The Global Threat of Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to humanity, and indeed to all forms of life on planet earth. Efforts to achieve a world free of the existence and the threat of use of nuclear weapons are at a critical stage. Serious threats persist from the use or misuse of weapons, whether by design, accident or system malfunction, by nuclear-armed states and terrorist actors, and from the misuse of the civil fuel cycle.
With heightened tensions between the nuclear superpowers – Russia and the United States (who between them possess over 90 percent of all nuclear weapon stocks), steps to reduce stockpiles have stalled, restraint on missile and anti-missile deployments have been abandoned, cooperation on securing surplus plutonium stocks has been abruptly halted, and some leaders have once again dared to threaten the use of nuclear weapons. The 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was a failure. There is little prospect of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty entering into force, of a treaty to prohibit further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons being negotiated, of denuclearizing North Korea, or of a significantly strengthened non-proliferation treaty regime. Moreover, at a time of heightened anxiety about the management of relations between the major nuclear powers, there are no signs of willingness by the nuclear weapon states to embark on serious multilateral arms reduction negotiations of any kind, which could eventually lead to a nuclear weapons free world.
The Asia–Pacific region impacts every dimension of the global nuclear agenda, with acute tensions and risks remaining in Northeast Asia and South Asia in particular, accompanied by the steady growth in the size and sophistication of regional nuclear arsenals and the means of their delivery, sparking in turn potentially destabilizing defensive systems. With the world’s economic, political and security centres of gravity shifting inexorably to this region, its stake in a secure world order – and its responsibility to contribute with ideas, policy proposals and vision to that end – have grown commensurately.