Handling, Production, and Usage of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Diplomacy: An analysis

Samruddhi Patil

Research Intern, Legit


Nuclear weapons have not been used in war since 1945, but the risk of them been utilised in warfare is always high. The proliferation of nuclear weapons has always had a great impact on international politics. The effect of nuclear weapons on the states and their usage has the potential to destabilise the world environment and can influence the balance of power between the states. Overall they are the weapons of mass annihilation. It serves as a bridge for any world war.

However, the consequences of a nuclear war are not only limited to physical but mental, political, environmental, and economical. However, today they have not seen as humanity’s greatest threat but as terrorist cells where states have been adopting harsher techniques and intimidation methods over each other. Nuclear weapons have been helping states to protect themselves as nuclear states are considered the most powerful ones and are feared by everyone.

Significance of Nuclear Diplomacy

One of the main aspects of nuclear diplomacy is its capability to prevent nuclear war and proliferation. It is the power that holds to take effective measures to prevent mass destruction because a war with nuclear weapons can cause the devastation of humanity. We no longer live in a world where a destruction capacity is limited. Nuclear diplomacy has been exercising its right to achieve foreign diplomatic goals. It has been used to form and regulate treaties such as Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and by International Atomic Energy (IAEA). It is the foundation to prevent the world from having a nuclear war. It has proven to be of utmost importance repeatedly, as it is the only instrument to save the world from a nuclear crisis. It has faced many challenges over the years because of the military, economic and political predominance of the powerful nations. However, it is still prevailing to persuade nations to dismantle their nuclear programs, to prevent the development and use of nuclear weapons (Nuclear Diplomacy, 1977). As there is no direct law which prohibits the use of nuclear weapons, nuclear diplomacy can most certainly be called as ‘nuclear law’ (BARZANI, 2013)

The Threat of Nuclear weapons and International Conflict: Cold War

The proliferation of nuclear weapons has always been of extreme importance in international politics. The way nuclear states acquire, behave, and treat nuclear weapons is of high relevance to the international environment. Over the world, the acquisition of nuclear weapons has been a deciding factor for power stability and military dominance. It has changed the characteristics of warfare. Nuclear weapons have been used as a tactic for dealing with opponents for over a decade. Even though all the treaties and conventions have been trying to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, we as of now have around nine countries as nuclear-weapon states(NWS) along with the numerous countries who have been trying to get access and develop their nuclear programmes rapidly. (The Spread of Nuclear Weapons and International Conflict: Does Experience Matter? 2009)

Most scholars, mainly Waltz and Sagan, have stated the unique quality of nuclear weapons to make significant changes in a country’s policies and benefits (Sagan, 1995) Another effect of nuclear weapons on international politics suggests the influence it has on the international dispute and on determining whether or not a conflict would escalate. (Simon, 1999) According to Waltz, the risk of nuclear escalation exceeds the uncertainty generated by nuclear acquisition, making the post-proliferation conflicts fewer possibilities. It is evident that states will gain experience with nuclear weapons, and that will have complicated implications as nuclear escalation comes with tremendous risks. The spread of nuclear weapons has certainly increased the confidence among states and possibilities to have an international conflict with potential opponents. With every new state of acquiring nuclear weapons, comes the risk of nuclear war, its national strategy, and the rising capabilities of the state.

Cold War

Nuclear weapons and cold war are so interrelated that it is difficult to disentangle the two. Origin of the nuclear age began before the Cold War. The choice of using an atomic bomb has always been unclear and a matter of controversy. After WWII, it was up to national governments to decide the future for nuclear weapons rather than international organisations. It was observed that the United States escalated it's nuclear built up after the relations with the Soviet Union have deteriorated. Following Truman authorised a National Security Council paper (NSC 30) which stated that the United States is ready to “utilise promptly and effectively all appropriate means available, including atomic weapons, in the interest of national security and must therefore plan accordingly.” (1948) As the relations between the Soviet Union and the western world grew worse, the atomic approach became more critical, and the anticipation for another world war increased (Holloway, 2010).

The Cold War increased the pressure and influenced the peace movements and public opinion. What would have happened to both the countries and the world otherwise, is very uncertain to predict. Although the cold war has ended, the risk of exchange of nuclear weapons between the countries still prevails. The sanction of nuclear weapons has always been a threat, and the security of nuclear weapons will always be a human issue-at all levels.

