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Threats of Nuclear Conflict: A Global Review – Part 1

Beginning with South Asia, Scott L. Montgomery and Thomas Graham, Jr. introduce a two-part essay taking stock of contemporary prospects of nuclear conflict.

Our world in the second decade of the 21st century approaches the abandonment of cooperation in the realm of nuclear arms control. We have entered a new era of threat that is real, growing, and not in the least accidental. Nor is it due to the dark gods of human nature or the unfavorable fate of having freed the nuclear genii from its bottle.

The new era must be counted part of a deteriorating international order. Within the past five years, this situation has tended to elevate conflict above collaboration, risk above security, and, above all, new weapons above arms agreements. Rising hostility between the U.S. and Russia, the U.S. and China, Russia and NATO, Pakistan and India, North Korea and its neighbors, has effectively brought the risk of nuclear conflict to its highest level in many decades. Efforts by warhead states today to strengthen their arsenals on their own nationalist terms are proving not to dissuade but encourage thoughts of proliferation elsewhere.

Greatly adding to this troubling climate have been actions by the Trump Administration, which has withdrawn and threatened to withdraw from alliances around the world and from multiple non-proliferation treaties. This global retreat has torn holes in what was once considered an essential nuclear umbrella for Europe and parts of East Asia. Most of all, though, open hostility among warhead states makes the world fearful, less secure, and more likely to find reasons for nuclear “self-protection.” After 25 years of post-Cold War progress in reducing nuclear weapons, warhead states are altering course. Ignoring a look in the mirror, they perceive the global landscape as more menacing and are therefore making it so.

Read full text on Global Policy


Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. served for nearly three decades at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, including a decade and a half as general counsel as well as Acting Director of the agency for most of 1993. In 1993 he led the effort to establish a long-term moratorium on the conduct of nuclear weapons tests. From 1994 to 1996, he was a principal figure in the worldwide effort to successfully support the conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations. In 1994 President Clinton appointed Thomas Graham as his special representative for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament, with the rank of Ambassador. From 1993 to 1995 Ambassador Graham led the successful U.S. government effort to indefinitely extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He has taught at—among others—Stanford University, University of Virginia, Georgetown University, University of Washington and Oregon State University.


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