The global nuclear order is under strain – Global Nuclear Order: A Historical Perspective and Current Challenges | 3 January 2024 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • The article provides a comprehensive analysis of the global nuclear order (GNO)'s historical formation, successes, and challenges while highlighting the evolving geopolitical tensions shaping contemporary nuclear dynamics.


  • GS2: Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests


  • The global nuclear order (GNO) is a framework that encompasses nuclear deterrence, arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament.
  • The global nuclear order (GNO) faces challenges impacting its legitimacy and stability. The article examines its origins, the Cold War lessons, and the present-day geopolitical shifts affecting nuclear powers' dynamics.
  • The Global Nuclear Order (GNO) refers to the complex system of norms, institutions, and agreements that govern the possession, use, and spread of nuclear weapons.  It's a precarious framework, aiming to manage the most destructive technology ever created while preventing catastrophe.
  • Key elements of GNO:
    • Nuclear Deterrence: Maintaining a balance of power between nuclear-armed states (US, Russia, France, UK, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea) through mutually assured destruction (MAD).
    • Arms Control: Treaties and agreements like New START limit the number of weapons and enhance transparency.
    • Non-proliferation: Treaties like the NPT aim to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states.
    • Disarmament: International and national efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals.
  • Challenges to GNO:
    • Erosion of Arms Control: Lapsing treaties, accusations of cheating, and rising tensions strain GNO stability.
    • Nuclear Proliferation Concerns: Countries like North Korea and Iran raise fears of a domino effect.
    • Geopolitical Shifts: New actors and rising rivalries challenge existing power dynamics.
    • Technological Advancements: Hypersonic weapons and cyber threats introduce new risks.
  • GNO is not static. It constantly evolves to adapt to changing realities. Whether this order can ultimately prevent nuclear catastrophe or succumb to its own contradictions remains a crucial question for humanity.


  • The global nuclear order (GNO) historically rested on convergence among major powers and a presentation of outcomes as global public goods. However, the current state of the GNO faces strain due to evolving geopolitical dynamics and challenges to established norms.
  • Lessons of the Cold War:
    • The GNO was established during the Cold War, with the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. leading the western and the Socialist blocs, respectively.
    • The Cuban Missile Crisis led to the realization that bilateral mechanisms were needed to prevent nuclear escalation, resulting in the creation of the GNO.
  • Successes and Challenges of the GNO:
    • The GNO achieved success in maintaining a taboo against nuclear weapons and limiting proliferation.
    • However, arms control efforts had mixed results, with periods of escalating arsenals followed by significant reductions post-Cold War, while maintaining strategic stability based on the concept of assured second-strike capability.
  • Changing Geopolitics:
    • The GNO, which was initially a product of the bipolar world, is now facing challenges due to changing geopolitics.
    • The U.S. is now contending with a more assertive China, and the treaties between the U.S. and Russia are under strain.
    • Withdrawals from key treaties, stalled verification meetings, and escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia have reshaped the landscape of strategic stability talks, raising concerns about nuclear testing and the roles of nuclear weapons.
    • The erosion of arms control regimes and the resurgence of nuclear concerns due to geopolitical tensions are putting the GNO under increasing pressure.
  • Evolution of Nuclear Policy:
    • The U.S.'s historical pragmatic approach towards nuclear proliferation, as evidenced by instances like Israel's nuclear program and the AUKUS deal, has impacted the perception of non-proliferation efforts.
    • Additionally, shifts in regional dynamics, such as South Korea's contemplation of nuclear deterrents and Japan's potential reevaluation of anti-nuclear sentiments, underscore evolving stances toward nuclear capabilities.
  • Implications and Future Considerations:
    • The GNO's strain has implications for extended deterrence guarantees provided by nuclear powers, potentially prompting allies like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan to explore independent nuclear deterrent capabilities.
    • The evolving geopolitical landscape may lead to reconsiderations regarding the effectiveness of existing alliances and the necessity of alternative strategies in handling global rivalries.

Way Forward:

  • The GNO, which was established during the Cold War, has been a cornerstone of global security for decades. However, the evolving geopolitical landscape and the erosion of arms control regimes are posing significant challenges to the GNO. Addressing these challenges and revising the GNO to align with the current global dynamics will be essential in maintaining global nuclear stability and security.

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