The comparative analysis of the solutions to the problem of nuclear proliferation

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2010

28 Pages, Grade: Good




Theoretical framework

Specific nature of the nonproliferation regime.
Potential solutions to the problem of nuclear proliferation.

The analysis of the nuclear proliferation solution options.
1. Complete nuclear disarmament.
2. Securing status-quo
3. Regional proliferation of nuclear weapons.
4. Universal proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The spectrum of options – different approaches


Annex 1


The world has not become safer in the 21st century. But there is only limited number of really global threats. Those include, inter alia, international terrorism, climate change, and the issue of nuclear proliferation.

In its Resolution on the Convention on the Prohibition of Use of Nuclear Weapons, the UN General Assembly underlined that “the use of nuclear weapons poses the most serious threat to the survival of mankind”[1]. But despite a nearly universal recognition of the threat posed by the mere existence of the nuclear arsenals, the issue of further nuclear proliferation among the members of the international community is yet to be solved.

In this paper, we attempt to conduct a comparative analysis of possible approaches to the issue of nuclear proliferation. The goal of the research, however, is not the elaboration of practical solution of the issue. We will focus on the conceptual value of the one or another option, instead. The aim is to define main dimensions of the problem that can be faced by the international community – be it in the universal fora (e.g., the UN General Assembly) or in the ‘exclusive clubs’ (the UN Security Council).

First part will be dedicated to the theoretical approaches that may be employed in the research. Also, the framework for the comparative analysis per se will be defined.

In the second part of the paper, we will focus on the determination of factors that should be taken into account during the comparative evaluation of the solutions.

In the third part, the set of factors will be applied to the potential solutions – and we will try to define common and specific characteristics of every option.

There are a lot of competent research papers dedicated to the problem of nuclear proliferation. Many of them were published before the end of the Cold War and, therefore, provide us with the dynamic view on the issue. Most of the literature used in the paper is dedicated to the problem of the theoretical and legal dimensions of the nuclear proliferation. A number of international documents were used as well – the Nonproliferation Treaty, the UN General Assembly Resolutions, etc. Mass-media sources proved to be a rich source of information. Additional information was derived from the statistical data publications, case-law of the International Court.

Theoretical framework

That part of the paper will be dedicated to the two main problems. Firstly, we focus on the most appropriate theoretical approach to be used in the comparative analysis and, secondly, the basis for the comparative analysis will be drawn as well.

There are a number of issues to be addressed when choosing the appropriate theoretical approach in the case of nuclear proliferation. Firstly, there is no doubt that the issue of nuclear proliferation lies in the dimension of the multilateral international relations. Secondly, there is a wide legal basis aimed at the regulation of the relations in the framework of nuclear proliferation. Thirdly, there is a nearly universal attitude of the international community towards the nuclear weaponry – and even though it may slightly differ – that fact, undoubtedly, places the problem into the ethical dimension. Fourthly, due to the political importance of the issue itself, one should be aware that theoretical approaches that exaggerate or understate the role of the national interests may distort the overall analysis.

Therefore, the theory of international regimes seems to be the most appropriate option here. That neoliberal approach will allow everything that is required from the theoretical approach in that particular research. Most importantly, the international regimes theory is capable to put multiple factors into one coherent model of actors’ interaction. The nearly universal usage of the international regimes theory in the nuclear proliferation studies is not a secret as well.

In the framework of the current research, the usage of the classical interpretation of ‘international regime’ as defined by Krasner, seems to be the most appropriate: “sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectations converge in a given area of international relations”[2]. Even though, there are broader, as well as narrower definitions of the term in the literature, the above-mentioned is the most suitable due to the recognition of ‘norms’ and ‘principles’ factors – that may bring us to the moral-ethical dimension of the problem.

It would be unacceptable not to mention the critique of the usage of the international regimes theory when analyzing the nuclear proliferation issue. One of the most prominent argumentation is provided by Michael Brzoska. To look closely at the author’s points may be beneficial for the further analysis:

1. There are a lot of definitions of the ‘international regimes’ – from functional-institutional hybrids to the mere functional. According to Brzoska, that may lead to the false assumption that every patternalized behavior is a sign of the regime presence[3].

