IMAGINE we are living in the year 2030. New seismic activity indicates an underground nuclear explosion somewhere near the Arctic circle.

One more country announces it's joining the once-exclusive club of nuclear weapon states that has now grown to 20 nations - more than double the number in 2020.

The trouble started in 2023, when a group of former allies of the United States renounced their adherence to the Nuclear nonproliferation Treaty and opted to acquire the very nuclear weapons capabilities that they forswore decades earlier.

Since then, the nations cross the world had raced to acquire the bomb, and the global security situation had become increasingly precarious. Sooner or later, as centers of nuclear decision making multiplied. one of those weapons was bound to go off, with consequences incalculable for all.

A far-fetched future? Perhaps. The nonproliferation treaty entered into force 50 years ago, on March 5, 1970. At the time, only five nations - the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Britain and France - were recognized as nuclear weapon states.

Just four more countries - India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea - have since acquired the bomb. And, yet, this scenario is mare plausible now than many may think.

To understand why, we need to go back to 1963, when President John F. Kennedy warned of a  ''world in which 15 or 20 or 25 nations may have these weapons.'' Kennedy expressed the widely held belief that further proliferation was likely, if not inevitable.

Every nation that possessed the capability to build a bomb had done so and American officials worried that the trend was about to accelerate.

That didn't happen. Having stood at the brink of Nuclear War during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union redoubled efforts to stabilize their nuclear relationship and prevent other states from crossing the nuclear threshold.

The nonproliferation treat was one result of those efforts. Under the treaty, states that didn't have nuclear weapons pledged not to develop or acquire them, while those that did committed to eventual nuclear disarmament.

But it wasn't just the US-Soviet arms control negotiations that turned the proliferation tide in the 1960s. Even more important was Washington's determination to assure its allies in Europe and Asia that they could rely on America for their nuclear security.

Only after they were convinced that the American nuclear guarantee was credible, did allies like Germany and Japan decide to forego a national nuclear option and join the nonproliferation treaty.

Whenever new developments seemed to call the American guarantee into question - as when a new generation of Soviet medium-range missiles were deployed in Europe in the 1970s and when North Korea expanded its nuclear and missile programs in the 1990s and 2000s - Washington worked to reassure its allies that it's nuclear commitment remained strong and credible. 

In recent years, new questions about the credibility of the American nuclear guarantee have returned. One reason is the changing strategic environment.

In Europe, a more adventurous and better-armed Russia no longer shies away from using military force., as its invasion of Ukraine and the support for Assad regime have underscored.

In Asia, China's rapid rise has expanded its military reach throughput the Asia-Pacific and North Korea has emerged as a potent foe, armed with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that threaten the entire region.

The honor and serving of the Latest Global Operational Research on State of the World, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Ivo Daalder.


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