The global nuclear order is under strain

The global nuclear order is under strain


Establishing global order demands a convergence among major powers, coupled with the ability to present the outcome as a global public good. The Global Nuclear Order (GNO), born in the shadows of the Cold War, faces significant strain in today’s complex geopolitical landscape.


GS – 02 (International Treaties & Agreements)


Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), India’s doctrine of ‘No First Use’ (NFU), Cold War, Weapons of Mass Destruction

Mains Question:

Evaluate the resilience and challenges faced by the Global Nuclear Order (GNO) in the contemporary geopolitical landscape and examine the impact of changing power dynamics, the U.S.-China rivalry, and evolving nuclear strategies on the established norms of non-proliferation and strategic stability. (250 words)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Origins of the Global Nuclear Order
  • Successes and Challenges of the Global Nuclear Order
  • Changing Geopolitical Realities
  • Challenges to Non-Proliferation and U.S. Pragmatism

Origins of the Global Nuclear Order:

  • The GNO emerged during the Cold War, with the U.S. and U.S.S.R. recognizing the need for bilateral mechanisms to avert nuclear escalation.
  • Lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis led to the establishment of a hotline in 1963, followed by arms control negotiations.
  • Simultaneously, efforts to control nuclear proliferation materialized with the initiation of multilateral negotiations, culminating in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968.
  • The Nuclear Suppliers Group further solidified the order, emphasizing responsible nuclear technology transfer.

Successes and Challenges of the Global Nuclear Order:

  • The GNO has exhibited resilience, preserving the taboo against nuclear weapons since 1945. Non-proliferation efforts proved successful, with only a few nations deviating from the path. However, arms control faced mixed outcomes, as the U.S.-U.S.S.R. nuclear race persisted until the late 1980s.
  • Post-Cold War, strategic stability faced new challenges with the emergence of a multipolar world and changing dynamics, particularly the U.S.-China rivalry. Treaties between the U.S. and Russia faced setbacks, questioning the traditional definitions of strategic stability.

Changing Geopolitical Realities:

  • The contemporary nuclear landscape differs significantly from the bipolar world of the Cold War. The U.S. confronts an assertive China, introducing economic and technological dimensions to their rivalry.
  • Geopolitical shifts have strained treaties between the U.S. and Russia, with withdrawals from key agreements like the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
  • The remaining New START agreement faces uncertainties, and strategic stability talks have faltered, especially in the aftermath of the Ukraine war. The evolving role of nuclear weapons and concerns about resuming nuclear testing add complexity to the current scenario.

Challenges to Non-Proliferation and U.S. Pragmatism:

  • The Cold War-era convergence on non-proliferation has waned. The U.S. demonstrates pragmatism in its approach, tolerating nuclear developments in Israel and Pakistan in the past.
  • Recent events, such as the AUKUS deal and discussions around independent nuclear deterrents in East Asia, challenge the traditional norms. Allies like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan contemplate independent nuclear capabilities, raising questions about the effectiveness of U.S. ‘extended deterrence’ guarantees.

Way Forward:

  • Navigating through the complexities of the evolving global nuclear landscape requires a reassessment of existing frameworks. Traditional definitions of strategic stability and non-proliferation face challenges in the face of changing geopolitical dynamics.
  • The GNO stands at a critical juncture, demanding pragmatic and adaptable strategies to address the shifting realities of global power dynamics.