Assessing Global Nonproliferation in 2015

Assessing Global Nonproliferation in 2015

Issei Kato/Courtesy Reuters

More on:

Global

Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

The Nautilus Institute's Peter Hayes, the Hoover Institution's Peter Jones, and the Brookings Institution's Steven Pifer join David C. Speedie, senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, to discuss the state of nuclear nonproliferation in 2015. The meeting takes place as signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty meet in New York City to review the treaty and threats to nuclear nonproliferation. The panelists consider the safety of nuclear materials, the possibility of nonstate actors acquiring a nuclear device, and the consequences of a final international agreement on Iran's nuclear program.

SPEEDIE: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm David Speedie. I'm a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs here in New York, and I'd like to welcome on behalf of my distinguished colleagues, panelists here, welcome you all this to very important session.

Before I begin, I hope I may take just a moment to reflect with great sorrow on the loss of a real giant in this field and indeed in that of security studies. John Steinbrenner died last week. I'm sure that many of you knew John. He was a friend. He was a razor sharp intellect who operated most effectively at the intersection of policy and scholarship. But most importantly, he was a gentleman of the first order, and he'll be deeply, deeply missed.

Anyway, today's session is timely, to say the least. As I'm sure everyone here knows, next week the review conference for the treaty on nuclear non-proliferation, or NPT, will begin, a month-long review conference will begin in New York starting on Monday. It's the ninth such review conference since the entry into force of the NPT in 1970, and while expectations are always great for these conferences, the stakes for this one seem to be especially high, hence I think the title of the session. And we have, as I said, three distinguished panelists to help us explain why this might be so.

To my immediate left is Peter Hayes. Peter is executive director of the Nautilus Institute for Security and sustainability and is also honorary professor of the Center for International Security Studies at Sydney University in Australia. To his left is Peter Jones, the Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution and associate professor of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. And to his left, Steven Pifer is director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

You have their bios, so I won't repeat details that you have in front of you. I'll merely say that we have here three true experts from three areas of the world that are critical to the fate of the non-proliferation regime. And that will, I think, come up in our conversation.

But just to begin, the title "Approaching the Tipping Point. nuclear Non-Proliferation in 2015," we—I looked up the definition of "tipping point," and I found two in Webster: the point at which an issue, idea, or product crosses a certain threshold and gains significant momentum triggered by one minor factor or change; and the second, slightly more ominous; the point in a situation in which a minor development precipitates a crisis.

The questions, gentleman, are we at a tipping point that is different from any other sort of point on the non-proliferation spectrum, as it were? And if so, why? Peter, do you want to...

HAYES: Thanks very much, David. I believe we are actually at a tipping point at, at a threshold in the whole NPT regime. And the area that I know best, which is Northeast Asia, obviously, the North Korean breakout, nuclear breakout, represents a direct challenge to the NPT regime of the most fundamental kind. If that is not reversed, there will be a gaping hole in the NPT fabric for many years to come.

And what may follow through that hole at this point is unknowable. But it could entail further nuclear weapons proliferation by other currently non-nuclear states, of which there are at least three at the margin that could be involved: Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. And beyond that, further chain reactions are conceivable. I wouldn't put the probability of that as extremely high at the moment, but that would depend in large part on what happens with Sino-Japanese relations as well as inter-Korean relations over the coming years.

And if ever there was a complex security situation with multiple levels, scales and sheer complexity involving the interplay of nuclear and conventional weapons, it's that region at the moment with the ever-present prospect of a new war in the Korean—renewed war on the Korean peninsula that would make anything else that we've looked at since World War II seem like a afternoon tea party. So it is one of those moments, yes.

SPEEDIE: Peter?

JONES: Well, thank you. In the region that I cover, the Middle East, it seems like we're always at a tipping point of one sort of another, whether it's with respect to the Arab-Israeli peace process or the fate of any number of regional regimes.

Concerning the question of proliferation, I think certainly the trends are overall not good. I'm not sure if I'd call it a tipping point if you think there's going to be a rapid sudden movement to a new reality in the region. I think if you look at what's happening in terms of the Iran nuclear program, which I'm sure we'll talk about in a bit, you know, depending on how things go in late June, it could go either way. But certainly, things like the use of chemical weapons in Syria, other things that are happening in countries that we know have explored WMD options and are not very stable, certainly the trends are not progressing in a happy direction.

With respect to the non-proliferation treaty review conference that's coming up, we have this perennial problem between Israel and primarily Egypt, but many other Arab countries, about the question of establishing a WMD-free zone. Again, we'll talk about that. I don't think it's going to play out well at this review conference. I think it's going to be a major sticking point. So I'm not sure I'd subscribe to the idea it's a tipping point, as such. But it's—the situation's not good.

SPEEDIE: Steven?

PIFER: Yeah. No I would second that. I think if you look at the trends, the trends certainly are not going to give us any grounds for complacency or any reason to feel good. The area I work on, for example, U.S.-Russia. The good news is that both the United States and Russia continue to implement the New Start Treaty, and that will reduce their strategic weapons down to about 1,550 deployed weapons on each side. But that's still a lot of nuclear weapons. And there's been no progress beyond that.

There have been suggestions by Washington as to, for example, reducing New Start levels. But the Russians have chosen not to engage on those. The IMF Treaty that banned intermediate-range nuclear missiles now is a bit in jeopardy because you have compliance charges by both the United States and Russia aimed at each other.

And when you're not having progress on the U.S.-Russia side, that impacts others. So, for example, the other three recognized nuclear weapon states by the non-proliferation treaty, Britain, France and China, really don't feel any pressure to get into the nuclear arms control process. And you have a situation where China is expanding at a modest rate, but is increasing its nuclear forces.

So, I suspect that for the five established nuclear weapons states, this next month is going to be not an easy time. Because there will be a pretty strong pushback from the non-nuclear weapon states who are going to look and say, you haven't upheld your part of the bargain, which is to be moving in a more ambitious way towards the reduction of your existing nuclear forces.

