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Hiroshima for Global Peace

(5) Diminishing the Roles and Significance of Nuclear Weapons in National Security Strategies and Policies

A) The current status of the roles and significance of nuclear weapons

In the latter half of the 2010s, as great power and geopolitical competitions have increased in intensity, nuclear-armed states have reaffirmed the role and significance of their nuclear weapons in national security.

In 2021, the United Kingdom put out a declassified report titled “The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy,” stating an intention to move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads. Meanwhile, as for the operation of SSBNs/SLBMs, the existing posture was generally followed, as shown below:

To ensure that our deterrent is not vulnerable to pre-emptive action by potential adversaries, we will maintain our four submarines so that at least one will always be on a Continuous At Sea Deterrent patrol. Our submarines on patrol are at several days’ notice to fire and, since 1994, we do not target our missiles at any state. We remain committed to maintaining the minimum destructive power needed to guarantee that the UK’s nuclear deterrent remains credible and effective against the full range of state nuclear threats from any direction.

The UK’s nuclear weapons are operationally independent and only the Prime Minister can authorise their use. This ensures that political control is maintained at all times. We would consider using our nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances of self-defence, including the defence of our NATO Allies.139

North Korea continues to advocate its offensive nuclear posture. At the Central Committee of the Party held in the early January, according to the KCNA, Chairman Kim Jong Un “stressed the need for the field of external affairs to adopt the strategy toward the U.S. in a tactical way and steadily expand the solidarity with the anti-imperialist independence forces, noting that the entity of the U.S. and the real intention of its policy toward the DPRK [would] never change, whoever comes into power in the U.S.” He also said that “DPRK, as a responsible nuclear weapons state, would not misapply the nuclear weapon unless the aggressive hostile forces try to use their nuclear against the DPRK.” At the same time, Chairman Kim emphasized that “the strong defence capabilities of the state never precludes diplomacy but serves as a great means that propels toward the correct orientation and guarantees its success.” Furthermore, regarding the importance of North Korea’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons, he argued for the need to “develop tactical nuclear weapons which can be used for various missions according to the purpose of operational duty and target of strike in a modern war,” suggesting his intention to use tactical nuclear weapons in a role other than deterrence.140

No new nuclear policies were announced by the other nuclear-armed states in 2021. However, the United States started the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) process with the inauguration of the new Biden administration, with a view to completing its formulation in early 2022.

Meanwhile, China reiterates that it maintains its existing nuclear policies, stating, “China firmly follows a nuclear strategy of self-defense, supports the ultimate comprehensive prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons, and supports the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free world. Since the very first day when it came into possession of nuclear weapons, China has solemnly declared that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstance, unconditionally committed itself not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones, and always kept its nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for its national security. This policy has never changed and will not change.”141

The U.S. Department of Defense suggested in its annual report on China’s military power that Beijing seemed to be undergoing a change in its nuclear posture as it aggressively modernizes its nuclear forces.142 However, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin emphasized that China’s nuclear policies and posture would not change, and strongly criticized the United States, stating, “The Defense Department report, just like similar reports in the past, disregards facts and is filled with bias. The US is using this report to hype up the “China nuclear threat” theory. But this trick of manipulating rhetoric to confuse public opinion is seen through by the international community.”143 Meanwhile, The Global Times, a daily newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily, argued: “It’s true that China has said it keeps its nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for national security. But the minimum level would change as China’s security situation changes. China has been defined as the top strategic competitor by the US and the US military pressure on China has continued to increase. Therefore, China must quicken the increase of its nuclear deterrence to curb the US strategic impulse. We must build credible nuclear second-strike capability, which needs to be guaranteed by enough nuclear warheads.”144 U.S. experts also analyzed, “The Chinese government is unlikely to officially declare that it is abandoning its minimum deterrence strategy, and its threshold for what constitutes a “minimum” deterrent will likely continue to shift as China expands its nuclear arsenal.”145

In response to a sense of crisis over a perceived increase in the possibility of nuclear weapon use, NNWS at various venues, including the NPT PrepCom and the UNGA First Committee, have repeatedly urged nuclear-armed states to take measures to reduce nuclear risks as well as the role of nuclear weapons in their military doctrines.