In that particular aspect, one has admit that not every pattern of behavior leads to the creation of the international regime. The institutional part of the definition allows pinpointing the nonproliferation regime, however. As mentioned above, there is a certain moral-ethical dimension to the problem – and some institution can definitely be defined by the values factor. Therefore, on that point of critique, one can say that the existence of the common sets of values may indicate the existence of the institution as defined by the sociological institutionalism. First Brzoska’s argument is, however, viable if the analysis is based on the assumptions of the rational choice institutionalism.

2. According to Brzoska, the international regimes theory is characterized by the ‘inherent defect’ – exaggerated focus on the national level[4].

In our opinion, the nuclear nonproliferation regimes cannot be analyzed in isolation from the states. Military nuclear research, unlike many other activities now, is still controlled solely by the states – and there are no exceptions to that rule so far. On the other hand, there is grand role that is played by the United Nations in the domain of the nuclear proliferation. However strange that may be, issues of nuclear nonproliferation are very specific because they create a kind of theoretical precedent – placing the role of the state under the supervision of the international organization. In certain aspects there are signs of sovereignty transfer to the supranational level on a global scale. In that respect, even though the regimes theory may be considered too state-focused, that does not preclude us from using it in an analysis of the nuclear nonproliferation.

3. Brzoska states, that nuclear proliferation does not possess common set of legal norms and rules which is a contradiction to the principle of the international regimes itself.

One has to admit that, despite the wide legal base of the nuclear proliferation regime, that base is not always coherent and consistent. We will definitely look at that aspect in length below. That, however, barely can be considered as a hindrance to the usage of the international regimes theory since there is no contradiction in the issue of proliferation itself. The completely other aspect is granting of the specific privileges to certain states, but that problem does not play the decisive role in the process of proliferation of nuclear materials per se. The occurrences of the regime breach cannot affect the applicability of the regimes theory as well – while such instances are not prevalent and condemned by the actors - the regime is to be considered functioning.

Therefore, despite certain aspects that are prone to criticism, the international regimes theory is mostly acceptable in a nuclear proliferation analysis. That approach will allow better structured and more thorough research.

The comparative method is worth mentioning here as well. Parallel analysis seems to be more analytically valuable – when comparison is made ‘step-by-step’ or better say ‘factor-by-factor’. We would like to embark on a slightly different approach here. Every potential solution will be analyzed from the point of different factors. As a result we expect to find common and specific features of every option. There is, however, the need to avoid the reasons for the insolvency of comparative analyses – subsequent description of the cases and non-usage of the comparison as a method[5].

Specific nature of the nonproliferation regime.

In the context of the paper, the specific nature of the nonproliferation regime is of certain interest. We focus on the binary characteristics of the regime below.

Firstly, the nonproliferation regime does not imply the equality of the participants. Treaty on the non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) defines the existence of ‘nuclear-weapon States’ and ‘non-nuclear-weapon States’ (NNWS). Even though difference in status is not uncommon in the international law, the NPT bans the change of the status. The Non-proliferation Treaty explicitly states that nuclear-weapon States (NWS) are those which ‘manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January, 1967’ (Art. 9(3)). Legal logic is, therefore, that there is only one way to change the NPT status – from nuclear to non-nuclear.

From the point of legal consequences, binary mode of the Parties to NPT leads to the different set of obligations. For the NWS it is to negotiate the universal nuclear disarmament ‘in good faith’ (Article 6 NPT). For the NNWS – to adhere to the guarantees of the IAEA (Article 3). All Parties to the NPT are entitled not to provide technologies, fissile materials, and everything that can be used to produce nuclear weapons by the states not respecting the IAEA’s guarantees.