SPEEDIE: Before we get to the questions about these three critical areas—Middle East, Russia and North Korea—let me just say that one description of what the review conference is expected to consider, a number of key issues, including universality of the treaty; nuclear disarmament, including specific practical measures; nuclear non-proliferation, including promotion/strengthening of safeguards; measures to advance a peaceful use of nuclear energy safety and security; regional disarmament; implementation of the 1995 resolution in the Middle East.

It's a pretty ambitious agenda, to say at least. And over and above that, since the last review conference, there's been a steady and growing drumbeat of what's being called the "humanitarian initiative" sponsored by over 150 states. And this, I think, speaks to the point made about the accusation of non-nuclear states about the intentions and progress of the five—the five declared states.

I mean, is this just simply laying everything on the table and hoping something is—emerges from it? And particularly, this humanitarian initiative, will that really become the defining moment of the review conference, or is that perhaps an overstatement? Steve?

PIFER: Well, I think specifically on the humanitarian conference, there have now been three of those sessions. The United States actually went—I was representative officially at the first session last—at the end of last year.

But I think this is actually one area where you're going to see the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Japan, France pretty much united on, is what the Humanitarian Conference has been pushing towards, is this idea of a nuclear convention; something akin to the chemical weapons convention or the biological weapons convention, that in one fell swoop would basically ban these weapons.

And you can't find even among the most optimistic arms controllers in the five established powers, any sense that that's going to work. I mean, really, the more established approach would be step-by-step, with I think most people are looking first for one more bilateral step between—by the United States and Russia, and then could you begin to bring other states in.

But I think one of the reasons, or one thing that you will probably see, is unanimity on the part of the Permanent Five in pushing back against the prescription of the—while certainly allowing for there is no disagreement about the incredibly awful humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. But if a prescription is for a nuclear convention, you're going to see, I think, fairly strong pushback against that idea.

JONES: No, I agree. I mean, in that—my own experience of having been involved in NPT review conferences some years ago, is there's this very broad agenda. And it's essentially the disarmament agenda writ large, in some way, shape or form, comes into the setting of the NPT review conference.

But a few issues emerge, which become sort of—they attract the most attention. And I think in this one it'll be the Middle East issue. The question of whether the nuclear weapons countries, these different (ph) states have kept their part of the bargain, the issue of what's going on in Northeast Asia. I mean, I think those are the issues that will emerge.

There will be an awful lot of discussion around many of the other issues. And they're all important issues. And certainly, different constellations of countries come forward with different sets of concerns. And some countries have great concerns about access to civilian nuclear technology and so on, and those have to be factored into the overall results.

So it's—these review conferences are always a bit of a smorgasbord in terms of the agenda. But a few issues emerge. And I think those will probably be the ones at least I would think are emerging, for the most part.

SPEEDIE: Peter, do you agree?

HAYES: Well, I guess the—the review conference will confront, you know, many of the tough issues. And whether we get through the review conference to some kind of constructive outcome will depend on the skill of the chairs.

But, you know, one of the major joints that was made and was sort of a premise of the book that brought us here, "The War That Must Be Won," is that there really is no shortcut through most of the conflicts that actually bring the world and the states in the world that have nuclear weapons to maintain them, or to aspire to have them.

And so to my mind, what goes on at the NPT review conference is incredibly important; but ultimately, is going to—the long-run outcomes will rest on the work that's done on these regional conflicts, that I think is currently driving both the risk for nuclear war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And until those issues are really essentially resolved over the next couple of decades where we're going to be struggling at the NPT review conference.

SPEEDIE: Yeah. Yeah. Do you want to—

JONES: Just to pick up on that point, which I agree with completely. One of the ideas in the book, and that's coming out of work that's been done in a variety of places, including at Hoover, is the need to sort of stop looking at the non-proliferation agenda as a series of discreet issues, as we have done, and try to bring it all together. And there's this idea of what sometimes you call the "joint global enterprise," which is to try to link up countries that are prepared to make progress, that want to make progress, across the range of these issues and sort of look at the interplay between them as a way forward on disarmament.

And I think that may be, hopefully, an area where some progress can be made, to try to stop looking at it as this, or this, or this, or this; the tradeoffs between these things and start looking at the totality of the disarmament agenda.

SPEEDIE: Just as the final word, by the way, in this humanitarian initiative. Steven mentioned—I think Vienna was the meeting you were talk about. There were three major meetings last year; Norway, Austria, and...

HAYES: Mexico City.

SPEEDIE:—Mexico City. And among other things, a pledge by 60 states to, quote, "fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons." So that kicks that a little bit further down the road, the prospect of not just non-proliferation, but elimination. Let's pick up on the regional conflicts. I think you all agree are really what will be driving much of this conference.

Peter Jones, let me begin with you. You mentioned the fact that basically, there's been a—since, I think it was since 1970, Egypt first looked (ph) the idea of a nuclear—a WMD-free zone for the Middle East. 1995 there was a revolution. 2010, there was a further resolution to create a conference in 2012 that didn't happen.

In this aforementioned book, which is available to all, I see outside. And I think, plaudits to Hoover for getting this out at such a critical moment in time.

In this book, the "War That Cannot Be Fought," you argue that fundamental differences across the greater Middle East—basically if you take in fact there's the Arab states, plus Iran and Turkey—need not prevent a discussion of a new regional architecture with norms and mechanisms to assist the various states in managing their relations towards a WMD-free zone. Can you elaborate on that a little bit on—it seems optimistic.

JONES: Yeah. It is very optistic. But in every region of the world that has achieved a nuclear weapon-free zone or some other type of agreement, there has existed some kind of a regional mechanism for cooperation, for security, whatever you call it. And I think it goes back to the fact that arms control does not happen in a vacuum. There has to be a political framework of a growing degree of confidence and cooperation amongst the countries of the region for them to engage in arms control and disarmament discussions.

