10 February 2006 - 12 February 2006

Is Non-Proliferation policy heading for failure?

Chair: Dr Hans Blix

This conference, conducted under a cold blue winter's sky, encountered a classic Ditchley problem:  can imaginative discussion open up any new avenues on a subject which has already taken up many thousands of expert hours and which faces road blocks everywhere? We decided not to look for solutions to particular issues, such as Iran and North Korea, nor to make specific recommendations for the future handling of the international treaties, such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions.  But the conference did try hard to develop an accurate diagnosis of the difficulties, without which, as our Chairman pointed out, you cannot develop the right therapy. At the end we could not claim that we had dispelled all the confusions, but we felt we had taken our collective uncertainty to a higher level of understanding.

Participants were concerned to separate out the different problems which needed addressing and to devise approaches which addressed them accurately and directly. The threat of uncontrolled proliferation was not of the same character in the nuclear field as in the biological and chemical. The spread of WMD capabilities posed different problems from those raised by the current possession of WMD capability by the nuclear weapons states, whether official or unofficial.  And the possession of capabilities by state actors needed to be distinguished from possession by non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups.  The debate went through these stages and then sketched out some thoughts on what needed to be done in the coming period.

In the nuclear field, there was a strong consensus that the international norms which had been established against proliferation were valuable.  They should be maintained and if possible improved upon.  The usefulness and credibility of the NPT, however, as a basis for practical action had declined in recent years, as the poor results from the 2005 NPT Review Conference demonstrated.  Participants ascribed this partly to the failure to develop a balance of rights and obligations between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapon states;  and partly to the reluctance of the five nuclear states to show leadership by example and put the health of the non-proliferation regime ahead of their own national interests.  The perception of uncompromising hypocrisy in this latter respect was regarded in some quarters as a serious constraint on broad international agreement on next steps.  Nevertheless we saw a strong case for promoting further improvements in the international institutional regime.  Mechanisms for preventing proliferation should be made as dynamic as possible and should be targeted at the precise threats which were likely to develop.  This should not exclude asking what might be done to the treaties, as well as with the treaties as they stood.  The linkages between the development of civil nuclear energy and the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation should be more carefully analysed and the civil nuclear industry should be closely involved in the exercise.  Participants felt that the pessimism which resulted from the difficulties surrounding the NPT should not deter governments from more vigorous action in these respects. 

We examined the nature of deterrence.  The notion of deterrence by denial was in trouble, and the limitations of deterrence by punishment were evident.  While every effort was necessary to make it as difficult as possible for the wrong people to acquire the technology, materials and instruments for building nuclear weapons, it was too much to expect in the modern world of easy communication that access could be totally denied.  Deterrence by punishment was not credible if the determination of the proliferating state was strong enough.  Non-state actors were even less likely to be deterred at the nuclear level, because they presented a completely different type of target and conventional responses were the only realistic option.  The conference therefore concluded that there was little to be gained by further examining deterrence doctrine as such.  This did not apply to the formulation of a package of incentives and disincentives for state actors who could be considered potential proliferators, which could be tailored to the circumstances of specific cases. 

There was a good discussion, particularly in the working group concerned, about the motivations for states without a current WMD capability to seek it in the current global climate.  In some cases state security was the primary consideration, either in the form of a perceived existential threat (Israel, India and Pakistan), or because the government concerned could not or would not wish to rely on any outside power for security guarantees.  It was noted that, with the end of the Cold War, the concept of a nuclear security umbrella had become a much narrower one, leaving a number of states wondering whether they should not choose the nuclear option.  In theory though not yet in practice, this might even include the Republic of Korea or Japan, in spite of their close security relationships with the United States.  In other cases (India, Iran) states might have an additional reason for pursuing nuclear weapons capability for the perceived status they conferred.  This perception was partly inspired by the prominence which the original five nuclear weapon states continued to give to nuclear weapons, including to their continued modernisation and development.  The point was made that, while some states might have initially developed nuclear weapons for security, they were unlikely to give them up in the foreseeable future on account of the status they conferred.  As the world order changed, both those that had passed up the opportunity to develop a nuclear weapons capability (Germany, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Ukraine) and those who had not yet entered the field (Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Saudi Arabia) might have to make new calculations if the political context or their regional security concerns developed in an adverse direction.  Participants were clear that they were talking entirely theoretically in reviewing these possibilities.

