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United States and USSR/Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles, 1945-2006. These numbers include warheads not actively deployed, including those on reserve status or scheduled for dismantlement. Stockpile totals do not necessarily reflect nuclear capabilities since they ignore size, range, type and delivery mode.

Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated.

Proponents of nuclear disarmament say that it would lessen the probability of nuclear war occurring, especially accidentally. Critics of nuclear disarmament say that it would undermine deterrence.



The movement for disarmament has varied from nation to nation over times.

A few prominent proponents of disarmament argued in the earliest days of the Cold War that the creation of an international watchdog organization could be used to enforce a ban against the creation of nuclear weapons. This initial movement largely failed. During the 1960s, a much stronger popular movement against nuclear weapons developed, rallying primarily around the fear of nuclear fallout from nuclear testing.

After the Partial Test Ban Treaty (1963), which prohibited atmospheric testing, the movement against nuclear weapons somewhat subsided in the 1970s (and was replaced in part by a movement against nuclear power). In the 1980s, a popular movement for nuclear disarmament again gained strength in the light of the weapons build-up and aggressive rhetoric of US President Ronald Reagan. After the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s the momentum again faded.

In the USSR, voices against nuclear weapons were few and far between as there was no "public" to speak of as a political factor. Certain citizens who had become prominent enough to safely criticize the Soviet government, such as Andrei Sakharov, did speak out against nuclear weapons, but to little effect.

When the extreme danger intrinsic to nuclear war and the possession of nuclear weapons became apparent to all sides during the Cold War, a series of disarmament and nonproliferation treaties were agreed upon between the United States, the Soviet Union, and several other states throughout the world. Many of these treaties involved years of negotiations, and seemed to result in important steps toward creating a nuclear weapons free world.

Key treaties

  • Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) - 1963: Prohibited all testing of nuclear weapons except underground.
  • Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - signed 1968, came into force 1970: An international treaty (currently with 189 member states) to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. The treaty has three main pillars: nonproliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology.
  • Interim Agreement on Offensive Arms (SALT I) - 1972: The Soviet Union and the United States agreed to a freeze in the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that they would deploy.
  • Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) - 1972: The United States and Soviet Union could deploy ABM interceptors at two sites, each with up to 100 ground-based launchers for ABM interceptor missiles. In a 1974 Protocol, the US and Soviet Union agreed to only deploy an ABM system to one site.
  • Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) - 1979: Replacing SALT I, SALT II limited both the Soviet Union and the United States to an equal number of ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers. Also placed limits on Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVS).
  • Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) - 1987: Created a global ban on short- and long-range nuclear weapons systems, as well as an intrusive verification regime.
  • Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) - signed 1991, ratified 1994: Limited long-range nuclear forces in the United States and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union to 6,000 attributed warheads on 1,600 ballistic missiles and bombers.
  • Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II) - signed 1993, never put into force: START II was a bilateral agreement between the US and Russia which attempted to commit each side to deploy no more than 3,000 to 3,500 warheads by December 2007 and also included a prohibition against deploying multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)
  • Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty) - signed 2002, into force 2003: A very loose treaty that is often criticized by arms control advocates for its ambiguity and lack of depth, Russia and the United States agreed to reduce their "strategic nuclear warheads" (a term that remain undefined in the treaty) to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012.
  • Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) - signed 1996, not yet in force: The CTBT is an international treaty (currently with 181 state signatures and 148 state ratifications) that bans all nuclear explosions in all environments. While the treaty is not in force, Russia has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1990 and the United States has not since 1992.[1]

Only one country has been known to ever dismantle their nuclear arsenal completely—the apartheid government of South Africa apparently developed half a dozen crude fission weapons during the 1980s, but they were dismantled in the early 1990s.

NATO's European theatre

After the fall of the Soviet Union, a number of former Soviet republics (Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) found themselves in possession of Soviet nuclear weapons, but they were given to Russia (who took responsibility and ownership of the Soviet arsenal) in exchange for negative security assurances and financial compensation from the United States and the Russian Federation. As part of an effort to reduce nuclear tensions between US and Russia after the end of the Cold War, a delegation from the Russian Ministry of Defence led by US-Russian national Alexander M. Dokychuk, during an official visit to the US in 1992, stated in a live televised program that Russian nuclear missiles will never again be pointed at US cities.


Many organizations and networks exist which distribute information and put pressure on governments, e.g. the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which advocated a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament in the United Kingdom together with the Labour far left, specifically the Bevanites, leading it to become Labour Party policy in 1960-61 and again in 1980-89. There was also a strong peace camp movement. Many people still felt the need for a nuclear deterrent, especially since the Cold War was still ongoing, and this policy is believed to have been a major cause of Labour's defeat in the 1983 election.

