Charting a path toward eliminating nuclear weapons

By Zia Mian | September 27, 2010

The recognition of the need for nuclear disarmament and the question of how to achieve it are as old as the nuclear age. In June 1945, before the first nuclear weapon had been built, in what became known as the Franck Report, a group of scientists working on the U.S. atomic bomb program warned that:

“the development of nuclear power is fraught with infinitely greater dangers than were all the inventions of the past. … In the past, science has often been able to provide adequate protection against new weapons it has given into the hands of an aggressor, but it cannot promise such efficient protection against the destructive use of nuclear power. This protection can only come from the political organization of the world. Among all arguments calling for an efficient international organization for peace, the existence of nuclear weapons is the most compelling one. In the absence of an international authority which would make all resort to force in international conflicts impossible, nations could still be diverted from a path which must lead to total mutual destruction, by a specific international agreement barring a nuclear armaments race” (Committee on Political and Social Problems, 1945).

The United Nations was an effort to create an international organization that, in the words of its charter, would “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” In its very first resolution, the United Nations General Assembly established a Commission and tasked it to draw up plans “for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction” (United Nations, 1946). The early hopes for nuclear disarmament were frustrated, however, by the onset of the Cold War and a nuclear arms race between the United States and Soviet Union.

Today the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is being discussed again, and with some seriousness. In September 2009, the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous resolution “to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons” (United Nations, 2009). The five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Russia, France, China, and Britain — all have nuclear weapons. These states are also signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as are 185 non-nuclear weapon states. In May 2010 the NPT Review Conference, which meets every five years, noted “the reaffirmation by the nuclear-weapon states of their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish, in accordance with the principle of irreversibility, the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament” (United Nations, 2010: 19).

Charting a path to elimination today appears a more difficult challenge than six decades ago; for several years, the United States was the only country with nuclear weapons. There are now nine nuclear-armed states and, in the case of the United States, military alliance commitments to about 30 non-weapon states that include the possibility of using U.S. nuclear weapons in their defense.1 This commitment was reaffirmed in the Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which extended the nuclear umbrella from formal U.S. allies to countries seen by the United States as “partners.”2 In the transition to a nuclear-weapon-free world, at least a few of these countries, weapon states and non-weapon states, will want their current security concerns to be recognized and addressed.

The International Panel on Fissile Materials’ (IPFM) report
Reducing and Eliminating Nuclear Weapons: Country Perspectives on Fissile Materials and Nuclear Disarmament examines concerns that may arise in
Britain, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North and South
Korea, Pakistan, and the United States about nuclear weapon reductions, conventional forces, and constraints on nuclear energy, among other things. Some states will be concerned about the conventional military power projection capabilities of the great powers. Some also will seek to maintain by other means the status and standing in the international system that they currently have by virtue of their nuclear weapons.3 These concerns will shape the scope of a nuclear weapons ban and decisions such as on whether to eliminate long-range ballistic missiles along with nuclear weapons.4 Political issues that will be featured will include whether to restructure the powers and membership rights of the United Nations Security Council.

To move forward successfully, it is necessary to understand the frustrated effort to secure nuclear disarmament over the past six decades, the renewal of the nuclear debate over the past few years, and some of the major issues this effort will need to address today.5

Early efforts. In 1946, the elimination of nuclear weapons seemed a comparatively simple task. There was just one nuclear-weapon state, the United States, with an arsenal of about 10 Nagasaki-type nuclear bombs (Natural Resources Defense Council, 2002). Long-range missiles had not been developed, civil applications of nuclear energy lay in the future, and the bureaucratic, military, industrial, and doctrinal complexes, and many of the rationales and justifications that would be erected around nuclear weapons during the Cold War, had yet to come into being.

