Common Security

From the Foundation's 1995 Annual Report


States that possess nuclear weapons cling to them for many reasons. They face historic adversaries with whom they have not reconciled, as with Israel and its neighbors, and India and Pakistan; they perceive nuclear weapons as ultimate protection against potential military threats, as do Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and the United States; they fear giving up the status attached to being a nuclear power; their political leaders are more comfortable retaining past policies and forces than suggesting changes which could be controversial; powerful military and technical establishments cling to nuclear weapons as part of their livelihoods. These, and other explanations for why states maintain nuclear arsenals even after the Cold War, tend to be subsumed under the mantle of "insecurity." Similarly, states that newly seek nuclear weapons usually cite insecurity as the reason.

If insecurity explains a large part of why countries seek and hold on to nuclear weapons, then the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons requires a greater number of states to be more secure. Historically, however, states have sought security in a competitive way, with each one acquiring as much military capability as it could afford in its circumstances. The natural result is the so-called "security dilemma": states in a competitive system arm themselves against fear, seeking greater security; however, each state's arming increases the insecurity of the others, which then respond by increasing their own armaments, making everyone insecure again, this time at a higher level of danger. It is a self-defeating situation because complete security is impossible in an unregulated system. Nuclear weapons were supposed, by some, to allow escape from the security dilemma. Once the minimum nuclear force required to destroy potential adversaries was attained, no additional weaponry would be needed, regardless of what an adversary possessed. Unfortunately, states have not stopped at minimal nuclear forces but have instead largely incorporated nuclear arms into the faulty logic that leads to the security dilemma.

The concept of common security offers a way out of the security dilemma and of the addiction of some states to nuclear weapons. The basic principle of common or cooperative security is that any given state will not be secure unless its neighbors are secure. If our state makes another state insecure, that state's countervailing actions can further undermine our security. The only way out of this paradigm is to cooperate. States must clarify their determination not to resort to aggression to manage conflicting interests. Through negotiations and agreed upon rules of military deployments and operations, states can cooperatively avoid military actions whose ambiguity or hostility would cause an escalation of insecurity and the risk of war. Disputes remain inevitable, but attention to mutual security can enable the creation of norms and of procedures for managing them.

Evolution toward common security offers the most comprehensive way to reduce the incentives for seeking or maintaining nuclear arsenals in confrontational postures. Recognizing this, the Foundation initiated its Common Security Program in 1990 as a means of supporting efforts to create the fundamental conditions for nuclear reductions, controls and eventual dismantlement. The logic of common security ran through the peaceful end of the Cold War and the remarkable build-down of nuclear forces that occurred through the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty of 1987, the START I treaty of 1991, and the START II treaty yet to be ratified by Russia. The logic of common security also informed the Middle East peace process and the agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization and between Israel and Jordan. The precarious 1994 framework agreement between the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea also reflected mutual interests in common security.

1995, unfortunately, brought little progress in the deepening of common security. As the Brookings Institution's John Steinbruner wrote in the fall of 1995:

All the major governments are distracted by domestic preoccupations and infected by the pessimistic public mood. None is advancing a strategic design for a new order. New patterns are nonetheless evolving, and unfortunately the critical political relationships that shape them are in trouble. In particular, Russia and China are being excluded from the more advanced forms of collaboration among the industrial democracies, and both are displaying smoldering resentment. As a practical consequence, all the central legal instruments of international security are in some immediate jeopardy, most notably, the Strategic Arms Reduction (START II) treaty, the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). It is even possible that all could unravel. No government or society would find such a result in its real interest, but timely wisdom is not guaranteed simply by the urgent need for it. 1
Recognizing the extraordinary difficulty of building common security on a global basis, and the absence of leaders so inclined, the Foundation has concentrated much of its work at the regional level, focusing on regions where the risks of nuclear proliferation or conflict are greatest.

Russia and the Newly Independent States

[Map of Russia & NIS]Russia's future and the way in which Russia relates to its closest neighbors and the rest of Europe will largely determine the character of security relations across the continent. If Russia seeks to coerce Ukraine or other neighboring states into a closer embrace than they welcome, tensions will mount, the West will resume an edgier military posture, and the prospects of common security and further nuclear disarmament will recede. The West is not merely a bystander in this process. Russia resents Western proposals to expand NATO eastward toward Russia's borders. At the same time, former Soviet satellites such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic seek Western protection of their autonomy from Moscow. In this complicated environment, Western insensitivity to Russia's need for reassurance could cause a backlash which would aggravate the security dilemmas that made the Cold War such an uneasy period. Nuclear weapons issues would assume renewed importance and danger.

In 1995 the West and Russia danced slowly around these challenges. While relatively little progress toward common security was made, significant regress was avoided. The Foundation made a number of grants aimed primarily at strengthening the capacity of independent Russian scientists, journalists and defense analysts to engender democratic discussion of key security and nuclear-weapon-related issues. Efforts were also made to facilitate direct dialog between Russian military and political leaders and eminent American specialists regarding the fate of the nuclear arms control process.

The Middle East

[Map of Middle East]In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, the Middle East saw major progress in ending the open conflict between the Palestinians, the Arab states and Israel. In late 1994 Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty. This agreement added momentum to Israeli-Syrian talks, perhaps the key to the eventual security of the region. Then came the tragic assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which halted the previous momentum, and in the pause, the enemies of peace regained their initiative. The looming Israeli election process in 1996 increased uncertainty in the region.

From the standpoint of nuclear proliferation, the Persian Gulf also remains a decisive arena. Iran's apparent interest in acquiring nuclear weapons capability and missile technology threatens Israel and the Arab states, particularly those in the Gulf. At the same time, Iran has natural security interests in the Persian Gulf which must be addressed by neighboring states and major outside powers such as the United States. 1995 saw an intensified American effort to isolate and punish Iran with economic pressure, with no effort to address longer-term requirements for including Iran in the formation of a secure Gulf region. Iran, whatever the character of its government, has security needs, especially in relation to Iraq and the United States, which, if not met, will add to the insecurity of its neighbors.

In 1995 the Foundation continued to support several projects to address these issues, including unofficial, Track II diplomatic efforts to engage leading figures in Israel and the Arab states in devising ways to promote and implement regional conciliation, and several projects to assess Iran's military capabilities and intentions, and to explore how security might be improved in the Persian Gulf and the broader Middle East.

Northeast Asia

[Map of Northeast Asia]China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea lie in the center of Northeast Asia, a region of great economic dynamism and political and military ferment. With Russia and the United States as additional major actors in the region, its centrality to the future of global security is clear. Yet Northeast Asia still lacks definition as a region. China, Japan, South and North Korea lack conceptions of regional security. No institutions or processes have been established to further regional cohesiveness and problem-solving. The need for patient, incremental efforts to develop regional outlooks and approaches to security is enormous.

In 1995 the Foundation supported efforts to reduce North Korea's historic isolation from the international community and to augment implementation of the 1994 agreement to manage the nuclear crisis on the peninsula. Recognizing the historic absence of independently minded press coverage of security issues in Asia, the Foundation also supported a major new program to create a network of regional journalists and to provide them with data, materials and training conducive to more detailed and sophisticated reporting.

South Asia

[Map of South Asia]The two largest states in southern Asia—India and Pakistan—contain roughly twenty percent of the world's population. Once one nation, these two states have been beset by conflict since their independent formation in 1947. While involved in a major dispute over Kashmir, the two states have acquired significant nuclear weapon and ballistic missile capabilities. In this volatile environment little progress has been made to normalize relations and promote conditions of security required for each to develop lagging economies. 1995 brought an escalation in military tension as India continued to test an indigenous missile system and Pakistan found it harder to deny reports that it had acquired missiles from China. In December 1995, American newspapers reported satellite detection of apparent Indian preparations to conduct a nuclear test. The ensuing tempest heightened political pressures on weak governments in both countries to display greater military resolve. While both governments quietly maintained their determination to avoid conflict, the climate militated against confidence-building.

The Foundation has continued to place high priority on promoting dialog at all levels among Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and Americans. In addition, the Foundation has supported projects to assay Indian and Pakistani public opinion regarding nuclear policies, and to support future leading journalists, scholars and nongovernmental leaders in their efforts to identify new ways to enable their nations to redress security challenges and proceed with the pressing business of economic and social development and democratic reform.


1 John D. Steinbruner, "Unrealized Promise, Avoidable Trouble," Brookings Review 13.4 (fall 1995): 8.[Return]

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