News | Sept. 1, 2016

Law of War Considerations In Fielding Nuclear Forces

By Justin Anderson

The status of nuclear weapons within international law was a subject of intense debate during last fall’s UN General Assembly First Committee session. State supporters of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons pressed for resolutions asserting the illegality of nuclear weapons and sought to build support for the near-term negotiation of a global ban on nuclear arsenals.

They were strongly opposed by the five states permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Such clashes are likely to continue and prove intractable, shedding more heat than light on the relationship between the law of war and nuclear forces. The five NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) will continue to view nuclear deterrence as vital to the security of themselves and key allies for the foreseeable future. Inconclusive debates in international forums over the general legality of nuclear weapons obscure a more important question at a time when the NPT nuclear-weapon states are overhauling their nuclear forces and, in the cases of Russia and China, upgrading and diversifying: for those states permitted to possess nuclear weapons, how does the law of war apply to their development, fielding, and deployment of nuclear forces? READ MORE>>