The United States and Soviet Union responded to the United Nations General
Assembly’s call for plans to eliminate nuclear weapons. The U.S. Report on the
International Control of Atomic Energy (known as the Acheson-Lilienthal Report.
See Barnard et al., 1946), and the official U.S. and Soviet proposals to the United
Nations (the Baruch and Gromyko Plans, respectively. See U.S. Department of State, 1960) — all of 1946 — were the most prominent attempts to realize this goal. The Gromyko Plan included the first proposed text for a nuclear disarmament treaty in the form of a Draft International Convention to Prohibit the Production and Employment of Weapons Based on the Use of Atomic Energy for the Purpose of Mass Destruction.6 Cold War suspicions proved too powerful, however.

Civil society groups and individuals, non-nuclear weapon states, and international organizations held fast to the ideal of disarmament. They could not achieve their ultimate goal but did help bring about agreements to limit nuclear weapons testing and restrain the arms race.7 The first diplomatic success was the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, which aimed to end nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere, under water, and in outer space. Unfortunately, it lifted the public pressure on governments to end explosive testing, which continued unabated underground.

The number of nuclear-weapon states steadily increased, however, with Britain, France, China, and Israel developing nuclear weapons by the late 1960s. In an effort to curb the further spread of nuclear weapons, the United States and the Soviet Union, now nuclear “superpowers,” and the United Kingdom negotiated the 1970 NPT with a group of non-weapon states and agreed in Article VI “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” A number of countries abandoned incipient nuclear weapons programs over the next decade, but Israel, India, and Pakistan stayed outside the Treaty and developed nuclear weapons, as did North Korea, which joined the NPT but later withdrew in 2003 (see Table).

First nuclear weapons tests by current nuclear weapon states, 1945-2009
United States July 16, 1945 1968
Russia August 29, 1949 1968
United Kingdom October 3, 1952 1968
France February 13, 1960 1992
China October 16, 1964 1992
India May 18, 1974
Israel ?
Pakistan May 28, 1998
North Korea October 9, 2006 1985
Notes: This does not include the possible occurrence of an Israeli or joint Israeli-South African nuclear test or series of tests in 1979. See e.g., Hersh (1991: 271-272). A declassified 22 October 1979 U.S. National Security Council memo concludes that the U.S. intelligence community had “high confidence after intense technical scrutiny” that there had been a “low-yield atmospheric nuclear explosion” on 22 September 1979 (South Atlantic Nuclear Event. National Security Council Memo for Secretary of State, Defense, Energy etc. After a high-level review, the Carter administration decided that the evidence was not conclusive. The “Ad Hoc [White House Office of Science and Technology Policy] Panel Report on the September 22, 1979 event” was published in Appendix B of Gaffney (1989).

During this period, there were occasional dramatic proposals for eliminating nuclear weapons. In 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev outlined a three-stage plan for nuclear disarmament within 15 years (U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament, 1986). Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi proposed a similar time-bound program in 1988, envisaging the abolition of all nuclear weapons by 2010.8

The nuclear disarmament debate renewed. In the aftermath of the Cold War, as part of the preparations for the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the NPT, which was to decide whether and for how long to extend the Treaty, there were many studies on and reports and statements supporting nuclear disarmament written by political leaders and groups of eminent former policy makers and officials. A prominent example of such efforts was the Canberra Commission.9 The final agreement on an indefinite extension of the NPT included a consensus decision on “principles and objectives for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament” and a program of action. One element in this program was a commitment to “the determined pursuit by the nuclear weapon states of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of eliminating those weapons” (United Nations, 1995).

In 1996, responding to a request from the United Nations General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, the highest court in the United Nations system, issued a unanimous advisory opinion ruling that Article VI of the NPT required nuclear-weapon state parties to the Treaty “to bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.”10 At the April 2000 Review Conference of the NPT, the weapons states responded by including in the final document an “unequivocal undertaking … to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals” (Johnson, 2000a: 21).

The goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world has been given prominence recently by President Barack Obama, especially in his April 2009 Prague speech (White House, 2009b). Russian President Dmitry Medvedev joined Obama in a joint statement declaring “We committed our two countries to achieving a nuclear free world” (White House, 2009a). They have agreed on continuing reductions in the sizes of the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, which still contain thousands of nuclear warheads each, but there is no program yet to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. There also have been a series of op-ed articles by former leaders and officials from a number of countries over the past few years supporting the elimination of nuclear weapons.11

Public sentiment worldwide is largely in favor of nuclear abolition, with polls showing overwhelming majorities even in the nuclear-weapon states (except Pakistan, where margins are much smaller) in favor of an international verified agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons (Global Zero, 2008). The issue is not, however, keenly felt, and public opinion is not mobilized into an anti-nuclear movement on the scale that  has been able in the past to impact policy. Resistance to nuclear disarmament today comes primarily from policy makers, former officials, and intellectuals who have come to embrace nuclear deterrence, and from the nuclear weapons complex, which relies on these weapons for its existence.

The past several decades have shown that successful wars of conquest and occupation have become nearly impossible, even for great powers.12 And countries do not need nuclear weapons to remind each other that their modern societies are vulnerable to long-range attack. Since September 11, 2001, industrialized countries have become acutely aware that nuclear power and chemical plants, as well as skyscrapers, could be attacked with catastrophic results. As wealth becomes based more and more on knowledge and integration into the global economy, and if competition for land and natural resources can be held in check, fears of wars of conquest may recede further.

At the same time, more than 60 years of non-use — despite innumerable wars — show that policymakers and the militaries of nuclear-weapon states have come to understand that nuclear weapons are unusable in war.13 A recent examination of the attitudes toward nuclear weapons in the U.S. Defense Department (DoD) reports that, since the end of the Cold War, a “lack of interest in and attention to the nuclear mission and nuclear deterrence [has become] widespread throughout DoD.”14 This was exemplified in an August 2007 incident in which six nuclear-armed cruise missiles were transported between the Minot and Barksdale U.S. Air Force bases without authorization and without the knowledge of those involved, and for 36 hours remained unaccounted for.15 Since this incident came to light, the U.S. Air Force has been trying to re-organize its nuclear weapons management.

Similarly, there has been a loss of interest in nuclear weapons science and engineering. The 2010 Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review noted that “The national security laboratories have found it increasingly difficult to attract and retain the most promising scientists and engineers of the next generation” (U.S. Department of Defense, 2010: xv). It has proposed a large funding increase to the weapons laboratories to counter this trend.

Disarmament challenges. There are several challenges facing the transition to a nuclear-weapon-free world and in assuring that such a world will be secure and stable. These include the nature of the disarmament process, the issue of reversibility, the management and elimination of stockpiles of the fissile materials (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) that can be used to make nuclear weapons, and the risks of nuclear weapon reconstitution or proliferation using material and capabilities in civilian nuclear energy programs.

The path to a nuclear-weapon-free world may be slow. In his 2009 Prague speech, President Obama explained that while he wanted “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” he believed that “this goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime” (White House, 2009b). General Kevin Chilton, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, has offered a more specific horizon, claiming “When looking into the future a basic question is … will we still need nuclear weapons 40 years from now? I believe the answer to that question is yes.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed this goal further back, arguing, “our goal [is] of a world someday, in some century, free of nuclear weapons” (U.S. Department of State, 2010).

The United States and most of the other nuclear weapon states are committed to the modernization of their nuclear weapon complexes and arsenals. The Obama administration has announced plans to spend $175 billion on the U.S. nuclear weapon complex in the next two decades (Kristensen, 2010b). A further $100 billion is to be spent on nuclear weapon delivery systems, including new bombers, ballistic missiles, and submarines (Pincus, 2010). Russia has launched its own effort to maintain its arsenal for a further 50 years (Podvig, 2010). Britain is considering a plan to replace its nuclear-armed submarines, while China is moving to greater reliance on more modern solid-fueled road-mobile missiles and submarine- launched missiles. France has been developing a new ballistic missile and a new nuclear warhead. Israel is believed to have moved to nuclear-armed cruise missiles on its submarines. India, Pakistan, and North Korea are still developing their nuclear forces.

