Strengthening Nonproliferation: Game-Changing Ideas

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 (All day)

United Nations First Committee Side Event
Ward Wilson and Barry Blechman discussed how to rethink the different value perceptions of nuclear weapons within an international security framework, in order to strengthen nonproliferation efforts. The event took place on October 16th, as a side event at the United Nations First Committee. Angela Kane moderated the event and Benno Laggner from the Swiss delegation made introductory remarks.

Ward Wilson
Senior Research Fellow

Barry Blechman
Co-Founder of the Stimson Center

Angela Kane
UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

Introduction by:
Ambassador Benno Laggner
Ambassador, Head of Security Policy
Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

Summary of main points discussed:

Ward Wilson
Historically, nuclear weapons have been analyzed in a Cold War context. States are largely believed to acquire nuclear weapons for security purposes. Thus, nonproliferation efforts have focused solely on security alternatives to nuclear weapons. Ward Wilson argues that this viewpoint is not the only way to frame nuclear weapons proliferation. As nuclear weapons states and their allies continue to hold onto a nuclear deterrent, these weapons can be viewed as powerful political symbols. If states continue to see nuclear weapons as the ultimate token of political power and influence it may encourage proliferation. Thus, one of the most important challenges facing nonproliferation efforts is not just tighter restrictions, stronger sanctions, or more security assurances, but how to remove the symbolism associated with nuclear weapons.

Barry Blechman
The perceived political power associated with nuclear weapons is certainly a threat that needs to be dealt with. This idea is especially apparent in looking at nuclear deterrence, which can be seen to promote nuclear weapons as a political rather than a military weapon. As countries spend millions of dollars on a weapon that will never be used for military purposes – their perception as political symbols will only continue to rise. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the security argument around nuclear weapons, and the role that plays in non-proliferation discussions. As countries face external security threats, they could look to develop nuclear weapons capabilities in an effort to attain the powerful symbolism attributed to them. An important step to combating the tokenism of nuclear weapons would be to remove the remaining B-61s from Europe, which clearly serve a political rather than military role.


• Ward Wilson’s report can be found here
• Coverage of the event can be found on Twitter both on our official Twitter account and with the hashtags: #rethinknukes #UNNonprolif
• An audio recording of the event can be found here

Ward Wilson speaking at UN
Ward Wilson (Photo Credit: BASIC)

Ward Wilson, Benno Laggner, Angela Kane, and Barry Blechman (L-R)
Ward Wilson, Benno Laggner, Angela Kane, and Barry Blechman (Photo Credit: BASIC)

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