Global Zero - A Mere Aspiration

Sarah Benjamin
March 15, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: The mushroom cloud above Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Nuclear weapons came to existence nearly six decades ago, but their threatening nature remains a grim concern for the international community. They have been used only once - by the United States against Japan in 1945 (as shown in Fig. 1) - but today, states are mutually committed to thwarting their future use. Many believe nuclear weapons are an essential deterrent to secure one's state against a nuclear adversary; critics are worried they will fall into the hands of non-state actors or terrorist organizations, thus threatening the peace and security of the entire world. However, if one thing is to be completely true, it is that the United States has maintained and will continue to modernize its nuclear program to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by others. [1] With the United States making a clear signal that it requires nuclear weapons to maintain its security and defense, so too are other nuclear states seeking to maintain their nuclear stockpiles to ensure nuclear deterrence remains steadfast. While the objectives of Global Zero are in the interest of all states, it will likely only remain as an ambition for the future, far beyond our lifetime.

The Current Nuclear Landscape

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review released by the Trump Administration in February outlined a new policy strategy regarding its nuclear weapons arsenal, emphasizing the need for a modernized and credible nuclear deterrent to maintain a diplomatic "position of strength" on the international stage. [2] Russia is following suit as they modernize large quantities of non-strategic nuclear weapons and further develop other strategic systems. More specifically, Russia is pursuing increased nuclear superiority, as it makes continued gains toward enhancing its nuclear vehicles that can deliver warheads. Russia's aggressive efforts in the nuclear, outer, and cyber space demonstrate the improbability that they will make concessions with the nuclear world. [3] China is also modernizing its nuclear forces and making advances in its conventional capabilities as the threat environment in the Asia-Pacific escalates. [4] Further, the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan continues to intensify, and the states' wildly diverging values raise concerns for a potentially disastrous outbreak of nuclear war. [5] And finally, the nuclear conflicts with North Korea and Iran are catalyzing a world where nuclear accidents or nuclear know-how in the hands of non-state actors are becoming ever more likely, making this world increasingly threatened by nuclear fall-out. [6,7] As Fig. 2 shows the current global nuclear landscape. Global Zero offers insight into what this world would look like, free of nuclear weapons, and how the international community should fully pursue this ambitious goal. [8]

Global Zero

Fig. 2: Global nuclear stockpiles. [9] (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

In a January 2007 op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former Chair of the Senate Arms Services Committee Sam Nunn expressed their yearning for the elimination of nuclear weapons to be the "organizing principle of U.S. nuclear policy" by future American presidents. [1] As aforementioned, the precarious nuclear security environment in the present day is calling for global action toward the elimination of these weapons of mass destruction, and the former government officials offer four steps to pursue this strategy. [1] First, the U.S. must signal that nuclear weapons will be used for the "limited purpose" of preventing use by others. [1] Second, the U.S. should reduce its nuclear stockpile to less than 1,000 warheads. [1] Third, the U.S. must develop a "comprehensive international nuclear-control regime" that works far beyond the authority of the NPT and IAEA, two existing international organizations that promote peaceful nuclear use and monitor nuclear material. [1] Fourth and finally, Washington must lead an international coalition to convince the world that global zero is in the interest of all states - nuclear and nonnuclear. [1] As they said in the WSJ op-ed, "nuclear weapons today present tremendous dangers, but also an historic opportunity." [8]

© Sarah Benjamin. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] I. H. Daadler and J. Lodal, "The Logic of Zero," Foreign Aff. 87, No. 6, 80 (2008).

[2 ] "Nuclear Posture Review," U.S. Department of Defense, February 2018.

[3] B. Austin, "Russian Nuclear Policy," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2016.

[4] C. Lu, "China's Nuclear Policy," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2016.

[5] M. White, "Impact of Nuclear Arsenals on India-Pakistan Relations," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017.

[6] D. Berrios, "North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Capabilities," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017.

[7] S. Ali, "State of Iran's Nuclear Program," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2012.

[8] G. P. Shultz, W. J. Perry, H. A. Kissinger, and S. Nunn, "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," Wall Street Journal, 4 Jan 07.

[9] "Reality Check: Where Are the World's Nuclear Weapons?," BBC News, 2 Feb 18.