The following article includes the arguments that were presented by Dylan Gagnon at the Graduate Research Award Debates, a joint initiative between The Simons Foundation and the International Security Research and Outreach Programme at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
The assigned topic was: “Be it resolved that Cold War era instruments are sufficient in achieving crucial nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament objectives in the current post-Cold War international context.”
Dylan presented as the ‘against’ side….
“I believe there are four main problems that Cold War instruments are incapable of dealing with today:
The first would be the fact that there have been a number of states that have evaded the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements that they have signed with the IAEA and which were mandated under the NPT.
Iraq is probably the best known case to have cheated on its obligations, when it was discovered in 1991 to have been investing in nuclear weapon technology for nearly a decade. This is what led to the creation of the IAEA Additional Protocol that allowed for verification of undeclared nuclear materials. Even today we still find that Comprehensive Safeguards are not enough, as Syria was found to have been hiding nuclear facilities in 2007.
The cases of Iraq and Syria demonstrate that it was and still is possible for states to cheat on their Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements and develop nuclear weapons through clandestine means. In order to catch such potential cheaters, it is clear that verification must go beyond the methods that were developed during the Cold War.
The second argument that I would like to address is that Cold War instruments largely view states as the only proliferators, they do not take into account proliferation by individuals, whether working for terrorist organizations, criminal syndicates or transnational proliferation networks.
Now, it has been shown in most cases that for any of these non-state actors to get a hold of nuclear material let alone an actual nuclear weapon is quite difficult. However, there remains the risk that individuals would be able to supply technical components or expertise on how to build a nuclear weapon. The most obvious example that comes to mind is the A.Q. Khan network, which reportedly reached out to 18 states. Furthermore the Network assisted Iran, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria in developing their nuclear weapons programs. This has largely been dealt with by UN Resolution 1540 which requires all states to adopt legislation to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, their delivery systems and their illicit trafficking. This Resolution demonstrates that previous instruments such as the NPT were unprepared to deal with proliferation at the individual level.
The third argument against is that such instruments do not properly address indirect aspects of nuclear weapons that are ultimately tied to both non-proliferation and disarmament goals.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty that essentially bans the explosion of nuclear devices for testing purposes is a good example. Since it was opened for signature in 1996 183 states have signed it, of which 162 have ratified it, even though it has not yet entered into force. Similarly, the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty which is currently being debated in the Conference on Disarmament, calls for a ban on the production of nuclear materials and further verification measures to ensure this ban. In 2014 at the Conference on Disarmament American Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller stated that negotiating the FMCT would be “an essential prerequisite for global nuclear disarmament.”
Therefore, the creation of these Treaties and mechanisms demonstrates the need to move beyond the instruments of the Cold War in order to address all aspects of non-proliferation and disarmament.
The final argument is a bit more theoretical, that is, the NPT framework creates a problematic divide between Nuclear Weapon States and Non-Nuclear Weapon States. It largely places emphasis on Non-Nuclear Weapon States not to acquire or construct nuclear weapons. Although Nuclear Weapon States agree to receive some of the onus by not transferring their nuclear weapons, in reality few have ever actually done so or desired to do so.
Furthermore, the NPT provision for disarmament is open ended, it commits all parties of the Treaty to disarmament at an unspecified point in the future, with no conclusive framework about how or when this is to be done. The result of this is that there has been a divide between Nuclear Weapon States and Non-Nuclear Weapon States. Nuclear Weapon states continuously see proliferation as the greatest threat to international peace and security and an obstacle to their disarmament.
On the other hand Non-Nuclear Weapon States believe that disarmament and lowering the number of nuclear weapons must be achieved to guarantee non-proliferation. Thus there remains an almost intrinsic divide implied by the NPT, and is why many of the aforementioned post-Cold War era treaties, such as the CTBT or the FMCT, have been designed to tackle the security concerns of both groups.
Thus, for these reasons, I argue that Cold War era instruments, while phenomenal for their time, have become outdated and are no longer sufficient for the objectives of non-proliferation and disarmament.”

Dylan Gagnon is an MA Candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, concentrating in intelligence and national security. He completed his Bachelor of Arts at Bishop’s University in Political Studies and Public Administration.
Featured Photo from the IAEA ImageBank.

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