Horizontal Proliferation: New Challenges
No. 2 2004 April/June
Alexey Arbatov

Full Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Director of the International Security Center at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations; a member of the Russian delegation to the START I negotiations (1990); and Deputy Chairman of the Defense Committee of the State Duma (1994-2003).

The proliferation of nuclear weapons (nuclear proliferation),
which is defined as an increasing number of non-nuclear states and,
possibly in the future, non-state organizations, gaining access to
nuclear weapons, is in the focus of the international security
agenda. It is a top priority issue in the official national
security policies of the United States, Russia and many other
leading countries in the world. Efforts to check nuclear
proliferation involve the intensive work of secret services, the
use of force against individual states and even large-scale
military operations. The efficiency of these efforts is crucial for
the world’s prospects and for global security in the foreseeable

The buildup of nuclear armaments by the largest states,
concomitant with the desire of an increasing number of non-nuclear
countries to obtain them, have remained closely interconnected
phenomena. This is why any nuclear arms race is often described as
nuclear proliferation: there exists ‘vertical’ proliferation (a
nuclear buildup by the leading nuclear states) and ‘horizontal’
proliferation (an increase in the number of countries having
nuclear armaments in their armies).


The world is entering a fundamentally new stage in the
proliferation of nuclear weapons – the most destructive and
dangerous of WMD.

Following the end of the Cold War, when the two superpowers
ceased to be enemies and their ideological and geopolitical rivalry
gave way to broad cooperation, the campaign against proliferation
enjoyed several major achievements. Those years were marked by an
unprecedented growth of the United Nations’ authority and the role
of its Security Council, as well as by a huge expansion of UN
peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. In the early 1990s, about
40 new member countries joined the Treaty on the Nonproliferation
of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), among them France and China. In 1995, the
Treaty was extended for an indefinite time, and only five countries
have remained outside it – India, Pakistan, Israel, Cuba and the
Cook Islands. Seven countries gave up their military nuclear
programs and the nuclear armaments they had previously possessed,
while others had them removed by force (Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine,
Belarus, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Iraq).

However, in the late 1990s, nuclear proliferation gained
momentum after India and Pakistan carried out a series of nuclear
tests in 1998. The tests sparked serious and well-grounded fears
over the military nuclear programs being conducted by North Korea,
Iran and several other countries. Suspicions with regard to Iraq’s
nuclear program served as a pretext for, if not the cause of, the
U.S. war against that country in 2003, although no nuclear weapons
have been found in Iraq since the end of the military campaign. At
the same time, North Korea declared its withdrawal from the NPT and
its ability to quickly develop nuclear weapons. In Iran, facilities
for enriching natural uranium were discovered which Teheran had
been concealing from the International Atomic Energy Agency in
violation of the NPT.

It also turned out that Pakistan (and, perhaps, some other
countries as well) was engaged in an active secret trade in nuclear
technologies and materials with Iran, Syria and North Korea.
Furthermore, Libya was conducting a secret military nuclear program
which it has now proposed to shut down in exchange for the
termination of UN sanctions that have been imposed against it.
Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Syria, Egypt and several other
countries keep a close watch on the conflicts involving North Korea
and Iran and prefer to leave open the issue of their future nuclear
status. International terrorist organizations display a keen
interest in nuclear weapons and have already started blackmailing
governments (in particular, by spreading rumors that they have
bought portable nuclear explosive devices from Ukraine for
subversive purposes).

There are many reasons for the growing proliferation process.
Its new stage was caused, above all, by the transfer of
international conflicts to the regional level, and by the
superpowers’ decreased control over global developments, together
with their decreased involvement in regional affairs. At first,
this factor contributed to their interaction in various fields and
enhanced the role of the United Nations, including the realm of
nonproliferation. But as antagonisms between the superpowers
increased in this area of international politics and technical
cooperation, regional conflicts and the proliferation process went
beyond their control.

The new stage is characterized by an information revolution,
broader access to nuclear power specialists, technologies and
materials, formation of a nuclear black market, technical progress
and the proliferation of dual-use technologies and materials.

As distinct from the Cold War years, public opinion in the U.S.,
Western Europe and Russia has overcome its fear of nuclear weapons
and no longer worries about nuclear disarmament prospects. The sign
of the new era is Washington’s policy of dismantling the nuclear
disarmament regime and process and placing more reliance on nuclear
armaments in furthering its national interests. Russia, after
numerous protests, has chosen to tolerate this policy, however
reluctantly. The proliferation process has been aggravated by the
unilateral use of force abroad by the U.S. and its allies. Those
attacks prompt potential victims of the U.S. military to seek
nuclear weapons in order to defend their security.



