Researchers at the Center for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London have turned to analyzing “non-political” solutions to the problem of nuclear disarmament.
The researchers’ new report finds that the multilateral nuclear order, consolidated under the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has consistently been fraught with problems of international cooperation, exacerbated by the asymmetry between states with and without nuclear weapons.
The latter, known as the NNWS, are signatories to the contract. However, if they are not nuclear, their contribution to fulfilling their treaty obligations is to develop tools and procedures that can help improve the multilateral disarmament review.
However, NNWS often lacks the technical ability to make a meaningful contribution to such efforts, the researchers find. Such deficiencies allegedly exacerbate the perception among both nuclear and non-nuclear countries that the NPT is being jeopardized by the lack of a robust, multilateral process to review nuclear disarmament. In addition, it was still difficult to build mutual trust that all NPT parties were complying with their non-proliferation obligations in practice.
From the point of view of the authors of the report, this is where blockchain technology comes into play. The report extrapolates their first observations and suggests that these “complex, interrelated challenges” can be productively addressed using a technical, operational approach:
“How can [decisionmakers] promote the multilateral review of nuclear disarmament and at the same time ensure that the highly sensitive data generated is managed securely and reliably? “
A process-oriented and data-aware approach aligns with the explicit priorities of the report and builds on the authors’ observation that much of the active non-proliferation efforts in recent years have “taken a technical and operational rather than a political approach”. Here the authors refer to the International Partnership for the Review of Nuclear Disarmament and the Quad Initiative of Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
After reiterating the importance of technical solutions, the researchers argue that blockchain could benefit verification processes by providing a virtually immutable, encrypted record that can serve as a “chain of custody” for “contractually accountable elements”.
Blockchain could also address the problem of trust: while states have a common interest in reducing nuclear risk, they often lack mutual trust, which hinders full cooperation. Here, the use of the technology could apparently alleviate this lack of trust by “giving third parties the opportunity to check the integrity of” [disarmament] Verification data “without these parties being able to see the highly sensitive data themselves.
The report also sees potential in smart contracts, noting that blockchain, when combined with self-enforcing algorithmic contracts, can provide a secure base layer for private Internet of Things infrastructure that combines sensors and environmental monitors. This could allegedly be used to conduct real-time verification at remote locations to automatically alert parties to potential breaches of contract. You conclude:
“Blockchain could serve as a cryptographic transfer document for national declarations in disarmament processes and enable the parties to gradually disclose sensitive data in parallel with political and strategic developments.”
The researchers admit that the question of whether or not blockchain can actually help meet the non-proliferation goals depends entirely on the high-level political goals of states and how those goals are pursued. The report therefore refrains from announcing blockchain as the absolute cure for one of the most pressing geopolitical problems of modernity.