The history of this in the Middle East is particularly difficult. It was actually Iran and Egypt who first put forward—Iran under the Shah—who first put forward the idea of some sort of a nuclear weapon-free zone, as it was then, in the Middle East in the '70s. And it's been around in various guises ever since. And every country in the region has signed up to this idea officially as a goal. But, of course, there are wide differences of view as to how we get there.

In the early 1990s, as part of the Middle East peace process, there was actually a multilateral—an official multilateral discussion on arms control and regional security. And I was very pleased to be a part of that when I was in the Canadian Foreign Ministry, I was part of the delegation of that. And it was a very interesting experience. It was the only one that's ever existed in the region, a discussion of regional security.

And what quickly happened was it sort of degenerated into an argument between Egypt on the one hand and Israel on the other, as to how Israel's nuclear weapons would be captured. The Egyptians said, you know, these are the basis of all proliferation concerns in the region; therefore, Israel must give some commitment to sign the NPT at some early date, and then we can proceed with the remaining issues of regional arms control.

The Israelis said no, it's a very long process of building relationships, making peace. At that point, we can consider signing the NPT. And so, there was this basic difference, which ultimately killed this group, the Middle East peace process. And anybody who was part of that, would tell you when they say the 1995 resolution and the 2010 resolution, unless someone changes their mind, here we go again. And that sort of sterile debate has continued. And it really characterizes what is going to be a large part of the discussion here.

In terms of the resolution in 2010, it called for the creation of a conference by around 2012, 2013. There has been a chair that's been nominated, Finland. They've been doing a lot of work to try and stimulate such a conference. It was always known it would not just be one conference. It was the beginning of a process, which would take years. But because of this fundamental difference between Israel and Egypt, it fell apart, it hasn't happened yet. And there's no prospect it will.

So, we face this situation really at this review process that, unless a creative way is found to sort of kick the can down the road, create a sense of momentum where, frankly it doesn't exist, we're going to have that problem again, and it's going to be even worse. And I think my own view is that there needs to be a compromise between the Israeli and Egyptian positions.

I mean, the Israelis need to accept that there does need to be a serious discussion of regional arms control and disarmament, which they've shied away from, and not wanting to have, including some serious talk about verification provisions, protocols, et cetera, how it would work in the Middle East.

And the Egyptians I think need to accept the fact that disarmament is only really gonna happen in the context of a regional security system. And therefore, there's a need to begin talk about it, and how we get there and discuss that. And that compromise seems to be the only way forward.

SPEEDIE: Is there a role for—obviously, for outside actors and encouraging this to some degree of (inaudible)?

JONES: Well, there has been. There's been a number of countries that have tried to stimulate these kind of talks. There have been a number of track two initiatives which have brought people together. There've been a number of studies of how our regional security system works.

But the world doesn't lack possible ways forward. It's—at this point, it's the two countries, primarily Egypt and Israel, not exclusively but primarily, who've put themselves in a diplomatic corner. And a way's going to have to be found to sort of begin to get them out of it. And I think because Israel is not part of the NPT review process, it's not a signatory to the treaty, it's really Egypt that is here. And that's where the pressure will primarily fall on.

SPEEDIE: Peter, you've wrote something of interest recently on North Korea. "North Korea shows external signs of stasis at home and a desire to be left alone." It have is this a viable option at this point? Also, Russia's been cozying up to north Korea...

PIFER: Sure.

SPEEDIE: Of late.

PIFER: Well, I mean, in the current context, both of the NPT review conference, but also what's going on with Iran in the talks leading up to June, there are a couple of, I think, really sort of urgent things to note about North Korea.

The first is the risks involved in leaving Kim Jong-un to his own devices, no pun intended, are really too great to contemplate. You know, the risk that they will actually test long-range missiles that work, as against mostly blow up in midair, the risk that they have actually miniaturized and could mount a warhead that could be delivered at long distance, long-range, not just at South Korea, will increase. This may take five or ten years, but it could happen faster and much earlier than many think is possible.

These—this is not a world that we want to see actually emerge. Because the implications for South Korea, for Japan, even for China, not good, let alone for the United States. And, you know, the corollary of this domestically is that North Korea will remain at the bottom of a very deep hole of their command economy, which has essentially collapsed. And they don't have oil like Iran.

So, at least the possibly that things could go awry in North Korea itself. Although I don't think anyone who watches North Korea closely thinks that there's any near-term probability that the joint (ph) will collapse. But that risk is always there and should be taken into account.

Now, you know, perhaps the essential lesson to be learned from the period from 1992 through 2002, the decade of what I'll call "cooperative engagement," combined with coercive diplomacy of the United States that is generally not under the rubric of the U.S. DPRK agreed framework, actually signed in 1994, collapsed in 2002.

The essential lesson is that, one really has to attend to these comprehensive security issues at the front end, not at the tail end of the negotiation. The agreed framework, somewhat like the current proposed deal with Iran, focused almost solely on the nuclear issue, and on none of the regional security issues, including those that pertain to North Korea for the most part.

My view is that we need to actually reverse that logic, figure out with the North Koreans what that cooperative security framework would look like and, most critically, figure that out with the Russians and, even more importantly, with the Chinese, what that looks like. And we should actually seek a comprehensive security strategy solution with North Korea, that would have embedded in it a solution to the nuclear issue over time; where they disarm, come back into the NPT, join a regional, not just an inter-Korean nuclear weapon-free zone, but is linked therefore to Chinese-Japanese dynamics and China-Taiwan dynamics and, of course, U.S.-China dynamics.

In other words, we need to restructure, reshape the strategic environment in which Kim Jong-un makes his decisions, not let him dictate the agenda at the margin by his actions. Change his calculus. And we—it's within our power to do that, in concert particular with Beijing.

And so very practically, right now it looks like Kim Jong-un may head to Russia for a meeting with Putin in the relatively near future. The question is will he go to China, maybe later this year? My own view is that it's unlikely he will go without something in play with the United States. Because otherwise, he will face Chinese diktat in that bilateral relationship.

