Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which will coincide with the upcoming Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference. This important occasion will offer a unique opportunity to advance the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.
After the Cold War, a nuclear-free world appeared to be within reach. However, the lack of a collective sense of ownership allowed the issue to fade from the public consciousness. Despite the establishment of a peaceful post–Cold War order, proliferation continued. Nuclear risks became more diverse. Now the world faces three key challenges.
First, under article VI of the NPT, the fundamental international framework for nuclear issues, parties pledge to “pursue negotiations in good faith” for nuclear disarmament. Yet the world has experienced a massive buildup of nuclear capabilities in a non-transparent manner. Today, there are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in existence -- more than enough to destroy mankind. Many of these weapons systems are said to remain on high alert, and the risk of accidental or unauthorized use continues to represent a tremendous concern.
Second, the world faces a myriad of regional proliferation challenges. In 2003, North Korea unilaterally declared its withdrawal from the NPT. Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013, and it still continues to develop its nuclear and missile programs. Iran’s nuclear program also remains a matter of concern for the international community, although there has been some progress since last year toward a resolution.
Third, terrorist groups and other nonstate actors are increasingly engaging in illegal proliferation activities through ever more sophisticated means. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), more than 100 cases of illicit trafficking and other unauthorized activities and events involving nuclear and radioactive materials are recorded annually, with 146 such cases in 2013. Nuclear terrorism is a risk that the world must tackle with the utmost resolve.
Meanwhile, instability in parts of Asia and the Middle East has only heightened nuclear risks. And unilateral attempts to change the status quo
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series