"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
July/August 2020

Arms Control Today July/August 2020

Edition Date: 
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
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Nuclear Testing, Never Again

July/August 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Seventy-five years ago, on July 16, the United States detonated the world’s first nuclear weapons test explosion in the New Mexican desert. Just three weeks later, U.S. Air Force B-29 bombers executed surprise atomic bomb attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing at least 214,000 people by the end of 1945, and injuring untold thousands more who died in the years afterward.

“Trinity,” the first nuclear test explosion, July 16, 1945. (Photo: Science History Images/Alamy Stock Photo)Since then, the world has suffered from a costly and deadly nuclear arms race fueled by more than 2,056 nuclear test explosions by at least eight states, more than half of which (1,030) were conducted by the United States.

But now, as a result of years of sustained citizen pressure and campaigning, congressional leadership, and scientific and diplomatic breakthroughs, nuclear testing is taboo.

The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, when a bipartisan congressional majority mandated a nine-month testing moratorium. In 1996 the United States was the first to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which verifiably prohibits all nuclear test explosions of any yield. Today, the CTBT has 184 signatories and almost universal support. But it has not formally entered into force due to the failure of the United States,
China, and six other holdout states to ratify the pact.

As a result, the door to nuclear testing remains ajar, and now some White House officials and members of the Senate’s Dr. Strangelove Caucus are threatening to blow it wide open.

According to a May 22 article in The Washington Post, senior national security officials discussed the option of a demonstration nuclear blast at a May 15 interagency meeting. A senior official told the Post that a “rapid test” by the United States could prove useful from a negotiating standpoint as the Trump administration tries to pressure Russia and China to engage in talks on a new arms control agreement.

Making matters worse, in a party-line vote last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to authorize $10 million specifically for a nuclear test if so ordered by President Donald Trump. Such a test could be conducted underground in just a few months at the former Nevada Test Site outside Las Vegas.

The idea of such a demonstration nuclear test blast is beyond reckless. In reality, the first U.S. nuclear test explosion in 28 years would do nothing to rein in Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals or improve the environment for negotiations. Rather, it would raise tensions and probably trigger an outbreak of nuclear testing by other nuclear actors, leading to an all-out global arms race in which everyone would come out a loser.

Other nuclear-armed countries, such as Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea would have far more to gain from nuclear testing than would the United States. Over the course of the past 25 years, the U.S. nuclear weapons labs have spent billions to maintain the U.S. arsenal without nuclear explosive testing. Other nuclear powers would undoubtedly seize the opportunity provided by a U.S. nuclear blast to engage in multiple explosive tests of their own, which could help them perfect new and more dangerous types of warheads.

Moves by the United States to prepare for or to resume nuclear testing would shred its already tattered reputation as a leader on nonproliferation and make a mockery of the State Department’s initiative for a multilateral dialogue to create a better environment for progress on nuclear disarmament. The United States would join North Korea, which is the only country to have conducted nuclear tests in this century, as a nuclear rogue state.

As Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, said on May 28, “[A]ctions or activities by any country that violate the international norm against nuclear testing, as underpinned by the CTBT, would constitute a grave challenge to the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime, as well as to global peace and security more broadly.”

Talk of renewing U.S. nuclear testing would dishonor the victims of the nuclear age. These include the millions of people who have died and suffered from illnesses directly related to the radioactive fallout from tests conducted in the United States, the islands of the Pacific, Australia, China, North Africa, Russia, and Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union conducted 468 of its 715 nuclear tests. Tragically, the downwinders affected by the first U.S. nuclear test, code-named “Trinity,” are still not even included in the U.S. Radiation Effects Compensation Act program, which is due to expire in 2022.

Congress must step in and slam the door shut on the idea of resuming nuclear testing, especially if its purpose is to threaten other countries. As Congress finalizes the annual defense authorization and energy appropriations bills, it can and must enact a prohibition on the use of funds for nuclear testing and enact safeguards that require affirmative House and Senate votes on any proposal for testing in the future. Eventually, the Senate can and must also reconsider and ratify the CTBT itself. As a signatory, the United States is legally bound to comply with CTBT’s prohibition on testing, but has denied itself the benefits that will come with ratification and entry into force of the treaty.

