Political Leaders Must Confront Rising Risks Around Nuclear Weapons
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Political Leaders Must Confront Rising Risks Around Nuclear Weapons


APLN member Nobumasa Akiyama wrote on the 3rd meeting of International Group of Eminent Persons for a World without Nuclear Weapons. He pointed out that AI and emerging technologies pose new challenges amid deteriorating environment. Read the original article here.

Amid an increasingly complex and deteriorating international security landscape, the importance of nuclear disarmament has never been more critical.

To this end, the International Group of Eminent Persons for a World without Nuclear Weapons, formed last year on the initiative of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, met earlier this month in Nagasaki.

The group, which aims to present ideas and principles for making progress on nuclear disarmament at the 2026 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, discussed ways to overcome divisions in the international community regarding nuclear disarmament and move toward the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

The meeting focused on how to advance nuclear disarmament amid a deteriorating strategic environment and intensifying major-power competition, the impact of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies on nuclear disarmament, and questions of ethics and responsibility concerning nuclear weapons.

The deteriorating strategic environment has aggravated divisions in the international community over the prospects for nuclear disarmament.

For nuclear abolitionists, the war in Ukraine shows the limited effectiveness of nuclear deterrence in preventing war. On the other hand, for countries that see the threat of nuclear weapon use as existential, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a stark reminder of the need to strengthen and extend nuclear deterrence.

The gap in perceptions regarding the role of nuclear weapons in international security is widening, further deepening divisions between nuclear abolitionists and adherents of nuclear deterrence.

In this context, the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control regime, a component of the foundation for nuclear disarmament, is dying because of a lack of progress in negotiations for a treaty to succeed the New START agreement, which is due to expire in 2026. Although it is encouraging that the U.S. and China have agreed to a dialogue on nuclear arms control, it would be overly optimistic to assume that discussions about the curbing the nuclear arms race will immediately begin.

Many countries are interested in the relationship between emerging technologies and security, and appropriate uses of relevant technologies are being discussed in various international forums, including the U.N.

The application of AI to weapons systems has two aspects: the creation of new vulnerabilities and risks around nuclear deterrence, arms control and disarmament, and the amplification of old problems, such as imperfect information and irrational decision making.

While there is a need to properly analyze these issues and adequately address risks, the pace of technological innovation far outstrips the pace of public policy formation or political initiatives. Political leaders need to raise awareness of risks from the application of generative AI to nuclear weapons and form a common understanding that they will jointly address these dangers in order to take a step toward setting guardrails to head off a possible crisis.

At the Nagasaki meeting, almost all participants agreed that nuclear weapons should never be used again, and that at minimum, the international community should agree that the city should be the last to suffer an atomic attack to keep in sight of the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Many also agreed with the principle that nuclear weapons should be governed by international law, but diverse opinions were expressed on the question of how to stipulate the consistency of targeting policies and nuclear doctrine with international law.

It could be argued that the only way to ultimately ensure ethics is through nuclear abolition. However, it will be necessary to deepen discussions on how to reach that point.

During the Nagasaki discussions, a fundamental theme that resonated was the critical role of political leadership in advancing nuclear disarmament.

Prime Minister Kishida, in his closing remarks, committed to demonstrating decisive leadership. His sentiments were echoed robustly by other political figures. Notably, former British Defense Minister Des Browne, who attended in person, and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and retired U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, who both spoke via video, collectively reaffirmed their staunch dedication to achieving a world without nuclear weapons.

Amid a global landscape increasingly reflective of the escalating risks associated with the use or threat of nuclear weapons, alongside concerns over the diminishing threshold for the weapons’ employment, the necessity for strong and resolute political will becomes paramount. This is imperative not only to uphold the principle of not using nuclear weapons but also to prevent further arms races.

Moreover, in addressing challenges posed by emerging technologies, and the difficulty of reaching consensus on robust regulation due to divergent national interests, political leaders need to unite to develop and commit to a code of conduct aimed at mitigating risks, while prioritizing the collective welfare of humanity.

The importance of political will and leadership, supported by a strong sense of ethics, has to be reaffirmed to advance the world along the path to nuclear disarmament.

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