Overall agreement or step-by-step? One of the overarching issues is whether countries commit to the explicit goal and an agreed framework for achieving nuclear disarmament, or whether they continue with an ad hoc approach of nuclear reductions and non-proliferation steps.16 Both approaches have been used. As part of the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the nuclear weapon states and non-weapon states agreed and committed to a program of 13 steps for moving toward nuclear disarmament, some with specific targets and timelines.17 There have, as yet, been no formal talks among the five nuclear-weapon state parties on achieving these obligations. The May 2010 NPT Review Conference final declaration noted this problem, saying, “All States need to make special efforts to establish the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons” (United Nations, 2010: 20).

Each year, large majorities at the United Nations General Assembly carry resolutions recognizing that “there now exist conditions for the establishment of a world free of nuclear weapons” and calling for the start of negotiations on the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The 2010 Review Conference declaration broke new ground by specifically noting proposals for “consideration of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention or agreement on a framework of separate mutually reinforcing instruments, backed by a strong system of verification” (United Nations, 2010: 20). The Review Conference also affirmed that “the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and other related measures should be pursued within an agreed legal framework, which a majority of state parties believe should include specified timelines” (United Nations, 2010: 13).

At the same time, the Unites States and Soviet Union, and now Russia, which account for more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weaponry, have engaged in a fitful bilateral process of arms control and reductions that has yielded significant reductions in their nuclear arsenals. The most recent example is the 2010 New START agreement, involving reductions from the previously agreed limit of between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed strategic warheads to a new cap of 1,550 such warheads each, to be achieved within seven years after entry into force of the treaty (Kristensen, 2010a).

The balance between an agreed plan for disarmament and a step-by-step approach would have a bearing on the declaration of stocks of fissile material. It would be natural in an overall plan for the nuclear-weapon states to commit to prepare and declare a complete inventory of their fissile material holdings early in the process, even if verification were to come later. In a step-by-step approach, declarations might be limited to material “excess to military requirements” as and when states chose to so decide.

Reversibility. In the transition to disarmament — and for some time even in a disarmed world — a considerable degree of reversibility would be inevitable. As states give up nuclear weapons, they will accumulate stockpiles of fissile material freed up by dismantling their weapons and a cohort of former weapons design and engineering experts. They also will retain legacy fissile material production plants and former nuclear warhead R&D, production, and maintenance facilities, all of which will require monitoring until they are decommissioned or converted to civilian purposes.

In 1984, disarmament advocate Jonathan Schell argued that the possibility of nuclear rearmament could actually help secure abolition, since in a world free of nuclear weapons “the knowledge of how to rebuild the weapons … would keep deterrence in force” (Schell, 2000: 153).18 A state considering possible nuclear breakout would be restrained by the prospect that others could quickly follow suit. The Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review has adopted this perspective as policy. It argues that a “modern nuclear infrastructure” and a “highly skilled workforce” of nuclear weapon designers, engineers, and technicians will be needed even “in a world with complete nuclear disarmament,” since “a robust intellectual and physical capability would provide the ultimate insurance against nuclear break-out by an aggressor” (U.S. Department of Defense, 2010: 42).

The issue of reversibility has been recognized and addressed by nuclear-weapon states and non-weapon states as part of the NPT. The NPT 13 steps, agreed in 2000, include a commitment that “The principle of irreversibility [is] to apply to nuclear disarmament, nuclear and other related arms control and reduction measures” (United Nations, 2000a: 14. This was reiterated at the 2010 NPT Review Conference). Some states have adopted this approach. France, when it ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), shut down and decommissioned its nuclear test site in the South Pacific. Also, after it decided to end its production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, it shut down and decommissioned its military highly enriched uranium and plutonium-production facilities at Pierrelatte and Marcoule. More recently, Jonathan Schell has observed, however, that the impulse for breakout and the need to prepare to deter it would wane with time, since the political, legal, and moral pressures that have prevented nuclear weapons use since 1945 would be strengthened in the transition to a nuclear-weapon-free world (Schell, 2009). In a world where states agree not to commit resources to acquire or maintain nuclear weapons, theoretical knowledge of nuclear weapons would survive but capacities to make them would atrophy. As sociologist Donald MacKenzie has noted:

