Can ZKPs Pave the Way for Nuclear Disarmament?

Is Zero Knowledge Proofs the way forward for nuclear disarmament? Let's find out.
Nov 15, 2021

Earlier, we saw what are Zero-Knowledge Proofs (ZKPs) and the critical role they play in giving the necessary information without revealing the exact data.

In this article, let’s explore some futuristic possibilities of ZKP implementation.

Have you ever wondered how ZKPs can be used in nuclear disarmament?

Nuclear Weapons and their Danger

Nuclear weapons are undoubtedly one of the most dangerous weapons in the world as they have the potential to wipe out life from a vast area within no time. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are classic examples of the scale of destruction that’s possible.

Since World War II, many countries have built nuclear weapons to protect themselves and to display their growing might on the world stage. Since this poses a threat to international peace and stability, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was formulated.

This treaty has been signed by 189 countries (out of 197 countries) and has three main pillars — nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Out of these, disarmament is the most contentious one, and let’s see if ZKPs can be a remedy for it.

How can ZKPs Help with Nuclear Disarmament?

The first and the most common question that comes up in this discussion is how compliance with existing nuclear treaties can be verified. An unofficial solution has been to check whether a nuclear-armed country is moving beyond the limits imposed by the treaty militarily. In particular, you’d want to know more about the nuclear head, its design, destruction capability, and exact location.

Now, how can you check this? One way is to ask this question to the head of the state of the country that’s planning this nuclear move. However, as you may expect, the chances of getting a direct answer are slim given the secrecy of these military operations.

You may argue that the other option is to send a crew of independent auditors to check, but the chances for them to come back alive is, let’s say minimal.

In such difficult circumstances, ZKPs can be the answer as they can give information about the nuclear warheads without revealing the actual design, which is often a closed secret. Essentially, zero-knowledge proofs can provide sufficient information to help a verifier decide whether two objects are the same without revealing their actual design or composition.

This idea is based on a breakthrough research by researchers at the Princeton University, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering where they use binary assertions to validate the similarity of two physical objects. Extending it to nuclear warheads, you can know if the design of a nuclear warhead has been changed or not without knowing the exact design, which is, of course, a matter of national security and could have serious ramifications if it gets into the wrong hands. Nuclear warheads are the key part of a nuclear weapon and it contains secret information about the destination, potency, and other details that give one country an edge over another in the event of a war.

Moving on to how ZKPs can be used in nuclear disarmament, Areg Danagoulian, an MIT Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, has proposed a way to probe using gamma rays and isotope-sensitive resonant processes that can be used to understand the internal structure of the nuclear bomb including the isotope mix and its shape. He and his team are exploring the possibility of using Zero Knowledge Proof to understand changes made to the nuclear warhead.

Essentially, the secret nuclear head data is transformed into a long value by encrypting them with a huge number, which is the key. The resulting data is indecipherable and only contains a long set of values that makes no sense to anyone seeing it. However, this long value changes when the data in the nuclear warhead changes.

Let’s say, for example, the nuclear warhead’s data on Jan 1, 2020, was fsdkfjafjajfkadjfklsfoery89ry913417918–18-e8970r369r6-aksalkndsandjadsfsdfgsgo2y23y130293=ejfkdjflkjf.

On June 28, 2020, it was jfhwoefhohffo0103910913–03msndfkflkefuerqurpwoq;wmddnfjkfhdnvmdfjfhjfhqo9urpdfa,fmdsmaksdmaksdmaiirpqoe

Though both the values are gibberish, it’s enough to know that the values are changed, so the design of the warhead has changed too. This is an example of the ZKP that only tells you what you need to know.

Under the terms of the treaty, every country is assigned a random cryptographic key that encrypts the information from the nuclear warhead at random intervals and sends it to a global Distributed Ledger Technology where every country is an entity. This way, the other countries can know that the nuclear warhead has changed and could take the agreed measures accordingly.

It’s important to note that these are possible theories and can become a reality when nuclear treaties provide a way to implement these ZKPs. But there’s hope that ZKPs are possibly the closest that we can come to living in a nuke-impact-free world.

Maybe a futuristic opportunity for your consideration?

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