1 April 2016

Nuclear Arms Control for the 21st Century

Author: Amy J. Nelson, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow
March 25, 2016 

Nuclear safeguards like those that have emerged from previous Nuclear Security Summits are playing an increasingly important role in protecting the world from security threats. While the heyday of Cold War arms control tended to produce formal treaties that resulted in dramatic cuts to nuclear arsenals in order to diminish the threat of nuclear war, security threats have changed, and the way we think about arms control ought to as well. Safeguards that reduce and secure weapons-usable nuclear materials and increase transparency into the stockpiles of countries have become increasingly common in arms control agreements since the 1970s, and are also a vital tool for protection from the threat of “loose nukes.” Moreover, they signal a shift in strategy, focusing more on the control of raw materials instead of the number and kinds of weapons states possess. At a time when the technical information necessary to make nuclear weapons is increasingly accessible in the public domain, states must both cast a wider net and examine the finer details to counter this nuclear threat. 

Next week's Nuclear Security Summit—the final one—will endeavor to take further steps to establish and reinforce an international architecture for the security of nuclear materials, before they can slip into the hands of non-state actors with intentions to cause harm. In light of the threats faced today, commitments to adopt safeguard protocols agreed to by countries at these summits should be considered as valuable as the treaties achieved during the glory days of arms control. 

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