The “Hiroshima Report” is an extremely valuable addition to the already existing literature on evaluations and scorecards regarding policies towards nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and security. Its originality resides in its comprehensive and detailed nature.
Below are a few remarks designed to help with the understanding and promotion with the report, as well as future updates.
On the general approach of nuclear security, the report assumes that “the more nuclear weapons or fissile material usable for nuclear weapons a country possesses, the greater the task of reducing them and ensuring their security” (p. 4). This is undeniably true for nuclear reductions, but perhaps less so regarding nuclear security. The degree of difficulty for maintaining a high degree of nuclear security may depend more on the number (and type of) storage sites than on the quantity of weapons and materials.
On doctrines, the report notes that the United States has stated that it would only consider the use of nuclear weapons “in extreme circumstances” (p. 14). It is not certain that this is a result of developments mentioned previously in the report (“The NWS seem to be closely following such movements”). More likely, it is the result of a convergent evolution amongst Western nuclear powers. Both the United Kingdom (in 2006, as mentioned p. 24) and France (in 2008, as mentioned p. 25) have made statements along the same lines, adopting language loosely inspired from the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion. However, the report may be right to assume that public statements from some NWS might indeed be a reaction to the current trend emphasizing the legal and humanitarian dimensions of the use of nuclear weapons. In addition to the UK statement mentioned p. 14, the US statement included in the 2013 Report to Congress on US Nuclear Employment Strategy (“all plans must be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict”) is noteworthy.
On transparency, one could take exception with the sentence “None of the nuclear weapon/armed states has declassified the exact number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal” (p. 7). It is true that no country has given such a number to the unit. But there are reasons for this. Stockpiles include weapons which are not entirely functional (when exactly does an atomic device become a “nuclear weapon”?), or which are used for non-destructive testing. As a result, giving an exact number can be difficult, misleading, and/or be accurate just for a given day. Only France and the United Kingdom have publicly given figures regarding their total arsenals, which are probably as accurate as possible. France did so in 1994 (“less than 500”) and in 2008 (“less than 300”). The United Kingdom did so in 2010, though not with an explicit reference to the present number (“will not exceed 225”).
On disarmament, the report notes (p. 16) that the context of US-Russian negotiations was affected in 2011-2012 by the domestic political context in both countries. Since then, as a result of the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study, Washington has announced that it would be ready to consider a reduction to about 1,000 accountable warheads. But the report correctly points out that there is Russian reluctance to consider levels which are lower than New START ones. While the report notes Moscow’s concerns about missile defense, the fear of US developments in the field of long-range precision strikes is also an issue from the Russian point of view. Additionally, some in Russia worry about a possible future where Russia’s nuclear superiority over China might be compromised. In fact, a «glass floor» for US-Russia disarmament may have been reached. Further progress in nuclear reductions may have to wait. Russia’s budgetary situation will be a factor here: if Moscow was unwilling or unable to maintain funding for the continued modernization of its nuclear arsenal, it would have an interest in re-initiating bilateral talks with the United States, in order to ensure to maintain at least nominal or apparent strategic parity.
On nuclear testing (p. 36), it might have been useful to note that only one country (France) has dismantled its nuclear weapons testing sites (as noted p. 47), and is thus no longer in a position to conduct tests.
On China, the report states that “The current thinking among research institutes is that China has not necessarily increased or reduced its nuclear arsenal numerically” (p. 18). This is a prudent formulation – perhaps too prudent. The high number of Chinese dual-capable ballistic missiles, as well as the high volume of fissile material that China has probably produced, gives Beijing an important “surge” capability. In any case, China’s unique situation among the five NWS in terms of transparency remains troubling and unsatisfying. Later in the report, it is stated that Beijing may be seeking “a first-strike option” (p. 21). Although there are indications in the open literature that China may be moving, or be interested in moving, in the direction of a “first use option” (as stated further in the text, p. 25), there are few credible signs that Beijing would move towards “a first strike option”.
On Pakistan (p. 21), perhaps the report should have emphasized what may be arguably one of the most worrying developments in Asia’s current nuclear programs, the stated intention of Pakistan to develop “full-spectrum deterrence” including short-range, low-yield nuclear systems. While it is not yet certain that Islamabad intends to deploy a large-scale theater nuclear arsenal, it is unlikely that India will watch these developments passively. On Pakistan also, the report’s assessment that “Little information is available as to whether Pakistan has subsequently enhanced its export control system and its implementation” (p. 65) is unsatisfying: there is abundant public information on this topic.
On North Korea, the report prudently notes that the country “is believed to have worked on miniaturizing its nuclear warheads to mount on ballistic missiles, although the details are unclear” (p. 21). Indeed, the February 2013 test conducted by Pyongyang has reinforced that suspicion. This is another most worrying developments on Asia’s current strategic scene. Some have assumed that North Korea was mostly interested in demonstrating a nuclear capability without necessarily be interested in a fully operational nuclear force: the third test has not bolstered this assumption.
Dr. Bruno Tertrais is a Senior Research Fellow, Fondation pour la recherche strategique.
The Hiroshima Report 2014 (PDF) can be downloaded from the following links:
The Hiroshima Report 2012 (PDF) can be downloaded from the following links: