Very few states outside of the eight possessors really want to have nuclear weapons. There would be even fewer had the nuclear-weapon states pursued an intelligent policy of devaluing nuclear weapons and phasing them out. That very policy was broadly agreed on to extend the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) indefinitely in 1995 and again agreed on in the review of the treaty in 2000. But it has not been pursued. This demonstrates a surprisingly short-sighted analysis on the part of the nuclear-weapon states.
Against terrorists, nuclear weapons have no use whatsoever. Furthermore, to contemplate using such weapons, small or large, as actual instruments of war between states in today's world is counterproductive. It will generate the very proliferation it is meant to stop.
Besides being counterproductive, it is dangerous. Any use of nuclear weapons in war would dash hopes for global integration and the mutual gains all could share from closer cooperation in the family of nations. The world would be forever changed for the worse. We would have to forget most of what we may have thought about progress and having faith in the future, about working for development and better living conditions, about optimism.
Most, perhaps all, of the men and women in important elected positions all over the world understand this. Deep down, they know that nuclear weapons are impossible to use.
For democracies, the weapons create more problems than they solve. They do not give a mature democratic electorate a sense of security. If they give some leaders a sense of prestige and power, of being a world player, that is a sense worth nothing to grown-up citizens and voters.
I believe we are very close to a point where it is impossible for any democratically elected government to use nuclear weapons. Nor do any of the eight nuclear-armed states enhance their security by keeping nuclear weapons for unknown future scenarios or by developing new nuclear weapons. To argue that "these weapons are good for us, but not for anybody else" will no doubt erode the willingness of non-nuclear-weapon states to fulfill their NPT obligations not to possess nuclear weapons.
This does not imply, of course, that the weapons can be disposed of immediately. Yet, it is in the nuclear-weapon states' own security interest to make it clear that they are committed to further reducing strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals in a transparent, verifiable, and irreversible manner. As a first step, they must outline the process by which they will responsibly and progressively reduce their reliance on nuclear weapons and describe the steps and conditions necessary to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
The time has come to recognize these realities and to act on them. It is clear that this will not be accomplished overnight, but it is the direction that counts. And although all countries with nuclear weapons bear responsibility for this, it is the United States, by nature of its dominant status, that must take the lead. No other development is more crucial to strengthening the regime against nuclear weapons.
Ambassador Henrik Salander is secretary-general of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission chaired by former lead UN arms inspector Hans Blix. He was permanent representative of Sweden to the Conference on Disarmament until 2003.