“Outside of the human, intellectual, and material networks that give them life and force, technologies cease to exist. We cannot reverse the invention of the motorcar, perhaps, but imagine a world in which there were no car factories … where no one alive had ever driven, and there was satisfaction with whatever alternative forms of transportation existed. The libraries might still contain pictures of automobiles and texts on motor mechanics, but there would be a sense in which that was a world in which the motor car had been uninvented” (MacKenzie, 1990: 426).19

Fissile-material controls. If nuclear weapons are to be eliminated, the plutonium and HEU that are at their cores will have to be eliminated. Also, stocks of these materials produced to fuel nuclear reactors but which could be used to make nuclear weapons will have to be minimized and the remainder heavily safeguarded. The importance of controlling fissile materials as a means of achieving and securing nuclear disarmament was advocated in the 1945 Franck Report, which considered both rationing access to uranium and “bookkeeping on the fate of each pound of uranium mined” (Committee on Political and Social Problems, 1945: 10), and in the 1946 Acheson-Lilienthal Report, which proposed placing under international control all uranium mining as well uranium enrichment and plutonium separation facilities (Barnard et al., 1946).

Such improvements in international fissile-material controls are merited even if nuclear disarmament turns out to be unachievable in the near future. With or without complete nuclear disarmament, deep cuts in fissile material stocks and strengthened controls are required to support deep cuts of nuclear weaponry, bolster the nonproliferation regime, and prevent nuclear terrorism.

Today disarmers are faced with 10,000 warheads in service, a similar number awaiting dismantlement, and materials and components from tens of thousands more. There are also more than 100 nuclear-propelled ships and submarines and over 100 research reactors fueled with HEU, most of which is the same enrichment as the HEU in weapons. More than 90 percent of the weapons, components, and materials are concentrated, however, in Russia and the United States. The magnitude of the disarmament challenge in the remaining seven states is much lower.

There are also 30 states with nuclear power plants that produce spent fuel containing plutonium as part of their normal operation and enough separated civilian plutonium to produce at least 30,000 nuclear warheads. Once again, however, most nuclear power plants and the separated plutonium are concentrated in a relatively small number of states.

Also, a great deal of experience has been accumulated in exercising national and international control over nuclear materials and technology. Fissile material accountancy and monitoring already lie at the heart of the system of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards required by the NPT to verify that non-weapon states abide by their commitments not to divert fissile material to nuclear-weapon production.

The importance of including fissile material stocks in disarmament is widely understood. Russia and the United States are eliminating significant fractions of the fissile material recovered from their excess Cold War warheads and, in 2009, the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed to begin talks on a treaty banning the production of new fissile material for nuclear weapons.20 In July 2010, the president of the conference presented a new plan of work to members, including setting up a working group “which shall negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, while taking into consideration all other matters related to fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices” (Conference on Disarmament, 2010: 1).

The 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review recognized the need for improving verification capabilities, proposing “a comprehensive national research and development program to support continued progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons, including expanded work on verification technologies and the development of transparency measures. Such technologies will help us manage risk as we continue down this path by ensuring that we are able to detect potential clandestine weapons programs, foreign nuclear materials, and weapons production facilities and processes” (U.S. Department of Defense, 2010: 13).

Even a robust verification system cannot assure, however, that all fissile materials have been accounted for in a world in which enough fissile material has been produced to make more than 100,000 nuclear warheads. Measurement errors and material lost irretrievably in wastes and during testing, by the United States and Russia in particular, will make it impossible to verify to a level of 99 percent (i.e., to within the equivalent of 1,000 warheads) that all fissile material has been disposed of or placed under international monitoring. It is worth noting, however, that the uncertainty will be concentrated in the United States and Russia, which produced by far the largest amounts of fissile material and numbers of nuclear weapons, and carried out the most nuclear weapons tests.

