Concerns about proliferation and nuclear terrorism have prompted renewed unofficial, bipartisan, mainstream calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons. For the first time, senior statesmen in the United States, the UK, Russia, China, and India have talked seriously about the need to eliminate all nuclear weapons, from all nations. The trend began with two Wall Street Journal op-eds in 2007 and 2008 by former secretaries of state George Schultz and Henry Kissinger, former secretary of defense William Perry, and former senator Sam Nunn.
In the articles, these respected voices on national security issues called on the US to provide leadership in reversing the global dependence on nuclear weapons and ultimately moving the world toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, calling this a “bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage.” Although the overall tone of the articles suggested that these four statesmen believe eliminating nuclear weapons to be a realistic goal, as a practical matter they argue that attention should be paid first to measures that could be implemented in the near-term, establishing “paving stones” on the “road to zero.”
Esteemed foreign policy experts in other countries have echoed these pathbreaking calls for eliminating nuclear weapons. In the UK, for example, former foreign ministers Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind, and David Owen, and former secretary of state for defense and secretary general of NATO George Robertson wrote in the London Times, “The ultimate aspiration should be to have a world free of nuclear weapons. It will take time, but with political will and improvements in monitoring, the goal is achievable.”
In Germany, former chancellor Helmut Schmidt, former president Richard von Weizsäcker, former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and former Socialist Party leader Egon Bahr wrote a parallel piece. India’s venerable grand master of national security strategy. Subrahmanyan, has written similarly, “India should attempt to regain its earlier reputation as a champion of a nuclear weapon free world.” Finally, in Paris in December 2008, more than 100 leaders from 23 countries came together under the banner of “Global Zero” to kick off a world-wide campaign to persuade the governments of the nuclear weapon states to negotiate a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons by a date certain.
Many governments have also expressed their desire to attain the “goal” of eliminating nuclear weapons, or have discussed the “vision” of a nuclear-free world. Russian Prime Minister Putin, for example, has said, "I believe it is now quite possible to liberate humanity from nuclear weapons". Similarly, China has stated that it, “stands for the comprehensive prohibition and complete elimination of nuclear weapons.”
President Obama set out his nuclear agenda, identifying as its centerpiece “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” though with the caveat that it, “will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime.” He outlined his view of how the goal could be achieved, beginning with the pursuit of CTBT ratification, the negotiation of a fissile materials cut-off treaty, a “new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank,” a reduction of, “the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy,” and a “legally binding and sufficiently bold” strategic arms reductions treaty with Russia.
These reductions would then “set the stage for further cuts” that would “include all nuclear weapons states.”Whether US-Russian strategic reductions and the pursuit of CTBT ratification and a fissile materials treaty will translate into tangible movement toward eliminating nuclear weapons as envisioned by the president remains to be seen and will depend on how rapidly progress might be made toward these near-term
steps and on broader trends in international relationships. It is evident that the United States will have to take the lead if progress is to be made. Together, the US and Russia own roughly 95 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, having perhaps ten thousand weapons each, including inactive warheads, while no other nation is believed to have more than a few hundred.