More than four years after President Barack Obama’s 2009 Prague speech declared the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide, the nuclear landscape has become more complex and precarious and shows little sign of movement toward abolition. The so-called global zero initiative has arguably been overtaken by countervailing nuclear realities. Yet the administration remains mired in a Cold War paradigm, gearing up for more U.S.-Russia arms control.
Instead, the Obama administration should focus on other components of its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review as priorities for advancing nonproliferation objectives. These include securing nuclear materials, institutionalizing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), capping global production of fissile material and, more broadly, devaluing the role of nuclear weapons in global security. As in other realms, the United States-China relationship will be a major factor determining the nuclear future.
The goal of eventually eradicating nuclear weapons is not new. Abolishing nuclear weapons over time is in fact enshrined in Article 6 of the 1967 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The flaw in the global zero concept is not its desirability, but its enforceability, especially as it has become progressively easier to build nuclear weapons. However, a number of factors currently make progress in pursuit of global zero unlikely.