Nuclear Responsibility Framework -Shaza Arif

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The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) and the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security (ICCS), University of Birmingham, launched the ‘Nuclear Responsibility Toolkit’ in 2022. Co-authored by Sebastian Brixey-Williams, Nicholas J. Wheeler, and Alice Spilman, the toolkit offers a new and structured way to think, talk and write about nuclear responsibilities. The concept of nuclear responsibilities encompasses activities and policies around nuclear weapons and is usually debated and discussed at state/government level, However, the toolkit  aims to broaden the debate and discuss its scope and applicability at national, regional, and international level.

The toolkit makes three core contributions:

  1. A new policy exploration tool called the Responsibilities Framework.
  2. A model three-stage process for dialogue on nuclear responsibilities.
  3. Advice and inspiration for research and writing on nuclear responsibilities.

Each of the abovementioned factors is interconnected with the other, but they can also be looked at individually. However, the most interesting aspect of this toolkit is that it is not solely designed for nuclear experts. It can be used by government ministers, national policy officials, scholars, researchers, and the civil society, to have deeper insights about how different members of society perceive nuclear issues and responsibilities.

The most useful part of the toolkit is the Responsibilities Framework which can be used in interactive workshops with the help of one facilitator to help guide the process but not influence the discussion. The participants could be from any field contributing to the discussion in their own way, based on their previous observations, knowledge or expertise. Participants of the workshops could be future facilitators who may conduct the workshops in their own networks/organisations to continue the discourse.

The framework can also be used to review nuclear responsibilities of another nuclear weapon state or even a non-nuclear state, given that the latter also holds certain nuclear responsibilities if it uses nuclear power in the civilian sector. The ultimate goal is to assess what characterises ‘nuclear responsibility’ under any state/actor. The framework aims to deconstruct the debate around nuclear responsibilities and shift the conversation away from focusing on which actor is considered responsible and to understand the varying underlying viewpoints vis-à-vis nuclear responsibilities.

For ease, the toolkit can be divided into three sections. The first section probes the nature of responsibilities. The questions are linked to one another and help draw connections between nuclear responsibilities, to whom the responsibilities are entitled, and the source of the respective responsibility. The second section explores the existing policies and practices in fulfilling the identified responsibilities. It assesses how different responsibilities are reflected in the policies and practices of a state. It then aims to determine the relationship between its various policies and practices. It inspects whether the policies and practices complement or compete with each other. The last section explores how the actors’ responsibilities are perceived by other actors or adversaries. It also tends to find new approaches to translating various responsibilities into policies and practices. It seeks to determine what more could be done to fulfill its responsibilities, better signal them and reduce conflict dynamics in the future.

Being part of the workshops, it was felt that the data and the findings of the workshop when presented before policymakers could give them a more comprehensive overview and pulse of the nation regarding different responsibilities and present more diverse views on a future course of action. It is for this reason that a diverse group of individuals should be selected for the workshops. The findings could reveal insightful information that contemplate not only the responsibilities of the state but also responsibilities at the individual level, for example, the responsibility of citizens of a nuclear state vis-à-vis use of social media during any crises etc.

The findings driven from the framework at the national level could be shared at regional and international levels to have a shared understanding of diverse nuclear responsibilities in international politics; and propose policies to play a more effective role at the individual, state and global level. The findings of the framework could be helpful in Track 1.5 or Track 2 level diplomacy between states, particularly with tense relations to have better understanding of each other’s perception of nuclear responsibilities and chalk out a way for risk reduction and crisis management in the future via dialogue.

Given the ever-growing interest in nuclear-related subjects, this framework should definitely be used in classrooms for students of Strategic Studies/International Relations/Political Science and Public Policy etc. and serve as a guide for them to come up with similar frameworks.

Although the authors have used it vis-à-vis nuclear responsibilities, the framework’s application is not limited to nuclear responsibilities. It could also be applied to explore other responsibilities. For instance, it could also be used to stir a debate regarding cyber responsibilities, AI responsibilities, space responsibilities etc.

It is pertinent to mention that when employed, the participants may find a slight repetition in questions 6 and 8, something the authors could look into when updating the framework. Moreover, the authors should also consider its translation into different languages for better outreach. It is equally important to mention here that participants from the related field may find the framework relatively easy. On the other hand, participants, new to nuclear issues, might find the framework challenging. For this reason, the role of the facilitator is very important in the employment of the framework. The facilitator needs to be unbiased and cooperative in order for the discussions to be more accurate and productive. In this regard, it may be useful if a familiarization activity is conducted before any actual workshop so that the participants have a clear direction beforehand. The BASIC report on ‘Exploring the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Responsibilities’ is very helpful in understanding the process.

Overall, the BASIC-ICCS Framework opens a new way to consider nuclear responsibilities. It is a relevant contribution to the literature in broadening the debate about nuclear responsibilities or any similar subject (like cyber, AI) that needs in-depth discussion, debate, collaboration and even conflict management.

The writer is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad, Pakistan. An updated version of this article was published on British American Security Information Council’s (BASIC) website. She can be reached at: cass.thinkers@casstt.com.

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