The independent resource on global security

Related commentary: Weapons of mass destruction

Looking beyond the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit

Some 50 heads of state and government are meeting today at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, the Netherlands, to highlight their commitment to strengthening nuclear security, and to agree on measures to prevent and combat nuclear terrorism. While many states hope that the Summit will increase nuclear security, the question remains as to whether the NSS process will be successful in securing all vulnerable weapon-usable nuclear materials.

18 Feb. 2014: Only a pragmatic approach to Iran’s nuclear programme will yield results

Following the November 2013 agreement in Geneva on initial measures to address Iran’s nuclear programme, negotiations begin in Vienna today on additional steps towards a comprehensive solution. In order for these negotiations to succeed, both sides will need to agree on pragmatic measures which assure the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme, and which lead to the removal of all United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency and Parchin: questions and concerns

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran failed again in two days of intensive talks held in Tehran this week to secure a deal to unblock the IAEA's long-stalled investigation into alleged atom bomb research in Iran. Agency inspectors were also refused access to visit a large military complex at Parchin that they have sought to visit for nearly a year. As tensions mount, it is worth considering why the Parchin visit has become such a hot-button issue in the dispute and whether it is really so important for addressing concerns about Iranian nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.

11 Nov. 2013: Time for a more comprehensive approach to the Iran nuclear negotiations

The latest round of negotiations in Geneva between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the 'P5+1' states) once again failed to reach an agreement on interim steps toward resolving the long-running controversy over the future of Iran's nuclear programme. In the end, the talks faltered due to disputes over technical aspects of Iran's nuclear programme and the sequencing of sanctions relief, leaving the negotiators unable to conclude a much-anticipated deal.

From ending nuclear testing to detecting tsunamis and missing aircraft: the wider applications of the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) prohibits all nuclear explosions anywhere as an effective measure of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation but is yet to come into force. On 11 April SIPRI, in cooperation with the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI), held an event to discuss the CTBT and its wider applications. 

Explosive potential of North Korean missiles still more diplomatic than nuclear

Today's launch by North Korea of an Unha-3 (or Taepodong-2) long-range rocket is already drawing strong negative reactions from many governments. However successful today's launch was, it does not mean that North Korea has, or is anywhere near having, the capability to launch a long-range ballistic missile strike, especially a nuclear-armed one.

Riot control agents: improve knowledge to improve safety

A number of recent incidents have reinforced renewed concern regarding states' use of so-called riot control agents (RCAs)particularly tear gases and pepper sprayagainst civilians. The legitimacy of RCAs as a means to maintain and restore public order is based on two assumptions: first, that they do no long-term harm to their targets, and second, that they are used responsibly and appropriately.

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention—approaching a mid-life crisis?

The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) is one of the most widely ratified multilateral treaties concerning armed conflict since the Geneva Conventions. Its core principle has not been challenged: no country argues that the use of biological weapons is legitimate. Nevertheless, advances in science and technology are changing the very nature of ‘biological agents’ and the ways in which they can be produced and manipulated. As the BTWC approaches 40, is it still up to its primary task of preventing biological warfare?

Swedish declaration on the elimination of nuclear weapons

Nuclear weapons kill immediately and kill over time. They cause devastation and environmental disaster. Twenty-five years ago a UN scientific commission warned that even a limited use of existing nuclear weapons could result in a nuclear winter over large areas over the earth. Recent findings conclude that such temporary climate change could cause the death of many millions of people. Massive use of existing nuclear arsenals would destroy all life on earth, a global suicide.

Making a new START in Russian–US nuclear arms control

Don't open the champagne just yet, but Russia and the United States are tantalizingly close to the finish line in their negotiations on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the 1991 Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty). Although the fast-track negotiations in Geneva were unexpectedly diverted into the diplomatic slow lane by last-minute wrangling over US missile defence plans, the two sides are widely expected to seal the deal and sign a START follow-on treaty within a matter of weeks.

Using nuclear forensics to increase international nuclear security cooperation

Nuclear forensic analysis (nuclear forensics) has gained prominence as a tool to detect, prevent and deter acts of nuclear terrorism and illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. However, the potential applications of nuclear forensics go beyond nuclear security and demonstrate that cooperation can be achieved in and between a number of international security frameworks.

Taking stock of international security

Perceptions of threats to security are both individual and shared. Currently, many share concerns about recent developments in Iran and North Korea, while many also see in the new approach of the United States a glimpse of hope. SIPRIwith its mandate to ‘contribute to an understanding of the conditions for peaceful solution of international conflicts’aims through its annual SIPRI Yearbook to provide a basis on which threats can be assessed and to deliver the most relevant facts for the debate.