So there is a structural sort of small window of engagement opportunity opening. And I think we heard here on Monday from Danny Russel, that the administration may be open to that. And I think there may be more in play than actually appears to be the case at the moment.

And to conclude, I think the North Koreans, you know, are open to suggestion at this point as to how that should proceed. Because they know they don't really have very good options.

SPEEDIE: We know, of course, that Kim Jong-un will be in Moscow on May 9 for the 70th anniversary, which is a major symbolic event for him, I'm sure.

Very briefly though, before we came up to the podium, you spoke of—to the point (inaudible) degree of donor fatigue toward North Korea. And I'm not trying to speed you up...

PIFER: Sure.

SPEEDIE: A high-hanging curve ball here...

PIFER: Right.

SPEEDIE: But nevertheless, is this reflective of sort of an attitude? And will there be sufficient pressure from Beijing and from other Northeast Asian—for U.S. to really become reengaged?

HAYES: Well, I think it's a choice the White House faces. In many respects, it doesn't—I mean, there's obviously a lot of allied pressure at the moment, to both deal with North Korea one way or the other, manage it for the allies, but also to meet allied concerns. And that's the emphasis on extended deterrence and, to some extent, nuclear-extended deterrence in the bilateral relationships.

But I think especially Seoul, but also many people in Tokyo, understand that that actually won't resolve a worsening situation, and we have to go beyond that. And if the United States, you know, takes the lead, they will ultimately per force (ph) follow.

We also had the opportunity that Seoul may open its own engagement channels with the North in the coming months. It would be a whole lot easier for Seoul at this point if the United States were also to take the initiative at the great power level, and, you know, open up those discussions. Track II will remain very important in this context, very quiet Track II with the North Koreans. But this really is a matter for the White House and for the government to resolved. It's something that has to be resolved at the highest level in Washington. And of course, there's no doubt as to who will resolve it in Pyongyang. So we actually have to deal with Kim Jong-un and we should not have any illusions that he isn't planning to be around for a very long time. He's is the kid and he's going to be in power for—he's going to do with it for decades, and we better get used to it.

SPEEDIE: There's a reassuring thought. OK.

HAYES: Indeed.

SPEEDIE: Before we invite the members to join this conversation, Steven, what will undoubtedly be perhaps an awkward side bar conversation with the U.S. and Russia at this conference, you look to the memoranda, to President Obama, the January 2013 and '14, engaging President Putin in a new round of bilateral cuts including non-strategic nuclear weapons—where Russia, of course, has a significant advantage—testing possible Senate approval for CTBT, seeking a cooperative Russia—NATO-Russia deal on missile defense. This seems illusive now, to say the least. And...

PIFER: Mr. Putin didn't read those memorandums.

SPEEDIE: He didn't?

PIFER: He didn't.

SPEEDIE: That's a shame. But—and then Russia's made a fairly anodyne statement about the NPT conference I read by former-Deputy Foreign Minister Yakovenko, "Universalization of NPT, implement the action plan of the 2010 review conference, including the Middle East WMD-free zone, entry into force of CTBT. What can be brought to the table at this point in terms of U.S.-Russia that's at all useful?

PIFER: Well, I think unfortunately, the U.S.-Russia process is stuck now. And it was stuck two years ago. And certainly since then you've had the crash in U.S.-Russia and Western Russia relations as a result of the crisis over the Ukraine.

So the U.S. and Russia are going to have, I think, not a lot to present now. It's interesting to me, is on the American side, I think there is a story to be told; is you can go back and you can look in the last couple of years, ideas that were put out there to move beyond the New Start Treaty.

So for example, in Berlin in June 2013, President Obama said, "Let's take the New Start Treaty and reduce the limits in that treaty by a third." So that would have brought the limit on deployed strategic warheads from 1,550 down to be somewhere between 1,000 and 1,100. There have been several offers, both by the United States and NATO, to engage in a discussion, even if just on transparency measures regarding non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons.

And in the spring of 2013, one of the issues that the Russians have really complained a lot about has been missile defense. And to resolve that, there was the American proposal to the Russians, that said "Look, let's agree in an executive agreement on a transparency deal, where each year we'll exchange data that will tell you this is—these are the numbers of all of our key components of our missile defenses, and here are the projected numbers for each—you're looking out 10 years."

The idea behind that being that each side would have a very good picture of the other's missile defense plans, so we could always say is that going to be a problem in terms of a threat to my strategic ballistic missile forces? And if they saw that threat, they would have plenty of time to react.

The Russians had picked up on none of those plays. The interesting thing to me is the administration, I think, could have been more aggressive in the last couple of months, in basically laying all of that out and basically trying to shift the blame to the Russians. And my guess is there's been a tactical decision to not play that up so much in terms of trying to preserve some ability here at the conference in the next four weeks to be able to work with the Russians on a tactical basis.

SPEEDIE: But am I right in recollecting that at one point, Putin proposed a joint missile defense system, I think based in Azerbaijan?

PIFER: There's been two efforts. One goes back to 2006, 2007. And this was when the George W. Bush administration was going to deploy ten missile interceptors in Poland, and a radar in the Czech Republic. And at that time, Putin said look, let's have a combined system and we'll make available a radar that we have in Azerbaijan, which has since been closed down, but also a new radar, which is now operating in southern Russia. And both of these radars were a lot of interest, because they looked right at Iran; they had the best views of any radars of Iran.

But it became clear that Putin's proposal was, let's do this in place of your American plans to put interceptors in Poland and radar in—in the Czech Republic, whereas the administration, or the Bush Administration plan, was like let's do it in addition. So that broke down.

And then there was a second effort in 2010 at a NATO summit. Then-President Medvedev went to Lisbon and there was a NATO-Russia agreement, let's explore a cooperative missile defense. And one of the fascinating things, and I think one of the unfortunate things, is actually in terms of discussing in early 2011 what a cooperative NATO-Russia defense would look like, and there was an official Pentagon MOD discussion, they came up with some very good ideas. Things like joint exercises, transparency, jointly-manned centers, a data fusion center, where you take data from each side's alert systems, combine it, and then send it back to the two missile defense headquarters.