Assessing the adequacy of technical verification and the significance of uncertainty will be a political judgment. Ultimately, the international verification system will have to be complemented by societal verification in which a large enough fraction of citizens are committed to maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world that they will “blow the whistle” when they become aware of clandestine nuclear-weapon stockpiles and activities.

Securing nuclear-weapon elimination will require the international community to develop structures and confidence to respond to non-compliance immediately and effectively. One option to increase confidence in the likelihood of enforcement might be to place all nuclear material under international ownership and make national appropriation of nuclear material an offense under international law.

Nuclear power and nuclear disarmament. The organization of nuclear energy will be one of the more important technical factors shaping the possibility and difficulty of reconstitution or proliferation. At one extreme would be a world with reprocessing and enrichment plants in many countries, with huge stocks and flows of separated weapon-useable plutonium and HEU in nuclear fuel cycles that could facilitate rapid rearmament. This world could have the civilian and naval fuel cycles in some weapon states today replicated in many countries: reprocessing and plutonium recycling as in France, naval reactors fueled by HEU as in the United States, fleets of HEU-fueled research reactors as in Russia, civilian national enrichment facilities as in the United States, Russia, Japan, etc. In this world, the barriers to nuclear rearmament would be at their lowest.

A world with higher barriers to nuclear rearmament would be one where separated weapon-useable fissile material would be very scarce. Spent fuel reprocessing would have been abandoned in favor of interim storage — as has occurred already in most countries with nuclear power plants. HEU-fueled nuclear ships and submarines would have either been replaced by LEU-fueled vessels, as has been happening in France, or phased out.21 Stocks of HEU would have been blended down and plutonium disposed of. And all uranium enrichment would occur at facilities owned by companies from more than one country and operated by multinational teams.

The most substantial technical obstacles to any nuclear rearmament would be in a world with no military or civilian nuclear activities whatsoever, except possibly those required to produce essential radioisotopes. Even then, however, there would be the enduring problem of some states having stored civilian spent nuclear fuel containing plutonium, and spent naval fuel containing highly enriched uranium, that could be accessed for weapons.

The debates today over the proliferation and control of nuclear fuel cycle technology, the means to prevent its use for weapons, and the future role of nuclear energy may only mark the beginning of a discussion that will become increasingly important as the world moves toward eliminating nuclear weapons.

Editor’s Note: This article is based on Chapter 2 of the International Panel on Fissile Materials’ Global Fissile Material Report 2009: A Path to Nuclear Disarmament. IPFM’s report looks into the above issues in more detail, especially the fissile material
dimension of achieving and sustaining a world free of nuclear weapons.

Correction: This article was updated to correct an error in Note No. 1.

