Efforts to re-invigorate a movement to abolish nuclear weapons are rising on the international agenda, made clear in statements by the U.S. presidential candidates, British and Indian leaders, and a campaign led by former U.S. officials. For states without weapons, talk of nuclear disarmament is embraced as a welcome change, but viewed with skepticism. The next U.S. president should emphasize the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, explains George Perkovich in a new report.

Perkovich outlines four security areas where the long-term project of abolishing nuclear weapons would best serve U.S. interests: preventing proliferation, preventing nuclear terrorism, reducing toward zero the threat of nuclear annihilation, and fostering new optimism for U.S. global leadership.
Requirements for abolition of nuclear weapons include:
  • Strengthening verification and enforcement mechanisms, which augment U.S. and global security at a time when nuclear industry is rapidly expanding.
  • Gaining the support of non–nuclear-weapon states for strengthened nonproliferation rules, inspections, and controls over fissile material through commitment to the elimination of nuclear arsenals.
  • Accounting for and controlling the nuclear materials necessary to enable disarmament, greatly reducing risks that terrorists could acquire these materials. 
  • Wider understanding that nuclear deterrence is not a fail-safe; the long-term answer to proliferation concerns is to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons to zero.
Perkovich concludes:
“The elimination of all nuclear arsenals is not an end in itself. It is a means to global security. The verification and security conditions that would be required to enable the abolition of nuclear weapons are all conducive to a more secure world. Therefore, the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons can be a beneficial organizing principle of the national security policies of major states. The next U.S. administration should be one of its champions.”

About the Author

George Perkovich is vice president for studies–global security and economic development and director of the Nonproliferation Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His personal research has focused on nuclear strategy and nonproliferation, with a focus on South Asia and Iran, and on the problem of justice in the international political economy.