The Prospects of Nuclear Disarmament in the New Nuclear Architecture

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the foundation for the nuclear arms control and disarmament initiatives. Since coming into effect in 1970, the P5 have failed to act upon Article-VI of the NPT which states:

“… Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race… and complete disarmament …..”[1]

Thus, the failure of implementation by major powers have impacted the credibility of the non-proliferation initiatives. Moreover, the non-compliance have instilled discord and mistrust among the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWS). The latter states considers that the NWS have not fulfilled their commitments to various arms control initiatives from the Cold War era to Post Global Zero which are enlisted in the table below.[2]During 2019 NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) which was held at UN headquarters in New York from 29 April to May 10, United States (US) proposed a new initiative for nuclear disarmament termed as “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND)aiming to implement NPT Article (VI) modify security environment to achieve cooperation and trust and enhance confidence in nuclear disarmament. Sweden put forward its working paper “Stockholm Initiatives or Stepping Stone Approach” exploring paths to rebuild ‘habits of cooperation, reducing uncertainty and identifying measures to reduce the risk of nuclear use. Further, US proposed trilateral arms control initiative calling upon Russia and China to participate. This issue brief tries to implore the causes, international impact and prospects behind proposition of new non-proliferation frameworks and whether are these in line with the existing norms based upon NPT or do they form new nuclear architecture.

Exploring The Age of Uncertainty

The emerging multipolarity between US, China and Russia has resulted into deteriorating international security environment. The contestation among major powers in political, economic and technological arena has ensued a new Cold War instigating arms race which are destabilizing norms for arms control and disarmament. The withdrawal of US and Russia from various initiatives including Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) along with the uncertain and fading future of New START by February 2021 has placed the future of arms control initiatives in a disarray. The US in its recent policy papers including National Security Strategy 2017 and Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) 2018[3] has categorically stated the rise of China and re-emergence of Russia as a threat to its national security, marking a major shift from its previous policy narratives. Thus, the withdrawal from arms control commitments, shift in policy statements of US and deployment of missile defense systems and intermediate range missiles in Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific have consequently raised the security concerns for Russia and China respectively.[4]

The Shaking of Nuclear Disarmament Architecture

The nuclear architecture is facing a shakedown in the contemporary era as major arms control initiatives are being abandoned. US announced withdrawal from INF in February 2019 based upon the pretext of treaty violation by Russia citing development of non-complaint 9M729 ballistic missile, allegations which are denied by Moscow.[5] The cessation of the INF came into effect on August 2, 2019. The future of New START has been jeopardized as Trump administration considers not to further extend the treaty after it expires in February 2021. US considers it to be flawed as it did not covered the modern Russian weapon systems including nuclear powered cruise missiles, and torpedoes.

During the 2019 NPTPrepCom the major powers including US, Russia, China and Sweden pitched for initiating new nuclear non-proliferation initiatives in their working papers. CEND, the working paper proposed by US aimed to address the emerging security challenges which cause further increase in arms race and uncertainty. The paper further pressed upon employing institutional processes, creating incentives for states to reduce their dependence on nuclear weapons and abrogation them as a tool of national security policy. Thus, creating a conducive environment for disarmament based on Article-VI of NPT.[6]The Sweden similarly proposed the working paper titled as “Stepping Stones Approach” or “Stockholm Initiative” aiming to resolve outstanding arms control processes by breaking them into small manageable steps. The paper aimed to increase cooperation and trust among NWS and NNWS, checks on fissile material and emphasize upon negative security assurances.[7] China produced the joint statement of the P5 states which pledged on working together for observing complete disarmament while delivering upon the existing commitments including NPT, CD, CTBT and International Partnership For Nuclear Disarmament Verification(IPNDV) in good faith. While, Russia raised concerns on the non-ratification of CTBT by the US as indicated during NPR 2018, thus, highlighting US intentions for carrying nuclear tests in future.[8]

The Trump administration has displayed contradictory stance on the future of New START. On July 17, 2019 between US and Russian delegation headed by US Under Secretary of State and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister in Geneva. During the strategic talks the two sides reportedly thoroughly talked about the extension of the New START.[9] While, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Osaka the US hinted to initiate a three-way treaty that will include US, Russia and also bring China in the ambit of arms control treaties. While, Beijing has categorically stated that it will not become a party to any such initiative as it is not involved in numerical dominance. The major purpose for this measure is to restrict the Chinese intermediated range strategic forces which threaten the US interests in the region, have thrived due to the absence of any arms control agreements.