Nuclear weapons test explosions are a dangerous vestige of a bygone era. We must not go back.

Seventy-five years ago, on July 16, the United States detonated the world’s first nuclear weapons test explosion in the New Mexican desert. Just three weeks later, U.S. Air Force B-29 bombers executed surprise atomic bomb attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing at least 214,000 people by the end of 1945, and injuring untold thousands more who died in the years afterward.

Getting Back on Track to Zero Nuclear Weapons

July/August 2020
By Carol Giacomo

If there ever has been a fantastical national security goal, ridding the world of all nuclear weapons would be near the top of the list. At the height of the Cold War, the United States and Russia possessed a combined total of 68,000 of these most deadly armaments and although there have been significant reductions over the years, the two countries still account for an estimated 91 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, which total more than 13,000 warheads.1

Of the estimated 13,410 warheads held by nuclear powers in early 2020, approximately 91 percent are owned by Russia and the United States. Nearly 9,320 are in the military stockpiles (the rest are awaiting dismantlement), of which some 3,720 warheads are deployed with operational forces, of which about 1,800 US, Russian, British and French warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.



Even now, both are continuing to pour billions of dollars into new systems and supporting bureaucracies and industrial bases to produce, manage, and operate their arsenals. They still assign the weapons a primary role in their national defense doctrines. Both adhere to nuclear doctrines that call for the use of nuclear weapons against certain non-nuclear threats, and they maintain Cold War-era nuclear “launch under attack” policies that exacerbate the risk of catastrophic miscalculation. Meanwhile, a few other countries, notably North Korea, India, and Pakistan, are relentlessly advancing their own nuclear capabilities, proving that possessing the bomb and the means to deliver it against an enemy still has a darkly powerful appeal.

There are practical and political reasons to doubt that the nuclear genie can ever be completely returned to its bottle. Will any government follow South Africa’s example in the 1990s and really run the political risk of giving up their country’s entire nuclear weapons arsenal? Given the deeply rooted rationale that has justified the possession of nuclear weapons for three-quarters of a century and the growing tensions and rivalries between nations, how would that make the country safer? After all, the supposed magic of nuclear weapons is that they are capable of such catastrophic damage that no adversary would ever use one against another nuclear-armed state because it would invite certain retaliation and annihilation—mutual assured destruction. Americans were told, incorrectly, that they won the Cold War by outbuilding and outspending the Soviet Union, and many still believe that is a winning formula with Russia and China.

Even if all nuclear hardware and computer codes could be verifiably destroyed, how do you erase the knowledge locked in a scientist’s brain? Even if those questions can be convincingly answered, reducing and eliminating the threats posed by nuclear weapons no longer captivate the national psyche and animate national security agendas the way they once did. There is little sense of urgency in part because the task is so daunting, the challenges so complex, the goal seemingly distant.

Yet, the goal of global zero is as necessary and compelling as ever, maybe even more so. The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists this year moved its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before midnight, the symbolic threshold for nuclear calamity. In 1991, when the United States and Soviet Union were negotiating steep reductions in their arsenals, the clock stood at a far more comfortable 17 minutes to midnight.

Decades of popular pressure and hard-won diplomatic efforts have led to initiatives, treaties, and national policies that have curbed nuclear competition, nuclear proliferation, and many nuclear risks. Beginning in the late 1960s, the stockpile trajectory kept going down, and the United States and Russia were in regular dialogue on ways to mitigate the threats posed by nuclear weapons to both countries and to the world.

In 1970 the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force and established a binding commitment that all non-nuclear-weapon states forswear nuclear weapons and committed the nuclear-armed states-parties “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

The NPT was indefinitely extended in 1995 as part of a package of decisions that also committed the nuclear-armed states to a number of specific steps to help fulfill their disarmament commitments, one of which was to halt nuclear testing. In 1996, negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) were concluded. Although the treaty has not yet entered into force, 184 countries have signed. There is now a global taboo against nuclear testing.

