Introduction Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan came close to achieving agreement on abolishing nuclear weapons at the Reykjavik summit in 1986. The stumbling block was Reagan’s dream of “Star Wars,” which Gorbachev could not accept. Who could have predicted that within a decade of the founding of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the Berlin Wall would fall and the Soviet Union would cease to exist? Who could have predicted that, despite the end of the Cold War, nuclear dangers would continue to grow? The end of the Cold War helped to disarm public concern about nuclear dangers, but these dangers have not ended.

Throughout this past quarter century, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has been a steady and persistent voice of reason in its calls for abolishing nuclear weapons. We believe, along with the hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is an evil that must not be repeated. I am proud that we stand with the hibakusha, who have shown such compassion and strength of character in their forgiveness and their persistence. I have supported their nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, and I continue to do so.

I want to speak about where we stand on the road to nuclear weapons abolition. I consider this goal – a world free of nuclear weapons – to be the greatest challenge of our time. Humans created nuclear weapons – weapons that could end civilization and the human species. Humans have used nuclear weapons in warfare. We know the results of that use. We know the danger that continues to exist with 26,000 nuclear weapons still in the world. Our cities are threatened, as is our common future. I will try to answer the following questions.

  1. What are nuclear weapons?
  1. Why oppose these weapons?
  1. Why do some countries possess these weapons?
  1. Why do other countries support these weapons?
  1. Do nuclear weapons make a country more secure?
  1. What is the current nuclear policy of the United States?
  1. Whose interests do nuclear weapons serve?
  1. What is the road to nuclear weapons abolition?
  1. Are there signs of hope?

I will end with signs of hope. I believe that there is a way out of the nuclear dilemma for humanity, and that we must not allow complacency and despair to conquer hope.

What Are Nuclear Weapons?

Nuclear weapons derive their power from the energy contained within the atom. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima used enriched uranium (Uranium 235) to create an explosive force equivalent to 12.5 thousand tons of TNT. The bomb that destroyed Nagasaki used Plutonium 239 to create an explosive force equivalent to 20 thousand tons of TNT. Thermonuclear weapons, which use the power of fusion, are capable of yields thousands of times greater than those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The great majority of nuclear weapons today are thermonuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are not instruments of war in any traditional sense. They destroy everything within miles of their detonation. Their radioactive effects linger long after the damage of blast and fire has run its course. The effects of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in time or space. They go on killing and destroying even into new generations of survivors. They cannot be conceived of as simply “weapons.” They are instruments of annihilation, putting the future of humanity itself at risk. Beneath their veneer of scientific achievement, nuclear weapons are the tools of bullies, thugs and madmen. Why Oppose These Weapons?

Some people support policies that rely upon nuclear weapons and justify the weapons as “instruments of peace.” This a strange way to conceptualize weapons that could destroy most life on the planet in a matter of hours.

Here are ten reasons to oppose nuclear weapons. They are ten reasons that I oppose nuclear weapons, and I commend them as ten reasons that you, too, should oppose these weapons.

  1. They are long-distance killing machines incapable of discriminating between soldiers and civilians, the aged and the newly born, or between men, women and children.
  2. They threaten the destruction of cities, countries and civilization; of all that is sacred, of all that is human, of all that exists.
  3. They threaten to foreclose the future.
  4. They are cowardly weapons, and in their use there can be no honor.
  5. They are a false god, dividing nations into nuclear “haves” and “have-nots,” bestowing unwarranted prestige and privilege on those that possess them.
  6. They are a distortion of science and technology, twisting our knowledge of nature to destructive purposes.
  7. They mock international law, displacing it with an allegiance to raw power.
  8. They waste our resources on the development of unusable instruments of annihilation.
  9. They concentrate power in the hands of the few and undermine democracy.
  10. They corrupt our humanity.

Why Do Some Countries Possess These Weapons?

There are currently nine countries that possess nuclear weapons: US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. More than 95 percent of the 26,000 nuclear weapons in the world are in the arsenals of the US and Russia.

