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What nonnuclear weapon states want: six key issues

What if Americans were the ones without nuclear weapons and a well-stocked Iran was insisting that the US couldn’t have such weapons?

By Micah Zenko / May 13, 2010

New York

When most people talk of a world free of nuclear weapons, they generally focus discussion on the states that possess nuclear weapons. Ninety-five percent of the world, however, has decided not to pursue nuclear weapons, and they overwhelming view the bomb as inherently dangerous and destabilizing.

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What if Americans were the ones without nuclear weapons and a well-stocked Iran was insisting that the United States couldn’t have such weapons?

As Washington wrestles with several nuclear issues, it would be useful to view the nuclear issue from the perspective of countries who have never possessed, let alone used, nuclear weapons. The question for Americans to consider in that light is, what do nonnuclear weapon states want?

This month, the 189 countries party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 are meeting at United Nations headquarters for the NPT Review Conference. The conference, held every five years, aims to assess progress toward implementation of the NPT and to determine how the nonproliferation regime can be strengthened.

It provides these nonnuclear states with a global stage to articulate their agenda.

At the heart of the treaty, nonnuclear weapon states pledge not to develop or receive assistance in manufacturing nuclear weapons, and to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards to verify this. Nuclear weapon states pledge to provide support to nonnuclear weapon states for developing peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to … nuclear disarmament.”

It might seem obvious to some, but it is this final pledge of nuclear disarmament that nonnuclear weapon states want to see more quickly enforced.

Between the large stockpiles of the NPT’s acknowledged nuclear states and smaller arsenals of non-NPT nuclear states, significant work remains to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

Five countries that belong to the NPT have the bomb: Though exact figures are hard to come by, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the US has approximately 5,100 nuclear warheads; Russia, 4,600; France, around 300; China, 250; and Britain, 200. Four other states outside the NPT also have the bomb: The Wisconsin Project on nuclear arms control estimates that Israel has around 200, while the NRDC estimates India has about 70; Pakistan, 70; and North Korea, 10.

For nonnuclear weapon countries that neighbor these nuclear powers, or lie within regions of strategic importance, the bomb is a latent threat that is unsettling as it overshadows political, economic, and cultural relations. To move toward nuclear disarmament, six key issues must be addressed at the Review Conference:

Deeper cuts in US and Russian nuclear weapons