At the 2000 NPT Review Conference, states-parties underscored the end goal and agreed, by consensus, to further measures and called for an “unequivocal undertaking” to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons.2

In recent years, however, momentum has slowed, and the destructive threat of the weapons themselves has been compounded by a precipitous erosion in the arms control regimes that for decades have helped keep nuclear arsenals in check. There has been a weakening of the democracies that have been central to managing the post-Cold War peace, and an explosion in campaign contributions from defense contractors keeps the pressure on members of Congress to ensure the nuclear doomsday machine remains intact.

The growing nuclear capabilities of the newest nuclear actors—India, Pakistan, and North Korea—continue to complicate the nuclear disarmament enterprise and pose potential nuclear flash points. Meanwhile, tensions between the United States and Russia are increasing, as are those between the United States and China, the rising nuclear-armed superpower. Nonstate actors continue to foment instability, and climate change, cyberwarfare, and space weapons pose new and worsening challenges.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to the media at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Dec. 21, 2016.  Two days later he seemed to relish the prospect of renewed nuclear rivalries: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)Nothing in recent years, however, has done more to undermine arms control and nonproliferation efforts than U.S. President Donald Trump. He has not spoken at length about his nuclear weapons philosophy, but his comments during the 2016 campaign questioning why the United States possesses such weapons if it does not use them suggests a leader with no real understanding of their destructive power. Just days before Christmas in 2016, the president-elect tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” He later told MSNBC, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

Trump’s expansive interpretation of presidential power, willingness to act unilaterally, impulsive nature, and disregard for expertise have raised profound concerns about how he would handle a nuclear crisis. Along with a majority in Congress, he has embraced a nuclear modernization program launched by the Obama administration that will cost a budget-busting $1.5 trillion over the next 30 years, and he has issued a nuclear policy document that includes a new low-yield nuclear weapon that could make the use of such armaments more tempting.

Trump has surrounded himself with advisers, including at one time National Security Advisor John Bolton, who have a history of antipathy toward arms control, believing treaties and agreements are unacceptable legal restraints on what should be the United States’ total freedom to exercise power in whatever way it sees fit.

Trump has thrown roadblocks in the way of extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that is set to expire in February after achieving verifiable reductions in Russian and U.S. deployed strategic nuclear warheads. He withdrew the United States from the landmark 2015 deal that put serious curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. He withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated an entire class of missiles in Europe after perfunctory attempts to resolve a dispute over Russian noncompliance with the treaty. Over the objections of U.S. allies, he has announced plans to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows the United States and its allies to fly over Russia and keep tabs on its military facilities. Furthermore, Trump officials assert that commitments made by the United States and others through the NPT review conferences no longer apply.

Now, his administration is considering whether to conduct the first U.S. nuclear test since 1992, for the purpose of sending political signals to Russia and China.3 In short, Trump has made it his mission to tear down rather than strengthen the diplomatic arms control architecture that has forced the United States and Russia to shrink their arsenals and helped prevent most other countries from becoming nuclear powers. It puts the president at odds with his predecessors from Dwight Eisenhower onward, who sought and negotiated or signed one or more nuclear arms control agreements while they were in office.

As illusory a goal as a world without nuclear arms might seem in today’s tumultuous political context, plenty of smart, sober-minded people believe it is still worthwhile. Few expect it to happen soon or perhaps ever. At a minimum, proponents are committed to zero as an aspirational target that can motivate international leaders and the public into taking decisions that propel the world on a path to fewer nuclear weapons instead of more and a diminished reliance on the ones that remain. The basic logic is this: If, as many senior officials and experts and former President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev have argued, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” then why keep investing in expensive, civilization-destroying weapons when there are other needs to fund?

It is worth remembering that Reagan, a conservative Republican, was the first U.S. president to seriously contemplate eliminating nuclear weapons when he discussed a proposal with Gorbachev at their 1986 Reykjavik summit. Their vision ultimately faltered over Reagan’s refusal to forsake his dream of a costly and elaborate missile defense program, but the experience showed that it was possible for a defense hawk such as Reagan to transform into a nuclear peacemaker determined to end the balance of terror. The pair eventually negotiated the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that, for the first time, mandated an actual reduction in the two nations’ long-range nuclear weapons arsenals.