And that pretty much ground to a halt and made you 2011. And since then, there really hasn't been any progress matters, which might have been a way out of this missile defense.

SPEEDIE: OK. The time has come for the members please to join in this fascinating discussion. I'd like to think of questions for the panel. I'd remind you that this is on the record. Please wait for a microphone to come, speak directly into it. Please, if you would stand, give your name and affiliation. Please limit yourself to one question. And keep it concise, to allow as many members as possible to speak. So we are open for questions.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for the briefing today. James Reinl with Middle East Eye. You can tell from the name of my organization, I'm particularly interested in the nuclear weapons free-zone for the Middle East.

Mr. Hayes and Mr. Pifer, you didn't talk much about it. If you—I know it's not necessarily your area of expertise, but I'd would to hear your opinions on it.

And specifically to Mr. Jones, you did speak about it, but when you did speak about it, you spoke about it almost in isolation to a Israeli-Egyptian arrangement. And I'm just wondering maybe that was a situation of, you know, ten-years-old. But presumably the calculus has changed, because from the Israel and from a lot of Arab states' perspective, Iran is hellbent on getting a nuclear weapon. Maybe not now, but in ten years' time.

So presumably, this—although people are gonna be talking about it in Europe for the next couple of weeks. It's absolute nonsense, right?

JONES: Should I start...

SPEEDIE: Please.

JONES: Well, certainly in the terms of the dynamic that we're going to see the next little while in New York, it is to a large extent, this dynamic that has played out between Egypt and Israel diplomatically over the question of the negotiation strategy for a WMD-free zone.

I think you're quite right to say, of course, the issue's much broader than that. And there have been changes in the region in terms of the Iranian situation, and the fact that these weapons have now been used in the last short while as countries of—have fallen apart in the Arab uprising, and so on. So, you're quite right to say that yes, the regional dynamic has changed dramatically. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's going to have too much of an impact beyond rhetoric on the dynamic we'll see here in New York.

In terms of the broader question of working towards a WMD-free zone, I think that the events of the past decade, and particularly the last three or four years, do dramatically increase the need for a discussion of some kind of regional security system. As Peter said, you know, the mistake made in the North Korean case was to just focus on the arms control piece and not talk about the broader need for a regional architecture.

And I think that there—there's a variety of things going on here. First of all, I've always found the Egyptian argument—or the wider Arab argument. It's just not Egypt. That's unfair—that the proliferation problem of the Middle East is due to Israel, to be disingenuous. Because lots of countries have developed WMD over the years and, in fact, have used them. Egypt used them in Yemen in the '60s. They were used in the Iran-Iraq war. They've been used internally in Iraq, and now in Syria. And the reasons for the development and use of these WMDs had little to do with Israel, if at all.

So it's clear that there's a variety of reasons why countries have explored WMD options in the Middle East over the years. And I think the Israeli—the existence of the opaque Israeli deterrent, is as much a convenient excuse for many countries as it is a real security concern. So I think the debate needs to move beyond this, this dynamic that I can we're probably going to see featured here in New York for the next few weeks.

I think that if it is possible to convert the framework into an actual deal, the Iran P5 framework into an actual deal, that is a very positive development. Could be a positive development in terms of stimulating a wider discussion of regional security and regional cooperation.

But I know a number of countries in the region have expressed considerable concern about that framework, and considerable concern about the ultimate deal that will arise from it. But I think, if we can be assured—and it's a big if. But if we can be assured that Iran is not going to be able to break out for a decade, that does give a breathing space for a wider consideration of regional security.

And although a number of countries like the Saudis and others, have spoken in pretty harsh terms about, you know, if they feel Iran is about to break out, they'll do this and that; I think they would be just as welcoming of anybody else—if a bit of a pause in this, an opportunity to have a sort of a more reasoned discussion of where the region is going.

SPEEDIE: I think it's also true to say, Peter, that Iran has been quite vocal in trying to broaden the regional security dialogue as much...

JONES: Yeah. On its terms, of course.

SPEEDIE: Yeah.

JONES: So, you know, everybody talks about this in their own terms. But that's part of the process of negotiation.

SPEEDIE: Yeah. Steve?

PIFER: And I'd just like to second point though that Peter made is and I think it illustrates—in this book, we talk about how do go about creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons? And it didn't be just an arms control process. You've got to have a series—there has to be a regional security process in the Middle East, one in Northeast Asia. And so you have these different pieces, and this idea of a joint enterprise where you try to pull it all together in a way that moves you in the direction of the goal, with the idea being that you want to in these regional dialogues, bring states to either resolve the differences that lead them to acquire nuclear weapons, or bring them to a point where they conclude that having nuclear weapons really is not going to help them resolve the differences. So how can you devaluate that?

And that comes along in a regional security dialogue that goes along very much in parallel with a broader discussion, a joint enterprise on the arms control piece.

SPEEDIE: Peter?

HAYES: Well, Northeast Asia, of course, is a quite distinct region, which has its own dynamics quite different from all the other regions. And that's—it one of the hard regions in items of how it secure together existing nuclear weapon-free zones, none of which are WMD-free zones except by virtue of superimposition of other, say, the Chemical Weapons Convention on top of them. They're all nuclear-specific—what you would call "hard regions" with respect to the prospect of nuclear war.

Although we should note that the Cuban missile crisis was really the precursor of the first of the zones of the Treaty of Tlatelolco. It didn't just begin out of sort of airy-fairy thinking. We ran the risk of nuclear war, which induced, you know, Latin America to take up the issue and create the first nuclear weapon-free zone.

So whatever's done in Northeast Asia has to be, as the U.N.-speak puts it, tailored to the region. And indeed, the secretary general, in July of 2013, called for the states in the region to undertake a serious dialogue and investigation of a nuclear weapon-free zone in the area of Northeast Asia undefined. Could include Mongolia. Maybe not. Certainly, the six states of the six-party talks would be involved, including both Koreas.