B) Commitment to no first use, “sole purpose,” and related doctrines

In 2021, no nuclear-armed state changed or transformed its policy regarding no first use (NFU) or the “sole purpose” of nuclear weapons.

Among the NWS, only China has declared an NFU policy, reaffirming its commitment to this in 2021. China argued: “All nuclear-weapon states should commit to no-first-use of nuclear weapons unconditionally, and conclude international legal instruments in this regard.”146 In addition, China and Russia agreed to extend the bilateral Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, which stipulates, among others, a mutual NFU. While the United States argues that “[t]here is some ambiguity about conditions where Beijing’s NFU policy would no longer apply,”147 China disputed this allegation.

As for the United States, as a presidential candidate in 2020, Biden expressed support for an NFU policy or a policy that “sole purpose” of its nuclear weapons is only to deter nuclear attacks. In December 2021, Under Secretary of State Jenkins said that the Biden administration has been examining its declaratory policy aiming to reduce the roles of its nuclear weapons.148 However, his administration did not indicate a more concrete direction during 2021. In the meantime, U.S. allies including France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Japan and South Korea reportedly lobbied the United States not to adopt such policies, arguing that it would send the wrong message to adversaries and undermine U.S. deterrence.149

As for the other nuclear-armed states, India maintains an NFU policy despite reserving the option of nuclear retaliation vis-à-vis a major biological or chemical attack against it. Meanwhile, Pakistan, which has developed short-range nuclear weapons to counter the “Cold Start doctrine” developed by the Indian Army, does not exclude the possibility of using nuclear weapons first against an opponent’s conventional attack.

North Korean General Secretary Kim Jong Un strongly implied that the possibility of his nation’s first use of nuclear weapons is similarly not ruled out, by stating at the Central Committee of the Party held in the early January, for instance, “[O]ur national defence capabilities are in the level of preemptively containing the hostile forces’ threat outside our territory.”150

C) Negative security assurances

No NWS significantly changed its negative security assurance (NSA) policy in 2021. China is the only NWS that has declared an unconditional NSA for NNWS, while other NWS add some conditionality in their NSA policies.

The United Kingdom and the United States declared they would not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against NNWS that are parties to the NPT and in compliance with their non-proliferation obligations. The U.K.’s additional condition, as stated in its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy is that: “[W]e reserve the right to review this assurance if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological capabilities, or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact, makes it necessary.”151 The United States in its NPR 2018 formulated by the previous Trump administration clarifies as follows: “Given the potential of significant nonnuclear strategic attacks, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of nonnuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat.”152 The Biden administration did not state its policy in 2021.

In 2015, France slightly modified its NSA commitment, which stated that: “France will not use nuclear weapons against states not armed with them that are signatories of the NPT and that respect their international obligations for nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”153 The condition it added in 2015 was that its commitment does not “affect the right to self-defence as enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.”154 Russia maintains a unilateral NSA under which it will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the NNWS parties to the NPT unless it or its allies are invaded or attacked by an NNWS in cooperation with an NWS.

As written in the previous Hiroshima Reports, while one of the purposes of the NSAs provided by NWS to NNWS is to alleviate the imbalance of rights and obligations between NWS and NNWS under the NPT, India, Pakistan and North Korea have also offered NSAs to NNWS. None of these countries significantly changed their NSA policies in 2021. India declared that it would not use nuclear weapons against NNWS, with the exception that “in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.” Pakistan has declared an unconditional NSA. In addition, North Korea has stated an NSA vis-à-vis NNWS so long as they do not join nuclear weapons states in invading or attacking North Korea.

At the 2021 UNGA, a resolution titled “Conclusion of effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons” was adopted. The resolution calls NWS for working “actively towards an early agreement on a common approach” that could result in a legally-binding instrument.155 The voting behavior of countries surveyed in this project on this resolution is as follows:

➢ 126 in favor (Brazil, Chile, China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the UAE and others); 0 against; 59 abstentions (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, South Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and others)

