Discussion Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Nuclear Conflict in the Twenty-first Century

  • Andrei A. Kokoshin

Andrei Kokoshin has written a compelling and timely piece that looks at the potential for nuclear conflicts and uncovers the risks and possibilities of achieving global security. He begins by analyzing potential nuclear conflicts with respect to four major actors in international relations: 1) “old nuclear powers,” the United States, Russia and China; 2) new members of the “nuclear club,” India and Pakistan; 3) a potential “multipolar” nuclear configuration which may emerge as a result of further proliferation of nuclear weapons and the highly probable emergence of new nuclear states; and 4) states and nonstate actors in the form of radical political organizations that use terrorist methods.

Andrei argues that the probability of impending nuclear conflicts since the end of the 1990s has begun to increase as a result of growing political, military, and economic conflicts and strategic uncertainty in the world. Unfortunately, according to Andrei, there is no adequate response in the international community today, for the prevention of nuclear conflicts. Many components of the system of international security (and of the assurance of strategic stability) are no longer active today, or have even virtually ceased to exist.

Andrei concludes that this increasing international military- political instability and strategic indeterminacy uncertainty requires varied, including nontrivial, political, diplomatic, and technological methods for solving these problems from all the main subjects of international relations among the major powers, includingRussia. To that end, (to which group Russia undoubtedly belongs). preventing fissile materials and their components, radioactive materials, and the services and information necessary for producing nuclear weapons, from falling into extremist or terrorist hands requires special attention.

Therefore, the development of cooperation between Russia and the United StatesSA, not only in the sphere of the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons but also in the non-allowance ofdeterring their use, has fundamental significance.Indeed, for the problem of non-proliferation, the cooperation between Russia and the USA could be larger in scale, and more thorough. Initiatory political actions are necessary, directed toward preventing the appearance of new nuclear states, since this would destroy the stability and controllability of international relations in the nuclear dimension.

 In this respect, there would be special significance in combined political efforts by

Russia and the USA to prevent the appearance of new nuclear states, including, above all, Iran

and North Korea. It is necessary to involve other leading subjects of international relations—

above all China, India, and the European Union—in these efforts.

 Since it is one of the most important partners of the USA in the battle against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and with radical organizations advocating terrorism, Russia, for the sake of her own vital interests and the interests of international security as a whole, cannot take the position of a “junior partner” who agrees in everything with the “senior partner” (just because Russia is now much weaker than the USA), as suggested by certain figures in Washington and even in our own country. Such a position is counterproductive in the long-term for the interests of the United States itself.

On the other hand, by using the fact that the current US administration considers Russo–American relations friendly, Russia, where necessary, should henceforth, among other

things, dissuade the USA from those actions that can be harmful for all the participants of the

new “global coalition in the struggle with terrorism.”

 One should not disparage the role of the UN in preventing nuclear conflicts; this especially applies to the UN Security Council which, despite many skeptical evaluations, possesses significant potential as a controlling influence on international security. The UN and

its Security Council, despite all their weaknesses and drawbacks, remains the main legitimate

organ for strengthening international stability and security in the eyes of the entire international


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For Academic Citation: Kokoshin, Andrei A.. “Nuclear Conflict in the Twenty-first Century.” Discussion Paper, 2007-03, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 31, 2007.

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