And there have been, you know, some very serious investigation conceptually of with a zone would look like, how the North Korean's nuclear arms state could enter the treaty and come into compliance over time. Again, Mexico created the mechanism in the Treaty of Tlatelolco, whereby that was done with respect to Argentina and Brazil in coming into compliance over time.

So there's even a legal precedent to bringing North Korea into a treaty at the outset, as against waiting for it to collapse into a treaty by virtue of becoming subsumed to South Korea, if that were ever to happen.

So, all that sort of is now I think fairly well understood. And considerable work has been done at the track two level and all of capital cities to ensure that the conceptual logic has been positioned so it's available either if the six-party talks resume, or in a U.S. DPRK bilateral dialogue. And indeed, on October the 21st last year, the North Koreans said that they were interested in a nuclear weapon-free zone not just in Korea, but a nuclear weapon-free zone that could be broader in scope according to international law. And the question is whether they meant with respect to a nuclear weapon-free zone treaty.

Now, this cannot happen without creating broader pre-conditions of comprehensive security in the region. And there are at least six elements of that; ending sanctions, some kind of treaty and amity cooperation between all the powers in the region. A nuclear weapons-free zone is a constituent element. A peace treaty or ending hostilities in Korea itself, ending the war. There are a whole variety of enabling conditions, all of which are necessary, and it would not be a small task to negotiate them. But there is no shortcut.

And the alternative is to think about what containment would look like, in particular, in Korea. Also to some extent, the Taiwan Straits in the worst case. And in our thinking, looking clearly, I think, at the nuclear use options of Kim Jong-un, they don't look like anything we've seen before in even the worst of the sort of NATO cold war battlefield, thinking of using nuclear weapons.

Rather, you see in a war in Korea North Korea in retreat under an offensive from south Kore and American conventional forces, possibly using nuclear weapons along the way the either stun to a standstill or to bring China in to try and negotiate a termination of hostilities. And ultimately, you'd probably see Kim Jong-un taking Pyongyang hostage with nuclear weapons and trying to negotiate a last stand.

That's what nuclear weapons possibly mean in North Korea and a war. Not a use against Tokyo or blowing up Seoul. These aren't actually credible options when you think through what that would mean for the regime. You know, you always have to what next if they were to use?

So when you look at some of those possible futures which result from a containment strategy on our part and South Korea's part and even China's part, it's not a good look, as we say. It's not somewhere you want to go. And the alternative you're driven to is to seek a comprehensive security settlement. And I think the space is open—not wide open, but it's open—for leadership on the United States' part to take that seriously.

And, of course, the United States is in principle now in favor of nuclear weapon-free zones. It was not in past decades. It is today. We have supported the Southeast Asia zone, which would abut a Northeast Asia zone. We are party to the South Pacific nuclear weapon-free zone, and we have an ally. My home country, who's a key player in the South Pacific zone.

This is not a radical thought. It's a solution that could be deployed in Northeast Asia, and it's actually doable if we set out to do it. I'm not saying it's the ant's pants, it's the last word, but it's certainly one part of the solution that we should be looking at seriously.

SPEEDIE: Other questions? Yes, the gentleman over here.

QUESTION: Hi. I'm Lee Siegel (ph). If I—if I hear you all correctly, Steve, you're saying it's not better with Russia, but it's not much worse. In the Middle East, if we get Iran, a deal with Iran, the likelihood of other countries in the region seeking nuclear weapons any time soon is much reduced.

And again, Peter, you're saying if we negotiate with the North Koreans, there's a chance we could stop things, at least temporarily, and that would reduce the chances of nuclear weapons being spread.

The one region none of you have talked about—for obviously reasons, because you don't specialize in it—but the one where a nuclear tipping point may come into play is South Asia, where we are watching a Pakistani program that seems to know no bounds and is threatening to, you know, get larger than Britain's. India responding, and that obviously is going to raise problems in Beijing down the road. Would you talk about that a little?

JONES: You know, I actually do some Track II work in South Asia specifically on the nuclear question. And you're quite right. I mean, it is area of the world that I lose sleep over, much more so than Iran, for example.

I think the most worrisome thing to my mind about the nuclear dynamic in South Asia is Pakistan's decision to go ahead and deploy, whether you call them theater, tactical, low yield, whatever they call them nuclear weapons and to essentially couple them with its conventional deterrent. The idea being that if India attacks, well, it's probably in response to a terrorist provocation, the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons will be much reduced. They will be near the front and they'll be low yield.

And of course, this is exactly what the Pakistanis are doing. And then they say well, this is what NATO did during the cold war. It was the conventionally-inferior alliance vis-a-vis the Soviety—the Warsaw Pact, and therefore—

Of course, it's very different. I mean, the Warsaw Pact, NATO was not sponsoring groups to go across the borders of East Germany and blow things up. So it's a different situation.  But nevertheless, there is a real problem there, and I'm not sure that the NPT as such is equipped to deal with it. Not just because these two countries aren't members. It's more than that. It's because the fundamental logic of the NPT has been sort of over time de-coupled nuclear weapons from national security and created a situation where they really exist on their own, and then slowly they can be—as is suggested in (inaudible) from the joint enterprise.

And that's really not the case in South Asia. They're very much part, particularly for Pakistan, but to some extent, for India vis-a-vie its relationship with China. They're very much a part of the national security calculus and very much part of how we might face a future crisis and the signaling and the posturing that goes on in that part of the world.

So you're quite right to identify it as the sort of—the major sticking point. I think that, as we've said about the other regions, it's a long, slow process of building confidence between the two, of putting in place measures which will reduce the danger of accidental use, and also push back the moment when use might happen if there is a conventional conflict and a sort of broader approach to dealing with the issues between India and Pakistan.

But also in the cases of South Asia, it's a trilateral problem. Because the Indians, they say their primary cause of their nuclear expansion, or the nuclear expansion they could undertake if they chose to do so, is China. And therefore, there's a need to bring them in, as well. It's really a trilateral problem.