Except under protocols to nuclear-weapon- free zone (NWFZ) treaties, NWS have not provided legally binding NSAs. At various fora, including the NPT review process, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the UNGA First Committee, NNWS, mainly the NAM states, urged NWS to provide legally-binding security assurances. Among NWS, only China argues that the international community should negotiate and conclude, at an early date, an international legal instrument on providing universal, indiscriminative and unconditional NSAs. The other four NWS have been consistently reluctant to pursue their codification.156 In the meantime, Pakistan argued, “A negative security assurances treaty negotiated and concluded in the Conference on Disarmament could prove beneficial on multiple counts, including in the domain of security; non-proliferation; ethical-moral grounds; and restoration of the international confidence in, and revitalisation of the disarmament machinery by ending the Conference’s longstanding impasse.”157

Regarding the discussions on NSAs at the CD, it was reported: “Views differed on three key questions for concluding a multilateral treaty on negative security assurances. The first was who would give the assurance, nuclear weapon States belonging to the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty, or all nuclear armed States. The second was who would be eligible to receive the assurance, or the question of exclusions. The third was where to negotiate the treaty.”158

D) Signing and ratifying the protocols of the treaties on nuclear-weapon-free zones

The protocols to the NWFZ treaties include the provision of legally-binding NSAs. At the time of writing, only the Protocol of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (the Treaty of Tlatelolco) has been ratified by all NWS, as shown in Table 1-6. No new progress regarding additional ratifications by NWS has been made in 2021.


Among others, as for the Protocol to the Southeast Asian NWFZ Treaty, France, as a coordinator of the NWS conference, stated at the UNGA First Committee in October 2021, “The P5 reaffirms its support to the objectives of the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone, and its availability to deepen exchanges with ASEAN member-states pertaining to the Bangkok treaty.”159 Malaysia, on behalf of the ASEAN countries, also said at the First Committee, “We reaffirm our commitment to continuously engage the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and intensify the ongoing efforts of all parties to resolve all outstanding issues in accordance with the objectives and principles of the SEANWFZ Treaty.”160 Furthermore, at the China-ASEAN online summit meeting in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated, “China supports ASEAN’s efforts to build a NWFZ, and is prepared to sign the Protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia NWFZ as early as possible.”161 However, it is not clear how far the discussions and coordination between NWS and states parties to the treaty have progressed.

Some NWS have stated reservations or added interpretations to the protocols of the NWFZ treaties when signing or ratifying them. The NAM and NAC, as well as states parties to the NWFZ treaties, have called for the withdrawal of any related reservations or unilateral interpretative declarations that are incompatible with the object and purpose of such treaties.162 However, it seems unlikely that any of the NWS except China will accept such a request.

E) Relying on extended nuclear deterrence

The United States and its allies, including NATO countries, Australia, Japan and South Korea, have maintained their respective policies on extended nuclear deterrence.163 No significant change in their related policies was found in 2021. Currently, the United States deploys approximately 100 B-61 nuclear gravity bombs in five NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey), and thus maintains nuclear sharing arrangements with them. NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group also supports the U.S.’s extended nuclear deterrence.

In a policy agreement signed at the end of November, Germany’s new coalition government, formed after general elections in September, announced: “We will, at the beginning of the 20th legislative term, procure a successor system for the Tornado fighter jet. We will accompany the procurement and certification process with respect to Germany’s nuclear sharing in an objective and diligent manners.” The coalition’s defense and security policy also states, “As long as nuclear weapons do play a role in NATO’s Strategic Concept, Germany has an interest in participating in strategic discussion and planning processes. Against the background of ongoing threats for Germany’s and Europe’s security we take seriously the concerns of our centre and eastern European partners, remain committed to the maintenance of a credible deterrence potential and want to continue the dialogue efforts of the Alliance.”164 The document also says Germany will work towards “negotiations between the U.S. and Russia on the complete disarmament in the sub-strategic field.”

NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg who has paid close attention to the new German administration’s policies argued in mid-November, “Germany can, of course, decide whether there will be nuclear weapons in your country, but the alternative is that we easily end up with nuclear weapons in other countries in Europe, also to the east of Germany.”165 Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov harshly criticized his statement as “absolutely irresponsible” and “outrageous,” and said, “It’s not just fanning confrontation. It’s an attempt to provoke a hot conflict.”166 In the meantime, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his nation would be ready to host Russian nuclear weapons if NATO moved U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany to Eastern Europe.167