SDG16.4 and the collection of data on illicit arms flows: Progress made but challenges ahead

This backgrounder provides an overview of ongoing and potential work on measuring states’ achievement of goal 16.4. It begins by outlining the SDG process and how it has sought to overcome the challenges associated with measuring illicit arms flows. It then summarizes the data collection efforts to date and outlines some possible options for filling the gaps that exist. 

How much does Russia spend on nuclear weapons?

This topical backgrounder begins with an overview of Russia’s large-scale nuclear modernization programme, which started after the adoption of its state armament programme for 2011–20. It then outlines Russia’s nuclear institutions and how the expenditure is managed within Russia’s federal budget and provides an estimate of Russian spending on nuclear weapons between the years 2010 and 2016.

Dissecting international concerns about Iran’s missiles

While trying to save the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal, some European leaders have stepped up pressure on Iran’s ballistic missile programme, simultaneously demanding talks and threatening sanctions. Iran—which sees ballistic missiles as crucial to the country’s defencehas responded by saying that its missile programme is non-negotiable.

To stay or not to stay: Will Europe’s new trade initiative make a difference for Iran?

‘Today we have taken a significant step forward in delivering our commitment under the Iran nuclear deal to preserve sanctions relief for the people of Iran.’ These were the words of Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary of the UK, as he introduced the so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), which is the latest attempt by the E3 (France, Germany and the UK) at preserving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, or the J

The NPT and the TPNW: Compatible or conflicting nuclear weapons treaties?

The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was negotiated with the purpose of strengthening the largely unimplemented disarmament pillar of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Yet, one of the main criticisms against the Treaty has been its alleged incompatibility with the NPT. What is one to make of these conflicting claims? And should the increasing number of TPNW ratifications be seen as good or bad news for the international nuclear order?

The US withdrawal from the Iran deal: One year on

On 8 May last year, US President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which sets limits on Iran’s nuclear programme to ensure that it cannot produce nuclear weapons. Despite the US withdrawal, the JCPOA remains in force; it is a multilateral agreement to which seven of the original eight parties still adhere.

Fifty years of the NPT—cause for celebration or commemoration?

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which entered into force in 1970, is turning 50 next year. As suggested by discussions at the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 NPT Review Conference (PrepCom)—held in New York on 29 April–10 May 2019—it might not be a happy anniversary. Despite their ritualistic affirmations that the NPT is the cornerstone of the global nuclear order, states parties remained divided on substantive issues.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine moves the focus from non-Western threats

In June 2020 Russia made its nuclear doctrine more transparent in terms of why, when and how it would use nuclear weapons. Without naming potential adversaries, Russia is now more explicit about the regional scenarios that could lead to nuclear warfare. It seems to have confirmed that its updated nuclear doctrine is less focused on East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. At the same time, Russia continues to reserve the right to use nuclear weapons to end conventional military conflicts. This WritePeace blog explores what has changed in the new doctrine and what the changes signal.

Joe Biden’s arms control ambitions are welcome—but delivering on them will not be easy

A deadly pandemic to control. An urgent nationwide vaccination programme to roll out. An economic crisis to navigate. Political divisions and distrust deep enough to spark mob violence and terrorism. The 46th President of the United States faces a barrage of critical domestic challenges from day one.

USA–India strategic continuity in the Biden administration transition

Following the declassification of the United States’ National Security Council’s (NSC) US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, and the transition from Donald J. Trump’s administration to that of President Joe Biden, USA–India relations have once again emerged at the forefront of US security policy. Even though the NSC framework was issued by a departing office, it is noteworthy for both its continuity with the strategies of George W.

Estimating world nuclear forces: An overview and assessment of sources

The nuclear weapon inventories of the nine-nuclear armed states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea)—are largely shrouded in secrecy: only three of the nine states have ever publicly declared the size of their nuclear stockpiles and in recent years there has been a notable shift towards a lower overall level of nuclear weapon-related transparency.

Russia’s anti-satellite test should lead to a multilateral ban

On 15 November, Russia conducted a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) test, destroying one of its own space objects, a defunct satellite, in low-earth orbit. The test captured international attention and was quickly and widely condemned as threatening and irresponsible—not least for the cloud of lethal, uncontrollable debris it created, which will endanger both space assets and human spaceflight for years to come.

We must strengthen multilateralism in a new era of risk

There is an urgent need for the world to come together to address the intertwined environment and security crises, and to deal with the risks they create. This essay draws on research under SIPRI's Environment of Peace initiative and on the authors' own experience of international diplomacy to explore where international cooperation is most needed, and how it could be strengthened.

Looking beyond the NPT: Next steps in arms control and disarmament

The latest review cycle of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) reached an unsatisfactory conclusion on 26 August, when the Russian delegation blocked agreement on a final outcome document. Yet the challenges facing the NPT lie much deeper than the current tensions over Ukraine. Myriad obstacles to progress on disarmament will ultimately need to be addressed outside of NPT meetings.