Negative Security Assurances as a Practical Step towards Global Zero

October 12th, 2018

A side event entitled “Negative Security Assurances as a Practical Step towards Global Zero” was held at the German Mission on 10 October 2018. The panelists included Mr. Paul Ingram as moderator who is the Executive Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC); Ms. Angela Kane, the former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; and Mr. Robert Einhorn, the former Special Advisor to U.S. Secretary of State on Nonproliferation and Arms Control.

Framing the side event, Mr. Ingram noted that Negative Security Assurances (NSAs) have potential for global nuclear disarmament but asked as a guiding question for the discussion: to what extent?

Mr. Einhorn remarked in his opening statement that in today’s world, the threat of nuclear-weapon States using nuclear weapons against other nuclear-weapon States was greater than against non-nuclear-weapon States, whereas NSAs only address the latter. He cited the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) of the current USA administration which retains a nuclear option only against other nuclear-weapon States. In the relationship between nuclear-weapon States and non-nuclear-weapon States, he agreed that NSAs have made an important contribution to the current non-proliferation regime with NSAs being a significant gesture by nuclear-weapon States to States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). He doubted, however, that taking NSAs further e.g. in the form of legally binding NSAs (“paper assurances”) would increase confidence of non-nuclear-weapon States about their safety from nuclear conflict. Mr. Einhorn claimed that in particular states from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) were unlikely to be moved by NSAs to take more far reaching measures on nuclear non-proliferation. Instead, he called for practical steps to be taken.

Ms. Kane strongly supported further action on NSAs, stating that NPT States parties should have a right to protection from nuclear conflict with legally binding NSAs being a first step that nuclear-weapon States owed NPT States parties for keeping a commitment that is currently not matched by nuclear disarmament by nuclear-weapon States. As an indicator of the importance states place on NSAs, she pointed to NAM’s view that current NSAs were insufficient. She further emphasized that Indonesia, the coordinator of NAM’s Working Group on Disarmament, had criticized the absence of negotiations for a legally binding mechanism. Ms. Kane noted that, while the relationship of NSAs and nuclear disarmament was not straightforward, NSAs were an important building block of a multilateral process of reducing nuclear weapons towards a global zero. However, NSAs should be seen in the wider context of state security without being limited to nuclear weapons. At the same time, she noted that NSAs were not convincing without a working mechanism to enforce them as the UN Security Council could not credibly take on this role due to the veto powers of its permanent members.

In the following, the audience asked questions to the panelists. During the discussion, all three panelists strongly called for high level multilateral political and military meetings and discussions, arguing that the opportunity for both non-nuclear-weapon and nuclear-weapon states to get frank answers and clarifications by other nuclear weapon states to their questions and concerns would boost necessary confidence amongst states and greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic miscalculations. Mr. Einhorn remarked that such meetings used to be conducted between the USSR and the USA during the Cold War.

To the question why NSAs were not reconfirmed, Mr. Einhorn claimed that the current NPR by the US was clearer in its language that nuclear weapons would not be used against non-nuclear-weapon States than the NSAs it had given and that there was little use in reconfirming the NSA. Ms. Kane saw reconfirming NSAs as a good start.

In closing, the panelists expressed their concern that states increasingly withdrawing from treaties, illegitimately, was an emerging threat to the cohesion of the multilateral system.

Written by Ruben Nicolin