While no U.S. nuclear weapon is deployed outside of American territory, except in the NATO countries mentioned above, the United States has established consultative mechanisms on extended deterrence with Japan (the Extended Deterrence Dialogue) and South Korea (the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee). As for Australia, the AUKUS, a security framework with the United Kingdom and the United States, was established in 2021, and as one of its initiatives, three countries agreed that Australia would acquire nuclear submarines (without loading a nuclear warhead) with the support of the other members.168

On the matter of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements, especially the U.S.’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in five NATO countries, some NNWS criticize this situation as a clear violation of non-proliferation obligations under Article I of the NPT by the transfer by NWS, and under Article II by the recipient NNWS. In February 2021, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov criticized the United States and NATO at the CD: “Our position is that NATO’s continuing practice of “nuclear sharing”, which runs counter to the NPT, is inadmissible. American nuclear weapons must be returned to the territory of the United States, and the foreign infrastructure for its deployment must be dismantled.”169


139 United Kingdom, Global Britain in a Competitive Age, p. 76.
140 “Great Programme for Struggle Leading Korean-style Socialist Construction to Fresh Victory.”
141 “Statement by China,” Clusters I to IV, First Committee, UNGA, October 13, 2021.
142 The U.S. Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2021, p. 92.
143 “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference.”
144 “China’s Nuclear Deterrence Buildup Cannot be Tied Down by the US.”
145 Kristensen and Korda, “China’s Nuclear Missile Silo Expansion.”
146 NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.40, April 26, 2019.
147 The U.S. Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2021, p. 90.
148 Ryohei Takagi, “Nuclear Declaratory Policy Examined As Biden Eyes Curbing Nukes,” Kyodo News, December 26, 2021,
149 See, for instance, Demetri Sevastopulo and Henry Foy, “Allies Lobby Biden to Prevent Shift to ‘No First Use’ of Nuclear Arms,” Financial Times, October 29, 2021,
150 “Great Programme for Struggle Leading Korean-style Socialist Construction to Fresh Victory.”
151 United Kingdom, Global Britain in a Competitive Age.
152 United States, Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, p. 21.
153 NPT/CONF.2015/10.
154 Ibid.
155 A/RES/76/21, December 6, 2021.
156 France stated that it “considers [the] commitment [on security assurances in its statement in April 1995] legally binding, and has so stated.” See, for instance, NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/14, April 25, 2014.
157 UN Geneva, “Conference on Disarmament Holds Thematic Discussion on Negative Security Assurances,” June 8, 2021, ference-disarmament-holds-thematic-discussion-negative.
158 Ibid.
159 “Statement by France as Coordinator of the P5,” General Debate, First Committee, UNGA, October 7, 2021.
160 “Statement by Malaysia on behalf of the ASEAN,” Thematic Debate (1-4), First Committee, UNGA, October 12, 2021.
161 Xi Jinping, “For a Shared Future and Our Common Home,” At the Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations, November 22, 2021, https://www.fmprc.
162 See, for instance, “Statement by the Organization for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (OPANAL),” IAEA General Conference, September 2021.
163 According to the following report, in addition to those countries, Armenia and Belarus are also provided with extended nuclear deterrence by Russia with whom they are allied. Norwegian People’s Aid, Nuclear Weapon Ban Monitor 2020 (Norwegian People’s Aid, 2021), p. 50.
164 Mehr Fortschritt wagen. The English translation of the quoted section is by, inter alia, Berghofer, “With Its First Three-Party Coalition, Where’s Germany’s Defence and Security Policy Heading?”
165 Jens Stoltenberg, “Speech at the German Atlantic Association ‘NATO Talk’ Conference 2021,” November 19, 2021, Secretary-General Stoltenberg also said, “We have no plans of stationing any nuclear weapons in other countries than [those that] already have these nuclear weapons as part of our deterrence and that have been there for many, many years,” “NATO Has No Intention to Deploy Nuclear Weapons to More Countries – Stoltenberg,” Tass, December 2, 2021,
166 “Russia Warns NATO against Moving Nuclear Weapons East,” AP, December 1, 2021, https://
167 Vladimir Isachenkov, “Belarus President Offers to Host Russian Nuclear Weapons,” AP, December 1, 2021, 39ef6f4b.
168 See also Chapter 2 (2) A) of this Hiroshima Report.
169 “Address by Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, to the High Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament.”

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