The principal justification for nuclear weapons has always been deterrence – the threat of nuclear retaliation to prevent a nuclear attack. The reason that the United States first developed nuclear weapons was the fear that the Germans might also develop them, and the United States would need to have the weapons to deter the Germans from using their weapons. The Soviet Union developed its nuclear arsenal for deterrence – to keep the United States from threatening or using its nuclear arsenal against them. Every country that has developed nuclear weapons has had the intention of deterring another country. Even the most recent addition to the nuclear weapons club, North Korea, wanted to have a nuclear deterrent capability to assure survival of its regime from potential attack by the United States.

In addition to deterrence, a second reason that some states have pursued nuclear weapons is prestige. Since the five permanent members of the Security Council were the original five members of the nuclear weapons club, other nations recognized that the possession of these weapons offered a high level of prestige in the international system. When India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, there was buoyant celebrating in the streets of the major cities of these countries. The people in these countries, despite their poverty, took pride in the achievement of their nation’s nuclear weapons capability – ironically, a capability that could lead to their demise.

Why Do Other Countries Support These Weapons?

The principal reason that some countries support nuclear weapons, without possessing them, is that they are tied by military compact with a nuclear weapons state. This is sometimes referred to as being under a “nuclear umbrella.” Many countries are under the US nuclear umbrella. These include Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in the Far East; Australia in the Pacific; and the countries belonging to NATO in Europe. These countries tend to give support to US nuclear policy in the belief that they are being protected by the deterrent value of the US nuclear arsenal.

Some poorer and dependent countries give support to US nuclear weapons policy because their governments are pressured by US economic incentives and disincentives. But there are not too many of these countries, and most countries in the world express support for United Nations General Assembly resolutions aimed at achieving a nuclear weapons free world. To give one example, the Disarmament Committee in the United Nations General Assembly recently voted on a resolution for “Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” a resolution spearheaded by Japan. The resolution was passed by a vote of 165 states in favor, 3 states opposed, and 10 states abstaining. The three states voting against the resolution were India, North Korea and the United States.

Do Nuclear Weapons Make a Country More Secure?

Security is a concept with both psychological and physical dimensions. Psychologically, one may feel secure, but not be secure in reality. The opposite is also true. One may not feel secure, but actually be quite safe. Nuclear weapons operate at the psychological level. The security they offer is of the psychological variety. These weapons cannot provide actual physical security. Deterrence, for example, is a psychological theory. It cannot provide actual physical protection against a nuclear attack.

It is worth examining deterrence theory to see how much security it actually provides. For deterrence to work, there must be clear communications, the threat of retaliation must be believed, the decision makers must act rationally, and the targets of deterrence must be locatable. In other words, one cannot deter someone who does not understand you, someone who does not believe you, someone who acts irrationally, or someone who cannot be located. Given all these ways in which deterrence can fail, it seems highly irrational to base the future of one’s country or the planet on the belief that deterrence will work under all circumstances.

The best evidence that deterrence is not to be relied upon is missile defenses. If leaders thought that deterrence was foolproof, they wouldn’t need to have missile defenses for protection. Instead, many countries are developing missile defenses to provide actual physical protection against a nuclear attack. The problem with missile defenses is that they, too, are unlikely to work under real world conditions. Most of the successful tests with missile defense systems have employed a homing device that guides the “defensive” missile to the “offensive” one, a condition not likely to be present in the real world. Further, many experts have given clear testimony that missile defenses can be defeated by the use of offensive missile decoys. Russia has responded to US missile defenses by developing offensive missiles with greater maneuverability. Missile defenses are also making the prospects for nuclear disarmament increasingly distant.

In the end, nuclear weapons make a country less secure, since a country that possesses nuclear weapons is almost certainly targeted by nuclear weapons. While nuclear weapons may add little to the security of an already powerful country, they may act for weaker countries as a perceived deterrent to offensive actions by more powerful countries. Thus, North Korea was able to sustain negotiations with the United States to achieve development and security goals by having a small nuclear arsenal, whereas Iraq, which did not have nuclear weapons, was attacked by the United States and its regime overthrown. This is a dangerous strategy for North Korea, but it points out that aggressive policies by powerful states can act as a stimulant to nuclear proliferation.

