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WMDC Discussion Paper – Transparency and Secrecy in Nuclear Weapons

  • AUTHORAnnette Schaper
  • Aug 31, 2005

The following is a summary. Click on the adjacent link to download the full report.

This paper was commissioned by the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC) to function as food for thought for the work of the commission, an independent international commission initiated by the Swedish Government on a proposal from the United Nations.

Its task is to present proposals aimed at the greatest possible reduction of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, including both short-term and long-term approaches and both non-proliferation and disarmament aspects.

Transparency is an essential prerequisite for progress in nuclear disarmament.

In the first years after the end of the Cold War, steps towards nuclear disarmament were visible, and optimism towards more achievements was widespread. But for several years, progress has been stalled and reversed.

Today, no country possessing nuclear weapons shows any interest in more openness towards the international community. Their secrecy cannot be explained only by needs of nonproliferation and security.

Instead the reasons should be looked for elsewhere: One preliminary explanation is conservative inertia: if mechanisms and incentives for changes are lacking, not much declassification or changes of policy can be expected.

Individuals within the system or citizens of the state, who would support more transparency, do not see a way of starting a process in favour of change.

Politicians, dependent on the advice of experts, often err on the side of caution when considering whether to declassify nuclear information.

The secrecy can also serve as a cover for mismanagement, crime, or corruption.The more democratic a state is, the more legal limits are set against the abuse of secrecy.

Bureaucracies that have always had the traditional “right” to manage national security issues with limited external control have little incentive to change.

Even in democracies in which parliamentary control over military activities has been traditionally weak or limited, there is no proper basis for external transparency.53 More nuclear transparency is unlikely to occur without incentives.

Motivation of the nuclear-weapon states for more transparency coincides with motivation for more nuclear disarmament.


The non-nuclear-weapon states have an obligation not to give up in urging them to meet their obligations under Article VI of the NPT.