contribute to that in a practical manner. During the talks the Dutch referred to three key problems in the treaty:

  • Many states have formal nuclear alliance relationships that as currently constituted are inconsistent with membership of the treaty, and the treaty pays no attention to security and stability;
  • The verification measures are inadequate to confidence
  • The treaty could end up undermining the NPT and states may end up withdrawing in frustration

There is no evidence of any state currently attached to nuclear deterrence giving it up in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, nuclear weapons are receiving renewed attention and every state with them is modernising its arsenal. Nuclear threats, in Korea, Europe and South Asia are on the rise, along with populist nationalism. The Trump nuclear posture review is expected to bring greater salience to nuclear weapons. The belief that security and global influence requires retaining the ability and credible intent to deliver unimaginable destruction, or to be allied to a state capable of such, remains very strong indeed. Enticing states to soften their grip on these capabilities will require concerted effort. It will not happen through pressure from non-nuclear weapon states alone.

Most crucially, constructive moves are needed to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, initiatives such as mutual declarations of no-first use and tightened negative security assurances, further arms control talks and reductions, efforts to build confidence and stronger relationships, manage crises and contain the systems for hair-trigger nuclear responses.These requirements are not new. Neither is the evolution of technologies at the same time, though in the contemporary situation emerging technologies - offensive cyber, AI and robotics, extremely fast processing power and sophisticated sensing tech - threatens to undermine existing systems and strategic stability.

In an age of populism these moves will require public support and an effort to tackle the most fundamental assumptions that underpin nuclear systems. We have to better chart the realistic scenario-lines towards greater risk and opportunity, with the Ban Treaty as a new and important context.