In the biological and chemical fields, we noted that, though public opinion in a number of countries remained neuralgically aware of the threat of a terrorist WMD attack, the amount of attention being given to the biological and chemical areas was decreasing as it became more apparent that the use of biological and chemical weapons by states was growing increasingly unlikely.  We contrasted this with the growing tendency recently for certain states to use rhetoric that implied the “usability” of nuclear weapons, which, as political disputes and cultural polarisation intensified, was beginning to generate a new sense of global vulnerability.  It was suggested that states with nuclear weapons should exercise more care in this area, in case it increased the incentive for non-nuclear states to acquire other WMD as a deterrent, most probably in a covert way.  We therefore thought that, in the approach to the review later in 2006 of the Biological Weapons Convention, governments should examine whether more operational mechanisms should be devised to ensure that the norms set out in the Convention were respected and implemented.  Such mechanisms should focus on four overlapping circles of substance:  unstable states, the spread of WMD materials, terrorism and international organised crime.  Given the political difficulty of constructing machinery to link these circles together, participants wondered whether the problems could be approached through a fifth and different circle, concerns for international health and the environment.  The independent work and the specific objectives of the World Health Organisation could not be compromised.  But the analogy with the creation of a safe and healthy environment, with the threats coming both from nature and from human activity, might be a valuable way of explaining why all five areas had to be addressed.  We hoped that governments and institutions might look at this concept in greater depth.

The adoption in 2005 of Security Council Resolution 1540 was regarded as an important development.  On the nuclear side, it would not help to resolve the acute cases of state proliferation exemplified by Iran and North Korea.  But energetic implementation of its operational aspects would help to establish obstacles to proliferation which would be valuable into the future.  We saw a need to reconcile SCR 1540 with the provisions of the Biological Weapons Convention, to prevent erosion of the norms embodied in the Convention while at the same time adding effective practical measures against the horizontal spread of biological materials.  In the light of the history of SCR 1373 and the Counter-Terrorism Committee, which had lost momentum over time, considerable intergovernmental energy would need to be injected into the implementation of SCR1540.  The value of preserving the international legitimacy and acceptability of this kind of approach would need to be recognised in the approaches of the major powers in particular, if the regional organisations and states in the developing world were to respond positively. 

The conference consciously avoided a long debate about the options for avoiding a crisis over Iran or North Korea.  We took on board the seriousness of the situation which would emerge if Iran developed a nuclear weapon or massive force had to be used against the country to prevent that.  There were strong views about the unacceptability of a military attack on Iran and about the damage to global relationships which would result from it.  In both cases, many participants felt that there was a good deal of scope left for imaginative diplomacy, possibly set in the context of steps taken to improve the overall health of the non-proliferation regimes and to supply enriched uranium under safeguards to those with credible civil energy needs.  Reversing the downward trend in both the Iran and DPRK cases might partly depend on regional developments and we did not have time to go into those.  But the conference was clear that we had not yet reached the point where we could allow ourselves to relapse into a fatalistic acceptance that further proliferation was bound to occur.  Hence the importance attached to efforts to ensure the successful implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, to revive the Conference on Disarmament and perhaps to eliminate tactical nuclear weapons. 

There was close to a consensus that the P5 should demonstrate that the implementation of Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty was not indefinitely postponed and that the centrality of nuclear weapons in the existing world order could be reduced in a series of steps taken over time.  Not only was this valuable in itself, but it would also bolster the credibility of the role which the UN, and particularly the Security Council, could play in non-proliferation diplomacy.  At present the credibility gap was too great for that to be a realistic prospect.  Nonetheless participants felt that operational agencies such as the IAEA, OPCW and even UNMOVIC could and should be further developed.  There was also scope for the US and other members of the P5 to take forward bilateral and regional diplomacy in order to establish the ground for further serious arms reduction packages. 

