Proposal for a (partial) nuclear disarmament treaty

... that eliminates the near-term possibility of mankind destroying civilisation through thermonuclear war.

As of today, only the United States of America and the Russian Federation possess enough nuclear munitions to ruin mankind. They couldn't wipe out mankind even if they tried, but they could crash civilisation world-wide.
  • The United Kingdom, French Republic, People's Republic of China, Republic of India, Pakistan and Israel possess enough thermonuclear munitions to ruin a single large country, though some of them couldn't do so beyond their region.
  • The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has few nuclear munitions, likely those are at most 30 kt TNTeq yield munitions.
  • The Republic of Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Republic of South Africa once possessed nuclear warheads and gave them up peacefully.
There's a stark difference between the very large American and Russian arsenals and the obviously sufficient smaller arsenals, which provide nuclear deterrence at much lower cost and despite the consequences of failure of deterrence would be much less catastrophic. The two very large arsenals are remnants of the Cold War, and their very size makes certain cost-saving methods of nuclear deterrence impractical because the wealth in warheads would enable a disarming first strike. Smaller inventories would not be able to take out all ballistic missile submarines in the Great Lakes or Caspian Sea for want of power, and would thus make disarming first strikes practically impossible.

My proposal is thus to turn develop and pass a nuclear munitions limitation and cooperation treaty:

A uniform warhead design of relatively modest and variable yield would be developed and tested once (with UNGC approval) and all existing nuclear powers except North Korea would be limited to a certain quantity of warheads, preferably USA and Russia each 200 and all others at most 100, but no more than they have now. Only North Korea would be excluded from the entire treaty and be stuck with its even smaller arsenal.

A warhead of 100 kt TNTeq or more yield is what people commonly think of when they think of the great power's nuclear weapons. Most people would be surprised at how small the lethal radius of a 10-20 kt warhead is against troops in typical dispersion or how small the effects would be on a city. You can do your own calculations here if you doubt me on this.

The strategic deterrence could thus be achieved by a ~100 kt TNTeq warhead, which could have a variable yield, allowing for an alternative 5-10 kt yield for "tactical employment" at a short distance from friendly troops or to knock out air power on an international airport without massacring most people in a city right next to it.

The risks associated with handling and transportation (accidents) would be reduced by using a uranium 235-only pit for the first (implosion) stage. U-235 is somewhat less hellish than Pu-239.

The fallout could be limited by using a two-stage thermonuclear warhead design with 95% or more fusion share of output. The first stage might be boosted to reduce the fallout further. A doctrine of employment at altitude (with fireball not touching the ground) would also reduce the fallout while retaining if not improving the ability to destroy the target compared to a low altitude or ground level detonation.

Every warhead would be "locked" by a suitably long and real passcode, which would need to be stored at a distance and be part of the launch code (launch code = encrypted target coordinates and passcode). The codes would only be known at highest levels, but encrypted files would be stored at many lower commands, requiring the combination of any three such files to create one file with the real passcode list so a decapitation strike would be discouraged.

Said warhead would be suitable for many forms of delivery
  • free-falling bomb
  • cruise missile (air/sea/ground launch)
  • ballistic missile (air/sea/ground launch)
Finally, to further discourage an attempt at a disarming first strike, both a warhead storage container and a decoy container would be developed that could not possibly distinguished without opening (breaking a seal & raising an alarm system). Thus thousands of decoys could be stored along 100 real things in hundreds of locations and nobody would know which is which until an order to open the containers in war or crisis. No list would need to exist that enables to determine where the real warheads are. A disarming strike would need to be able to destroy hundreds of dispersed locations (mostly military bases) with less than 200 warheads - which would be impossible.

An exception may be the standoff between India and Pakistan: The unified warhead design might actually equal an increase in capabilities if Pakistan's and India's nuclear warheads are actually less monstrous than the proposed unified warhead. In this case the quantity could be reduced or these two countries could be exempt from the unified warhead design. The 'cleanliness' of the unified warhead design means that a simple kiloton rating comparison would not suffice in this case, though.

- - - - -

Russia and the United States could deploy each 100 warheads in conventionally-powered submarines*
  • in the Great Lakes (Trident IID-5 missile with one warhead + 7 decoy MIRVs) and 
  • in the Caspian Sea. (R-39RMU missile with one warhead + 7 decoy MIRVs).
Both would keep 100 warheads in dispersed storage containers for use in various delivery munitions, along with 1,000+ decoy containers.

The other nuclear powers (save for North Korea) would store essentially swap out their existing warhead inventories with the new 100 kt warheads and discourage first strikes as without the treaty. The UK and France would mount each one warhead on each one of their SLBMs, for example (France: 4 Triomphant SSBN with 16 SLBM each and UK: 4 Vanguard SSBN with 16 SLBM each, other warheads stored on land for free-falling bombs and in France's case also in ASMP-A).

The plutonium and uranium from disassembled nuclear munitions that wouldn't be needed to create the unified warheads would be diluted and be turned into nuclear fuel.

A proper surveillance and verification regime would be set up and executed by the IAEA.

- - - - -

The steps forward from the status quo would be
  • no threat of global civilisation-breaking thermonuclear war
  • much reduced expenses particularly in the U.S. and Russia
  • much reduced nuclear fallout in the event of thermonuclear war
  • reduced risks from accidents with nuclear munitions

Meanwhile, nuclear munitions would still
  • act as deterrence through their ability to destroy a society (for example by de facto destruction of all cities of any great power if the attacker has that long reach at all as of today)
  • act as a deterrence against attempts at "conventional-only" wars of aggression by retaining the ability to destroy entire formations of land forces as well as entire airbases
- - - - -

This kind of treaty would meet the NPT's requirement of working towards a nuclear disarmament. It would not eliminate nuclear arms entirely, but greatly reduce the damage possible in worst case thermonuclear wars. 

The time to  commence talks for (partial) nuclear disarmament is now. We should not wait till conflicts heat up to another Cold War for real and  one or two near-thermonuclear war crisis situations convince the politicians to work towards (partial) disarmament again, as happened in the 80's after the Able Archer 83 near-disaster.

A second step after this treaty could be to move towards total nuclear disarmament, but that's a MUCH larger leap because of the in my opinion well-justified (though not necessarily correct) fear that we NEED nuclear deterrence to keep the peace between the great powers.



P.S.: I know this is a distasteful topic; no pacifist wants to look like a proponent of nuclear arms, an the proposal would require a development, production and testing of a new warhead. Some might even argue that such a "cleaner" warhead would lower the threshold for its use (though a 100 kt TNTeq explosion is still terrible). Radical pacifists will think that partial disarmament is not orthodox enough. Yet some distasteful activities - such as sewage cleaning - simply have to be done for the society's good, and I think new proposals for a partial nuclear disarmament are overdue. The more such proposals pop up and the more public discourse there is on this topic the more politicians will sense that the time is ripe for getting rid of thousands of nuclear warheads - even if hundreds will remain.

*: It's possible to store the missiles in silos extending into the fin as shown in this speculative article. A row of 10 such silos in a long fin should be possible. The submarines need to be shock-hardened with a tough pressure hull and have robust radio message reception abilities, but they need no normal combat system or any silencing in those inland waters. The quick launch procedure could be done after surfacing. Submersibles (with some cheap long endurance air independent propulsion such as closed cycle diesel engines) are preferable to surface craft because of the possibility to track & identify surface craft with satellites. Cheap snorkeling could be used regularly, with all-AIP operation used in crisis or wartime. A slow cruise speed of about 4 kts and resting on the bottom of the sea for days or weeks would eliminate the wave patterns and other signatures that could be discernible by satellites.

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