Defusing the Nuclear Arms Race

BERLIN – As the recent UN and Washington summits have demonstrated, nuclear arms control and disarmament are among the top issues on the world’s political agenda. They are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Indeed, 2010 will determine whether US President Barack Obama’s vision of a nuclear-free world will remain a distant but achievable hope, or must be abandoned.

No one should be under any illusions. Even if all of the world’s nuclear-weapon states embrace the vision of a world free of the threat of nuclear conflict, nuclear weapons will remain with us for two decades at least, and even that would require the most favorable conditions for disarmament.

This year is crucially important. The agreement signed in early April in Prague between Russia and the United States on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons and possibly on further cuts was accompanied by the publication of the US Nuclear Posture Review, identifying the nuclear capabilities that Obama’s administration wishes to preserve for the next four years. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference will begin the work of adapting the NPT to our rapidly changing world. Many policymakers hope that 2010 will bring clarity on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs.

There are roughly 23,000 nuclear weapons today, which is 40,000 fewer than at the Cold War’s height.  These weapons’ total yield is greater than 150,000 Hiroshima-size nuclear explosions. Nuclear disarmament is therefore still urgently needed, and prominent politicians in the US and Germany have produced the US-led Global Zero initiative and createdthe International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), sponsored by Australia and Japan and co-chaired by former Foreign Ministers Yoriko Kawaguchi and Gareth Evans.