Red bomb nuclear poster
Red bomb nuclear poster

Coming Soon: Centennial Roundtable, "Nonproliferation in the 21st Century"

Aug 15, 2013

The Fall issue of Ethics & International Affairs puts a spotlight on the topic of nonproliferation. In our Carnegie Council Centennial Roundtable, "Nonproliferation in the 21st Century," four leading experts present their perspectives on the contemporary state of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the future of nuclear weapons. The roundtable is complemented by a feature article on the "nonproliferation complex" by Campbell Craig and Jan Ruzicka.

The Centennial Roundtable will be freely accessible online for a limited time, courtesy of Cambridge University Press. Look for it in the second half of September!

J. Bryan Hehir, famously credited with being the chief author of the 1983 U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Letter on War and Peace—"The Challenge of Peace"—kicks off the roundtable with a review of the historical debate on nonproliferation and an analysis of its contemporary iterations. Fr. Hehir analyses three major areas: the post-Cold War challenges to the NPT regime, nuclear weapons and the terrorist threat, and the recent proposals for Going to Zero. The author concludes that while dealing with the nuclear threat remains high on the international agenda, "nuclear weapons no longer play the singularly dominant role they did in world politics for 50 years."

Nina Tannenwald focuses on questions of equity and fairness as they pertain to the nonproliferation regime. As is well known, the NPT is unique among international treaties as it codifies a stark inequity between possessing and non-possessing states. While this inequity was tolerated when it was directly linked to the goal of disarmament, recent behavior of the "nuclear haves" has raised questions about the commitment of these countries to the disarmament ideal. Contra many realists, Dr. Tannenwald goes on to show that perceptions of equity and fairness play a key role in nuclear politics, and are powerful explanatory factors driving the behavior of states.

Jacques E. C. Hymans challenges two central, prevailing assumptions that underpin contemporary analyses of the nuclear threat: the idea that states see it in their interest to possess nuclear weapons, and the idea that many states have the capability to build nuclear weapons, should they wish to. Using the examples of Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Argentina, among others, he demonstrates what he calls the "great proliferation slowdown"—that is, the surprising fact that most nuclear projects have ended in failure. As Hymans demonstrates, accepting the reality of this trend has important policy implications for the promotion of scientific openness, the idea of preemptive war, and the United States' own nuclear stockpile. Hymans ends up recommending a policy of "disregard" as the most efficient way to deal with nuclear weapons: instead of stoking up fear, we should let nukes "rust in peace."

According to Ward Wilson, author of Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, much of the debate on the morality of nuclear weapons starts off on the wrong premise that they are somehow "exceptional." Instead, Wilson argues that despite their ability to produce mass destruction, nuclear weapons are a weapon like any other. To assess them ethically, we need only to ask one question: Are large numbers of civilian deaths ever justified?

Campbell Craig and Jan Ruzicka turn the nonproliferation conversation on its head: rather than asking about the consequences of the NPT's erosion, the authors question the implications of its survival. Analyzing the post-Cold War era and the run-up to the Iraq War, they argue that the nonproliferation regime has become a "complex," in the classical liberal internationalist sense of the word. Rather than eliminating the danger of nuclear weapons, the nonproliferation complex sustains it, providing patchwork fixes and ameliorating the nuclear status quo at the expense of reordering the nuclear landscape more deeply. Craig and Ruzicka, therefore, demand a re-thinking of the revolutionary problem posed by nuclear weapons, suggesting that we combat the root of the problem—the essential anarchy of world society—with the advent of a world government.

The aim of Ethics & International Affairs, the journal of Carnegie Council, is to help close the gap between theory and practice (and between theorists and practitioners) by publishing original essays that integrate rigorous thinking about principles of justice and morality into discussions of practical dilemmas related to current policy developments, global institutional arrangements, and the conduct of important international actors.

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