Strategic Risk Reduction between Nuclear-Weapons Possessors Proliferation Papers, No. 63, January 2021
The topic of nuclear risk reduction has gained momentum in the international security debate among policymakers, nongovernmental organizations, and experts.
The current and expected demise of the traditional arms-control architecture, the renewed strategic competition, and the polarization of the multilateral debate on nuclear weapons have contributed to this renewed salience. Building upon the 2019 G7 Statement on Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, this report defines strategic risk reduction as the set of unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral measures that aim at lowering the likelihood of nuclear weapons use through improved communication, predictability, and restraint, and underlines the need to adopt a strategic approach to nuclear risk reduction.
Risks emanating from conflict dynamics between nuclear powers are different in nature and severity from those arising from technical incidents. This report argues that in a context of growing geopolitical rivalries, diplomats should prioritize mitigating the former type of risk. Risk reduction efforts should aim at hindering the most dangerous behaviors in crisis time, through measures focusing both on nuclear forces and on nonnuclear capabilities, whose impact on strategic balances keeps growing. Strategic risk reduction can strengthen international security and strategic stability by complementing arms control measures and deterrence policies. It is therefore crucial to ensure that diplomatic initiatives aimed at limiting nuclear risks do not ultimately, and paradoxically, increase the risk of war.
Historical experience shows not only the feasibility of such an approach, but also the concrete security benefits that can be derived from it, by channeling the behavior of nuclear powers in times of tensions, reducing the ambiguity inherent in certain strategies and behaviors, or laying the foundations for international regimes based on operational and strategic restraint as well as on transparency.