Imagining a World Without Nuclear Weapons

A recent New York Times op-ed written by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons grappled with Israel’s role in disarming the country and argued for a weapons-free zone as a possible solution in the Middle East. The piece brings up two important questions: Why isn’t the entire world a nuclear-free zone? And, if nuclear weapons are here to stay, why do some countries get them and others don’t?

A nuclear-free zone and a nuclear-free world sound like unattainable ideals, so I can understand the hesitation toward pursuing this kind of policy. Indeed, possessing nuclear weapons and the ability to kill on a mass-scale within minutes contributes to the security of a nation. 

But it seems to me that if nuclear weapons are a necessity in a dangerous world, then it is incredibly hypocritical that the United States and other nations are "allowed" to have nuclear weapons while others aren’t.

Let me be clear. It would be incredibly dangerous for the world if Iran and North Korea had highly sophisticated nuclear weaponry. But, what I don’t understand is why some countries are allowed to house these weapons and others aren’t. Why are countries like the United States, Israel, and Russia permitted to horde stockpiles, but other countries are questioned when they want to do the same for their country and ensure the safety of their citizens? Is the answer that these countries are ruled by bat-shit crazy leaders? And are those leaders more bat-shit than our leaders or is there more behind this?

In many ways, it seems like the United States is still carrying around its big stick and trying to puff out its chest and show off its bravado. But in an era when America's superpower status is diminishing, is this kind of an attitude a thing of the past?

I’m trying to comprehend the moral rationale behind this difference, since it seems that every nation should have an equal opportunity to ensure its citizens are safe.

Many recent presidents have pledged to reduce U.S. nuclear stockpiles, including Barack Obama. The New Start Treaty, an agreement between the U.S. and Russia to reduce nuclear armament, seems like a “start” in the right direction.

But, the issue still remains: Can’t we just make a blanket attempt to disarm the world? And if we can’t fully disarm ourselves, then what gives us the right to regulate what others do?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Reniqua Allen

Journalist. New America Foundation Fellow. PhD student.

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