In putting an emphasis on the need to continue and if possible enhance the current operational mechanisms for preventing proliferation, the conference recognised the considerable partial achievements of the treaties, conventions and agreements so far.  We made no attempt to declare the glass half full or half empty.  Nevertheless the point came through very clearly that, if it was not clear at present whether or not we were going to succeed with non-proliferation efforts, governments must be called upon to ensure against the worst case scenarios.  There were still plenty of measures to be taken which might in the end, if the politics could also be got right, avoid the collapse of the system.  Without the restraint and the grinding hard work which a positive and forward-looking approach would demand, it would be much more likely that national pre-emptive measures would result.  For all the negative consequences which were apparent from the use of raw force, it could not be assumed that it would never happen.  Participants were all too aware that representatives of Israel and the Arab countries were not present at this discussion, partly as a consequence of Ditchley’s wish not to be diverted into regional political issues.  That did not prevent us from realising that particular disputes still held the possibility of significant deterioration. 

We were fortunate in having such a splendid range of expertise and international perspective at the table for this event.  We owed particular thanks to our Chairman, with his own immense experience to bring to bear, for keeping us in a constructive mind and helping us to focus on the things which could actually prevent the non-proliferation regime from failing.  That the spirit of discussion was so positive and action-oriented was in itself a sign to policy-makers that a great deal can still be achieved in this field by diplomacy and good international cooperation.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression


Chairman:  Dr Hans Blix

Chair, Independent international commission on weapons of mass destruction for the Swedish Government (2003-).  Formerly:  Executive Chairman, UN Monitoring, Verification & Inspection Commission (2000-03).

Ambassador Sergio Duarte

President, Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference (2005).  Formerly:  Ambassador-at-Large of Brazil for Disarmament and Non-proliferation (2002-04);  Ambassador and Representative to UN, Vienna (1999-2002).
Professor Michael Byers

Director, Liu Institute for Global Studies;  Canada Research Chair, Global Politics and International Law, University of British Columbia.  Author.

Colonel F Ronald Cleminson
Formerly:  Senior Advisor on Verification, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada (1982-99);  Member, College of Commissioners, UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (2000).

Professor Dingli Shen

Professor of International Relations, Fudan University, Shanghai;  Executive Dean, Institute of International Studies, Fudan University;  Member, IISS.

Ms Annalisa Giannella

Personal Representative of EU High Representative, Javier Solana, on Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004-)


Mr Camille Grand
Deputy Diplomatic Adviser to the French Minister of Defence (2002-).  Formerly:  Special Adviser on Nuclear Policy.  Strategic Affairs Department, French Ministry of Defence (1999-2002).

Ambassador Rüdiger Luedeking

Deputy Commissioner, Arms Control and Disarmament, Federal Foreign Office, Berlin (2005‑).  Formerly:  Director, Nuclear Arms Control and Non-Proliferation (2001-05).

HE Salman Haidar

Formerly:  High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (1997-98);  Foreign Secretary, Government of India (1995-97).

Dr W Pal S Sidhu
Faculty Member, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (2005-).  Consultant, United Nations Panel of Governmental Experts on Missiles (2001-2002).

Dr Caitríona McLeish

Research Fellow, The Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Warfare Armament and Arms Limitation (2002-).


Ambassador Nobuyasu Abe
Ambassador of Japan to Switzerland (2006-).  Formerly:  Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, UN (2003-06);  Ambassador of Japan to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2001-03).

Ambassador Yukiya Amano
Chair of the Board of Governors, IAEA (2005-);  Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, International Organizations in Vienna and Japan’s Governor on the IAEA’s Board of Governors (2005‑).

Professor Hajime Izumi

Professor of International Relations and Director, Center for Korean Studies, University of Shizuoka, Japan.


Mr Guy Roberts

Deputy Assistant Secretary General, Weapons of Mass Destruction Policy, NATO;  Director, Nuclear Policy Directorate, NATO (2005-).  Formerly:  Principal Director for Negotiations Policy, Office of US Secretary of Defense (2003-05).


Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy

Professor of Nuclear Physics, Political Analyst, Anti-Nuclear Activist, Quaid-e-Azam University, Pakistan.


The Hon Rose Gottemoeller

Director, Carnegie Moscow Center (2006-).  Formerly:  Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (2000-05);  Assistant Secretary for Non-proliferation and National Security, US Department of Energy (1997-2000).

Dr Ian Anthony

Research Director and Head, Non-proliferation and Export Controls Project, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.  Author.

Mr Richard Guthrie

Project Leader, Chemical and Biological Warfare, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2003-).  Formerly:  Producer, The CBW Conventions Bulletin, Harvard Sussex Programme (1992‑2003).

Dr Maurizio Barbeschi

Scientist, Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response, Department of Communicable Disease, WHO.  Formerly:  CBW Inspector, UNMOVIC.

Mr Alexander Likhotal

President and CEO, Green Cross International (1996-).  Formerly:  International and Media Director, The Gorbachev Foundation.

Dr Paul Cornish

Carrington Chair in International Security and Head, International Security Programme, Chatham House (2005-).  Formerly:  Director, Centre for Defence Studies (2002-05).

Ms Chloe Dalton
Principal Researcher on NPT, Iran and the Middle East to the Rt Hon William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Mr Tim Dowse
HM Diplomatic Service (1978-);  Chief of the Assessments Staff, Cabinet Office (2003-).  Formerly:  Head of Counter-Proliferation Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2001-03).

Ms Arminka Helic
Senior Adviser to the Rt Hon William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary (2005-).

Dr David Landsman OBE

HM Diplomatic Service (1989-);  Head, Counter Proliferation Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2003-).  Formerly:  Ambassador to Albania (2001-03).

Mr Iain Mathewson CMG

HM Diplomatic Service (1980-);  Counsellor, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1996-).

Dr Edwina Moreton OBE

Diplomatic Editor and Deputy Foreign Editor, The Economist (1980-).

Mr David Richmond CMG

HM Diplomatic Service (1976-);  Director General, Defence and Intelligence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2004-).  Formerly:  UK Special Representative to Iraq (April-June 2004).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Sir Kevin Tebbit KCB CMG

Formerly:  Permanent Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence (2001-05);  Director, Government Communications Headquarters (1998-2001);  Deputy Under Secretary of State for Defence and Intelligence (1997-98).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO

Chancellor, University of Kent;  Director, Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding.  Formerly:  Chairman, Board, Climate Institute of Washington DC (1990-2002).  A Governor and Member of Council, The Ditchley Foundation.

Miss Priyanjali Malik

DPhil, Merton College, Oxford (2003-).  Formerly:  International Institute for Strategic Studies (2001‑03)

Mr Sam Daws

Executive Director, United Nations Association of the UK.  Formerly:  First Officer, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General, New York.

Ms Melissa Hersh

Political and Technical Officer, Secretariat of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, Department for Disarmament Affairs, United Nations, Geneva (2003-).


Mr Robert Orr
Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations (2004-).  Formerly:  Executive Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (2003-04).

Dr Geoffrey Wiseman

Principal Officer, Strategic Planning Unit, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations

(2006-);  Assistant Professor, University of Southern California (2000-).

Mr Selig S Harrison
Director, Asia Program, Center for International Policy;  Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  Formerly:  Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1974-96).

Mr Michael Levi
Fellow for Science and Technology, Council on Foreign Relations, New York (2006-).  Formerly:  Non-Resident Science Fellow (2004-06), Science and Technology Fellow (2003‑04), The Brookings Institution.

Ms Jami Miscik
Global Head of Sovereign Risk, Lehman Brothers (2004-).  Formerly:  Deputy Director for Intelligence, CIA (2002-04).

Dr Gary Samore
Vice President, Global Security and Sustainability, John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation (2005-).  Formerly:  Director of Studies and Senior Fellow for Non-proliferation, International Institute for Strategic Studies (2001-05).

Dr Lawrence Scheinman
Distinguished Professor, Monterey Institute of International Studies.  Formerly:  Assistant Director, Non-proliferation and Regional Arms Control, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.