PIFER: And this might be a case where the Pakistanis might pay attention to the NATO experiences was as NATO began to reduce its tactical nuclear weapons, the first things it got rid of were the atomic demolition munitions, the artillery, the short-range stuff. Because they understood that in a conventional conflict, the pressure to use or lose those would be so great that you might have nuclear use which was not intended by higher-level command authorities.

JONES: But I think the Pakistani—they will tell you that that's exactly the point. They want to confront the Indians with this problem. If you cross the line, you know, we'll both find out what happens. Because we don't know either. So just don't cross the line.

I mean, that's the sort of—you know, and the Indians are saying well, if you're going to sort of take that attitude but continue to sponsor terror groups, we can't promise not to cross the line because that's the only way we can—so that whole dynamic. So it becomes a broader political question of the future, Pakistan and—I mean, I think I do take a little bit of heart from the fact that I go there quite frequently and I talk to people and work with them in these Track II settings.

There is a growing recognition in Pakistan that this sponsorship of substate actors has come back to bite them. Quite seriously. Primarily, their sponsorship of substate actors on their northern border with Afghanistan. They still perhaps—or some people think of the substate actors on the southern border with India as national assets. But even there, there's much more of a robust discussion about, you know, can we really control these people and are they doing things that are not congruent with our interests? I wouldn't say it's a decisive conversation yet; they're still supporting these groups. But I think it's at least the beginning of a conversation that there is this tail—a tiger that's biting.

SPEEDIE: I think we need more cricket matches within India and Pakistan. There's a confidence...

JONES: They always ends peacefully, yeah.

SPEEDIE:—confidence-building measure, especially if they end in a draw.

HAYES: David, can I say this very quickly?

SPEEDIE: Yes.

HAYES: And I'll be very brief.

Basically, unless China is drawn into a nuclear weapons-free zone in Northeast Asia, it will be that much more difficult in South Asia to resolve those issues that you just referred to. But the reciprocal is also the case. I mean, the nuclear weapon-free zones that exist, or the potential ones, now actually affect each other. And the U.N.'s position on this is that we need to think about this as a global mosaic, not just as one separate from the other. Because they do actually interplay quite importantly and can be synergistic as well as possibly undermine each other in some respects. But it is an important part of the issue.

SPEEDIE: The gentleman next to Lee Siegel (ph).

QUESTION: Trevor Stewart (ph), Deloitte. I'd be interested in what the panel thinks about are we reaching a different kind of tipping point potentially with non-state actors? Thinking about Al-Qaeda, ISIS, you know, some rogue faction in Libya or whatever. With all the amount of nuclear technology that's bouncing around, what's the—what's the risk?

SPEEDIE: Non-state actors. Who's the—who worries most about non-state actors? We all do.

PIFER: Well, I think that's actually the nightmare scenario in a sense that, you know, deterrence at some level works between states because you have something to hold at risk. If you're dealing with Al-Qaeda, what can you hold at risk? And Al-Qaeda may be so committed to terrorism that, you know, they may not care in the end.

And the flip side is also true, is that, you know, how in a deterrence relationship will you assure a group like Al-Qaeda, who knows we're coming at them as much as we can, that if they didn't do certain things we might back off. The good news I think is that acquiring nuclear materials is something that non-state actors can't do on their own. They're going to have to either get it willingly or steal it from a state actor.

And one of my colleagues at Brookings thought about this a few years back, and the best idea that she could come up with was perhaps the U.S. government would make a statement something along the lines of if there's ever a nuclear attack on the United States or an American ally by a non-state actor with a nuclear weapon, the United States would treat the source of the nuclear material as if that source itself—as if that state itself had conducted the attack.

And then you try to build up expectations about your forensics capability. Could you actually, in fact, pinpoint something like that? But it—you know, it just makes all of the other deterrence issues pale by comparison because the theory doesn't work if you have nothing to hold at risk on the other side.

SPEEDIE: Peter Hayes, then Peter Jones.

HAYES: Well, we now have nine nuclear armed states. We have something on the order of 23,000 potential terrorist, nuclear terrorist targets in the form of settlements above 5,000 people on the planet. And we have large number of non-state actors that are least in principle financially and organizationally capable if they could find a way, possibly levering organized crime networks to obtain either fissile material, warheads, or sufficient radiological material to conduct a dirty bomb attack. Or attack a nuclear weapons or a nuclear fuel cycle facility and result in a major radiological release in a country like Japan, South Korea, or indeed, the United States.

So you can see the array of targets is large. There is a quite well-organized global and regional and local non-state capacity. And the complexity is enormous because as you just noted, if you had a non-state attack of one of those kinds that I just referred to, it could form a trigger event for interstate conflict. And no one knows how that will play out. We've never had such an attack. We don't know how it would work.

And we're in this world now of incredible connectedness, but also with that complexity, that can lead things to go awry in the way command and control systems work in large organizations and states. So we truly are flying blind in this regard, and we have an enormous amount of work to do, not to just at the level of control of the material and ensuring there's no diversion or if there is, we go get it in a hurry. Or if there is an attack it, we defend it to the extent we can against that attack.

We now need to think more fundamentally, in my view, about things like resilience and urban design so that if over the next 20 or 30 years such an attack is delivered, it's contained in one area and minimized to the extent possible. Our current city design is actually almost tailor-made to maximize the effect of such an attack, and it so happens that such a resilience design probably is the same kind of resilience you would seek for climate change adaptation resilience.

So there are co-benefits to explore. But this is a much deeper issue than just a weapons system, non-state actor problem.

SPEEDIE: Peter, reassure us, please.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: I'm not sure I can do that. Maybe a little bit. My limited understanding of the technical side of this business is that it's actually very difficult to get your hands on an actual nuclear weapon and it's even more difficult yet to make it go off.

