Remapping the Road to Zero
Dr. Bruce G. Blair, Co-Founder | July 9, 2019
Achieving a world without nuclear weapons seems a more daunting challenge today than it did a decade ago when then President Obama delivered a historic speech in Prague setting our sights on global zero. Not long after Prague, the United States and Russia signed the New START agreement which moved us closer to the goal, but then, regrettably, nuclear arms control stalled and now stands on the verge of collapsing altogether. As key treaties began to unravel, growing US-Russian animosities not only sidetracked renewal but also increased the danger of blundering into a nuclear conflict.
These recent downturns have led Global Zero leaders around the globe not to despair but instead to redouble our commitment and efforts to advance the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons. The unraveling of US-Russian nuclear arms control and the continued existence of regional flashpoints where tensions could escalate to nuclear conflict only reinforce our belief that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable unless nuclear disarmament again becomes an urgent priority.
It is not enough merely to revive the vision of a nuclear-free world. We also need a pragmatic plan of action for realizing it. This plan must not be Pollyannaish, naive in the face of current realities. It must adapt creatively to recent setbacks and appeal to the security interest of nations to reduce their exposure to nuclear catastrophe by shrinking the world’s arsenals and mitigating the risks of deliberate or inadvertent use. The plan should stipulate verifiable reductions on the path to zero, and propose operational and doctrinal risk-reduction steps such as relaxing the hair-trigger postures of deployed weapons and prohibiting the first use of such weapons.
Our new Global Zero “roadmap” for the next ten years – which will be released later this year – reflects the creative thinking of former senior officials and high-ranking military leaders who once formulated the nuclear policies in each of the nuclear-armed countries (except North Korea). As “realists” who understand the new challenges facing nuclear disarmament, these Global Zero leaders nevertheless share optimism in the capacity of nations to recognize their true security interests, and thus seek further cuts to the world’s nuclear stockpile.
History offers many precedents for such a turnaround. Nuclear-armed adversaries in the grip of deep animosity and brinkmanship have managed to quickly restore trust and achieve nuclear arms breakthroughs on multiple occasions in the past. We must be prepared and push for such advances.
Under our new roadmap, the key goal is to remove all nuclear weapons from the military arsenals of the nuclear-armed countries. Nuclear weapons would be made unusable, moved into the inactive stockpile and put in the queue for dismantling. Global Zero’s leaders envision a ten-year timetable to accomplish this transformation. It would take another ten years to complete the dismantling.
Over the next several years, the United States and Russia would, according to our plan, honor a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Eurasia while negotiating an agreement that shrinks their nuclear stockpiles to 1,100 total warheads on each side. This ceiling would not only limit their strategic nuclear arms but also capture non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons in a broadened framework of limitations.
Such deep cuts would reflect a basic shift of nuclear strategy away from targeting opposing nuclear forces for warfighting purposes and toward a deterrence-only policy in which the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others as recommended in our U.S. Alternative Nuclear Posture Review.
Acknowledging that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, the United States and Russia would also negotiate and sign by the end of 2022 a legally binding agreement prohibiting any initial use or threat of first use of nuclear weapons for any purpose.
Global Zero further calls for efforts to universalize the adoption of a no-first-use (NFU) policy by all the nuclear-armed countries. Our members will be pressing their governments not only to adopt a policy of NFU, but also to modify their nuclear postures accordingly in order to align them operationally with their commitment, strengthening the policy’s credibility. This would entail reducing the launch readiness of nuclear forces by taking “de-alerting” steps such as removing warheads from land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles housed in underground silos and normally poised for immediate launch.
During this early phase of the roadmap (2019-2022), a multilateral forum would be convened to discuss ways to reduce nuclear risks and prepare for multilateral arms reduction and disarmament negotiations. A key question on the agenda is what reductions or other steps would the United States and Russia need to take in order to satisfy the preconditions of China and others for joining multilateral arms negotiations. In the view of Global Zero leaders, bilateral U.S.-Russia cuts to 1,100 total nuclear weapons on each side and a conditional pledge to reduce further to 300 if China and others agree to cap their arsenals at 300 total weapons would work to bring China and others to the table.
By 2025, the nuclear-armed states would create an international monitoring program that, when fully evolved, would provide the basis for accurate accounting and security of all weapons-grade fissile materials and weapons on a continuing basis.
By the end of 2028, the nuclear-armed and nuclear-capable states negotiate, sign and ratify a nuclear convention – a binding international treaty that removes all nuclear weapons from military service by 2030. The convention would also call for an end to all testing of nuclear devices, all production of weapons-grade fissile material, and all fabrication of new weapons.
The alternative to an ambitious set of goals and timelines on the path to zero is to continue to run an unacceptably high and growing risk of the use of nuclear weapons somewhere on this planet, and the equally unacceptable risk that such use would escalate to full-scale nuclear catastrophe. The members of Global Zero are united in their conviction that the costs of nuclear weapons vastly outweigh any real or perceived benefits of their possession. Their complete elimination is truly in the interest of the nine nuclear-armed countries and the 183 countries that have forsworn acquiring them. Enlightened, visionary and determined world leaders have the ability to achieve dramatic progress toward global zero in a short amount of time. Global Zero is committed to supporting and encouraging them in every way we possibly can.