The Nonproliferation Treaty, the fundamental document in this
field which was signed in 1968 and which entered into force in
1970, has clearly divided all nuclear and potentially nuclear
powers into ‘legitimate’ (those possessing nuclear weapons by
right) and ‘illegitimate’ (all the others that have no right to
develop nuclear weapons of their own). The NPT says that “for the
purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear-weapon State is one which has
manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear
explosive device prior to January 1, 1967” (Article IX, Point 3).
Therefore, all countries that “missed the deadline” for whatever
reasons, are regarded as ‘illegitimate’ nuclear powers.

And although France and China joined the NPT only in the 1990s,
the Treaty included them as legitimate nuclear-weapon states since
they tested nuclear weapons before 1967 (France accomplished this
in 1962, and China, in 1964). From the point of view of the NPT,
nuclear proliferation was started by India, which became the first
country to explode a nuclear device after January 1, 1967 (in May
1974, to be more precise). India declared at the time that it had
tested a “peaceful nuclear device,” but the NPT makes no such
distinction between nuclear devices. In May 1998, India, and later
Pakistan, became the first non-signatories to the Treaty to openly
test nuclear weapons. These countries can be considered the “legal”
initiators of nuclear proliferation. However, they would hardly
agree with such a claim, just as the other “illegitimate” actual or
potential possessors of nuclear weapons – Israel, North Korea,
Iran, and others – would not, and with good reason.

Indeed, the five ‘legitimate’ nuclear powers developed their
nuclear weapons earlier than other states, and by 1968 three of
them (the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain) had agreed
to their positions on the NPT. As a result, the Treaty defined
January 1, 1967 as the cut-off date, beyond which any new nuclear
state would be considered illegitimate. However, such a position
can be viewed as arbitrariness on the part of the great nations.
From the point of view of “illegitimate” nuclear states, there were
no grounds to make the legitimacy of their nuclear programs
dependent on the time frame set down by the military programs of
the ‘Big Five’ nuclear states, or on the rate of their negotiations
on the NPT provisions.

This flaw of the Treaty, which has formalized the inequality of
the different categories of signatories, is a permanent weak link
in the entire structure of the nonproliferation regime, as well as
a target of just criticism and speculative attacks by the
non-nuclear states and/or non-signatories to the NPT.

There are also other shortcomings and contradictions in the
foundation of the nonproliferation regime and its main elements:
the NPT and related agreements, institutions and mechanisms for
coordinating states’ interests and efforts (the IAEA, the Zangger
Committee, the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, etc.).

One deficiency of the nonproliferation regime is based on the
assumption that the development of nuclear weapons can be a natural
derivative or by-product from the legal development of non-military
nuclear power engineering and science. According to this
assumption, strict control by the legitimate nuclear powers and
international organizations over supplies of nuclear materials and
technologies will make it possible to clearly distinguish between
the peaceful employment of nuclear power from military purposes.
However, the countries that had nuclear programs have always known
what kind of nuclear energy employment – peaceful or military –
they needed in the long run, with the possible exceptions of Brazil
and Argentina whose nuclear programs did not have straightforward

When a nation’s efforts at achieving nuclear capabilities were
peaceful, acquiring the highest technological and industrial
levels, together with the extensive freedom in processing and using
nuclear materials, did not tempt it into developing nuclear weapons
(West Germany, Italy, Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Canada, and
others). If its goals were militarily related, it would seek its
objective in a purposeful way, not “in addition to” peaceful
nuclear engineering programs. The military motives do not derive
from economic benefits; therefore promises of economic benefits in
exchange for the renunciation of nuclear weapons (stipulated in the
NPT) have proved to be a weak lever of influence on national

Some of these countries (Israel, India and Pakistan) “honestly”
chose not to join the NPT and conducted their own military nuclear
programs. Others (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) apparently joined the
Treaty to obtain political cover for their programs and easy access
to information, specialists, technologies and materials for
achieving their long-term military goals. The IAEA’s control was
not enough to prevent military nuclear programs or the transfer of
the technologies, materials and experts of peaceful programs into
military-related projects. The 1997 Additional Protocol to the NPT,
which gave the IAEA the authority to inspect any facility in a
signatory non-nuclear country, could impede such violations but
could not fully prevent them.

Countries seeking to obtain nuclear weapons may even declare
their withdrawal from the NPT, having first taken avail of the
material benefits provided by the Treaty for advancing their
military programs. Pyongyang’s withdrawal from the Treaty showed
that such a move may not necessarily entail international
sanctions. Moreover, North Korea used it as a trump card in its
bargaining with the world’s largest powers for economic and
political concessions. It seems that Iran – which in late 2003
agreed to join the Protocol under pressure of West Europe – has
begun a similar political game concerning Protocol’s requirements
and even its NPT membership in order to receive more opportunities
for developing its nuclear program.

