Harsh V. Pant is a lecturer in the Department of Defence Studies at King's College London. He holds a doctorate degree from the University of Notre Dame and a masters degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University in India.
Writing for Power and Interest News Report (PINR), Pant says:
Now that North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon, perhaps the time has come to openly accept the demise of the global nuclear arms control and non-proliferation regime. From Iran and North Korea to the nuclear black market of Pakistan's A.Q. Khan, new challenges continue to emerge and threaten to undermine the global arms control architecture.
Following India's open challenge to the global arms control and disarmament framework in May 1998, major powers in the international system were forced to re-evaluate their orientation toward global arms control and non-proliferation. The North Korean nuclear explosion has become yet another nail in the coffin and international arms control seems headed for a slow but inevitable demise.
But Pant suggests that global arms control might not be a very workable idea at all:
In what is termed as the "arms control paradox," it is argued that if arms control is needed in a strategic relationship because the states in question might go to war, then it will be impractical for that very reason. The record of the Cold War shows that the United States and the former Soviet Union were equally responsible for reneging on their arms control promises. Not only did both of them attempt to gain nuclear superiority during the Cold War despite a plethora of arms control agreements, but both were equally responsible for encouraging proliferation in various ways. As the great powers try to maximize their share of power, their interests inevitably come into conflict with arms control and this causes these agreements to unravel.
And, he asks, is universal disarmament even desirable?
There have been numerous proposals for universal disarmament without any real evaluation of their impact on international security. There are significant strategic, political and technical obstacles to nuclear disarmament. In an international system that remains anarchic in nature and where states have to fend for their own security, states will be reluctant to give up their nuclear weapons since these weapons serve as an excellent deterrent. Also, there is a perception in some countries that nuclear weapons enhance their status and influence in the international system.
Moreover, the problem will remain of how to convince states that other states would not cheat and renege on their commitment of not using the huge amounts of weapons-grade fissile material for weapons purposes. It is doubtful that international organizations of any kind would be effective against states trying to deal with endemic uncertainty in global politics.
Even if these obstacles can be overcome, the larger question remains: is universal disarmament desirable? It may seem odd, but the huge nuclear stockpiles during the Cold War maintained international stability.
Pant is not the first to point out the problems with disarmament. Nor is he alone in asserting the paradoxically stabilizing effects of nuclear proliferation.
But although his article tolls the death knell for the failing nuclear arms control regime, Pant says we must look for something to replace it:
A new global security architecture is needed if there is to be an attempt to tackle the emerging problem of proliferation and terrorism since the old security structure has largely failed.
Nanotechnology will complicate things even more. Untraceable weapons of mass destruction, built in quantity at very low cost, and with upgraded designs constantly being developed -- this augurs an era of rapidly shifting balances of power. We agree with the urgent need for a new global security architecture.