Decades later, the man who had been Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz, is still committed to that ambitious vision. In a seminal commentary in The Wall Street Journal in 2007, Shultz and three other tough-minded national security titans—Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state; Sam Nunn, the former Democratic senator from Georgia; and William Perry, the former defense secretary—gave new intellectual impetus to the cause by calling on the United States to lead a global campaign to devalue and eventually rid the world of nuclear weapons.4

“Nuclear weapons were essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War because they were a means of deterrence,” the four wrote. But they stressed, “It is far from certain that we can successfully replicate the old Soviet-American ‘mutually assured destruction’ with an increasing number of potential nuclear enemies worldwide without dramatically increasing the risk that nuclear weapons will be used.”

President Barack Obama picked up the theme in his 2009 Prague speech by giving assurances that the United States would seek a world without nuclear weapons. “The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War,” Obama said. “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly—perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can.’”5

Obama made a valiant stab at fulfilling his promise by negotiating New START with the Russians and the landmark nuclear deal with Iran and spearheading a global effort to better secure stockpiles of nuclear material. Yet, growing conflict over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and interference in the 2016 U.S. election stymied further progress on nuclear disarmament.

In 2016, when Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, he seemed to express disappointment at the pace of nuclear disarmament, but still underscored the necessity of striving toward global zero. From the Hiroshima Peace Park, he said, “[W]e must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them. We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles.”

Since then, Shultz and Perry, now in their 90s, have continued to try and shake a distracted world out of its torpor. Perry established a project dedicated to educating the public about nuclear threats and has published yet another book on the subject. “The likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe is greater today than during the Cold War, and the public is completely unaware of the danger,” he tells anyone who will listen.

The organization Global Zero, founded in 2008 by Bruce Blair, a nuclear expert and research professor at Princeton University, and others, has been a major driver internationally, as well as in the United States, behind eliminating nuclear weapons, with emphasis on laying out detailed blueprints for practical action toward the global zero goal. “I don’t believe in arms control for its own sake,” Blair told Arms Control Today. “It has to solve security problems and reduce the risk of deliberate or unintended use of nuclear weapons. In the long run, that means to eliminate them all.”

Other organizations and some governments have also sought to hold the world’s nuclear-armed states to their earlier nuclear disarmament commitments in the context of the NPT and to put us back on the path to a world without nuclear weapons.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses the UN Security Council at a Feb.26 meeting on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ahead of its now-postponed 2020 review conference. The meeting, chaired by Germany, illustrated efforts of non-nuclear-armed nations to hold nuclear-weapon states to their disarmament commitments. (Photo: Loey Felipe/United Nations)Against considerable odds, a group of non-nuclear-weapon states backed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, has worked to harness such concerns. After years of campaigning, they secured the backing of 122 non-nuclear-weapon states to negotiate and open for signature the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.6 Although the United States and other nuclear-weapon states boycotted the process, advocates hope the treaty will help to delegitimize nuclear weapons and persuade the outlier nations, among them the United States, to eventually join.

Still, there is no underestimating the obstacles to escaping Trump’s dystopic world in which the arms control guard rails have been ripped off and the nuclear dangers threaten to overwhelm us.

If Trump is reelected, the problem may be insurmountable. One of his top arms control advisers, Marshall Billingslea, in a recent speech reaffirmed Trump’s past threat of a new arms race. “We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” Billinsglea told the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank. “If we have to do it, we will. But we would like to avoid it.”7

As Shultz told the Commonwealth Club in Los Angeles in May, when it comes to arms control, “it all starts at the top with the president. You can’t do it from down below.”8 His hope is that someone with influence, a friend of the president or perhaps a bipartisan Senate working group, can make a convincing case to Trump and his advisers to reverse course and take arms control seriously. It is a long shot, but presidents often look to seal their legacy with second-term accomplishments; and right now, Trump has no foreign policy wins in his column.

If former Vice President Joe Biden, the putative Democratic presidential candidate, wins in November, there is little doubt he will adopt a serious mainstream arms control agenda, given his long record of governmental service and published positions. Just how much of a priority Biden would assign to this agenda and whether he would adopt a transformational strategy with global zero as a broad goal or a more incremental approach is unclear. With the coronavirus pandemic, the collapse of the economy, and the turmoil over systemic racism facing the country, the next president’s plate will be full. Yet, progressive Democrats and others are urging Biden to think big on this and other matters in this moment of national crisis.

So, what could be a new president’s strategy for getting back on track to a world with fewer and eventually no nuclear weapons? There are many ideas for moving forward, but the following appear to have growing support.

Preserve and strengthen existing nuclear guardrails. The president should make clear in the first week in office that the United States is committed to work with Russia once again to lead international arms control efforts, which in the past have contributed significantly to stability. He must act quickly on the things a president can do on his own to stop the damage from Trump’s decisions: Tell Russia the United States is prepared to extend New START, which requires each side to have no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and comply with a strict verification regime, for five more years. Tell Iran that if it goes back into compliance, the United States will immediately rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal under which Tehran observed strict curbs on its nuclear program in return for a lifting of sanctions. Recommit to the nuclear testing moratorium, the pursuit of entry into force of the CTBT, and a return to the Open Skies Treaty.

Declare the U.S. intent to adopt a no-first-use policy and to take land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) off launch-ready alert. The result would be to forswear the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict, thus making clear the sole purpose of the U.S. arsenal is to deter a nuclear attack by others, not initiate one. The change would also give presidents more time to decide whether to launch a nuclear weapon, thus easing the pressure to strike preemptively and reducing the risk of launching based on a false warning. According to Global Zero, there is no more important or pragmatic step that could be achieved in the near term to reduce nuclear risks and advance the cause of disarmament than securing unequivocal statements of support by nuclear-armed states for a no-first-use policy. The president should consult with NATO on the impact of these changes on the alliance and urge Russia to follow the U.S. example.

Ensure no one person has control of the nuclear button. With a no-first-use posture and a move away from launch under attack, the president can and should work with Congress on legislation that would end the president’s sole authority to launch a nuclear weapon by requiring that such a decision can only be taken with the concurrence of the vice president and the secretaries of state and defense, and Congress.

Avoid a new European missile race. Test whether Russia is willing to agree on a mutual moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe, thus halting the return of a destabilizing class of weapons that had been eliminated from the continent. The United States withdrew from the INF Treaty in 2019 after Russia violated the pact by deploying a banned new system, and now both sides are preparing to deploy these missile systems.

Rethink the current plan to replace and upgrade the U.S. arsenal. To create space for new nuclear weapons policies, pause defense budget expenditures allocated for nuclear modernization until an administration review of the program is completed and decisions are made. The pandemic, which has cost the government trillions of dollars, has caused Americans to think anew about what constitutes national security, like jobs and health care. In the context of today’s undeniable needs, it makes even less sense to squander resources on an excess of weapons that will never be used.

Build on New START. Begin talks with Russia on a follow-on agreement to New START that would aim to reduce each side’s arsenal even further and pave the way for countries with smaller nuclear arsenals, especially China, which has roughly 300 nuclear weapons and has resisted arms talks, to eventually join the discussion. Under the Global Zero plan, the new treaty would cover more types of systems (tactical and strategic) than the original version, leaving Russia and the United States with no more than 650 deployed warheads and 450 reserve weapons,9 compared to an estimated 1,550 deployed strategic and 150 nonstrategic nuclear warheads and 2,050 reserve warheads now.10 That would mean eliminating land-based ICBMs, which are considered vulnerable to attack, and scaling back the number of strategic nuclear-armed submarines and B-21 strategic bombers.

Sustain strategic stability talks with Russia and engage in separate talks with China. A trilateral Russian-Chinese-U.S. discussion could help all three explore not just views on nuclear weapons but other strategic topics such as missile defense, advanced conventional weapons, emerging Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons, confidence-building measures such as an early-warning center, and the impact of cyberwarfare on nuclear command and control, which is a growing U.S. concern.