Ronald Reagan, when he was President of the United States, recognized that the only viable purpose of nuclear weapons for the US and Soviet Union was to deter the other side from attacking. That being the case, Reagan noted, “…would it not be better to do away with them entirely?” Reagan was right. True security will be found not in possessing nuclear weapons, but in eliminating them.

What Is the Current Nuclear Policy of the United States?

In recent years, the United States has not played a constructive role on issues of nuclear disarmament. Rather, it has demonstrated by its policies its intention to rely upon nuclear weapons for the indefinite future. I would characterize US nuclear policy unstable, unreliable and, ultimately, as reckless, provocative and dangerous for itself and humanity. I will discuss below some of the principal elements of US nuclear policy.

Double Standards. The US has upheld one standard for its friends and allies, and another standard for its perceived enemies. Thus, the US seeks to promote nuclear trade with India, despite the fact that India never joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and developed and tested nuclear weapons. The US has been willing to bend its own laws and pressure the international Nuclear Suppliers Group to support its agreement with India. In the same vein, the US has not complained about Israeli nuclear weapons and has continued to annually give billions of dollars of military support to Israel. At the same time, the US attacked Iraq for supposedly having a nuclear weapons program and is threatening Iran with attack for the same unsubstantiated reasons (Iran claims to be enriching uranium only for its legal nuclear energy program). The Bush administration is currently seeking to replace every weapon in its nuclear arsenal with a new thermonuclear warhead, the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead. Such double standards are not sustainable, and are widely recognized as such in the international community.

Extended Deterrence. The United States seeks not only to deter a nuclear attack against its own territory, but also an attack against its allies. Thus, the US provides nuclear assurances to its NATO allies as well as to its allies in East Asia, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. These countries are considered to reside under the US nuclear umbrella. One of the goals of US nuclear policy is to provide assurance to its allies. In the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, it states, “US nuclear forces will continue to provide assurance to security partners, particularly in the presence of known or suspected threats of nuclear, biological, or chemical attacks or in the event of surprising military developments.”

Ambiguous Messages. The US has not given clear messages about when it may use nuclear weapons. As indicated above, even “surprising military developments” can be viewed as a provocation for the threat or use of US nuclear forces. The 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, for example, also states, “Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack….”

Threat of Preventive Use. In a 2005 draft document, Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, the US expressed a willingness to use nuclear weapons against an enemy “intending to use WMD” against the US or allied military forces, or in the case of an “imminent attack from adversary biological weapons….”

High Alert Status. The US and Russia continue to keep some 3,500 nuclear weapons on high alert status, ready to be fired within moments of an order to do so. This creates a dangerous situation in which these weapons could be launched by accident.

Preventing Proliferation by force. The US demonstrated its willingness to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons by force when it attacked Iraq in 2003. It has threatened to use force to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons to Iran.

Launch on Warning. The US continues to employ a policy of launching its nuclear weapons on warning of attack. This increases the chances of launching to a false warning, and thus initiating a nuclear attack.

Alliance Sharing. US nuclear weapons are currently shared with six US allies in Europe – Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Turkey and the UK. Some 350 US nuclear weapons are currently thought to be deployed in Europe in cooperative agreements with these countries that would leave the weapons in the hands of the European countries in the event of hostilities. The US is the only country in the world to deploy nuclear weapons on foreign soil.

Negative Leadership. There are two main directions in which leadership can be applied on nuclear weapons issues. One direction is toward ending reliance on nuclear weapons and eliminating them; the other direction is toward sustaining these weapons for the indefinite future. The United States has chosen the latter course. It has blocked progress toward nuclear disarmament in the United Nations General Assembly, the Commission on Disarmament, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conferences, despite its obligation under the NPT to engage in “good faith” negotiations for nuclear disarmament. In the area of nuclear policy, the US has shown negative leadership. It has been an obstacle rather than a beacon in moving toward achieving a nuclear weapons free world.

When looked at in overview, and when taking the first letters of each of the elements of US nuclear policy described above, they spell Death Plan. While I don’t think that US nuclear policy is consciously meant to be a Death Plan, I do think that it is currently charting a course that will result in nuclear proliferation, potential nuclear terrorism, increased nuclear threats and the eventual use of these weapons.

