Disarmament Insight


Friday, 7 April 2017

Understanding Nuclear Weapon Risks

UNIDIR has just published this collection of papers by experts on the nature and causes of nuclear risk. The same experts will be panellists in a risk symposium that will take place at the Palais des Nations on 10 April (see our previous blog).

UNIDIR's Director, Mr Jarmo Sareva, notes in the Foreword to the publication that irrespective of differences in how States perceive nuclear weapons, it is apparent that a closer understanding of the components of risk surrounding the safety and security of nuclear weapons is warranted—with a view to reducing the probability of nuclear detonation events.

Given the enormous lethality of nuclear arms and their potential for global disruption, all States share an interest in prevention, something the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross noted at the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in December 2015.

In 2017, a facts-based discourse that engages the broader international community on reducing nuclear risks has never been more important. This publication and a symposium presenting its findings to multilateral policy practitioners on 10 April are intended to contribute to such dialogue.

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR  

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Nuclear Weapon Risk Symposium


Risks surrounding nuclear armaments—a concern of many UN General Assembly Resolutions over the years—have come under closer scrutiny lately. This can be attributed to increased attention to accidents and near misses involving nuclear weapons and new evidence of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear detonations. The risk profile of the use and possession of nuclear weapons has also been influenced by heightened global instability.

Gauging the level of risk from these and other causes has been the focus of a UNIDIR project that will culminate in a public symposium at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday 10 April. Keynote addresses from Dr William Perry (former US Secretary for Defense) and Mr Yves Daccord (Director-General of the ICRC) will be followed by discussions involving a range of experts on nuclear risk.

The experts include
Mark Fitzpatrick (Risk and Nuclear Deterrence), with Marc Barnett
Hans M. Kristensen (The Quest For More Useable Nuclear Weapons)
Christine Parthemore (The Unique Risks of Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missiles)
Pavel Podvig (Risks of Nuclear Command and Control Accidents)
Patricia Lewis (Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons Systems), with Beyza Unal
Reza Lahidji (The Safety of Nuclear Weapons and Materials: Lessons from the Assessment of Nuclear Power Plant Risks)
Elena K. Sokova (Non-State Actors and Nuclear Weapons)

These experts have already contributed to a UNIDIR publication which, with an introduction and conclusions written by UNIDIR, is being published on www.unidir.org .

The objectives of this project have been two-fold:
1. to shed more light on the nature and cause of nuclear risk, and
2. to extend the conversation on risk as a vehicle for seeking common ground between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear-armed states. Given the magnitude and destructiveness of a nuclear detonation, all states have an interest in managing and reducing risks associated with nuclear armaments for as long as they continue to exist. In addition, there is value in cooperating in areas where risks have yet to fully reveal themselves—cyber, new technologies, increasing automation, etc. Creating a culture of transparency and exchange would serve as means towards more targeted actions in risk reduction while sidestepping current disagreements over the best means of advancing nuclear disarmament.

Tim Caughley
Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR