Nuclear Disarmament Proposals from 1995 to 2009: A Comparative Chart

Vasileios Savvidis
Jessica Seiler
April 23, 2010

This chart compiles 38 proposals released in the last 15 years and identifies measures and ideas put forward, thus producing schematic summaries and an overall comparison. The research project was designed, undertaken and completed by Vasileios Savvidis and Jessica Seiler.


Since nuclear weapons were first used in 1945, plans for the elimination of these weapons have been drafted and proposed. The stalemate in official negotiations, coming to its apex with the 2005 NPT Review Conference, has ushered in an unprecedented increase in disarmament plans. In the last three years there has been a cascade of proposals, spurred by the Hoover Plan, published in early 2007 by the prominent statesmen George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn.

The objective of the project at hand is to provide a survey of the current debate by serving as a basis for comparison across time, issues and types of actors involved with the numerous proposals on nuclear disarmament. The list neither claims nor aims to be exhaustive. Although the history of disarmament plans precedes the unlimited extension of the NPT in 1995, this cornerstone has fundamentally altered the framework of the disarmament debate. Hence, the following chart only compares current plans from 1995 onwards.

The selection of the proposals that were included in the present database was based on different criteria: on the one hand, included were those plans most widely discussed or which stand out due to their proponents; on the other hand the choice to include certain proposals was also guided by the intention to represent a broader scope of actors and ideas. Therefore, the list contains a variety ranging from detailed global plans [most notably the reports of the Canberra Commission, the WMDC and the Model NWC] to policy recommendations directed at single states, groups of states or regions. Whereas most proposals are comprehensive plans, some are rather concise statements like U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Prague or op-eds by elder statesmen. These cases were included because they constitute important landmarks that spurred the debate and highlighted central issues. Notwithstanding, there should be many more plans and thus we are looking forward to feedback and discussions on how to amend the chart.

View the Chart

View the printable version of the chart (PDF)


The same applies to the list of proposed measures. The elements summarized in the chart were derived from the plans included, but of course no such list can ever be conclusive. And the best one can hope for is that the list of elements will gradually become outdated, or of purely historical value, by revived and successful efforts for global disarmament, leading to the actual implementation of measures now only proposed.

The predominant rationale for disarmament in the proposals listed on the comparative chart is the danger of proliferation, which is followed in prominence by the danger of actual use of nuclear weapons. Arguments that nuclear weapons are immoral or illegal appear in the proposals only once since 2008, while the idea that these weapons are impractical, obsolete or lack military utility is increasingly referred to recently.

The lowest common denominator that almost all plans demand is the reduction of nuclear arsenals. Two other elements are supported by more than 75 percent of the proposals: the ratification and entry into force of the CTBT [only three proposals opted for a more general claim of a nuclear test ban]; and a fissile material production control or ban, which is mostly referred to as FMCT in the 2009 proposals. More than a third of the papers advocate measures which fall under the categories listed in the chart as “decreasing operational status”, “verification”, “transparency in arsenals”, “transparency in fissile materials”, and “diminishing the strategic role of nuclear weapons”.

What appears to be the most controversial issue among the proposals is missile defense: four proposals endorse specifically the ABM treaty, two explicitly reject missile defense systems, four plans recommend a range of measures based on enhanced dialogue and cooperation on the issue and the remaining four proposals addressing it advise to avoid or limit these systems or at least to exercise caution.

In sum, the proposals clearly focus on the pillar of disarmament. Categories which stand out in other clusters of the chart are “safeguards”, “dealing with non-compliance and enforcement issues”, and “addressing conflicts involving nuclear weapon states or the global security environment”, which are covered by about a third of the proposals.

An issue that is remarkable due to its unexpected rareness is the envisaged role of the United Nations. This category is deliberately general, because it encompasses ideas ranging from mentioning the UN as a forum for negotiations to assigning new responsibilities to existing bodies or the creation of new organizational structures. Moreover, it is noteworthy that despite the fact that the majority of proposals were released by private actors, the issue of societal verification, which has been increasingly discussed lately, does not feature more prominently. Furthermore, the role of education, and namely the initiative on Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education, apparently is not yet perceived as an integral part of the disarmament process as it does not appear in proposals.

It goes without saying that not mentioning a certain measure is not necessarily an expression of non-support, but often rather reflects the process of incorporating conflicting positions or the attempt to anticipate opposition and to make the plan commonly acceptable. On this note, addressing an aspect only implicitly or omitting keywords may be a strategy to avoid controversial language. Moreover, short-term measures tend to be superseded in long-term plans. This is one explanation why the prevention of horizontal proliferation and NPT universality seems to be rather neglected categories; in a nuclear-free world, the challenge shifts towards maintaining nuclear zero.

However, the most striking insight is maybe that the wheel of disarmament is not being reinvented, but the drivers are finally gaining momentum.


The authors started working on this project during their internships with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs [UNODA] in Spring/Summer 2009. The authors would like to extend their gratitude to Randy Rydell, Senior Political Affairs Officer at the UNODA, for being an invaluable source of inspiration and good advice. However, it should be stressed that all responsibility falls with the authors, whose views under no circumstances reflect UNODA’s positions or instructions.

The authors would also like to extend their thanks to Dr. William Potter, Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who endorsed and supported the publication of this project by graciously offering to host it on the CNS Web.

About the Authors

Vasileios Savvidis is a graduate student specializing in Nonproliferation Studies and a Graduate Research Assistant at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies [MIIS]. He holds a M.A. in International Law from the Law School of the Aristotle University of Thessalonica, Greece. [Contact by e-mail: vas-sav [at]]

Jessica Seiler is pursuing a M.A. degree in Political Science at the Darmstadt University of Technology, Germany. [Contact by e-mail: jessicaseiler79 [at]]

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