Factors that prompt the leaderships of non-nuclear countries
into developing nuclear weapons  include security
considerations, the wish to bolster their international and
domestic prestige (in particular, from pressure within their
domestic circles), and receive foreign-policy concessions from
other states. The NPT does not counterbalance either of these
factors: it does not offer any tangible benefits for renouncing the
acquisition of nuclear weapons, i.e. it does not provide for
security guarantees that would outweigh losses incurred in such
renunciation, nor does it envision serious punishment for military
nuclear activities.

This particularly refers to the security factor as a motive for
joining the nuclear club. For example, Israel reportedly proposed
to abandon its nuclear weapons in exchange for U.S. security
guarantees that would be equal to Washington’s NATO commitments –
including nuclear guarantees. However, the conclusion of such a
formal security agreement with Israel would damage Washington’s
relations with the Arab world and its oil interests in the Middle

It would be even more politically awkward to offer effective
security guarantees to authoritarian regimes, unstable domestically
and outwardly aggressive. This would especially include those
nations that are suspected of having connections to international
terrorism and secretly developing nuclear weapons. However, it is
such regimes that fear an external threat and seek nuclear status
more than other countries. Sanctions and the threat or use of force
by the great powers, especially when it is done without UN approval
(as was the case with Iraq in 2003), produce undesirable results by
multiplying the incentives for threshold countries to obtain
nuclear weapons.

Another major deficiency of the NPT is that it failed to account
for the correlation of interests of countries supplying and
receiving materials and technologies for peaceful nuclear energy
projects. It was assumed that the wish of recipient countries to
engage in peaceful nuclear engineering would be so strong that they
would assume verifiable obligations not to develop nuclear weapons.
In practice, however, the world market for nuclear materials and
technologies, which yields exorbitant profits, has become a scene
of tough competition for the exporters, not the importers. This
factor has had two grave consequences for nonproliferation.

First, in a bid to win more markets, supplier states were not
very particular about buyers’ intentions and programs, about the
observance of IAEA guarantees, the insufficiency of mechanisms for
controlling exports and imports (with regard to Iraq, North Korea
or Iran, for example), and even about the non-participation in the
NPT of some importer countries (as was the case with Israel, India,
Pakistan and, formerly, Brazil). Moreover, some of the main
exporters remained outside the Treaty (France and China), while
several still do so to this day (India and Pakistan). Furthermore,
reports about the military nuclear programs being conducted by some
recipient states (as well as their vast natural energy resources,
which makes the development of nuclear engineering unnecessary),
did not stop exporters from closing deals with importers, such as
Iraq and Iran.

The other unfavorable consequence of the NPT is the lack of
mutual understanding among the supplier states. It often happens
that when pressure is applied to a particular supplier state by
another, causing the latter to reduce its supplies to one or
another country, this is often viewed as not genuine concern for
nuclear nonproliferation, but rather an attempt to remove a rival
from the market. In 1994, the U.S., South Korea and Japan secured
the termination of Russia’s nuclear energy cooperation with North
Korea under the pretext that Pyongyang might use Russia’s supplies
to develop nuclear weapons of its own. However, soon thereafter a
contract was concluded for the construction of a nuclear power
plant of the same type under their control, with allegedly more
effective IAEA guarantees. (Later, the project, named KEDO, was
halted and North Korea openly resumed its military nuclear program;
in January 2003 it withdrew from the NPT.)

Naturally, Moscow perceives Washington’s strong pressure against
any further construction of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant as a
wish to oust Russia from the Iranian market in order to take its
place. Despite evidence that Teheran is conducting a military
nuclear program and developing missile technologies (with
Pakistan’s and North Korea’s assistance), the Russian leadership
strongly resists the U.S. pressure, even though this situation may
damage Russian-U.S. relations in other fields.

The third deficiency of the NPT is that it proclaims nuclear
nonproliferation to be the top priority of international security,
along with nuclear disarmament. Ideally, this must be so, provided
all exporter countries give up the double standards policy. In
reality, nuclear nonproliferation is given a different priority in
national security agendas of various countries. Its priority is
higher in the United States than it is in Russia, China and certain
West European suppliers, not to mention the new exporters
(Pakistan, India and North Korea). Apart from the nonproliferation
regime, countries may have other, often more ‘preferable,’
foreign-policy interests. In the United States, for example,
support for Israel is more important than damage from its
non-official nuclear status for the nonproliferation regime. For
Russia, the economic and political benefits from cooperation with
India and Iran matter more than nonproliferation. The same logic
applies to the U.S. cooperation with Pakistan (at least until
recently, when Islamabad’s secret nuclear exports became known to
the public).

