Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Steven Katsineris argues for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Steven Katsineris is an Australian freelance writer. He has been actively involved in the Palestine solidarity movement for over forty years.

Negotiators recently reached a notable accord after a 13 year standoff to limit Tehran’s nuclear ability in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions. The Iran nuclear agreement reached between the Iran and a group of world powers: the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the USA, Britain, Russia, France and China), plus Germany and the European Union.

So now that these global powers are content with measures to curb any potential for Iran to build a nuclear weapon, can the international community now get serious about doing something tangible about those countries that actually possess massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, some with arsenals of thousands of warheads?

Interestingly, many of the world powers mentioned above, such as the USA, Russia, China, France and Britain have large nuclear stockpiles.

The nuclear stockpiles of the United States and Russia number in the tens of thousands. Beginning in the 1970s, U.S. and Soviet/Russian leaders negotiated a series of bilateral arms control agreements and initiatives that limited and then later, reduced the size of their nuclear arsenals. Despite that progress, the United States and Russia still deploy more than 1,500 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles and they are modernizing their nuclear delivery systems. If these weapons were used even in a “limited” way, the result would be catastrophic nuclear devastation.

The nuclear-weapon states (NWS) China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States are officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons by the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. Although the treaty legitimizes these states’ nuclear arsenals, it also establishes that they are not supposed to build and maintain such weapons in perpetuity. Article VI of the treaty holds that each state-party is to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” In 2000, the five NWS committed themselves to an “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”

But for now, the five continue to retain the bulk of their nuclear weapons, but refuse to disclose the size of their respective arsenals. China has about 250 total warheads, France has 290 deployed warheads, Russia has 1,582 strategic warheads deployed on 515 ICBMs, SLBMs and strategic bombers, the United Kingdom is believed to have 225 strategic nuclear warheads in their stockpile, of which 160 are operational; the United States has 1,597 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 785 ICBMs, SLBMs and strategic bombers.

Russia and United States also retain thousands of retired warheads planned for dismantlement, but these are not included in the above list. The Federation of American Scientists estimates Russia has several thousand non-deployed strategic warheads and approximately 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads. And an additional 3,700 are awaiting dismantlement. The Federation of American Scientists also estimates that the United States' non-deployed strategic arsenal is approximately 2,800 warheads and the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal numbers 500 warheads. In total, the U.S. has about 4,800 nuclear warheads, including tactical, strategic, and non-deployed weapons. Additional warheads are retired and await dismantlement.

Meanwhile other states are also known to possess nuclear weapons. Three states, India, Israel and Pakistan are known to possess nuclear weapons. Israel does not admit to or deny having nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Israel is universally believed to possess nuclear arms, although it is unclear how many weapons Israel possesses. The following arsenal estimates are based on the amount of fissile material — highly enriched uranium and plutonium — that each of the states is estimated to have produced. Fissile material is the key element for making nuclear weapons. India and Israel are believed to use plutonium in their weapons, while Pakistan is thought to use highly enriched uranium. India is estimated to have between 90-110 nuclear warheads, while Israel has between 80-100 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200 and Pakistan has between 100 to 120 nuclear warheads.

Some commentators are calling the agreement between Iran and the grouping of major world powers an historic accord. What would be truly a historic turning point in history would be to make our planet, its peoples and other inhabitants safe from a catastrophic nuclear tragedy by genuinely taking real action on eliminating the massive stockpiles of these immoral weapons of mass destruction forever. That would be a really great and historic step for humanity to achieve.


  1. What would be truly a historic turning point in history would be to make our planet, its peoples and other inhabitants safe from a catastrophic nuclear tragedy by genuinely taking real action on eliminating the massive stockpiles of these immoral weapons of mass destruction forever.

    I wonder if its not the assymetry of arsenals that cause wars,if so, an even distribution of such weapons is more a more lasting and verifiable method of ensuring peace for everyone.By asking for their elimination, there is always the chance that someone may develop them in clandestine fashion, re-introducing the assymetry.

  2. A timely post given the 70th anniversary of US terrorist attacks on the civilian populations of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The horror of nuclear war was made evident in those atrocities. The late French philosopher Jacques Derrida described these attacks as a Holocaust. What difference could there possibly be between them and what the Nazis did to the Jews in the gas chambers?

  3. But AM, what is the best way to ensure they are never used again, or to remove their leverage to other more convential weapons? Do you trust the world leaders to remove them from their arsenal?

  4. DaithiD,

    I don't trust them to remove them. I don't trust them to have them. The only two instances of their recorded use have been unmitigated war crimes.

  5. AM, I agree. And yet like a battered housewife that cant leave her fella,the Japanese rely on the US military for their security. But unless you are a pacifist, how can you counter their morality arguement of incinerating 80,000 to potentially save 80,000+?

  6. DaithiD,

    their morality has been countered on grounds of military necessity - was it more a warning to the Soviets or strike against Japan? I doubt you would buy into the reasons a government would give for murdering people given your distrust of governments. 80,000 troops are legitimate targets in war whereas 80,000 civilians are not.

  7. AM, of course I dont trust the motives of the Government(s), additionally I dont trust the people they govern not to fall for that type of metric either.My missus is Japanese, in our 12 years together, she still cannot talk about those bombs, the trauma is still too visceral.

  8. DaithiD,

    and yet despite the trauma the Holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is rarely referred to in such terms.