Defining Example: Global Nuclear Nonproliferation
System: The system is the international community of nation states. Each participating entity bases its decisions upon the decisions of a subset of all other entities with respect to the decision to proliferate and the actual ‘mise en scene’ of proliferation mechanisms. Interaction among entities can occur on planes other than proliferation (conflict, alliances, trade, etc.) all of which may influence formal proliferation decisions.
Environment: A “near” boundary might be drawn around only those entities that currently possess nuclear capabilities; any entity not possessing those capabilities would be in the environment. A further boundary would encompass all the human organizations on the planet that might be or might become involved in things nuclear. The environment would be any human organizations/activities that are not contained, along with the natural world.
System of Systems: The entities embroiled in nuclear nonproliferation include nation states, each of which is itself a system. The entities may have already proliferated, renounced proliferation, considered proliferation, or have indicated no preference. The states can voluntarily form sub-groups where all members take a similar position. The entities may take individual positions.
Complex: Given that nuclear weapons are considered dangerous and ‘bad,’ recently citizens of some proliferation-inclined states have staged public demonstrations in support of nuclear tests. These demonstrations could potentially be more in support of national capability and pride than in support of, or even in spite of, the destructive power of the nuclear bomb per se. Cases exist in which capable nation states have begun, then renounced, proliferation efforts.
Adaptive: Individuals and nations adapt in their approaches to attempting to proliferate and attempting to control proliferation. Any approach to limit proliferation (high security, treaties, etc) can be adapted to and possibly circumvented by sufficiently persistent individuals.
Aspirations: Typical aspirations involve attempts to prevent or control attempts to proliferate. The CTBT is suggested as a way to eliminate proliferation through a ban on testing of nuclear devices; achieving its promised benefit is difficult. Alternate aspirations might be to devise a robust world system in which there was no incentive to proliferate (either through sufficient penalties, lack of resources, lack of imbalance in world society), no means of proliferation (expertise removed from the earth), or a means of controlling use of weapons so that possession of the technology or devices isn’t sufficient to enable their use.
Approaches: While guards, fences and treaties continue to play their part, there are other approaches to the problem. Transparency of government activities (possibly encouraged through media/intelligence community cooperation) would reduce opportunity to divert assets to weapons development. Greater shared benefit from global economy might reduce the value of a nuclear threat (it’s hard to want to bomb your markets/suppliers/partners).
Attainability: Ending proliferation is difficult because this is a complex system – the solution might be as complex as the system itself in order to produce lasting results. Some entities will not relinquish their current capabilities, thus causing trust issues. The solution might need to include agreements at many levels in order to ensure any kind of complete answer, because disagreements occur at all levels. Indirect links through the system produce opportunity for continued difficulty (e.g. the existence of a civilian nuclear energy capability, which is readily promoted, can provide resources for weapons proliferation).