Make nuclear disarmament a global enterprise. The United States has the power to convene a multilateral forum with nuclear-armed and non-nuclear states to discuss nuclear risks and other topics in preparation for a multilateral negotiation that results in the complete dismantlement of all nuclear weapons. This would be no easy task. China has resisted U.S. pressure to discuss restrictions on its 300-weapon arsenal, as have France and the United Kingdom, at least until U.S. and Russian levels are reduced far lower than current levels. India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan have also refused to subject their nuclear weapons to external restraints. How can they be engaged? One idea is to begin with a series of biennial summits at which states would make voluntary commitments to advance disarmament. Another would have the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) jointly pursue some preliminary measures to foster nuclear stability among themselves, such as unilaterally pledging not to increase the size of their arsenals.

Restock the government’s cadre of arms control experts. Given all the experienced arms control experts and diplomats who left government during the Trump administration, there will be a need to woo back a new generation of diplomats and scientists to join the mission to mitigate nuclear dangers. Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, says younger people like herself are not burdened by “old grudges” between Russia and United States and can think more creatively about problem-solving.

Rebuild a coalition in support of nuclear risk reduction. It would help to build a constituency in Congress, among Americans, in foreign countries, and the expert and business communities in support of these steps and a world without nuclear weapons. In theory, there is sympathy in the United States for the global zero vision. Americans consider the spread of nuclear weapons among the top threats to the nation’s well-being, after coronavirus disease and terrorism, according to a March 2020 poll by the Pew Research Center. Yet, public support alone does not motivate elected officials in Congress to act. “I don’t think they know what nuclear weapons can do,” activist Jerry Brown, the former Democratic governor of California said recently. “If you go to Congress, there is very little interest in nuclear weapons.”

The outcome of the U.S. election and the actions taken in the next few years by the United States, Congress, and the American people, as well as other concerned leaders and citizens around the globe, will determine whether we continue to live under what President John Kennedy called “the nuclear sword of Damocles” for another 75 years or whether we find a way to remove ourselves from the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.



1. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists, April 2020, https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/.

2. 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document,” NPT/CONF.2000/28 (Parts I and II), 2000, p. 14.

3. John Hudson and Paul Sonne, “Trump Administration Discussed Conducting First U.S. Nuclear Test in Decades,” The Washington Post, May 22, 2020.

4. George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007.

5. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama—Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic,” April 5, 2009, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-barack-obama-prague-delivered.

6. For the current status, see International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, “Signature and Ratification Status,” n.d., https://www.icanw.org/signature_and_ratification_status (accessed June 24, 2020).

7. Hudson Institute, “Special Presidential Envoy Marshall Billingslea on the Future of Arms Control: Transcript,” May 21, 2020, https://www.hudson.org/research/16062-transcript-special-presidential-envoy-marshall-billingslea-on-the-future-of-nuclear-arms-control.

8. Commonwealth Club, “Reducing Nuclear Weapons: Stopping the War That No One Wants,” podcast, May 20, 2020, https://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/archive/podcast/reducing-nuclear-weapons-stopping-war-no-one-wants.

9. To learn more, see Global Zero, “We Have a Plan,” n.d., https://www.globalzero.org/reaching-zero/ (accessed June 24, 2020).

10. Kristensen and Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces.”


Carol Giacomo was a member of The New York Times editorial board from 2007 to 2020, writing about all major foreign and defense issues, including nuclear weapons, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Before that, she was diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in Washington, covering foreign policy for more than two decades and traveling to more than 100 countries with eight secretaries of state.

The next president can take concrete steps to renew momentum for nuclear disarmament.

Reflections on Injustice, Racism, and the Bomb

July/August 2020
By Vincent Intondi

The moment in August 2005 is seared into my memory. The train pulled up to the Hiroshima station from Kyoto. I stepped out with my mind full of images from 60 years ago, when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on this pristine city of 340,000 people. (Hiroshima had been one of the few cities that escaped the fire-bombing campaign of Japan’s major cities led by U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay.) Initially, I was taken aback by what I saw: a modern city, filled with restaurants, hotels, shops, and lots of people, much like any other in the industrialized world.