So the opinion that the NPT has little influence on nuclear
proliferation is not groundless. The Treaty has been joined mostly
by countries that have no intention of developing nuclear weapons.
As for those countries that had such intentions, they simply chose
not to join the NPT (which has not affected their nuclear imports
from the supplier countries), or joined the NPT while
simultaneously conducting military programs secretly from the IAEA.
By choosing such a course, the latter reserved the possibility to
denounce the Treaty and openly acquire nuclear status – without
fearing serious sanctions.

Thus, the main shortcomings of the NPT are: the absence of
reliable security guarantees for non-nuclear countries in exchange
for their decision not to develop nuclear weapons; the vagueness
and weakness of sanctions against nations that choose not to join
the NPT, or those member-countries that violate its conditions or
denounce it; the insufficient effectiveness and obligation of
verification mechanisms; the possibility of obtaining full-cycle
nuclear technology within the NPT framework, which facilitates the
accumulation of weapon-grade materials (including the enrichment of
natural uranium and the recycling of spent fuel for extracting

And finally, the most important point: the “legitimate” nuclear
powers, which built the NPT on the concept of inequality of the
participating states, have not only failed to compensate the other
nations’ damage with security and economic benefits, but have
aggravated this segregation and instigated third countries to make
the nuclear choice.


Since nuclear weapons possess virtually unlimited destructive
might with horrible secondary effects, they are mostly viewed not
as a weapon for use in war, but as an instrument of political
pressure or deterrence. In this sense, the great powers consider
nuclear weapons a very effective tool for ensuring their national
security and interests. Naturally, under certain circumstances,
non-nuclear countries may wish to obtain this kind of weapon as
well. Nuclear deterrence always stimulates nuclear

This relation also works in the opposite direction. Nuclear
proliferation does not only broaden the ‘nuclear club,’ but it also
regenerates nuclear deterrence as a model for military-political
relations between countries. Even when political relations between
certain countries change fundamentally and they cease to view each
other as enemies (as Russia and the United States did after the end
of the Cold War), their nuclear and other forces remain in a state
of strategic deterrence. Eventually, they acquire new enemies and
new targets as a result of the proliferation of nuclear armaments
and their delivery vehicles. In turn, this factor may destabilize
strategic relations between former enemies and cause them to place
more emphasis on nuclear deterrence.

For example, in December 2001, the U.S. decided to build a
National Missile Defense system in order to protect itself from
states that may obtain nuclear missile armaments; Washington’s
withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty six months later forced Russia
to increase its reliance on nuclear deterrence. Moscow extended the
operational service life of its intercontinental ballistic missiles
with multiple, independently targeted re-entry vehicles, and
purchased several dozen such missiles from Ukraine’s stock as well.
Furthermore, Russia was keenly sensitive about Washington’s program
for developing small nuclear munitions, which, it claimed, were
being developed to penetrate the underground bunkers of terrorists
and ‘rogue nations.’ Russia perceived this program as a threat to
its own strategic facilities, and one that would require that it
restructure its command and control system and revise its approach
to the deterrence of different types of threats.

 The vertical proliferation reached its peak in the late
1980s when the Soviet Union and the United States each possessed
10,000 to 12,000 nuclear warheads in their strategic forces.
Coupled with their tactical nuclear arsenals, this figure reached
30,000 to 40,000 munitions in each of the states.

The horizontal proliferation has over the last 50 years covered
nine countries (the U.S., the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China,
Israel, South Africa, India and Pakistan). The collapse of the
Soviet Union produced four new nuclear states (Russia, Ukraine,
Belarus and Kazakhstan). Later, three of them turned their nuclear
weapons over to Russia. Another four countries (South Africa,
Brazil, Argentina and Iraq) made attempts to develop nuclear
weapons of their own, but later gave up such attempts for one
reason or another. Two countries (North Korea and Iran) are
considered to be threshold states, i.e. those on the verge of
obtaining nuclear weapons. If they “cross the line” then it is
possible – in a worst-case scenario – that many more countries may
join the nuclear club in the subsequent 10 to 20 years (Japan,
South Korea, Taiwan, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia).
Malaysia and Indonesia have also been displaying interest in the
nuclear issue of late, while Iraq, Brazil, Argentina and some more
countries may resume their nuclear programs.

