In his speech in Berlin today the United States President, Barack Obama, made a commitment to move towards the reduction, and ultimate elimination, of nuclear weapons. SIPRI welcomes the President’s statement. However, this is not the first time the President has made such a commitment, and it remains to be seen how Russia’s support will be secured.
A comprehensive strategy for reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles
In April 2009, in Prague, President Obama underlined that the goal of a nuclear weapon free world could only be achieved by simultaneously reducing existing nuclear weapon stockpiles, preventing the emergence of new ones and eliminating the risk that civilian nuclear fuel cycles might be used for non-peaceful purposes.
Obama has shown a long-standing commitment to nuclear disarmament. In particular, he recognizes that reducing nuclear capabilities does not necessarily reduce US security—and may in fact strengthen it.
‘The comprehensive, integrated approach proposed by Obama remains the most convincing strategy for nuclear risk reduction through cooperation and agreement,’ said SIPRI Director Professor Tilman Brück.
The need for international cooperation on non-proliferation
President Obama’s effort to move forward on all fronts simultaneously deserves the support of the international community. All countries—whether or not they have nuclear weapons and whether or not they have elements of the nuclear fuel cycle—should examine what they can do to contribute to the wider goal of nuclear risk reduction.
This will help overcome the counter-productive diplomatic stand-offs between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, or between nuclear technology “haves” and “have-nots”,' said Professor Brück.
Reaching agreement with Russia will be crucial
The decision to reiterate the commitment to nuclear risk reduction in Berlin recognizes that, of all the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, Germany has done the most to promote a new evaluation of the role of nuclear weapons.
However, given Russia’s skepticism towards Obama’s position, and continuing disagreements over Syria, the likelihood of Russian-US alignment on reductions is slim.
‘By choosing the cold war-era frontline city of Berlin as the place to make this statement, Obama has come as close to Russia as he possibly can while still being "surrounded by friends",' said Professor Brück.
World nuclear forces
According to SIPRI data, at the start of 2013 eight states possessed approximately 4400 operational nuclear weapons. Nearly 2000 of these are kept in a state of high operational alert.
If all nuclear warheads are counted—operational warheads, spares, those in both active and inactive storage, and intact warheads scheduled for dismantlement—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel possess a total of approximately 17 270 nuclear weapons.