A New Cycle of Arms Race

In contemporary era the phenomenon of new arms race is being observed between major powers US, Russia and China at conventional, strategic and tactical level, space and cyber domain. The trend is being established by doctrinal shifts and massive force modernizations. The extent of increase in defense spending can be analyzed from the SIPRI estimates for 2018 which mount up to USD 1.8 trillion showcasing 2.6% rise from 2017. The US being the largest military spender has embarked upon a major force modernization with China tailing behind with USD 250 billion and Russia with USD 61.4 billion.[10]The withdrawal from INF also indicates the development of a new range of medium and intermediate range tactical, hypersonic and ballistic missiles, further lowering the nuclear threshold. Moreover, US have devised the budget of USD 1.2 trillion for 2017-2046 nuclear force modernization.[11]

The cyber domain in this context is also crucial with rapid dependency of critical infrastructure related to national security based upon cyber technology, while US is also initiating space forces. Russia on the other hand has surpassed US in the field of hypersonic and glide vehicles including ICBMs, nuclear powered cruise missiles and torpedoes showcased during Putin’s State of Union speech in March 2018 which can out-smart existing western missile defense systems along with robust cyber and space commands.[12] China, an emerging power and second largest military spender is also undergoing force modernization, developing ambitious cyber and space programs, which areduly emphasized in 2019 Defense White Paper.[13]This emerging cycle of arms race will have deteriorating impact on international security environment and further ensuing arms race at regional levels.

The Prospects of New Nuclear Disarmament  and Nonproliferation initiatives

US, being on the helm of international affairs is wielding the arms control norms for its own interests, disregarding the international and regional repercussions of its decisions.. US proposals for trilateral initiatives including Russia and China are solely for putting caps on the strategic forces capabilities of these states, especially that of China. The international community would be cautious of any future initiatives as they lack credibility after withdrawal of US from JCPOA and INF. The inception of new framework for non-proliferation while capitalizing upon NPT holds bleak prospects for implementation. Russia has withdrawn itself from the observer status at IPNDV while China is not willing to be part of the new trilateral initiatives for arms control. These initiatives outcast non NPT nuclear weapon states and are aimed to curtail threats imminent to US and West rather than to international community at large. Subsequently, the emergence of new arms race have impact on international and regional balance of power as aspiring states will compete for dominance. The hegemonic ambitions of India in South Asian region is an evident example of this destabilizing phenomenon. India is gearing to compete China and has undergone massive conventional and nuclear force modernization including developments in cyber and space domain. Thus, compelling Pakistan to follow suite catering for its security needs to maintain balance of power in the wake of destabilizing security environment.


The debate for arms control and nuclear disarmament has been unfortunately for long has been played as self-serving and hollow pledges by the major NWS which have failed to deliver upon them. The withdrawal from the INF would lead to further lowering of the nuclear threshold as the US would actively develop and deploy tactical nuclear weapons in regions of interest including Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe. The new nuclear architecture developed by the actions of major powers further weaken and deteriorate the efficacy of institutional norms. The efficacy and credibility of new initiatives such as CEND among other remains questionable as the P5 have failed to deliver measurable progress upon the existing arms control and disarmament initiatives. The emerging nuclear architecture blur the legitimacy of the arms control initiatives and further encourage NNWS to pursue for alternative measures including nuclear weapons program to secure their interests. Thus, resulting in proliferation of nuclear weapons which threaten world peace and security. The major powers should for once initiate a robust implementation upon their aforementioned commitments in good faith rather than devising frameworks for achieving their limited interests.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiatives Post Global Zero[14]

