Nuclear Security In An Unstable Age

Zoe Levornik, MENACS member and postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Stanton Nuclear Security Program, writes for The Strategic Commentator on the new and evolving challenges facing nuclear security and the global nonproliferation regime.

The last decade have seen growing concern over nuclear proliferation and nuclear safety. Most of the focus has been given to Iran and North Korea and the question of how to prevent or contain their nuclear programs. It has been an ongoing tradition of cultural bias by the West to view non-Western countries and their leaders as too irresponsible to be allowed to possess nuclear weapons while the Western powers were always looked upon as “good” responsible countries that can be trusted with nuclear weapons (The focus here is only on state actors, assuming that if non-state actors possess any kind of nuclear capability they are not planning of acting responsibly with that capability).This perception can be easily disproved by comparing the record of accidents and near accidents in both Western and non-Western nuclear states. Moreover, in the last decade the men who hold the red button in their hand even in those countries that have always been considered most trustworthy according to Western perceptions are making many of us feel uncomfortable with this particular responsibility entrusted to them.

The U.S., Russia and Israel, all have a long history of maintaining their nuclear arsenals in a responsible way (more or less) and preventing dangerous escalations during crisis. However, in the last decade we find that the leaders of these countries, the men in charge of the bomb, are more short tempered and implosive in their behavior, which makes many wonder if they will be able to prevent a crisis from escalating into a nuclear exchange. Threats of the use of nuclear weapons have been uttered (or twitted). Perhaps more substantial, there has been talk of the need, and development, of tactical nuclear weapons that could be use in a military confrontation. Which raises the question do these men understand the implication of even a small nuclear exchange? First, the risk to human life and the environmental and ecological implication of the use of nuclear weapons. Second, the normative implication of breaking the taboo on nuclear use. Moreover, do they understand the importance of the existing nonproliferation regime? Do they respect existing treaties? Do they work towards strengthening the regime? Do they set the right example for other states?

Continue reading on The Strategic Commentator.