Above all countries, the United States should be leading the way toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Not only does it have special responsibilities as the country that first created nuclear weapons and first used them, but it is also the country that would benefit most in terms of security from abolishing these weapons.

Whose Interests Do Nuclear Weapons Serve?

Nuclear weapons seemingly serve the interests of countries that are threatened by another nation’s nuclear weapons. The US was originally threatened by the potential of German nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union was threatened by US Nuclear Weapons, the UK and France were threatened by the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons, and so on. It is clear, however, that deterrence can fail, defeating reliance upon nuclear weapons for security.

Beyond the questionable interests of countries in nuclear weapons for deterrence, the most obvious interests are those of the scientists and engineers employed to create and improve these weapons. The engineers and scientists employed by the nuclear weapons laboratories – such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US – have a continuing interest in their job security and prestige. In the US, the University of California has a financial interest in the resources it receives from the government for providing management and oversight to the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories, as does its partner in management, Bechtel Corporation ,and other defense contractors.

One class of people whose interests are not served by nuclear weapons is the citizens of a country that possesses these weapons. They are the targets and potential victims of nuclear attack by other nuclear-armed states. It is ordinary citizens, the inhabitants of Earth, including the nuclear weapons states, who have the most to lose in a nuclear exchange.

What Is the Road to Nuclear Weapons Abolition?

The road to nuclear weapons abolition is a road not much traveled, but one that calls out to humanity. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki recognized that nuclear weapons and human beings cannot co-exist. We must choose: humanity or nuclear devastation. The choice should not be difficult. We must end the nuclear weapons era before these weapons end the human era.

The road to nuclear weapons abolition can be conceived of as a series of steps to lessen nuclear dangers, while engaging in good faith negotiations on an international treaty for the phased, verifiable, irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons. It is a road to a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC). A Draft NWC has been created by some international civil society organizations, including the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation (INESAP). The Draft Convention was first introduced to the United Nations General Assembly by the Republic of Costa Rica in 1997, and was revised and reintroduced to the UN by Costa Rica in 2007.

The Draft Nuclear Weapons Convention sets forth a plan for the phased, verifiable, irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons. It is only one such guide, but it demonstrates that a feasible plan can be created. It should be an incentive to nuclear weapons states to begin the process of good faith negotiations that they are obligated to fulfill by their membership in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Among the steps that can be taken in conjunction with negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Convention are the following:

  1. De-alerting nuclear arsenals;
  2. Legally binding commitments to No First Use of nuclear weapons;
  3. Placing all weapons-grade nuclear materials, as well as uranium enrichment, plutonium separation and other key elements of the nuclear fuel cycle, under strict and effective international control;
  4. Ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  5. Reestablishing an Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
  6. Banning weapons of mass destruction in outer space.

Are There Signs of Hope?

There are some signs of hope that our human spirits can prevail over the cold technology of nuclear annihilation.

