Nuclear Issues

864 Items

Americans watch President Kennedy speak on television during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

James Vaughan/Flickr

Analysis & Opinions - Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament

Nuclear Hotlines: Origins, Evolution, Applications

| May 28, 2021

Soviet and American leaders learned during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 that inadequate communication raised perilous risks and dangers in the nuclear age. The US–Soviet Hotline was created soon thereafter, in 1963, and has operated continuously ever since. It was intended to provide a quick, reliable, confidential, ever-ready communications between heads of state in the event of crisis or war. Strategists came to realize that urgent and effective communication was essential not only for preventing unwanted escalation in crisis, but also in limiting war or terminating war – all profoundly important in an age marked by large accumulations of nuclear weapons. Though they can be misused by malign actors or employed by states to convey threats rather than reassurances, hotlines represent an emergency mechanism that sits astride the paths to nuclear war – an insurance policy worth having. Not only has the original Soviet-American Hotline been preserved and modernized but the hotline model has been adapted by other nuclear pairings and in conflict-prone regional settings. Hotlines remain a prudent, low-cost preparation that could prove essential in the event of a crisis that seems to be slipping out of control.

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Leading Scientists and Catholic Leaders Call on President Biden to Work for a World Free of the Nuclear Threat

| May 12, 2021

A letter signed by leading scientists—including the Belfer Center's Aditi Verma—and Catholic leaders urges the Biden administration to adopt several nuclear policies, including a declaration that the US will never use nuclear weapons first, work with Russia and then with other nations to verifiably reduce nuclear arsenals, and to affirm the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as complementary to existing agreements, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

A missile on display during a military parade in Moscow's Red Square in 2016.

Wikimedia Commons

Report Chapter - American Academy of Arts & Sciences

The Rise and Decline of Global Nuclear Order?

| April 2021

The first half century of the nuclear age witnessed the gradual construction of a global nuclear order designed to mitigate nuclear dangers, inhibit arms racing, and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states. Spurred by the experiences, the dangers, the crises, the near misses, and the frightening risks on display in the early years of the Cold War, sustained efforts were made, in McGeorge Bundy’s vivid phrase, “to cap the volcano.” The time had arrived, Bundy wrote in 1969, for the two great nuclear superpowers “to limit their extravagant contest in strategic weapons,” a contest that had “led the two greatest powers of our generation into an arms race totally unprecedented in size and danger.” In the subsequent twenty-five years after Bundy’s appeal, an increasingly elaborate and institutionalized arms control process produced, with many ups and downs, a detailed web of constraints on the nuclear behavior of the superpowers. The articulated goal was to stabilize the superpower nuclear balance by reinforcing mutual deterrence. The vast nuclear arsenals of the superpowers, however, were not the only source of nuclear danger. In a world in which the number of states armed with nuclear weapons was slowly growing and many additional states had interest in acquiring such weapons or the technology to produce them, there was reason, as Albert Wohlstetter warned in 1961, to be “concerned with the enormous instabilities and dangers of a world with many nuclear powers.” Such a world—“life in a nuclear armed crowd”—Wohlstetter wrote in a later famous study, was widely believed to be “vastly more dangerous than today’s world.” The desire to prevent this unattractive world led to the negotiation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, and to the subsequent development of an associated regime intended to create legal and technical barriers to the spread of nuclear weapons. Thus, in reaction to the major perceived dangers of the nuclear age, there emerged what Lawrence Freedman calls the “twin pillars” of the global nuclear order: mutual stability in the major nuclear rivalry and nonproliferation to inhibit or prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran on Feb. 10, 2021 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP).

Iranian Presidency Office via AP

Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Reviving the Nuclear Deal Gives the U.S. More Leverage Over Iran

| Feb. 15, 2021

While U.S. sanctions have caused Iran’s economy major challenges and limited Iran’s access to financial resources, they have not succeeded in changing Tehran’s behavior regarding its nuclear program. Indeed, Iran has not offered additional concessions. Instead, it has engaged in its own leverage-building strategy by ramping up its nuclear activities, missile program, and regional activities. Iran is not only closer to having the capacity to build a bomb, but even the political discourse of key officials on whether to cross that threshold has been shifting.

