Jan Lodal and Richard Burt’s innovative new proposal surrounding the establishment of what they term a “Nuclear Control Regime” has-by its own design- come as one of the boldest initiatives in recent years. This new regime would build off the foundation of the current non proliferation regime while addressing what the two authors see as some of its main pitfalls and vulnerabilities, including the increasingly tenuous gap between the “haves” and “have not’s” of the NPT regime and the need for accountable and transparent reporting and safeguarding of all fissile material.
Lodal and Burt’s proposals address a key area of concern within the NPT regime and displays some of the innovative thinking that is required to motivate actors to action. However such a bold initiative, while needed, may face stiffer opposition and complications than expected.
The Nuclear Control Regime Proposal would require a “Grand Bargain” in which all countries declare their entire amount of fissile material – stockpiled, for civilian use, and in nuclear warheads – and allow for inspections and other verification measures.
As it stands now the vast majority of the world’s fissile stockpiles are under control of the p5 countries who are not required to report on their stockpiles to the IAEA, and thus fall outside the scope of the NPT safeguards.
Lodal and Burt argue that challenge inspections -ie tagging nuclear warheads that inspectors could then demand countries to present for inspection within a short time frame- could achieve verification of military fissile material without sacrificing a nation’s deterrence capabilities or national security interests.
Lodal and Burt also argue for the regime to have veto free UN authority. Should international monitors suspect a country to be in violation of the regime, this would allow for the process of verifying said violations and, if found guilty, to rebuke that country, all without the impediment of the Security Council.
The Nuclear Control Regime would not impede in anyway the nuclear activity of signatory states, focusing purely on safeguarding nuclear fissile stockpiles. However the regime would also in no way supersede previous treaties such as the NPT, thereby ensuring that countries to still uphold previous obligations they have signed on to.
In this way Lodal and Burt argue the regime would become far more enticing, furthering the national interests of states by reducing the potential for proliferation without imposing restrictions.
While the Nuclear Control Regime is an intriguing concept, major hurdles for such a regime remain. One is the level of transparency required of military fissile material. One major cause for concern will be naval opposition to what will be viewed as overly intrusive inspections with the potential to compromise the integrity of nuclear naval reactors in submarines.
Given that submarines have in most instances become the backbone of nuclear deterrence capabilities, these vessels are closely guarded secrets. While the regime may be able to work around the complications surrounding challenged inspections of warheads (a daunting task within itself), accounting for the fissile material of naval reactors will be far more challenging.
Additional problems arise in Lodal and Burt’s assumptions of the gradual transparency within countries nuclear programs. The authors argue that if the U.S signs on to a Nuclear Control Regime, Great Britain and France could be persuaded to follow suit. In terms of China, Pakistan and India, the authors cite the progress that has been made between the U.S. and Russia with the START and NEW START treaties, in which unthinkable access to nuclear installations has been achieved.
However Burt and Lodal may oversimplify the lengthy process that was required for these treaties. For example while China may indeed be moving towards more transparency, they still appear far from where Russia was prior to START. Additionally given rising tensions in the South China Sea and concerns over the U.S. Asia pivot, China may be content with the status quo for the time.
India and Pakistan also present challenges to the proposed Regime. Given Pakistan’s fraught relationship with the West, and protracted tensions with India, it may have additional qualms with allowing its nuclear arsenal to be subjected to further monitoring.
And then there is the question of Israel’s coming clean about its nuclear arsenal. This is just one major obstacle. Stacked on top of all the others, the Nuclear Control Regime’s chances of success seem dim.
However, the work of Lodal and Burke should in no way be sold short. Their ideas on the need for a bold initiative to counter the serious threats posed by fissile material are greatly needed, and while their proposal may face some grim opposition, their work has created the debate that is sorely needed on the issue. Such a regime should be seriously considered if only to maintain dialogue that addresses these concerns and helps solve the present shortcomings, or allows for an environment more conducive to agreements on fissile material security.