At last count, there were 15,375 nuclear weapons in the world — which we know of — in the hands of eight sovereign countries — which we know of.
The so-called nuclear club includes five co-signers of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China — and three states that were not party to the 1970 treaty — India, Pakistan and North Korea.
Although Israel has never formally admitted it, most international experts are convinced that Jerusalem also has a stash of nuclear warheads, although it maintains a strict policy of deliberate nuclear ambiguity. (According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Jewish State has an arsenal of about 80 nuclear bombs).
There have been some dropouts from the club.
South Africa, for example, amassed a total of six nuclear weapons of mass destruction in the 1970s and 1980s, but then disassembled them all before joining the NPT in 1990 (making it, by the way, the first and, so far, only country on Earth to voluntarily give up all nuclear arms it had developed itself).
And then there are Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which collectively inherited stockpiles of 6,481 Russian warheads after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and which subsequently shipped their nuclear weapons off to Moscow and joined the NPT.
Today, Russia and the United States control 93 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads, and in the last few months, both U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been flexing their atomic muscles by promising to revamp and remodel their nuclear arsenals.
This implied Washington-Moscow nuclear pissing contest continues despite the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New Start), which was intended to limit U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.
Moreover, unless the New Start treaty is renewed in 2021, in just four years, both countries will be free to build and deploy as many nuclear warheads as they want.
Currently, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea are also modernizing and expanding their nuclear systems.
Meanwhile, a group of nonproliferation countries at the United Nations are currently trying to pass a resolution to outlaw all nuclear arms.
But, so far, none of the nuclear club members have even bothered to participate in these disarmament talks.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki R. Haley, whose entire delegation has boycotted the UN General Assembly talks, said that she would like nothing better “than a world without nuclear weapons,” but quickly added: “We have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”
Haley may have a point, but that hasn’t kept more than 120 countries other countries — including Mexico — from going ahead with their disarmament deliberations.
The United States is not alone in its protest of the efforts to create “a legally binding (UN) instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination.”
A total of 40 nations have boycotted the talks, and it is worth noting that the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama voted against even convening them.
Still, these negotiations could be the first significant multilateral step toward nuclear arms control since the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995 and the adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in 1996.
The main problem is, of course, that the countries trying to impose nuclear disarmament are trying to impose it on countries which have nuclear arms and are not willing to abide by externally enacted rules.
And unless the nuclear club members are willing to get on board with the disarmament proposal, the UN resolution seems pretty much dead in the water.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]