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Home > Publications > Research Papers > > Introduction
Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament: A Global Debate

Introduction

The pursuit of nuclear disarmament has been a central component of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, starting with the initial signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968. The inclusion under Article VI of the NPT of a commitment to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” reflected the desire of the non-nuclear-weapons states (NNWS) not to create a regime that would allow nuclear-weapons states (NWS) to retain their weapons in perpetuity. Governments in Washington, Moscow, and London—representing the only three nuclear powers that signed the NPT in 1968—insisted, however, that no precise standards and no time-bound guarantees about when disarmament would be achieved were possible. The interest and emphasis given to nuclear disarmament by the leaders of the nuclear weapons powers have waxed and waned throughout the history of the NPT, and for much of the past decade, many governments in NNWS have complained that the disarmament goal has been given short shrift by those with nuclear weapons.

Renewed interest in arms control and restated commitments to the long-term goal of nuclear disarmament have clearly increased over recent years, most dramatically with President Barack Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague. With that change in focus comes an opportunity for the international community to rethink how Article VI of the NPT is traditionally interpreted and to move beyond the cycle of repeated complaints from the “have-nots” that the “haves” are not doing enough to disarm themselves and repeated retorts by the “haves” that they are already taking every step that is realistic or prudent. The promise of a different approach to the commitments made under the NPT forms the basis of the Scott Sagan’s valuable article—“Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament”—which was the concluding essay in the Fall 2009 special issue of Daedalus that focused on the global nuclear future. Sagan’s paper, and its call for rethinking the balance of responsibilities and the relationship between different articles in the NPT, now provides the basis for a series of invited response papers from seven distinguished authors. These international scholars and diplomats present their interpretations of the commitments made under the NPT regime and suggest new ways in which shared responsibilities for nuclear disarmament may or may not be realized in practice. Their contributions serve to expand the discussion that was started by the original Daedalus article—and together they are intended to spark renewed policy debates about how best to pursue global disarmament, debates that will be prominent at the May 2010 NPT Review Conference in New York City and in the years following that important meeting.

The distinguished authors in this American Academy of Arts and Sciences Occasional Paper come from a diverse set of countries and reflect a diverse and crosscutting set of perspectives on the disarmament debate. With respect to nuclear arsenals, Scott Sagan (United States) and James Acton (United Kingdom) are from NWS; Harald Müller (Germany), Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka), Mustafa Kibaroglu (Turkey), Yukio Satoh (Japan), Mohamed Shaker (Egypt), and Achilles Zaluar (Brazil) are leading specialists from NNWS. Three of these states—Germany, Turkey, and Japan—are U.S. allies and come under extended nuclear deterrence guarantees; Sri Lanka, Egypt, and Brazil, however, do not. With respect to the use of nuclear energy today, Brazil, Germany, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom all maintain nuclear power plants. Sri Lanka, Egypt, and Turkey are aspirant nuclear energy states and have not yet constructed the power plants that they hope to use in the future.

The differences in national perspectives and the differences in individual opinions about appropriate disarmament steps among the authors should not mask a commitment they all share. The contributors to this volume agree that new thinking and continued debate about how best to maintain momentum toward nuclear disarmament is to be welcomed. Only by seeking out, and taking into consideration, a cross section of views can progress toward the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world continue. We hope that this Occasional Paper may therefore serve as an important contribution to a global disarmament debate that has become increasingly prominent over the past couple of years.

This Occasional Paper is part of the American Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative, which is guided by the Academy’s Committee on International Security Studies. The Initiative examines the safety, security, and nonproliferation implications of the global spread of nuclear energy and is developing pragmatic recommendations for managing the emerging nuclear order. The Global Nuclear Future Initiative is supported by generous grants from Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr.; the S.D. Bechtel Foundation; the Carnegie Corporation of New York; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; the Flora Family Foundation; and the Kavli Foundation. We thank these funders for their support.

The Academy is grateful to the principal investigators of the Global Nuclear Future Initiative—Steven E. Miller, Scott D. Sagan, Robert Rosner, and Thomas Isaacs—along with expert members of the project’s advisory committee—John W. Rowe, Richard A. Meserve, and Albert Carnesale—for contributing their time, experience, and expertise to the work of the Initiative. We would also like to thank the authors for bringing their knowledge and insight to bear on these important issues.

Leslie Berlowitz
Chief Executive Officer and William T. Golden Chair
American Academy of Arts and Sciences