Although nuclear deterrence and nuclear proliferation are
closely interrelated, they are not equal factors in international
security. In the Cold War years (since the late 1940s until the
late 1980s) nuclear deterrence was in the center of the world’s
attention. Everyone believed then that the most horrible
hypothetical threat to the world was a global nuclear war between
the two opposing blocs that would be set off by a deliberate attack
from one of the belligerents (the late 1940s-early 1960s), or by an
uncontrolled escalation of a regional crisis which would involve
the great powers (since the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s).

After the end of the Cold War, the situation quickly changed.
Nuclear deterrence, at least between Russia and the U.S., moved
into the background. Although the two countries still preserved
thousands of nuclear warheads, their nuclear stockpiles were
decreasing and programs for their renovation were curtailed. Still
more important was that Moscow and Washington ceased to be the main
geopolitical rivals on the international scene and the probability
of war erupting between them actually decreased to nil.

The threat of a nuclear showdown between the superpowers has
given way to the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass
destruction, as well as to the proliferation of missile
technologies. Furthermore, an increasing number of non-nuclear
states have since been developing nuclear and missile materials and
technologies or are seeking to obtain them. The nuclear weapons of
China, India and Pakistan (and the delivery vehicle capabilities of
Britain and France) have been augmented in absolute figures and in
relative proportions compared to the decreasing arsenals of the two
largest nuclear powers.

The dialectics of nuclear deterrence and proliferation was
reflected in the arms limitation and disarmament processes. The
world’s major powers, fearing a nuclear war, sought to stabilize
mutual deterrence; this striving created the prerequisites for
agreements on nuclear arms limitation and reductions. Already at
the initial stage of this process (after the conclusion of the 1963
Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty), the great nations came to the
conclusion that the main precondition for the limitation and
reduction of their nuclear weapons was the termination of nuclear
proliferation which, in turn, was made conditional in the NPT for
nuclear disarmament.

The interrelation between ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’
disarmament was legally sealed in the famous Article VI of the
Treaty, according to which the nuclear states undertook to “pursue
negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to
cessation of the nuclear arms race… and to nuclear disarmament.”
Soon thereafter (in 1968) such negotiations really began. After the
conclusion of the NPT in 1968, the great powers made headway in
their dialog on nuclear weapons (the ABM Treaty, SALT-1 and SALT-2,
the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and
Shorter-Range Missiles, START-1/2/3, etc.). However, during the
same years, in the 1970s-80s, the two superpowers increased their
nuclear arsenals five or six times over (even if we count only the
number of warheads in their strategic forces). It was only in the
1990s that the nuclear arsenals began to be significantly reduced
(by 50 percent under the START-1 Treaty). The limitation of nuclear
armaments was viewed as a goal requiring much time and effort –
figuratively speaking, as the central edifice of international
security, while the NPT was regarded only as an extension onto this
building. Right up to the early 1990s, the Treaty remained in the
background of the great powers’ interaction on nuclear arms

The end of the Cold War made the United States and eventually
the other nuclear powers, including Russia, change their
priorities. In the mid-1990s, the international security agenda
focused on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and their
delivery vehicles, the strengthening of the NPT regime, its
institutions (IAEA) and additional agencies and mechanisms, the
Missile Technology Control Regime, and export control measures.
Despite great difficulties, the NPT signatories agreed in 1995 to
extend the Treaty for an indefinite time. In 1996, the
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed, which was viewed
not only as a measure of ‘vertical’ nuclear disarmament among the
great powers but also as a parallel mechanism for strengthening the
NPT regime, which would deny non-nuclear countries access, direct
or indirect (for example, following India’s nuclear test in 1974),
into the nuclear club. In 1997, the Additional Protocol to the NPT
was signed, which has extended the IAEA’s right to inspect
suspicious facilities in non-nuclear countries.

The horrible tragedies in New York and Washington on the morning
of September 11, 2001, showed to the whole world a glimpse of the
worst-possible proliferation scenario, in which nuclear weapons
would fall into the hands of international terrorists who would use
them to plunge the entire civilized world into shock and chaos. It
seems unquestionable that further WMD proliferation and the danger
of its merger with international terrorism (so called super
terrorism or catastrophic terrorism) will continue to be a priority
issue in Russian-U.S. relations, as well as in the cooperative
efforts of the nuclear powers and nuclear suppliers, in UN
activities, and in the practice of using force in international

However, so far the policies of the great powers in these fields
have been creating more problems than solutions, in other words,
they are subscribing a ‘remedy’ that is worse than the disease
itself. As has been mentioned above, the nuclear states’ policy was
inconsistent and lacking coordination in their nuclear supplies and
general political line toward ‘illegitimate’ nuclear and threshold
countries. Equally problematic are Moscow’s and Washington’s
positions on military nuclear programs and negotiations on the
limitation and reduction of these weapons.

