This policy brief, published by The Royal Society, United Kingdom, examines the role of the scientific community in nuclear arms control and disarmament.
Despite the difficulties in advancing the political aspects of nuclear disarmament, there are opportunities for international cooperation to make progress on the scientific aspects.
In particular, collaborative research projects could help develop the technologies needed to monitor whether signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are complying with their disarmament obligations and could help develop common accountancy standards and formats.
Scientific collaboration is also essential in non-proliferation fields to prevent new instabilities emerging to undermine nuclear disarmament. This includes research into the civilian nuclear fuel cycle and improving the physical security of nuclear materials and facilities.
A network of international disarmament laboratories would enable collaborative research, the authors suggest. It would also facilitate cooperation between nuclear and non-nuclear nations, as well as provide a means for partnerships among governments, industry and academia.
The authors highlight the importance of scientific collaboration for diplomatic purposes, or 'science diplomacy', in the nuclear debate. Scientists often work together beyond national boundaries on common problems and such cooperation would both help build trust between states engaged in nuclear disarmament and prepare the foundations for future negotiations.
To ensure the success of such cooperation, scientists and policymakers must heed the lessons learnt from past collaborations on nuclear disarmament.
In particular, they must ensure transparency about the primary goals of cooperation — are they scientific or political? They must also strive to create equal partnerships, with clear boundaries on areas for discussion and a legal framework to protect participating scientists from wider political dynamics.