So I am leery of forecasts which look to the idea of a non-state actor getting a weapon and delivering it somewhere and making it go boom and, you know, the mushroom cloud scenario. I don't say it's impossible. I think more likely if there is to be such a thing, it would be some sort of a radiological attack, which is to say a large amount of rather dirty radiological material wrapped up around a conventional explosive which explodes and spreads radiation. Which is a very, very nasty thing, but not nearly as destructive as an actual nuclear explosion.

I think that the consequences of that kind of attack, if it were to happen, would be politically very significant. I mean, just linking the word "nuclear" and "terrorist" together, if you think of the CNN effect, it would have an enormous impact on the public—on the global debate. But I don't think it would be as destructive as a nuclear explosion.

In terms more broadly of the question of terrorists potentially getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction, I would worry more about chemical and biological weapons. I think they're much more accessible—or potentially more accessible to non-state actors. So I'm not sure I've reassured anybody, but that would be...

 

HAYES: Or something new to worry about.

SPEEDIE: Well, the technical difficulties, we'll go with that. Acquiring and (inaudible). Yes, sir. Yeah.

QUESTION: My name is Donald Shriver. I'm former president of Union Theological Seminary. And one thing theology does for us is to give us a rather fearsome respect for the irrationalities of human nature. That comes to a vast experience in the memory I have that—in the Cuban missile crisis. Fidel Castro was quoted as saying that the destruction of Cuba might be necessary for the service of communist triumph in the world, with the ensuing destruction of the United States.

My question is, since mutually-assured destruction depends on the assumption that people want to live rather than to die and that politicians will favor life for their peoples rather than death, what protection do we have against the suicidal impulse and the willingness that many terrorists have promoted that since the West seems to love life, we in the terrorist community will use our deaths to overcome your life?

I know this is an old question in certain respects, but is mutually-assured destruction going to work in the modern world of nuclear weapon regimes?

SPEEDIE: We're getting close to the hour. But if we could just—anyone wants to answer briefly and—MAD (ph).

PIFER: No, I—yeah. Mutually-assured destruction depends on a certain calculation of rationality on the other side. I mean, the hope is that that person is going to do the rational think-through of what are the costs, what are the benefits, and with nuclear weapons, conclude that the risks and the costs are so high, they're not going to do that. If there's an irrational player, the theory doesn't work.

But I guess one of the points I talked about in one of the chapters of the book also is even if you have rational players—and I go back and I look at the history of nuclear deterrence between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War—where if you look at two countries in history that were so opposed militarily, ideologically, politically, economically, in most cases they went to war, and the United States and the Soviet Union did not. And I think nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction played a big part of that.

But even with rational actors, in several cases, you can go point out and say it worked because we got really lucky. You mentioned the Cuban missile crisis. In the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy, when he decided to impose the naval blockade, the naval quarantine of Cuba, basically went against the advice of the joint chiefs of staff and most of the civilian advisers who were saying the answer is airstrikes and then 200,000 American Marines and soldiers go ashore in Cuba.

And he rejected that. And what nobody knew at that time was that although the commander of Soviet forces on the island could not launch against the United States without a specific authorization from Moscow, he had been given release authority for use of tactical nuclear weapons in the event of an American invasion and had short-range nuclear weapons targeted at Guantanamo Bay, which was then a much larger U.S. Navy base.

So what would have happened had President Kennedy accepted the advice? There'd been a landing, and there'd been two or three tactical nuclear weapons. My guess is that could have escalated very, very quickly.

And then you have also a computer in 1979 at NORAD Air Defense Headquarters for eight minutes because somebody put a training tape into the wrong slot. In the real world thing, they were saying—seeing 300 Soviet ICBMs coming in. And things were happening then. I mean, people were being woken up in Washington, fighter interceptors were being launched, B-52s with nuclear weapons onboard were beginning to spin up their engines to take off.

And fortunately, they figured it out and they shut it all down after eight minutes. But what if that had continued? And had the Soviets seen that and the Soviets cranked up their alert structure, which we would have fed back—So deterrence worked, but on a few occasions, it worked with a whole of a lot of luck.

And this is, I guess, one of the reasons why I would argue on the question of nuclear weapons in the future. Are we prepared to bet on luck lasting forever when you have a larger number of nuclear weapon states, some like Pakistan, some like North Korea where, you know, you're not fully confident in the ability of the leadership to manage those weapons properly?

SPEEDIE: OK. A brief word?

HAYES: Whatever—I think we had to respond to that question in a race against time. And not just a time—a race against the possibly of non-state or state use of nuclear weapons or generalized proliferation, but against technological innovation.

I mean, I invite you to contemplate a world in which quantum computers in which we're investing heavily—my university has a Pentagon-funded center on quantum computing in Sydney in which these computers work and there is no meaningful encryption. Just think of the world with no meaningful encryption with nuclear weapons and other kinds of weaponry. That's a radical transformational change that we are facing and actively working to bring about.

So, you know, I think that through. And I think that the answer to your question is that if we're successful in negotiating an end and a complete elimination of nuclear weapons, we will have created a kind of security context in which these other convergent information technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology that may also bring about other kinds of very dangerous weapon of mass destruction that are post-nuclear but just has dangerous, can be controlled.

Because we have achieved the kinds of conditions of trust and understanding that will either avoid the scenarios of interstate conflict or create human relationships and forms of settlement that are resilient against the use of those forms of weapons of mass destruction.

So nuclear weapons actually will be one of the channels through which we come to grips with this fundamental human failure that you refer to.

SPEEDIE: Fascinating. Pete, do you have any last...

PIFER: Well, in the interest of time, I'll defer.

SPEEDIE: OK. Well, we promised you three complementary expert views. I think we've been given that, as well as an excellent primer for the momentous meeting coming up next week. And please join me in thanking our three panelists, and to you.

(APPLAUSE)

END

Up

Explore More on CFR

Zimbabwe

Lebanon

Saudi Arabia pressed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign to try to weaken Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. The path to resolving the crisis could run through Yemen.

Global

A growing number of countries are legalizing same-sex marriage amid a steady advance in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, but opposition remains strong in many countries.