1. The U.S. nuclear umbrella covers the 25 non-weapon state members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The U.S. also has commitments to Australia, Japan, and South Korea. The U.S. commitment to New Zealand was withdrawn after Prime Minister David Lange of the Labour Party, in 1984, effectively banned nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships from New Zealand ports leading the United States to suspend its obligations to New Zealand under the 1951 ANZUS alliance treaty between the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The U.S. is apparently also considering a formal public “defense umbrella” guarantee that could include the possibility of nuclear use to its allies and partners in the Middle East in response to concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. See Landler and Sanger (2009).
2. The Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review says: “The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners” (U.S. Department of Defense, 2010: vii).
3. In 2006, President Jacques Chirac of France explained that “The creation of a national deterrence force was a challenge for France. … Nuclear deterrence thus became the very image of what our country is capable of producing when it has set itself a task and holds to it” (Présidence de la République Française, 2006).
4. The NPT preamble, for instance, cites the desire among the parties for “the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery” (United Nations, 2000b). The five permanent members of the Security Council, the United States, Britain, Russia, France, and China, all have nuclear weapons.
5. A notable recent effort to outline the problems facing nuclear abolition, including perspectives from many nuclear armed states, is Perkovich and Acton (2008).
6. The Draft Convention proposed by the Soviet Union in 1946 is available at:
7. The history of the international peace movement and visionary leaders since 1945 to advance nuclear disarmament has been chronicled in Lawrence Wittner’s (1998) three-volume history, The Struggle against the Bomb. See also the (2009) summary volume, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement.
8. See Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly (Gandhi, 1988).
9. Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, August 1996. Available at:, mirrored at
10. In full, the sentence reads, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” See International Court of Justice (1996: 267).
11. From the United States, see Shultz et al. (2007); from Britain, Hurd et al. (2008); from Italy, D’Alema et al. (2008); and from Germany, see Schmidt et al. (2009).
12. The United States was unable to pacify South Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Soviet Union failed to subdue Afghanistan in the 1980s. The United States has had limited success in its wars in Afghanistan since 2001 or in Iraq since 2003. For an extended argument, see Schell (2003).
13. In 2007, former U.S. Secretaries of State, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, Secretary of Defense, William Perry, and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn argued that “Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective” (Shultz et al., 2007).
14. Secretary of Defense (2008a, 2008b). This has been identified as part of a larger problem crisis of confidence across the U.S. nuclear weapons complex about the importance and future of nuclear weapons.
15. Hoffman (2007). For an analysis of this incident and its implications see Kristensen (2008).
16. The Global Zero campaign has proposed that states agree a nuclear weapons ban with a schedule for the verified elimination of nuclear arsenals to be achieved by 2030.
17. Johnson (2000b) includes 13 practical steps for the systematic and progressive efforts to implement Article VI of the NPT and paragraphs 3 and 4(c) of the 1995 Decision on “Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament,” Sixth NPT Review Conference, Briefing No 18, May 20, including the Conference Agreement on a Programme of Action (Next Steps) on Nuclear Disarmament.
18. Michael Mazarr (1997: 4) proposed a more formal arrangement of “virtual nuclear arsenals” in which the nuclear armed–states maintain infrastructures able to produce “a few dozen nuclear weapons within a period of a few days or weeks.”
19. This argument is developed at greater length in MacKenzie and Spinardi (1995). George Perkovich and James Acton make a somewhat different argument: “It is sometimes said that nuclear weapons ‘cannot be disinvented’. We recognise this, but believe that the point is made to deflect careful thinking rather than encourage it. No human creation can be disinvented. Civilization has nevertheless prohibited and dismantled artefacts deemed too dangerous, damaging or morally objectionable to continue living with. Mass-scale gas chambers such as those used by Nazi Germany have not been disinvented, but they are not tolerated. … The issue is rather whether means could exist to verify that a rejected technology–nuclear weapons in this theoretical case–had been dismantled everywhere, and to minimise the risk of cheating” (Perkovich and Acton, 2008: 11).
20. On 29 May 2009, the CD agreed on a plan of work for the year that included establishing a working group to negotiate a fissile material cut-off treaty, on the basis of the Shannon mandate for such talks agreed on 24 March 1995. Available at: Implementation of this plan of work was stalled by Pakistan.
21. Both France and Britain have recently decided for cost reasons to use conventional power plants for their future aircraft carriers (see France (for export), Germany, and Sweden have all developed conventional submarines which, in addition to being able to operate under water on battery power, carry oxygen and fuel for “air-independent” steam-turbine, fuel cell, and Stirling engines respectively, which allows them to operate at moderate speeds (circa 10 kilometers per hour) without snorkeling for weeks (see This is adequate for near-home missions. However, all French, British, and U.S., most Russian and some Chinese submarines are nuclear powered, as are all U.S. aircraft carriers. The United States is considering shifting medium surface combatant vessels such as cruisers to nuclear power (see U.S. Department of Energy, 2009: 547-48).


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