  1. The vast majority of states in the world support a world free of nuclear weapons. There are currently 188 countries that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The nuclear weapons states party to this treaty agree that they will pursue “good faith” negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament. Unfortunately, these states (US, Russia, UK, France and China) have not acted to fulfill their disarmament obligations. Only three countries have not signed the treaty (Israel, India and Pakistan), and one country has withdrawn (North Korea). At the United Nations Disarmament Committee in October 2007, states voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution calling for “Renewed determination towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.” The vote was 165 in favor, three opposed and ten abstentions. The three opposed were India, North Korea and the US.
  1. The vast majority of US and Russian citizens support a world free of nuclear weapons. A 2007 poll by found that the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons was supported by 73 percent of Americans and 63 percent of Russians. In both countries, even larger majorities want their governments to do more to pursue this objective. Sixty-four percent of Americans and 59 percent of Russians favor taking all nuclear weapons off high-alert status. Most Americans (88%) and Russians (65%) endorse the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), but would like to speed up the timetable of the treaty and have reductions far greater than the 2,200 by 2012 that are called for in the treaty. A majority in both countries would support cutbacks to 400 nuclear weapons each, making their arsenals roughly comparable to those of other nuclear weapons states. A large majority of Americans (92%) and Russians (65%) believe that an international organization, such as the United Nations, would need to monitor and verify compliance with such deep reductions.
  1. Cities are standing up for nuclear disarmament. The Mayors for Peace “2020 Vision” Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons has grown to nearly 2000 Mayors in 124 countries. The United Cities and Local Governments organization, the world’s largest and most widely recognized mayoral association, voted in October 2007 to support the Mayors campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons. The Declaration of the United Cities and Local Government organization stated, “We call on all nation states and armed groups to cease considering cities as military objectives – ‘cities are not targets’.”
  2. More than half the world is covered by Nuclear Weapons Free Zones. Virtually the entire southern hemisphere is covered by Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, including Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Africa, and Southeast Asia. In addition, central Asia has set up a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.
  1. Former Cold War officials are now coming out in favor of a world free of nuclear weapons and US leadership to achieve such a world. In a January 4, 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn argued, “Nuclear weapons today present tremendous dangers, but also an historic opportunity. U.S. leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage — to a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.” At a follow up conference in late 2007 on the 21st anniversary of the Reykjavic Summit of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, Nancy Reagan told the conference, “Ronnie had many hopes for the future and none were more important to America and to mankind than the effort to create a world free of nuclear weapons. As Ronnie said, these are ‘totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing and possibly destructive of all life on earth.’ I agree and applaud your effort to create a safer world.”
  2. Norway’s Government Pension Fund has divested from companies providing components for nuclear weapons. The Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global, based upon a recommendation from the Ethics Council for the fund, has divested from companies that develop and/or produce central components for nuclear weapons. According to their ethical guidelines, the fund may not invest in companies that produce weapons that through normal use may violate fundamental international humanitarian principles, a category that includes nuclear weapons. The following companies were excluded from the fund on this basis: BAE Systems Plc, Boeing Co., Finmeccanica Sp.A., Honeywell International Inc., Northrop Grumman Corp., Safran SA and United Technologies Corp. The Ethics Council pointed out that this is not an exhaustive list.
  1. Legal measures are being taken to challenge the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament obligations. There is a plan by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) to encourage the United Nations General Assembly to ask the International Court of Justice whether or not the nuclear weapons states are acting in “good faith” on their obligations for nuclear disarmament in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In Italy, there is a legal case for the removal of US nuclear weapons from Italian soil.
  1. University students are showing increased concern for university involvement in nuclear weapons research and development. At the University of California at Santa Barbara, the students have established a Student Oversight Committee to oversee the US Nuclear Weapons Laboratories for which the University provides management and oversight. They intend to conduct inspections of the laboratories and report to their fellow students on whether the laboratories are fulfilling their obligations under international law.


Nuclear weapons are instruments of annihilation. Rather than provide security, the undermine it. US leadership toward nuclear disarmament is needed, but unfortunately the US has been setting up obstacles to nuclear disarmament. This must change.

There are some signs of hope. The vast majority of countries and people support the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Large majorities of American and Russian citizens want to move faster in this direction. Some 2000 of the world’s cities are supporting the elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2020, and are speaking out against the targeting of cities. More than half of the world is covered by Nuclear Weapons Free Zones. Even former American officials during the Cold War are now pressing for US leadership for the elimination of nuclear weapons. These are all good and hopeful signs of intention. But more is needed – in addition to intention, there must also be momentum and raising the issue to a higher priority on national and global agendas.

Norway has found a way of applying economic pressure to the corporations involved in developing or producing components for nuclear weapons. This is a powerful action that should be adopted by other major funds throughout the world. There should be a global call for divestment from these companies. Legal channels present another powerful avenue for bringing pressure to bear upon the nuclear status quo. One can imagine a global campaign to remove nuclear weapons from the oceans, the common heritage of humankind, and to prevent their introduction into the common province of humankind in outer space.

Finally, young people are beginning to awaken to this issue, as exemplified by the student activities in opposition to the University of California’s management and oversight of the US Nuclear Weapons Laboratories. Young people must be educated to understand that it is their future that is most endangered by nuclear weapons. They cannot wait to become the leaders of tomorrow; in their own interest, they must step up and become the leaders of today on this critical issue.

David Krieger is the President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (