Frequently Asked Questions

What are the greatest barriers to achieving Global Zero? 

There are no insurmountable technical barriers to achieving Global Zero, nor are there financial barriers – indeed nuclear weapons cost one trillion dollars globally per decade.  The barrier is political – it is a matter of the leaders of the nuclear powers acting with urgency and resolve.

Tell me more about the danger.  

Today, there are nine countries with nuclear weapons and more than 15,000 warheads combined, thousands dangerously poised on launch-ready alert.  Terrorists are trying to buy, steal or build the bomb.  Fast-growing arsenals in South Asia pose risks of nuclear escalation and use during a crisis between India and Pakistan.  North Korea, led by an erratic and aggressive regime, is poised to deploy nuclear forces for the first time, putting pressure on wary Asian nations to acquire their own nuclear weapons.  If Iran builds nuclear weapons, other countries in their region have made it clear they will develop their own – and many have the nuclear capability to do so in short order.  

Which countries possess nuclear weapons and how many do they have? 

There are nine countries that possess nuclear weapons today, including: (1) Russia with approximately 7,500; (2) the United States with approximately 7,200; (3) France with fewer than 300; (4) China with approximately 250; (5) the United Kingdom with fewer than 215; (6) Pakistan with 110-120; (7) India with 90-110; (8) Israel, which is believed to possess 80 weapons; and (9) North Korea, which is estimated to possess enough plutonium for up to 10 fission bombs.

How do you prevent cheating?  

We need to strengthen monitoring and verification systems and allow nuclear watchdogs to inspect any facility anytime anywhere in the world.  We will be building on a strong capacity for nuclear monitoring – since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945, even during the period before satellite reconnaissance and on-site inspections, no nation has ever produced significant amounts of bomb-grade fissile materials (highly enriched uranium or plutonium) without it being detected by foreign intelligence.

How would a Global Zero accord be enforced if a country attempts to cheat?  

If a country tries to cheat by hiding or producing nuclear weapons, the violator would be totally isolated (economically, politically, culturally, etc.) from the international community and, if necessary, collective military action would be taken.  

How can we hope to prevent nuclear terrorism if it is so easy for terrorists to build a nuclear bomb with the help of sympathetic scientists? 

Terrorists do not have the capacity to produce nuclear weapons material themselves – the essential ingredient for a bomb.  They need to buy or steal it.  If we drain the swamp by eliminating all nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons material – as Global Zero calls for – terrorists cannot get the bomb.

Does Global Zero oppose civilian nuclear power plants or other peaceful uses of nuclear energy?

Global Zero takes no official position on civilian nuclear energy. However, civil nuclear energy does pose certain risks that may obstruct progress toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. We advocate (1) strengthening safeguards on the process of producing and supplying nuclear materials for civilian nuclear energy to ensure that materials cannot be diverted to build weapons and (2) closing the loopholes in the existing treaties which countries – like Iran for example – can take advantage of by building nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program.  

Still, won’t there be a number of hold-out countries that will gum up the process for achieving Global Zero?

Negotiations should begin with a core group of leading nuclear powers to provide sufficient political credibility and momentum to advance the negotiations, build political and public support and pressure, and draw in other nations over time; with expanding participation and increasing political and public pressure, it will become increasingly difficult for a last few outliers to remain outside the process.

Even if the U.S. and Russia lead the way toward global zero with deep reductions in their arsenals, why should we expect other countries – existing nuclear weapons countries or future proliferators such as Iran – to put the brakes on their nuclear programs and ambitions?  

It would be naïve to expect countries to eliminate their nuclear weapons programs just because the U.S. and Russia set an example by reducing their arsenals. However, if the U.S. and Russia take the lead in pursuing Global Zero by negotiating further reductions in their arsenals, it will greatly increase international pressure on other existing nuclear weapons countries to join the process. And if the majority of these key countries join multilateral Global Zero negotiations, then the hold-outs like Iran and North Korea, will find themselves increasingly isolated from an international community with zero tolerance for nuclear weapons and determined to allow no exceptions to the rule.  

It has been asserted that progress toward Global Zero will diminish if not remove the nuclear umbrella on which U.S. allies depend for their security, and in consequence these allies will seek to acquire their own nuclear arsenal. 

This alleged counter-productive consequence of Global Zero – which has been put forward by opponents of Global Zero in Washington – has been roundly rejected by all of the current leaders of all of the major countries in question – leaders from Japan, Germany, and elsewhere who have re-stated their longstanding support for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. They generally subscribe to the view that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack by others, and that universal Global Zero would therefore remove the last remaining rationale for keeping these weapons.  

Is there a double-standard in the Global Zero plan regarding Iran and Israel’s nuclear programs?

No. Global Zero calls for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons – that means all countries without nuclear weapons, including Iran, must not acquire them, and all countries with nuclear weapons, including Israel, must eliminate them.