Reframing Strategic Stability in the 21st Century

News | July 23, 2010

On 30 June 2010 the EastWest Institute, in partnership with Wilton Park, convened the inaugural meeting of Reframing Strategic Stability in the 21st Century, a project to help ensure stability between nuclear-weapon states, at Wilton Park, UK.  The meeting brought together for the first time representatives from the original five nuclear weapon states - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - to discuss this critical issue and identify the parameters for this project. 

Main discussion points included:

  1. While the Cold War saw the emergence of five nuclear powers, which coincidentally are also the five permanent members of the Security Council (P5), strategic stability largely revolved around the two most powerful, the United States and the former USSR/ now the Russian Federation.  That paradigm has drastically changed to an asymmetric multipolar world, with complex inter-relations among key global powers. This project on strategic stability aims to frame the new architectural order of the post-Cold War era. 
  2. Strategic stability should be defined as “preventing war between nuclear states,” as opposed to the traditional definition  of a nuclear balance between the United States and the Soviet Union. Participants acknowledged the broad scope of strategic stability, encompassing more actors and new security threats, but agreed to maintain a narrow focus on preventing war between nuclear states. 
  3. Nuclear weapons are no longer the only issue affecting strategic stability. Many new factors are in play  in the 21st  century, including  economic interdependence, political relationships, regional conflicts, energy issues, cybersecurity, and non-nuclear sophisticated conventional systems.
  4. Participants  also discussed the scope of the project and whether  to focus only on  the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the P5) or the eight nuclear-armed countries (the P5 and  India, Israel and Pakistan).  It was felt that given the complexity of the subject, in the  first phase of the project  a larger group of  representatives from the P5 will  analyze strategic stability primarily among their five countries, but with an eye towards the other three nuclear powers. The second phase will include representatives from  India, Israel and Pakistan and will discuss strategic stability more broadly among the eight nuclear states. 
  5. Participants noted the complexity of bilateral and multilateral relations that affect strategic stability, not just among the P5, but also their relations with other states, such as Iran. 
  6. Although the factors and relationships affecting strategic stability have expanded beyond U.S.-Soviet/U.S.-Russia  nuclear issues, the project should draw  lessons from the history of that relationship and apply them, when necessary, to other situations. Other stable relationships, such as that of France and the United Kingdom, can also provide guidance.
  7. The project will identify factors related to nuclear weapons and sophisticated conventional weapons that affect strategic stability. Such factors may include, but are not limited to:
    • Ballistic missile defense 
    • Prompt Global Strike weapons
    • Anti-submarine warfare 
    • Conventional strike capability
    • Counterforce capability
    • De-alert
    • Nuclear proliferation
    • Conditions for possible use of a nuclear weapon
    • Early-warning systems
    • Implications of reductions in nuclear weapons
    • The relationship between offense and defense  Vulnerability and survivability
  8. As the size of the P5 arsenals continue to shrink and the world makes progress towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, the P5 could demonstrate an exemplary, responsible role of leadership by developing a code of conduct. A code of conduct among the nuclear-weapon states would go a long way towards meeting the obligations of the NPT article VI and would assuage the non-aligned and others who have criticized the nuclear-weapon states since the treaty entered into force for not taking sufficient steps towards nuclear disarmament. A code of conduct would be far easier to develop on a Track 2 level than at an official level.