Secondly, the NPT does not create universal worldwide regime. India, Pakistan and Israel are not parties to the Treaty. The DKRP declared itself free from the NPT obligations in 2003. There are two aspects to the flawed universality of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. First of all, that does not allow for the ultimate solution of the nuclear proliferation problem. Just as in the case of the ecology, the universal efforts are needed to make change. Secondly, one has to admit, that internal logic of the Treaty tries to contribute to the all-encompassing regime: the countries which are not under the IAEA control should not, in practice, find the sellers of the relevant technologies (since they are bound by the NPT obligations). That does not, however, preclude states outside the NPT from creating their nuclear programs from the scratch or using the ‘black market’ option.

Fact of the non-universality should not be forgotten in order not to exaggerate the capabilities of the international community to use legal leverage for nuclear proliferation control. That is why bilateral agreements outside the scope of the UN are worth attention. Good example of the international community slowness in that respect is the DPRK case. The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea only after its declaration on the nuclear test in 2006 (UN Security Council Resolution 1718/2006)[6].

Thirdly, the Non-proliferation Treaty tries to draw a line between the peaceful and military nuclear technologies. Despite the seemingly obvious division, there are still a number of blind spots here. First of all, those are technical aspects. It is obvious that technologies for both military and peaceful use of nuclear energy are quite similar up to a certain point. How the division can be enforced, then? Theoretically, the IAEA is to play the central role in the monitoring process. There is, however, even deeper contradiction in the NPT. One should take into account the need to combine the ban to produce nuclear weapons (or acquire the relevant technologies) and the ‘inalienable right’ (Article 4 (1)) to produce and use nuclear energy. The reality shows that such combination is usually impossible. However paradoxical that may seem, such contradiction leads not to the limitations on nuclear energy production but to the opposite – further widening of interpretation of the NPT clauses.

In order to rule out the inherent conflict in the NPT, the Parties were attempting to understand the logic of the Treaty. The dynamics of their interpretations show that nuclear non-proliferation or the ‘zero option’ were not the priorities. For example, up until the 70-s the IAEA had been adhering to the position that everything apart from the explosion is allowed[7]. There is also lateral interpretation of the NPT. According to Frank Barnaby, such interpretation can mean that ‘a Party to the NPT could legally manufacture the components of any number of nuclear weapons, and the non-nuclear parts of the weapons could be assembled. Only when fissile material was placed into one of the devices would the Treaty be broken’[8].

Such profound ambiguity can, undoubtedly, lead to the limited effectiveness of the Treaty and its regime.

Fourthly, the nuclear non-proliferation regime is characterized by the application of double standards. Double standards as such always have political connotations. Strictly speaking, non-participation of India, Pakistan and Israel makes their nuclear programs legal. But some State Parties to the NPT breach the regime, especially in the part of the obligations imposed by the Article 1. Reasons for such behavior are usually national interests of political, geopolitical or economic nature. The agreement on the peaceful cooperation in the sphere of the nuclear energy between the United States of America and India from 2006 can be an example. Official position of the USA was as follows: ‘Comparing India to the North Korean or the Iranian regime is not credible. India is a democracy, transparent and accountable to its people, which works within the international system to promote peace and stability and has a responsible nuclear nonproliferation record’[9]. Even though the agreement has peaceful inclinations, it still may be regarded as a breach of the obligations mentioned in the Article 1 of the NPT – i.e., considered as an ‘encouragement’ by the NWS. Breach itself is based on the multitude of factors – first and foremost, the fact that in 2006 everyone knew about the nuclear tests in India.

Why is the ambiguity of the Non-proliferation Treaty so important? First of all, it allows for the evaluation of scale of the problem the international community is currently facing. Secondly, multi-dimensional nature of the non-proliferation regime hints on the potential variety of the available solutions to strengthen it or even solve the issue of the nuclear proliferation. Thirdly, that fact may help us to identify factors to be included into the comparative analysis:

1. Conformity with the current legal base.

That factor is important due to the ongoing inertia of the legal regulation of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It is obvious that if there are no breaches of the legal base, the possibility of consensual decision in the UN Security Council (in fact, the only effective international institution in the non-proliferation domain) is rather high. There is no clear progress in the discussion of the documents that could potentially replace the NPT, however – for example the Universal Treaty on the General Horizontal and Vertical Nonproliferation proposed by Kazakhstan.