However, the point is not that the great powers do not formally
fulfill their obligations stemming from Article VI of the NPT,
which is devoted to nuclear disarmament. Contrary to popular
belief, during the 1990s the U.S., Russia, Britain and France cut
the number of nuclear warheads in their strategic nuclear forces by
more than 50 percent, and considering reductions in their tactical
nuclear forces, the nuclear arsenals of the four countries
decreased by five times. The problem is that, although the great
powers have been withdrawing outdated nuclear armaments from
service en masse, they continue modernizing their nuclear weapons
and have assigned a greater role to these weapons in their military
doctrines, placing emphasis on weapon systems that are intended for
real combat employment.

Despite Washington’s repeated official declarations that Russia
and the United States are no longer enemies, its effective
operational plans and targets on the Russian territory for nuclear
attacks have actually remained unchanged, and it continues to add
an increasing number of facilities to its list of targets in China
and other countries. This factor sets clear boundaries on the
prospects for the elimination of nuclear weapons. This is why
Washington has declined to reduce its strategic nuclear forces
further than 2,000 warheads (plus 1,500 warheads kept in storage).
Moreover, the U.S. is developing new low-yield nuclear munitions,
allegedly for destroying underground targets, storage facilities
and bunkers of terrorists and ‘rogue nations.’ To this end,
Washington is making preparations for a possible resumption of
nuclear tests in Nevada.

Today, there is a distinct difference from the official Soviet
propaganda of the Cold War times, which called for nuclear
disarmament. Today, in democratic Russia, which is building a
market economy according to the Western model and attracting
large-scale foreign investment, the maintenance of nuclear weapons
targeted, above all, on the West, enjoys the unanimous public
support of the government, the political and strategic elites and
the entire nation. Moreover, in contrast to the Soviet Union’s 1982
declaration that Moscow would never be the first to use nuclear
weapons, the cornerstone of Russia’s present military doctrine is
the principle of first use of nuclear weapons in extraordinary
circumstances. Russia has adopted programs for the ‘balanced’
modernization of all the components of its strategic triad, and
will not listen to proposals for negotiating on tactical nuclear
armaments; it seems like Russia is planning their extended

Obviously, the U.S., Russia, Britain and France firmly intend to
maintain powerful and effective nuclear forces for the foreseeable
future, while China, which began from a lower level, has been
steadily increasing its strategic potential.

Still more worrying is the state of the proliferation regime and
the process of limitation and reduction of nuclear weapons. This
structure, built with so much difficulty for almost 40 years, is
now being quickly dismantled; on the other hand, the system of
mutual nuclear deterrence is not only being perpetuated but will
probably grow increasingly unstable and unpredictable in the

In May 2002, the United States officially withdrew from the 1972
ABM Treaty which had been the cornerstone of central nuclear
disarmament for the past 30 years. Instead, Russia and the U.S.
signed a general document for cooperation in building a strategic
antimissile system, which has never been translated into life. The
ABM Treaty died together with the START-2 Treaty and the framework
agreement on START-3. These were replaced by the Treaty on
Strategic Offensive Reductions, signed in Moscow in 2002, which
binds the two countries to cut the number of their warheads to
1,700-2,200 within ten years (this was the number of warheads the
parties had before the beginning of the SALT negotiations in the
late 1960s). However, this treaty is rather an agreement of intent,
since it does not stipulate any rules for counting warheads, nor a
reduction schedule, arms elimination procedures or a verification

The attitude to nuclear disarmament has changed dramatically.
Formerly, nuclear nonproliferation was viewed only as a condition
for central nuclear disarmament (along with transparency measures,
a nuclear test ban, non-deployment of weapons in outer space,
reductions in conventional armed forces, etc.). Now nuclear
disarmament is often seen as ‘romanticism’ from the Cold War times.
The U.S. has actually given up the idea of disarmament and refused
to discuss further measures to cut strategic nuclear forces after
the 2002 Moscow Treaty has been implemented. Washington has waived
the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and claims its right to
the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons, including the ‘clean’
sub-kiloton warheads it is developing for destroying fortified
bunkers deep underground. The U.S. is speeding up its program for
building a strategic and a tactical ABM system and is making much
effort to develop space weapons. Russia is following suit – after
loud protests – with reservations and serious disagreements at the
official political and military levels.

