Transparency as a Prerequisite of Arms Control

More progress in nuclear arms control and disarmament will be strongly dependent on an increase of nuclear transparency. Next steps that might affect nuclear warheads and the disposition of nuclear materials will be the more convincing the more credible their verification is. However, much of the information on nuclear warheads and fissile materials that will be needed in verification is still shrouded in secrecy in several nuclear weapon states and weapon possessing states. Examples of possible next steps that would be facilitated by more nuclear weapon related transparency are verification of warhead dismantlement, disarmament of tactical nuclear weapons, a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), projects and treaties on the disposition of excess weapons plutonium, and its verification, projects and treaties on assistance for improving the security of fissile materials in Russia and further reforms of international safeguards, especially in case some of them will also be implemented in nuclear weapon states (NWS).

There can be several motives for secrecy, secrecy as nonproliferation measure, secrecy for national security, secrecy as status, secrecy because of democratic deficiencies, and secrecy because of rejection of the NPT.

Nuclear arms control will be the more successful the higher the transparency is. On the other hand, proliferation dangers must be avoided, e.g. the first of the above listed reason for secrecy is legitimate and an important obligation. Also, some security concerns of the owning state must be accepted. Transparency therefore has a legitimate limit. However, since security concerns of a state are always interpreted subjectively, it is unclear where this limit should be placed, e.g. where the boundary between justified and unnecessary secrecy should reasonably lie.

The project intends to compare the degree of transparency and opaqueness in the U.S., Russia, UK, France, China, and India. It thereby focuses on technical information related to nuclear weapons that is relevant for nuclear arms control verification. It also intends to investigate the different motives for secrecy in these countries and to derive an assessment of prospects for future changes.

How the project will address the issue:

In a first step, technical information that is relevant for nuclear disarmament and nuclear arms control verification is identified. It will be used to depict an own reference demarcation line between openness and secrecy. Use will be made of published technical nuclear arms control literature, published declassification and export control lists, and the expertise of the researchers.

Field studies in the countries under investigation shall be conducted by additional researchers. The participants should depict a demarcation line between open and secret information in their country, as far as this is possible. They also shall find out which changes in secrecy policies can be observed and whether the demarcation line between classified and declassified information is shifting. An important part of their work shall be devoted to an analysis of the political motives and driving forces of classification and declassification policies. Their research methods will be studying published nuclear arms control literature and government publications of the respective country and interviews of government officials and nuclear weapon scientists. Two conferences with all study participants and some additional experts will take place. Finally, the results will be comparatively analysed. The comparative analysis and the country studies will be published in a book. A shortened version will be published as PRIF-Report.

The project language is English.

Funding: The Project was funded by the McArthur Foundation in 2003 and 2004

Project director:
  • Franceschini, Giorgio
Looking for a Demarcation between Nuclear Transparency and Nuclear Secrecy | 2004

Annette Schaper, Looking for a Demarcation between Nuclear Transparency and Nuclear Secrecy, PRIF Report No. 68, Frankfurt/M., 2004.

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