Name of  InitiativeObjectives/ MandateMember StatesOriginFocal MemberStatus
Global ZeroComplete dismantlement of Nuclear Warheads by 2030 under 4 Phase plan.Over 300 world leaders, academicians, diplomats.Paris December 09, 2008Initiated on the pretext of Obama’s Prague Speech on Nuclear Free World in April 1, 2009.Phase 1 (2010-13) reduce warheads to 1000 Phase 2(2014-18) Multilateral framework for reduce war heads to 500. Phase 3 (2019-23) Negotiate Global Zero Accord Phase 4 (2024-30) Reduction of all Warheads to Zero and continue Verification and enforcement system.
International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND)To reinvigorate international NPD efforts and develop consensus for 2010 NPT RevCon.Japan/ Australia2008Japan/ Australia 
Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI)Aimed to facilitate the implementation of the measures of the 2010 NPT Review ConferenceAustralia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Turkey, UAE.September 2010Japan/ AustraliaHiroshima Declaration (2014) proposals for both disarmament and nonproliferation, including calls to negotiate the FMCT, increase nuclear safety and safeguards, encourage the entry into force of the CTBT, and transparency in disarmament reporting.
Austrian Pledge/ Humanitarian InitiativeHumanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and negotiating a prohibition against nuclear weapons under the framework of the NPT.159 states8-9 December 2014Austrian Deputy Foreign Minister Michael LinhartThe nuclear weapon states did not participate in the first two conferences, but the United States and United Kingdom sent representatives to attend the third conference in Vienna.
P-5 StepContinue to seek progress on the step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament5 NPT recognized NWS P5 StatesP-5 states have held seven conferences to increase dialogue and transparency in disarmament progress. At the 2015/19 Review Conference each of the P5 states submitted its national report
Nuclear Weapons Ban TreatyNNWS recommended UNGA to Negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination.Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) of NNWS2016UNGAOn 27 October 2016, UNGA adopted voted to adopt the resolution to convene the nuclear ban conference, followed suit on 23 December 2016 by UNGA.
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear WeaponsStrengthen norms against nuclear weapons.25 party, 70 signatory states.7 July 2017UNGANWS have been sharply critical of the treaty process  asserting that the treaty deepens the division between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states
International Partnership For Nuclear Disarmament VerificationEngage diverse group of countries to develop innovative monitoring and verification solutions for disarmament.33 participatory statesDecember 2017U.S. State Department and Nuclear Threat InitiativeA major new international initiative, co-led by NTI and the U.S. Department of State and involving over 25 countries, focused on nuclear disarmament verification
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)Working to promote adherence to and full implementation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons468 partner organizations in 101 countries2007Melbourne, AustraliaAwarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of nuclear weapons.”
Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament,To  rebuild trust among NWS and NNWS having differing approaches towards a NWFZ May 2017JapanSubmitted its recommendations to the second session of the Prep-Com for the 2020 NPT Review Conference
Stepping Stone Approach to Nuclear Disarmament/ Stockholm Initiative.Explore paths to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in state doctrines, rebuild ‘habits of cooperation,’ increase the transparency of fissile material stocks, and identify measures to reduce the risk of use. May 7, 2019SwedenProposed during 2019 NOT PrepCom.
Creating Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) Aims toimplement article VI of NPT and modify security environment to achieve cooperation and trust and enhance confidence in nuclear disarmament.Approximately 100 delegates representing 42 states attendedJuly 2, 2019US Department of StateFirst Session was held on June 11.

[1] “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT),” IAEA,

[2] “Nuclear Disarmament Resource Collection,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, August 7, 2018,

[3] US Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington D.C: 2018.

[4]Liu Xuan, Wang Qingyun, “Possible missile deployment raising concerns in Asia-Pacific, Beijing says,” ,China Daily, August 7, 2019,

[5] Julian Borger, “Donald Trump confirms US withdrawal from INF nuclear treaty,” The Guardian, February 1, 2019,

[6]Paul Meyer, “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament: Striding Forward or Stepping Back?,” Arms Control Association, April 2019,

[7]Sebastian Brixey Williams, “Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström, launches ‘Stepping Stones’ Approach to Nuclear Disarmament,” Basicint, May 7, 2019,

[8]Alicia Sanders-Zakre, “Reporting on the 2019 NPT PrepCom,” Arms Control Association, May 10, 2019,

[9]“ Trump Expects to Reach Arms Control Agreement with Russia,” Sputnik, July 31, 2019,—report/.

[10] “World military expenditure grows to $1.8 trillion in 2018,” SIPRI, April 29, 2019,

[11] “US Nuclear Modernization Programs,” Arms Control Association, August 2018,

[12] Joseph Trevithick, “Here’s The Six Super Weapons Putin Unveiled During Fiery Address,” The Warzone,  March 1, 2018,

[13]“China’s New 2019 Defense White Paper,” Center For Strategic and International Studies, July 24, 2019,

[14] “Nuclear Disarmament Resource Collection,” Nuclear Threat Initiative,

Hamzah Taoqeer
Hamzah Taoqeer
I am a keen reader of international relations and political studies with specific interest in low intensity conflicts.