In the eyes of some non-nuclear states this policy of the great
powers only confirms the necessity and indispensability of nuclear
weapons, thus boosting nuclear proliferation. Of course, contrary
to the logic of Article VI of the NPT, the interrelation between
vertical and horizontal proliferation is not a “two-way street,”
and even active nuclear disarmament measures by the great powers do
not guarantee the termination of proliferation. Central nuclear
disarmament does not make unnecessary serious efforts in the field
of nonproliferation. However, at the same time, it is absolutely
obvious that an opposite military-nuclear policy of the great
powers undermines the prospects for a nonproliferation regime.

Apart from reductions in nuclear weapons, this refers, above
all, to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which could become a mechanism
for co-opting ‘illegitimate’ nuclear states – India, Pakistan and
Israel – into the NPT regime. Then joint international pressure on
other threshold countries would force them to join the Nuclear Test
Ban Treaty and thus deny them the most impressive and unambiguous
way to obtain nuclear status.

In this context, the initiative to implement small nuclear
munitions against ‘rogue nations’ and terrorists seems rather
absurd. If an underground bunker has been located (which is a
prerequisite for using small nuclear munitions), it can be
destroyed with precision-guided or high-yield conventional weapons,
or by a special task force – especially if the great powers
cooperate and have approval of the UN Security Council.
Furthermore, radioactive contamination of a given area can be
avoided only if a nuclear munition (even if its yield does not
exceed 0.2-0.5 kilotons) penetrates the earth to a depth of about
200 meters, which does not seem technically possible. Otherwise,
the radioactive contamination from the employment of such nuclear
weapons would far outweigh the dubious results of such an action,
to say nothing of the political and humanitarian fallout. Suffice
it to recall the scandals over the employment of uranium-core
munitions in Yugoslavia and Iraq.

As the situation stands, further nuclear proliferation is highly
probable. The danger of this process is not only an increased
probability for the employment of nuclear weapons as the number of
conflicting nuclear states grows. The problem is more serious: a
majority of the new nuclear states will not have highly-survivable
delivery vehicles, reliable attack warning systems and command and
control systems; the political situation in these countries often
is unstable; and there is a high probability of civil wars and
coups in these regions. The risk of a first or pre-emptive strike
and the employment of nuclear weapons by those states is much

The chances that nuclear materials or munitions from these
countries will voluntarily or involuntarily fall into the hands of
terrorist organizations will rise dramatically due to the
peculiarities of their foreign policies and political situations.
There exists a high level of corruption in their civilian and
military organizations, while the security services and facilities
for guarding and controlling nuclear munitions and materials remain
unreliable and unprofessional.

There are enough grounds to say that the next stage in the
proliferation process will not simply entail an exponential growth
in the threat of nuclear weapon employment, but will make this
employment in the foreseeable future inevitable as many risk
factors will overlap.


The dialectics of nuclear deterrence and proliferation is well
in line with Hegel’s classical laws. Initially, nuclear deterrence
(as a policy of indirect employment of nuclear weapons for
political purposes) gave rise to proliferation, as more and more
countries sought to use the fruits of deterrence for serving their
own interests. However, as an increasing number of countries
obtained nuclear weapons, deterrence grew vague, unstable and
contradictory. This tendency was explained by the increased
versatility and inherent paradoxical qualities of deterrence. These
are the ambiguity with regard to the possibility of the first use
of nuclear weapons, and the dubious rationality of some of the
fundamental premises within the concept of deterrence.

The final stage of proliferation – access to nuclear weapons by
non-state entities (terrorist organizations) – will put an end,
once and for all, to nuclear deterrence as a doctrine for
protecting one’s national security. Terrorists need nuclear weapons
not for the purpose of deterrence, but for direct employment, as
well as blackmailing states or the entire civilized world.

In turn, nuclear deterrence is futile against terrorists, as
terrorists have no territory, industries, population or a regular
army that might be targets for retaliation.

Deterrence (the threat of retaliation) in combating catastrophic
terrorism can be effective only against countries supporting
terrorism and providing terrorists with a safe harbor. However, few
countries would openly support terrorists possessing nuclear
weapons. Besides, a nuclear strike against any state, even a ‘rogue
nation,’ would be too strong a “remedy,” considering its
consequences and the political shock it would create around the
world – if the corpus delicti is not absolutely obvious. Very
indicative in this respect was the international community’s
reaction to the poorly-grounded U.S. operation in Iraq in 2003,
although it involved only conventional forces and caused minimum
collateral and material damage.