Soldiers assigned to the New York National Guard's 24th Civil Support Team based at Ft. Hamilton, search for a simulated weapon of mass destruction based on elevated radioactivity levels they found in a warehouse during an exercise in Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 22, 2019. The 22 person team made up of Airmen and Soliders of the NYNG respond to incidents of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive, and every 18 months have to go through an evaluation where the unit is certified in their mission.

U.S. Army National Guard photo by Ryan Campbell

Analysis & Opinions - European Leadership Network

It’s Time to Prohibit Radiological Weapons

    Authors:
  • Sarah Bidgood
  • Samuel Meyer
  • William C. Potter
| Feb. 01, 2021

Today, the origins of the concept of RW have largely been forgotten.  Indeed, since 9/11, radiological weapons have been associated mainly with non-state actors, who may not have the means or motivations to acquire and use far more lethal nuclear explosives.  A fixation on the very real dangers posed by nuclear terrorism, however, should not obscure the risks that states also may again pursue radiological weapons.

Then-candidate Joe Biden in 2019.

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Analysis & Opinions - European Leadership Network

Nuclear Diplomacy in the Biden Administration

| Jan. 06, 2021

The Biden administration not only inherits a country where COVID-19 is surging and jobs are hemorrhaging, but he also takes over a perilous global landscape when it comes to nuclear arms control and disarmament. The Trump years saw the dissolution of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (i.e. the Iran nuclear deal) and the Open Skies Treaty. President Trump has not extended New START, the last remaining arms control treaty, leaving 16 days for the new administration to work out an extension before the treaty expires.

Genbaku at Night

Wikimedia Commons

Journal Article - Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament

Japanese Public Opinion, Political Persuasion, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

| 2020

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) poses a challenge to decades of Japanese nuclear policy. While Japan has relied on the US nuclear umbrella since the aftermath of World War II, numerous pro-disarmament groups — including the Hibakusha — are calling for Tokyo to join the Treaty. The authors contribute to these discussions with commentary on a new national survey they conducted in Japan (N = 1,333). Their results indicate that baseline support for the Prime Minister signing and the Diet ratifying the TPNW stands at approximately 75% of the Japanese public.

A demonstration in Germany in support of the TPNW in 2019.

ICAN Germany via Flickr

Analysis & Opinions - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The Nuclear Ban Treaty and Competing Nuclear Norms

| Oct. 30, 2020

Universal norms have power—US leaders know this. For proponents of nuclear deterrence like the US government, the norms of the NPT are strategically valuable because they allow the United States and four other states to maintain their nuclear weapons while keeping the rest of the world from possessing their own. In contrast, the norm promoted by the ban treaty is meant to apply to all states and so US leaders fear its long-term effects.

In this file photo taken April 3, 2008, the control panel for Hanford nuclear reservation's famous B Reactor is shown in Richland, Wash. The B Reactor, the world's first full-sized reactor, will be part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, the nation's newest national park. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Journal Article - Quarterly Journal: International Security

Death Dust: The Little-Known Story of U.S. and Soviet Pursuit of Radiological Weapons

    Authors:
  • Samuel Meyer
  • Sarah Bidgood
  • William C. Potter
| Fall 2020

A comparative analysis of the United States’ and the Soviet Union’s previously underexplored radiological weapons programs identifies the drivers behind their rise and demise. The findings of this analysis illuminate the factors likely to affect the pursuit of radiological weapons by other states in the future.

Saki Morioki, 5 years old, prays as paper lanterns float along the Motoyasu River in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. in Hiroshima, western Japan. Japan marked the 75th anniversary Thursday of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The official lantern event was cancelled to the public due to coronavirus but a small group of local representatives released some lanterns. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Journal Article - Quarterly Journal: International Security

The Stopping Power of Norms: Saturation Bombing, Civilian Immunity, and U.S. Attitudes toward the Laws of War

| Fall 2020

Carpenter and Montgomery replicate a key question from Sagan and Valentino’s landmark survey of U.S. attitudes toward the laws of war and introduce variations into Sagan and Valentino’s experiment. The findings reveal Americans’ strong belief that targeting civilians is wrong, and that a majority would likely oppose such action in real life.