Panel explores motives for nuclear proliferation

Some state leaders view nuclear weapons as an "icon of power" and believe that non-proliferation efforts would diminish their political standing in the world, according to a panel discussion held in New York on Oct. 16.

"If states see nuclear weapons not as weapons but as powerful political symbols that confer enormous status and influence, and that (nuclear weapons) are not particularly dangerous because they will never be used, that will put intense pressure on them to acquire nuclear weapons," British American Security Information Council Senior Fellow Ward Wilson said.

To counteract that mindset, Ward suggested, other world leaders could de-emphasize nuclear weapons in policy statements and not keep nuclear arsenals on constant alert to convey a commitment to eventual denuclearization.

Stimson Center Co-Founder Barry Blechman agreed that some state leaders view nuclear weapons as a political statement of military strength; however, he added that national security remains one of the main catalysts for nuclear proliferation.

U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane, meanwhile, commended Wilson for his viewpoint and said it would be beneficial to explore whether nuclear proliferation is grounded in the mere existence of nuclear weapons.

"The problem is an apparent lack of learning and adaptation," Kane said. "We require new thinking about nuclear weapons. We seem to have fallen into the thrall of ideas that hold us frozen in place. Only if we break free of those bonds can we take the actions that are needed.

The panel was sponsored by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs at U.N. headquarters in New York.