Efforts to combat nuclear terrorism mostly require special
operations and intelligence in order to hunt down and neutralize
terrorist leaders, organizers and ideologists, as well as to
destroy their material and financial infrastructures. Additionally,
there is the need to protect the many nuclear power engineering
facilities, as well as these facilities for storing nuclear
munitions and materials. Finally, and most importantly, there is
the need for strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The
key role in these efforts must be the high level of cooperation
between the great powers and regional countries participating in
the antiterrorist efforts. But if the great powers resort to a
nuclear threat, let alone employ nuclear weapons, that would be a
disservice to this cooperation.

Attempts to defend oneself against proliferation and terrorism
by taking unilateral military actions, like those taken by the U.S.
which may be followed by other leading nations, undermine the
foundations of the relations of stable mutual deterrence between
the great powers, as well as the arms limitation and disarmament
regimes. The destruction of these vital regimes will destroy the
NPT – the pillar of the nonproliferation mechanisms.

In order to avoid such developments, the U.S., Russia and other
great powers must correct the historical mistake of the last decade
with regard to the limitation of nuclear armaments. It is not
enough to cease to be enemies to abolish mutual nuclear deterrence
as a basis for strategic mutual relations – these countries must
become full-fledged military-political allies. If this is possible,
they must quickly and in coordination reduce their nuclear
armaments of all types to the lowest possible levels (several
hundred warheads for each country) and build joint antimissile and
air defense systems, command and control systems, informational
support systems, rapid deployment forces, and so on.

If these measures are impossible for political reasons, then
they should return to strong treaties which call for verifiable
reductions and limitation of the strategic nuclear forces
(initially to no more than 1,000 warheads) and tactical nuclear
weapons (for example, they could be stored on their national
territories); agree on new limitations on the development of
antimissile defense systems (which would guarantee their employment
against “illegitimate” nuclear states, rather than against each
other); develop technical cooperation in developing theater
antimissile systems and in harmonizing their monitoring and missile
attack warning systems.

But the countries must not remain poised in midair: neither
enemies nor allies; neither deterrence nor something substituting
for it; neither treaty-based arms limitation nor an arms race.
Apart from building mutual confidence and certainty, the
strengthening of central strategic stability would facilitate
cooperation between the great powers in other security fields, and,
most importantly, in nonproliferation. The Comprehensive Nuclear
Test Ban Treaty must be put into effect immediately as it is the
main point of intersection between central and horizontal nuclear

Serious efforts should be made to strengthen the NPT regime. For
example, non-nuclear parties to the Treaty and all nuclear
importers, even those beyond the NPT framework, must be made bound
to join the 1997 Protocol. Recipient countries must no longer be
sold technologies for enriching uranium and recycling spent fuel
for extracting plutonium. Simultaneously, they must be given
guarantees for the supply of nuclear fuel and for the removal or
safe storage of spent fuel from nuclear power plants. The existing
elements of the nuclear cycle in the non-nuclear countries must be
mothballed and later dismantled; it will be necessary for these
countries to be paid adequate compensation for this. More rigid
international control must be established over research nuclear
reactors, the supply of nuclear materials for research purposes,
their storage, and reports on available stocks and any shipment. In
turn, the great powers must stop producing and building up reserves
of weapon-grade plutonium and place respective production and
storing facilities under IAEA control.

More effective efforts must be made to regulate the competition
between the main supplier countries with regard to their export
policies. These countries should pool efforts in new export
projects in order to allay mutual mistrust and to turn the nuclear
market into an exporters’ rather than consumers’ market. The
activities of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and the Zangger
Committee must be formalized in binding agreements which would
provide for verification mechanisms and sanctions for violations
(these agreements may borrow from, for example, the Convention on
the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons). Another important issue on
the agenda is working out a legitimate common strategy, methods and
means for counter-proliferation (including the interception of
illegal nuclear supplies) and for combating international terrorism
and regimes supporting it covertly or overtly.

Finally, the complex political problems and conflicts between
the main nuclear exporters must be resolved. In particular, new
guarantees must be worked out for the external security and
economic encouragement of some countries in exchange for their
giving up nuclear weapons, even if these countries are not
attractive politically. It must be clearly understood that the
nonproliferation strategy pursues the very specific goal of
combating the nuclear threat, rather than planting democracy and
prosperity everywhere. The latter goal requires an absolutely
different amount of effort and time.

There is no denying that at present the above proposals look
utopia, at best, or high-sounding nonsense, at worst. There are few
grounds for optimism, since the actions of the great powers,
nuclear exporters and importers often conflict. And still, there is
yet hope that the strongest states, with the support of the entire
international community, will adopt a new system for organizing
nuclear security without being forced to do that by the shock of
the first real employment of the ‘Judgement Day weapon’ since
August 1945.