Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, the threats posed by the bomb have changed but still hang over us all. Today, there are still nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons and nine nuclear-armed states. More countries have access to the technologies needed to produce nuclear bomb material and the risk of nuclear terrorism is real.
The massive nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia – the most dangerous legacy of the cold war – have been reduced through successive arms control agreements. However, deployed US and Russian nuclear forces still exceed 1,500 strategic warheads each – far more than necessary to deter nuclear attack.
To remain effective, the nuclear nonproliferation system must be updated, new commitments must be implemented, and progress on disarmament must be accelerated. If US-led talks with Iran and North Korea fail to persuade them to curb sensitive nuclear-fuel-cycle activities and meet their nonproliferation obligations, the risk of arms races and conflicts will grow.
Doing nothing is not an option. No matter who occupies the White House following the 2012 election, that president must pursue a nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament “stimulus plan.” It should include the following elements.
The chances of a nuclear attack by Russia or the United States on the other is near zero, yet their arsenals and strategies are still designed to counter such a threat and engage in a protracted nuclear war. President Obama has taken some steps to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, but there is much more to be done.
The White House must follow through by implementing a saner, “nuclear deterrence only” strategy, which would open the way for US and Russian reductions from 1,550 to no more than 500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads – the same size as the Soviet force in 1962.
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