Abolish Nuclear Weapons

By Steven Katsineris

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 was reached between Iran and 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 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 Non-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 known to possess nuclear arms, although it is unclear how many weapons it 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 an historic turning point would be to make our planet, its people 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.

—August 2015