The Crawford School of Public Policy’s Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (CNND) this week launched in Geneva a major book-length report (55)authoritatively documenting the unhappily diminishing global enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament, and the growing risks of nuclear proliferation. Co-edited by Centre Director Ramesh Thakur and ANU Chancellor and former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, the report is expected to be an important advocacy tool for governments and civil society organisations worldwide.

By the end of 2009 hopes were higher than for many years that the world was at last seriously headed towards nuclear disarmament.  President Obama had promised “to put an end to Cold War thinking” by reducing the role of nuclear weapons in US national security strategy, Russia and the United States had renewed nuclear arms reduction negotiations, and the approaching Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference seemed likely to advance both the disarmament and non-proliferation agendas.

By the end of 2012, however, much of this sense of optimism had evaporated.  The New START Treaty was concluded, but it left stockpiles intact and disagreements about missile defence and conventional arms imbalances unresolved. The push for a conference on a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East had stalled; and the challenges posed by North Korea and Iran were no closer to resolution.  While nuclear weapons numbers had fallen overall, they were growing in Asia.

The State of Play report (55) fully assesses these and other developments, measuring progress – or more often lack of it – made as of the end of 2012 on the commitments and recommendations contained in the outcome documents of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and the 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summits, and also the 2009 ICNND report.

It documents small pockets of progress in each of the four areas it addresses (nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear security, and the security risks associated with peaceful uses of nuclear energy).

The weakest of all these areas has been nuclear disarmament. Almost 18,000 nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the nine nuclear-armed states, with a combined destructive capacity of around 120,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. In addition, efforts are underway or planned in all of them to upgrade and modernise their nuclear stockpiles, and deployment strategies, with little enthusiasm evident for modifying the doctrines underpinning their use, or reducing their often dangerously high alert status (some 2,000 nuclear weapons are maintained at a level of readiness enabling them to be launched within minutes, maximising the chances of human or system error).

While nuclear disarmament continues to be very strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of non-nuclear-armed states, it remains for every nuclear-armed state at best an open-ended, incremental process, with broad and indeterminate links to global and regional stability. There is no appetite for a multilateral disarmament process and no disposition to discuss disarmament timelines.

The goal of Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play is not to criticise and castigate, but to advance helpfully the global nuclear policy debate. The Centre’s report ensures that ANU and the Crawford School will be important players in that debate.

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