How is the global nonproliferation regime faring in today’s current policy climate? Not very well, according to top nuclear experts at a recent panel discussion, The Nonproliferation Treaty at Fifty hosted by the Simson Center.
Scott Sagan, co-author with Kenneth Waltz of The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, warned that we should be “concerned by leaders who surround themselves with yes-men,” because it could increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons would be used without a thorough discussion of the options. Sagan also said he has underestimated the hawkishness of the American people and expressed concern that the public would be a goad, not a constraint, if the US were considering nuclear use.
Panel member Susan Burk, former Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, noted that in the past, the United States traditionally led efforts to add new countries as parties to the NPT, and the treaty was seen as a way to hold P-5 countries accountable. Today, she said, the continued existence of thousands of nuclear weapons has drawn criticism from the international community.
“Love it or hate it,” Burk says, the Nuclear Ban Treaty passed at the United Nations in 2017 addresses many concerns of non-nuclear weapons states and is widely viewed as a rejection of deterrence theory. Despite the Ban Treaty’s shortcomings, Burk emphasized that it is raising important issues.
Matthew Kroenig, an Associate Professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, offered a slightly more hawkish view of the current nuclear policy climate and the NPT, arguing that the US administration’s recent Nuclear Posture Review was on the right track, and that “credit is due” for President Trump’s efforts leading to this week’s US-North Korea summit.
NTI President Joan Rohlfing injected some optimism into the discussion by offering several paths forward for the nonproliferation community, including focusing on cybersecurity around nuclear facilities and “closing gaps in current fuel cycle architecture.”
Rohlfing also emphasized the need to “lower the temperature” and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US security strategy. Recalling the false missile alert Hawaii recently experienced, Rohlfing noted that such world events “give us the opportunity to educate the public” on the danger of nuclear issues.