Addressing the full range of risks that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons, intentionally or inadvertently, is in the common security interest of all States. The international community has acknowledged a pressing need for attention to nuclear risk reduction. At the 2018 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2020 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chair’s factual summary observed that “strong support was registered for measures to enhance stability, contribute to crisis management, ease tension and avoid miscalculation.” The importance of such risk reduction measures—and the need for further exploration of the topic at large—was also highlighted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his May 2018 Agenda for Disarmament.
Risk reduction entails a range of activities to improve the safety and security of nuclear weapons, reduce the risk of accidents, and prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials. Identifying these and other common objectives that could provide a foundation for practical engagement and cooperation is critical in itself and to nuclear disarmament (another component of reducing the risk of use). Indeed, progress in risk reduction can open other venues for cooperation, strengthen trust and confidence, and facilitate mutual understanding. This in turn could contribute to conditions in which nuclear-armed States are more likely to agree to reducing the salience of these arms in policies and doctrines, and to negtoiate verifiable reductions of existing nuclear weapon arsenals and weapon fissile materials.
Existing risk reduction proposals tend to prescribe single-point solutions that target individual aspects of nuclear weapon risk. This work is certainly commendable and provides a critical foundation. Yet such proposals generally reflect the concerns of individual States or experts. What is lacking in existing discussions on nuclear risk reduction is a comprehensive and considered framework that also takes into account the distinct nature of risk scenarios in the specific contexts of the nuclear characteristics and broader security environment of a given region.
UNIDIR’s “Nuclear Weapon Risk Reduction” project will develop such a framework. Its core objectives are the following:
1) To produce a comprehensive mapping of current ideas on nuclear risk reduction
2) To identify practical and feasible ways to reduce nuclear risk buidling on the comprehensive mapping above
3) To develop a series of options for regional nuclear risk reduction actions tailored to State actors for specific scenarios and contexts across different time horizons
Through these activities, this work will help to identify areas of common interest in risk reduction for States -- nuclear-armed and non-nuclear armed alike -- and help them to respond in constructive ways through a new framework that has practical application in regional contexts.