The spread of Nuclear Weapons and world peace

Every nation has been in need of nuclear weapons for one or many reasons. After the devastating world war, it was not surprising why the superpowers developed atomic, and hydrogen bombs as one of the main reasons were for the self-defence system. Every nation wanted to build the factor of fear among all the nations for survival. America and the Soviet Union were among the first ones to become a nuclear power. As soon their relation started showing the sign of distress, West Europeans began to worry as America’s nuclear umbrella no longer would protect its allies if might be needed. That gave the world more nuclear nations such as France and the United Kingdom. Later it was observed that the countries without nuclear allies felt the necessity to acquire nuclear weapons, so China and India became nuclear powers, where Pakistan followed the same. Many countries that felt the need for strength and security, adopted the way of nuclear power such as Israel, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. As newer countries started to gain nuclear status, the dealings and relations between them became more cautious. China’s nuclear forces neither prevented American Chinese rapprochement nor prompted it later. India’s nuclear status neither improved nor worsened the relations with America. In International politics, the United States and the Soviet Union have always been the ones to stop the spread of nuclear weapons as they did from Pakistan to South Korea and Iraq, but it was very apparent that every country who have achieved nuclear status or was on the verge of doing so, from Britain onwards. (Waltz, 1981)

In a world where countries felt weak, they seek protection from the strong, but the nuclear power of Britain and France influenced their alliances without having to be dependant on the United States. In the end, the spread of nuclear weapons in the world changed the relations between the alliances without breaking them apart.

The legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons

In 1994, the UN General Assembly requested the International Court of Justice to give an advisory opinion on whether the possession of nuclear weapons by a sovereign state is permissible under international law. In July 1996, ICJ passed an opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons Case. The court challenged the use of nuclear weapons as it was against the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, the court did consider the aspect of self-defence and was unable to conclude the use of weapons to be lawful or not. While the implication of this landmark international judgement, it was stated that International law gives a nation, freedom of choice which is limited to certain rules and there cannot be any presumption on the restriction of sovereign states. By stating this, the court decided to overlook the matter altogether and mentioned to all states to agree or at least not question that their autonomy to act was limited by all the principles and practices of International Law. (Parashar, 2016)

Another perspective towards this issue was of self-defence. As the court critically examined article 52 and article 42 of the United Nations Security Council which relates to the right of a state to act in self-defence in case of armed conflict. The court further accepted the fundamentals attached to self-defence as a way of Customary International law. The ICJ also considered the existence of nuclear weapons for pursing in good faith, which was later made clear by stating that humanitarian laws do not prohibit the use of nuclear weapons, but they certainly do seek the protection of civilians. So, the International Court of Justice not necessarily evaluated the question but rather gave an inconclusive opinion on the matter. Still, the constructive and normative approach towards the legality of the weapons can be viewed as a progressive step to restrict the nations and to determine the nuclear weapons under the limitations of International Law.

International Organisations on the existence of Nuclear Weapons

The International Committee of Red Cross declared nuclear weapons as the most terrifying weapons ever invented. As there was no way to control the radioactive fallout and to know how long it may last. The very existence was identified as a threat to future generations, and humanity. In 2007, The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons(ICAN) was created as a global civil society to promote and work towards full implementation of The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It has around 468 partner organisations in 101 countries. It has supported resolutions to launch negotiations, has had campaigns all over the world, and has pledged to all the countries to eliminate the use of nuclear weapons.

UN General Assembly

United Nations have taken remarkable measures to eliminate the use of nuclear weapons through agreements, conventions, and having assembly meetings. They have repeatedly expressed their concern about the nations frequently developing their nuclear programmes. As UN Member states were saddened by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran developing nuclear weapons and despite proposals, they have been reluctant to limit their nuclear programmes. (Goldring, 2013) United Nations also shifted their attention to human rights and humanitarian standards by adopting the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. (International Court of Justice, 1996)

UN Security Council

UN Security Council mainly had the responsibility to ensure and preserve international peace, but they have not taken any measure to formulate any specific nuclear law to eliminate the use of nuclear weapons. The major reason behind this is the members of the UN Security Council who are in favour of possession of it and lack of consensus among members. Nevertheless, they have implemented few treaties such as NPT, but they are not able to prevent the states from having their nuclear programmes such as North Korea did (United Nations News, 2018) Iran followed the footsteps of North Korea and developed its nuclear programmes as well, even though Security Council Resolution 2231 "called upon" Iran not to "undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology" (BBC News, 2019)

Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

Up until now, we have acknowledged the threat of nuclear weapons and its consequences. Nevertheless, what made the world and especially the United States to make an International Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weaponry Agreement was the world power that can be achieved by the acquisition of nuclear weapons. One of the foremost reasons why nuclear weapons are empowering is, that who acquires them has a fated advantage over other nations. As it has lead to U.S. military intervention in Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq. As more countries started acquiring nuclear power, the empowering factor that it holds increases rapidly. However, when in 1964, China asserted to be a nuclear power, the world powers felt a desperate need to formulate a treaty.

NPT had two main purposes, one to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons and second, to encourage the peaceful use of nuclear energy. NPT came into force in 1970. It was one of the greatest efforts to prevent states from acquiring a nuclear status, and therefore numerous efforts were made to reduce the production capability of nuclear weapons and to strengthen the verification measures. The members formally pledged not to uphold a nuclear programme so that the treaty can be said to be legally binding. As when South Africa signed NPT, it reflected in the probability of African Congress to take power over the clandestine nuclear projects. However, NPT was not a successful attempt; it was heavily criticised and was vaguely constructed. Later, it was seen that it proved to be beneficial not to be a signatory as fake allegations were made by superpowers and where some countries even were able to enhance their nuclear capabilities while being a part of the treaty such as North Korea and Iran.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

It is an international organisation, responsible for ensuring the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It was established in 1957 and reported to the UN General Assembly as well as the UN Security Council. Its only aim is to help states develop their programmes for peaceful and neutral purposes. It has the power to verify and inspect nuclear facilities in every nation and largely responsible for world nuclear diplomacy. It plays a major role in NPT as well, where it repeatedly provides an opportunity to develop nuclear energy, has its safeguard agreements, and has the authority to inspect or install in locations away from nuclear facilities to examine non-proliferation commitments of the NPT member states.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT): A treaty banning Nuclear Weapons

Comprehensive Nuclear Treaty Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans nuclear weapon explosions anywhere and everywhere in the world. It has been described as the “longest sought and hardest fought for arms control treaty in history” when it was opened in 1996. The treaty requires all the nations “not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.” Under the international community, CTBT is considered as an essential step towards nuclear disarmament and is intended to stop the nuclear explosions all together for military or civil purposes. It is seen as a last barrier for the nations to develop nuclear weapons. Although, CTBT has still not come into force as its existence and capability are highly questioned, and in reality, global politics plays a much, more significant role than this treaty. Many countries refuse to sign the treaty, and one of them was India, it had its objections toward CTBT and considered utterly important to be a nuclear state for security purposes and stated the treaty discriminatory as it hugely favoured the big five nuclear nations. Republicans first predicted the failure of CTBT. However, after the treaty was opened for signature, three countries have conducted a nuclear test- India, and Pakistan in 1998 and North Korea in 2003, 2009, 2013.


The possession of nuclear weapons has always impacted the capability and to resolve the nations in crisis. However, it is a need of an hour, to have laws against nuclear weapons and to have a non-proliferation regime. Although nuclear diplomacy has always been a force to prevent states from using nuclear weapons just as a nuclear law would have. However, the world must take strong measures in preventing the development and usage of nuclear weapons because their mere existence increases the probability of their use. It is entirely capable of the destruction of world peace and to end humanity. There are also many drawbacks for states to have nuclear weapons as the nations who possess nuclear weapons are most likely seen to be interfering with the internal affairs of other states. It has worsened the relations between the countries such as the United States, Russia, North Korea have always been threatening the middle east. Moreover, why we need strong non-proliferation laws is because having control over nuclear weapons is tough and challenging. It may lead to triggering regional disputes such as one of the main reasons why India and Pakistan led to nuclear weapons is because of the Kashmir region.

So far, nuclear diplomacy is the only means of trying to promote an atmosphere of mutual understanding and persuade nations to terminate their nuclear programmes. Most importantly, it has been taking over the necessary steps for decades such as the establishment of Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT), International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) to prohibit and impose measures on the states acquiring nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, it has not always been a success, as it has failed to prevent countries from acquiring nuclear states such as North Korea, India. So, we need the international community and every nation to come together to formulate a nuclear law, because it is an appropriate choice for humanity.


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