Nuclear Risk Reduction: Disputed Past; Radically Uncertain Future

Muirhead 417
Wednesday 5 February 2020 (13:15-14:45)

Join Paul Schulte, Honorary Professor of the ICCS, and former Ministry of Defence Official specialising in nuclear issues, for his talk on Nuclear Risk Reduction. 

Discussant: Sebastian Brixey-Williams, Co-Director of BASIC and Leader of the BASIC-ICCS Programme on Nuclear Responsibilities. 

Chair: Professor Nicholas Wheeler 


This presentation reviews the mixed evidence of past successes in Nuclear Risk Reduction and briefly considers the span of future possibilities. Many options are being identified and progress is generally considered urgent in view of new technical risk factors such as AI, cyber interference, and the advent of hypersonic missiles. Transparency and shared understandings of capabilities and doctrines are recurrent themes to maintain deterrent stability.

But many attractive sounding initiatives could be perversely vulnerable to deception in crisis. And reliable progress would have to depend on improved cooperative relations between suspicious contending nuclear armed power blocs. But Great Power national security strategies now envisage intensifying  'multi-domain hyper - competition' in a condition of 'unpeace', involving the weaponisation of everything, including risk itself, in which certain risk acceptant actors specialise. 

No nuclear power wants nuclear war, but some, acting rationally in their own terms, seem to see comparative strategic advantage in refusal to cooperate in reducing its probability. In the current geopolitical atmosphere there are consequently few grounds to expect that the benign possibilities of risk reduction schemes will be realised.


Paul Schulte is an Honorary Professor in the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security at Birmingham University and also a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London, and a Research Associate of the School of Oriental and African Studies.  He is a member of the University of Birmingham Policy Commission on the Security Impact of Drones, and of UK Pugwash, and a frequent past participant in the CSIS US, UK and French Nuclear Trilateral process.

As an undergraduate he read economics and political sociology at the LSE. His varied government career included security policy, and later, human rights and economic development in the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast and London. Returning to the MoD he was desk officer for chemical and biological arms policy, where he invented the breakthrough modality of “managed access” for challenge inspection which became a major enabler of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. He was subsequently responsible for policy on tri-service UK defence commitments and defence diplomacy between Morocco and Bangladesh.

On promotion he had secretariat responsibility for the British Army’s equipment programme, and then led on military medical reorganisation, and handling allegations of Gulf War Syndrome. He led a controversial public study, assessing, and reporting to Parliament, on the MoD’s policy on homosexuality. He became MODUK’s Director of Proliferation and Arms Control in 1997 (and so UK Commissioner on the UN Commissions for Iraqi Disarmament: UNSCOM and UNMOVIC during the long Iraqi Compliance Crisis.)

He was also involved in the development of non-proliferation dialogues with Iran, Israel, Pakistan and India and the Proliferation Security Initiative with the US. Following the 2003 war, he became Director of Defence Organisation in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad during 2004 and, returning to the UK, founding Head of the U.K.’s interdepartmental Post Conflict Reconstruction Unit (now the Stabilisation Unit) pioneering integrated stabilisation doctrine. Between 2006 and 2007 he was Chief Speechwriter for two UK Defence Secretaries, John Reid and Des Browne.

His academic background includes a BSC Econ degree from the LSE and the Senior Officers’ course at Royal College of Defence Studies, followed by a Fellowship at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs in 2002-3. In retirement he has been a Senior Fellow in the Advanced Research and Assessment Group in the UK Defence Academy, and a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment Nuclear Policy Program. He is also a qualified, and formerly practising, group psychotherapist and a (rigorously secular) co-chair of the UK Council on Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament (CCADD).

Recent outputs include presentations, articles and book chapters on Future Warfare: AI, Drones, Terrorism and Counterterror, (in the 2019 Elgar Handbook of Terrorism and Counterterrorism Post-9/11),   the Ethics Of Modern Warfare (in the 2012 OUP Handbook of War), the contribution of remote airpower to upstream military intervention, catastrophic terrorism, Islamist ideology, and 21st-century mental landscapes of violence, Western counterinsurgency choices after Iraq and Afghanistan, the collapse of European Conventional Arms Control, the complicated justice of war on terror, structural problems in devaluing nuclear weapons, NATO’s protracted internal nuclear conflict, a General Theory of Nuclear Psycho Geopolitics, the international implications of the protracted Syrian Chemical Compliance Crisis,  and a critique, distributed widely by the European Leadership Network, of the 2017 Nuclear Ban Treaty.

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