CBM and nuclear proliferation: The quest for alternative approaches


Lecture by Prof. Dr. Klaus Lange given at the international conference on "Confidence Building in Security Affairs", organized by the China Association for Military Science and the PLA Foreign Languages University, Luoyang, November 14 - 16, 2007


The basic thesis I would like to offer to you reads as follows:

It is not very realistic to assume, that nuclear proliferation can be stopped or even reversed under present conditions.
Therefore a kind of confidence building measures is required, which would allow us to live with nuclear weapons as long as the global situation has changed in such a way as would nuclear armament make appear as obsolete.
The kind of CBM enabling us to live with nuclear weapons, will be very much different from those ones employed during the Cold War and thereafter

Let me now elaborate on the different aspects of that thesis and check first on the question, whether nuclear proliferation will further expand.

At that point advocates of nuclear control regimes usually mention J.F. Kennedy ¥s statement, that by the beginning of the 70ies there will be somewhat around 20 - 25 nuclear powers on earth. Today , the believers in control regimes would continue saying, ca. 45 years after Kennedy made his prediction, we have only 9 nuclear weapons states, which shows, that nuclear control regimes are working more or less and that, with respective improvements of those control regimes, nuclear proliferation could be stopped finally.

I do not share this opinion and would like to argue as follows:

In order to be realistic, when it comes to an assessment of the number of nuclear weapons states, we should not only look at those states, which do have nuclear weapons at hand, but we should also take into account what I call "Short Notice Nuclear Weapons States" (SNNWS).

With this I am referring to states, which have the scientific - industrial base, know how and qualified manpower in order to produce nuclear weapons at short notice.

What do I mean by "short notice"?

It is the time span within which a latent crisis can escalate up to the threshold of armed conflict.

Taking into account all sorts of historical experience, I would, - still of course somewhat arbitrarily - , define the concept of "short notice" with a time span between half a year and 12 months.

My proposal of definition would now read:

SNNWS refers to states, which have the capability to produce within maximum one year, nuclear weapons of such quantity and quality as would make them a factor in an unfolding conflict.

I strongly feel, that in order to assess the actual status of nuclear proliferation, we have to include SNNWS in our calculation.

How many SNNWS are there around?

To make a calculation it is helpful to consider all those states, which at one point in time did pursue a nuclear weapons program, even if those programs had shown very different measures of progress.

We find states, the cases of which are more or less known, such as Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and others.

And we should remember, that even states such as Yugoslavia, Sweden and even Switzerland, at one point in time had taken a decision to embark on a nuclear weapons program.

Again, how many states, roughly speaking, should be considered SNNWS ?

Taking into account the industrial base, available know how, - not at least on the global market, we arrive at a number of ca. 4 dozen SNNWS.

This is to say, that the attempt at containing nuclear proliferation by trying to stop production of weapons as such, is like believing, that cutting the tip of an iceberg, means eliminating the whole iceberg and the danger it poses.

The next question we should discuss is the following:

If we look at that vast pool of SNNWS, will it be more or less likely, that growing numbers of SNNWS will go the last small remaining step and become fully fledged nuclear weapons states?

The answer to this question depends very much on the further development the global system of international relations will take.

Will it produce more or less conflict?

More specifically:

Will the implications of globalisation be perceived more as constituting a win - win - situation (or : positive sum - game) or is it more realistic to expect, that the perception of a global zero - sum - game will be the dominating one?

I am afraid, that the latter expectation will proof to be the realistic one.

The following points support this negative expectation:

A.: The present phase of globalisation is about to reach its limits; The paradigm of the global village , based on the assumption of ever intensifying communication and interaction, which in the end will even bring about a global culture, shows deepening cracks:

There are losers of globalisation and with this I am not only referring to what is called the "Third" or "Fourth World", but I am also looking at growing segments of population in highly developed societies, which are de - coupled from overall development: Never before the gap in income and influence in highly developed societies between politico - commercial elites and the vast rest of society, was wider than today.

The result is a growing incompatibility between state and society and a growing deficit of legitimacy on part of the political system and the state.

By the way: This phenomenon applies likewise in the so called "First World" as in the "Third World".

One could say, that there is a globalisation of a growing deficit of political legitimacy.

B.: The present form of globalisation is reaching its limits also for another reason: The intensifying struggle for resources.

It will in the middle term not be possible any longer to deny somebody resources( water, oil, minerals, soil or whatever) using all means and at the same time enjoy the fruits of reciprocal economic interaction and of international division of labour.

One cannot at the same time play the positive sum - game of economic interaction and the zero sum - game of the battle for resources.

Why am I mentioning all this?

It is supposed to point to the strong possibility, that the dangerous mixture, which consists of growth of the already high number of SNNWS plus growing problems of legitimacy plus and ever exacerbating struggle for resources, makes in the end use of nuclear weapons more likely.

One could, as some advocates of the realist or neorealist school have done, advocate the thesis, that, the more nuclear weapons spread, the safer the world will be, because of equally growing reciprocal deterrence.

I am afraid, that this is a risky assumption for many reasons.

To mention one reason: The miniaturization of nuclear weapons, which at one stage may make the use or nuclear weapons appear as possible.

The fallacy of this believe is in may view, that, according to basic game theoretical concepts, it will still be unavoidable to climb up the ladder of escalation, once the first, however small, nuclear weapon has been used. Not going into detail here I just would like to indicate, that this has in first place to do with the logic of pre - emption.

Against this background the topic of CBM becomes extremely important again. When I am using the word "CBM" I have in this context something else in mind, than the conventional meaning. Something else than technicalities such as advance information on testing, control of the cycle of nuclear materials, inspections etc.

The danger, we are moving towards, has a lot to do with the fact, that what is called "nation states" are still the undisputed historical subjects.

But: It is the nation state, which experiences those deficits of legitimacy, which makes its behaviour dangerous.

And it is the nation state, which is the subject in the global battle for resources.

The conclusion is, that we have to scale down the importance of the nation state, if we want a safer world.

This may sound somewhat utopian, in first place, because respective power elites will not easily give up their claims which are intertwined with the concept of nation state. But the growing nuclear danger in my view justifies any effort to strengthen the awareness that we are all sitting in one boat on this planet and not in many different national ones.

All this is to say, that we need to give new meaning to the concept of CBM:

CBM should be called those efforts, supposed to give the nation state a more technical - administrative meaning instead of an emotionally loaded framework of identification.

CBM would have to entail a global resource management instead of a war of all against all.

And finally, the most important CBM would be transnational projects dealing with the main problems and aspirations of mankind:

Fight against poverty, common struggle for solutions to the energy - problem, global resource management including managing the water - problem, fight against diseases and ignorance and many more.

This is not to say, that we must give up conventional CBM, we should even do our best to make them a more stabilizing factor. But we should bear in mind, that conventional CBM are only relevant during a transitory period which in my view is already drawing to an end.

This period will finally be over, when the root causes of nuclear proliferation have been identified and suitable alternative CBM are enacted.

  Free Article
Author: Dr. Klara Knapp & Prof. Dr. Klaus Lange