In 1955, 11 leading scientists and intellectuals signed the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, warning of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and calling on world leaders to find peaceful solutions to international tensions. This was followed in 1957 by the first of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs hosted by Cyrus S. Eaton in Pugwash, Nova Scotia.

The 1985 Nobel peace prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) advocates abolition of all nuclear weapons. In 2006, it initiated the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The Council for a Livable World, founded by nuclear physicist Leo Szilard, and its sister organization, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, have both advocated for a reduction in global nuclear stockpiles and for an increase in non proliferation efforts.[2]

In the U.S. an organization for nuclear disarmament is Peace Action - National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

US nuclear policy

Despite a general trend toward disarmament in the early 1990s, the George W. Bush administration repeatedly pushed to fund policies that would allegedly make nuclear weapons more usable in the post-Cold War environment [1], [2]. To date the U.S. Congress has refused to fund many of these policies. However, some [3] feel that even considering such programs harms the credibility of the United States as a proponent of nonproliferation.

Recent controversial U.S. nuclear policies

  • Reliable Replacement Warhead Program (RRW): This program seeks to replace existing warheads with a smaller number of warhead types designed to be easier to maintain without testing. Critics charge that this would lead to a new generation of nuclear weapons and would increase pressures to test. Congress has not funded this program.
  • Complex Transformation: Complex transformation, formerly know as Complex 2030, is an effort to shrink the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and restore the ability to produce “pits” the fissile cores of the primaries of U.S. thermonuclear weapons. Critics see it as an upgrade to the entire nuclear weapons complex to support the production and maintenance of the new generation of nuclear weapons. Congress has not funded this program.
  • Nuclear bunker buster: Formally knows as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP), this program aimed to modify an existing gravity bomb to penetrate into soil and rock in order to destroy underground targets. Critics argue that this would lower the threshold for use of nuclear weapons. Congress did not fund this proposal, which was later withdrawn.
  • Missile Defense: Formerly known as National Missile Defense, this program seeks to build a network of interceptor missiles to protect the United States and its allies from incoming missiles, including nuclear-armed missiles. Critics have argued that this would impede nuclear disarmament and possibly stimulate a nuclear arms race. Elements of missile defense are being deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic, despite Russian opposition.

Former U.S. officials Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Bill Perry and Sam Nunn proposed in January 2007 that the United States rededicate itself to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, concluding: “We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal.”[3] Arguing a year later that “with nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous,” the authors concluded that although “it is tempting and easy to say we can't get there from here, . . . we must chart a course” toward that goal.[4] During his Presidential campaign, U.S. President Elect Barack Obama pledged to “set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it.”[5]


U.S. policy options for nuclear terrorism

To prevent nuclear terrorism against itself, it is essential that nuclear materials are secured, so that "terrorist organizations" will not have access to the raw materials or already-built warheads.

The United States has taken the lead in ensuring that nuclear materials globally are properly safeguarded. A popular program that has received bipartisan domestic support for over a decade is the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR). While this program has been deemed a success, its funding levels need to be increased so as to ensure that all dangerous nuclear materials are secured in the most expeditious manner possible. The CTR program has led to several other innovative and important nonproliferation programs that need to continue to be a budget priority in order to ensure that nuclear weapons do not spread to actors hostile to the United States.

Key programs

  • Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR): The CTR program provides funding to help Russia secure materials that might be used in nuclear or chemical weapons as well as to dismantle weapons of mass destruction and their associated infrastructure in Russia.
  • Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI): Expanding on the success of the CTR, the GTRI will expand nuclear weapons and material securing and dismantlement activities to states outside of the former Soviet Union.

Other states

While the vast majority of states have adhered to the stipulations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a few states have either refused to sign the treaty or have pursued nuclear weapons programs while not being members of the treaty. Many view the pursuit of nuclear weapons by these states as a threat to nonproliferation and world peace, and therefore seek policies to discourage the spread of nuclear weapons to these states, a few of which are often described by the US as "rogue states".

  • Declared nuclear weapon states not party to the NPT:[6]
  • Indian nuclear weapons - 60-80 active warheads.
  • Pakistani nuclear weapons - 70-90 active warheads
  • North Korean nuclear weapons - <10 active warheads
  • Undeclared nuclear weapon states not party to the NPT:
  • Israeli nuclear weapons - 75 - 200 active warheads[7]
  • Nuclear weapon states not party to the NPT that disarmed and joined the NPT as non-nuclear weapons states:
  • Former Soviet states that disarmed and joined the NPT as non-nuclear weapons states:
  • Non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT currently accused of seeking nuclear weapons:
  • Non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT who acknowledged and eliminated past nuclear weapons programs:

See also

External links



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