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International platform for disarmament and non-proliferation dialogue, research, and education

Thomas Schelling and Other Prominent Experts Discuss Global Zero

Seminar  • 20 November 2012
VCDNP hosted a seminar to explore the feasability of nuclear weapons abolition, featuring Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling.
Posted: 28 November 2012

On 20 November 2012, the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) hosted a public seminar titled "Stable Nuclear Zero: Feasible, Realistic?" The panel included Nobel Prize Laureate Thomas Schelling, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland; Sverre Lodgaard, Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI); Ambassador Rolf Ekéus, Associated Senior Fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI); and Andreas Persbo, Executive Director of the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC). VCDNP's Executive Director, Elena Sokova, moderated the event.

Thomas Schelling Event at VCDNP

The speakers explored various aspects of the feasibility of a world without nuclear weapons, or "global nuclear zero," and how to ensure the irreversibility of attaining such a goal. Dr. Schelling noted that scholars and analysts have not given enough attention to the possibilities of reconstituting nuclear weapons, should, for instance, a state decide to do so in the face of a major war. He also suggested that straightforward removal of nuclear weapons from today's world might lead to major instabilities. Sverre Lodgaard noted that the world "just above zero" (where only a few nuclear weapons remain) and "just below zero" (where nuclear weapons were eliminated, but the related infrastructure and weapons-grade materials remained available, rather than completely destroyed) would be unstable and called for more extensive verifiable disarmament measures that would prevent reconstitution. Ambassador Ekéus discussed in detail the specific international, regional, and domestic challenges on the path to nuclear disarmament. Mr. Persbo explored the requirements to verify global zero, emphasizing the role the International Atomic Energy Agency could play in that process.

The panel discussion built upon a one-day seminar held at the VCDNP on the previous day, November 19, 2012. The seminar discussed the implications of the issues raised by Dr. Thomas Schelling in his article A World Without Nuclear Weapons? published in the Fall 2009 issue of Daedalus. In that article, Dr. Schelling suggested that "considering how much intellectual effort in the past half-century went into the study of the 'stability' of a nuclear deterrence world, it ought to be worthwhile to examine contingencies in a nuclear-free world to verify that it is superior to a world with (some) nuclear weapons." The seminar addressed, in considerable detail, a wide range of relevant issues, including, but not limited to, the meaning of "global zero," the challenges to reaching and maintaining a world free of nuclear weapons, irreversibility of disarmament, verification requirements, as well as the practical next steps on the path to nuclear disarmament.

Participants in the seminar included Thomas Schelling; Harald Müller, Peace Research Institute Frankfurt; Sverre Lodgaard, NUPI; Rolf Ekéus, SIPRI; Andreas Persbo, VERTIC; Miles Pomper, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies; Patricia Lewis, Chatham House; Manpreet Sethi, Centre for Air Power Studies; Elena Sokova and Nikolai Sokov, VCDNP, among others.

Thomas Schelling event group photo at VCDNP

The workshop and the panel were organized jointly with the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.