That factor also includes the issue of correlation between the right for the peaceful nuclear energy and the ban on the manufacture of the nuclear weapons.

2. Contribution of the option to the regional and global security.

As any other type of weapon, the nuclear arsenals are acquired to gain the sense of security. Destructive capability of the nuclear weapons, however, makes us speak about regional and even global implications.

3. The threat of the unauthorized transfer of nuclear weapons to the non-state actors.

Here, we mean, first and foremost, the possibility that the nuclear weapons or fissile materials are obtained by the terrorist groups. Due to the specific nature of the contemporary international relations, the factor of nuclear terrorism cannot be ignored. Even though that aspect is not fully relevant to the security in a traditional sense, it is still quite urgent in a view of the threats evolving out of the scope of state dominance.

4. Threat of non-military or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

That factor means the possibility that inadequate or hostile regime gains power in the nuclear state. At the same time, it implies certain technical aspects – e.g., whether the safeguard against the unauthorized launch of nuclear weapons is used, whether accidental launch is possible, etc. The factor correlates to the issue of regional/global security as well. Even though the possibility of accidental launch of nuclear weapons seems implausible, the psychologists claim that ‘there is a strong possibility that a nuclear war could start by escalation of a military conflict, technical error, accident, or human misjudgment’[10]. There is no reason why that possibility should be ruled out.

5. Morally-ethical aspect.

That factor seems the most controversial in the list. But just as the ecology, nuclear proliferation has a moral aspect to it. Basically, the morally-ethical aspect is to define to what extent this or that solution is acceptable from the subjective ‘consciousness of humanity’ point of view.

In our opinion, there are a number of reasons for such list of factors. Firstly, all factors touch upon certain problematic aspect of the non-proliferation regime. Secondly, the factors are quite diverse, which enhances the chance to identify certain regularities. The list is not exhaustive, of course. It can be broadened but that will not definitely lead to the better results while the comparative analysis may be severely overburdened.


[1] Resolution, adopted by the General Assembly. 64/59. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use of Nuclear Weapons // A/RES/64/59. The UN General Assembly. 14.01.2010.

[2] Krasner Stephen D., Structural Causes and Regime Consequences: Regimes as Intervening Variables // International Organisation, Vol. 36. No 2. International Regimes. 1982. P. 186.

[3] Brzoska Michael, Is the Nuclear Proliferation System a Regime? A Comment on Trevor McMorris Tate // Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 29. No. 2. 1992. P. 216.

[4] Ibid, P. 215.

[5] Rosenau James N., Comparative Foreign Policy: Fad, Fantasy, or Field? // International Studies Quarterly. Vol. 12. No. 3. 1968. P. 307.

[6] Resolution 1718/2006 adopted by the Security Council at its 5551st meeting, on 14 October 2006 // The UN Security Council. S/RES/1718 (2006). 14.10.2006.

[7] Zhang X., The Riddle of “Inalienable Right” in Article IV of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Intentional Ambiguity // Chinese Journal of International Law. Vol. 5. No. 3. 2006. Pp. 651.

[8] Ibid. pp. 652-653.

[9] Garvey J. I., To Fix the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime – Avoid State Classification // Florida Journal of International Law. Vol. 21. December 2009. P.383.

[10] Mack J. E., Toward a Collective Psychopathology of the Nuclear Arms Competition // Political Psychology. Vol. 6. No. 2. Special Issue: A Notebook on the Psychology of the U.S.-Soviet Relationship. 1985. P. 296.P. 296.

Excerpt out of 28 pages


The comparative analysis of the solutions to the problem of nuclear proliferation
European University at St. Petersburg
Security and Disarmament in Europe
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Saint-Petersburg State University
nuclear proliferation, international relations
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Paul Shoust (Author), 2010, The comparative analysis of the solutions to the problem of nuclear proliferation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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