About one million people attended the historic rally to “Halt the Arms Race and Fund Human Needs," in New York on June 12, 1982. (Photo: Andy Levin/Science Source)

Suddenly, everything changed. Clearly, I was not ready; and before I could prepare myself, I was standing in front of the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome—one of the few structures still standing in its original form near the hypocenter. Throughout my life, I had seen photos of the dome standing alone amid the total destruction wrought by the 15-kiloton atomic blast. But it was different being there in person. I could feel myself starting to change.

The next two days were filled with conversations with atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha), museum visits, and retracing the places about which John Hersey wrote in his historic work, Hiroshima. On the night of August 6, I saw thousands of Japanese citizens gathered at the Motoyasu River. People reflected on those who lost their lives, making paper floating lanterns and putting them in the water.

That night, with a few of my new Japanese friends (I was a student at the time at American University, which partnered with Ritsumeikan University), I put our lantern into the water. I still remember what I wrote on our lantern: “I will dedicate my life to making sure this never happens again.” As it floated away, I began to look around and think that 60 years ago, everyone here was dead. I thought of the human suffering that had taken place, and all of my anger, guilt, and sorrow boiled over as tears rolled down my face. At that moment, Koko Tanimoto Kondo, a hibakusha with whom I had grown close, immediately came over to console me.

When I returned to the United States, friends, family, and colleagues began hearing me talk about abolishing nuclear weapons. Many were perplexed. I had been known as an activist who fought for civil rights. I had become conscious when the phrase “Free Mumia” was dominant. I had spent my time protesting the murder of Amadou Diallo and the police assault on Abner Louima. “Who cares about nuclear weapons?” I heard. “Nukes will always be there…no one is crazy enough to use them,” and “That’s an issue for old, white dudes.”

But I could not forget what I learned, who I met, or how I felt in Hiroshima. Regardless if I was fighting for civil rights; against the inequities perpetuated by the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund; for justice for the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico; or to stop the U.S. war in Iraq, I kept coming back to one thought: What does any of this matter if we were all dead from nuclear war?

To me, it was simple. These were not separate issues. Jobs, racial equality, climate change, war, class, gender, and nuclear weapons were all connected and part of the same fight: universal human rights, with the most important human right being the freedom to live…live free from the fear of nuclear war.

Of course, this thinking is not new. Contrary to the narrative that nuclear disarmament has been and remains a “white” issue, since 1945, the anti-nuclear movement has included diverse voices who saw the value in connecting all of these issues. Moreover, the nuclear disarmament movement has been most successful when it left room for diverse voices and combined the nuclear issue with social justice.

The movement to abolish nuclear weapons began even before the first bomb was dropped. Among the earliest critics of nuclear weapons were the atomic scientists, members of the Roman Catholic Church, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and many in the Black community. Specifically, regarding African Americans, for some, nuclear weapons were directly linked to racism.

Many African Americans agreed with Langston Hughes’ assertion that racism was at the heart of President Harry Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons in Japan. Why did the United States not drop atomic bombs on Italy or Germany, Hughes asked. The Black community’s fear that race played a role in the decision to use nuclear weapons only increased when the U.S. leaders threatened to use nuclear weapons in Korea in the 1950s1 and Vietnam a decade later. For others, the nuclear issue was connected to colonialism. From the United States obtaining uranium from Belgian-controlled Congo to the French testing a nuclear weapon in the Sahara, activists saw a direct link between those who possessed nuclear weapons and those who colonized the nonwhite world. For many ordinary citizens, Black and white, however, fighting for nuclear disarmament simply meant escaping the fear of mutually assured nuclear destruction and moving toward a more peaceful world.

Today, many people love to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., especially his “I Have a Dream” speech, while also ignoring the full title and focus of the march: “Jobs and Freedom.” Throughout his life, King made the connections of what he called the “triple evils” of capitalism, racism, and militarism.

Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, shown here in 1964, combined domestic activism with international, including a trip to protest French nuclear testing in Africa.  (Photo: Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)King was not alone among civil rights activists in making these connections. To put it in today’s context, to singer, actor, and activist Paul Robeson, “Black Lives Matter” meant not only speaking out about racism in the United States but also highlighting where the United States obtained its material to build nuclear weapons. To W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Lives Matter meant not only forming the NAACP or writing Souls of Black Folk, but also getting millions to sign the “Ban the Bomb” pledge to stop another Hiroshima in Korea. To civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, Black Lives Matter meant not only organizing the March on Washington but also traveling to Ghana to stop France from testing its first nuclear weapon in Africa. To Lorraine Hansberry, Black Lives Matter meant not only A Raisin in the Sun, but Les Blancs, her last play, about nuclear abolition. To Representative Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.), Black Lives Matter meant not only bringing jobs and education to Oakland, California, but also making sure President Ronald Reagan did not build the MX missile.

The prominent Black writer James Baldwin put it best on April 1, 1961, when he addressed a large group of peace activists at Judiciary Square in Washington. Baldwin was one of the headlining speakers for the rally, titled “Security Through World Disarmament.”

When asked why he chose to speak at such an event, Baldwin responded, “What am I doing here? Only those who would fail to see the relationship between the fight for civil rights and the struggle for world peace would be surprised to see me. Both fights are the same. It is just as difficult for the white American to think of peace as it is of no color.… Confrontation of both dilemmas demands inner courage.” Baldwin considered both problems in the same breath because “racial hatred and the atom bomb both threaten the destruction of man as created free by God.”

The power of diversity in the nuclear disarmament movement was perhaps most evident in the 1980s. With Reagan’s rhetoric of a “winnable nuclear war” and massive budget increases for nuclear weapons while cutting social programs that hurt the most vulnerable, the anti-nuclear movement grew exponentially. The nuclear freeze movement emerged.

New groups such as the Women’s Actions for Nuclear Disarmament, Feminists Insist on a Safe Tomorrow, Performers and Artists for Nuclear Disarmament, Dancers for Disarmament, and Athletes United for Peace formed. Established organizations such as Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, the Union for Concerned Scientists, and Physicians for Social Responsibility all saw their membership skyrocket.2

For some, ending the nuclear arms race was and still is linked to their religious faith. Others saw a direct link between the amount of money being spent on nuclear weapons and eliminating badly needed social programs that benefited the poor. Many viewed and still view nuclear weapons as part of the overall military industrial complex, which included U.S. intervention in Central America and the Middle East, while for others, there was a genuine fear that the United States and Soviet Union would start a nuclear war.

This new sense of awareness, fear, and action culminated in the June 12, 1982, demonstration in New York’s Central Park, in which 1 million people of different races, genders, class, and religions marched and rallied for nuclear disarmament. As Randall Forsberg, one of the principal authors of the proposal for a nuclear weapons freeze, said in her speech to the throngs that day, “Until the arms race stops, until we have a world with peace and justice, we will not go home and be quiet. We will go home and organize.”

The rally, combined with other actions of the 1980s, contributed to the Reagan administration changing course on nuclear weapons, effectively showed the power of grassroots organizing, challenged the idea that the movement was not diverse, and paved the way for a new generation of activists committed to saving the world from nuclear annihilation.

The questions that we must ask ourselves today are how have we avoided nuclear war for the last 75 years and how can we sustain the popular support and awareness that is necessary to move policymakers to take the steps necessary to reduce and eliminate nuclear dangers. The answers: good luck and good organizing. There is nothing we can do about luck, except hope it is on our side. But by learning from the past, it is clear that there is much we can do as organizers, advocates, lobbyists, artists, writers, teachers, and just concerned citizens.

We need to make connections. Our power is in our diversity. The anti-nuclear movement needs to continue to reach out to marginalized communities and show the links between that amount of money spent on nuclear weapons and how those funds could be used for food, health care, jobs, housing, and education. Whether it is connecting with the religious, immigrant, LGBTQ, or Black communities, half the battle is showing up.

We need education. Far too many students go through their entire education, including college, without ever learning about the history of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the greater nuclear threat that has persisted since 1945. We must demand that curriculums across the country dedicate more time to the nuclear arms race and the movement to stop nuclear war. This means being involved on school boards and curriculum committees and creating the materials that we can distribute and incorporate into the various school systems.

We need artists. Part of the reason the nuclear issue resonated in the 1980s was because performers such as Jackson Browne, Rita Marley, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Gil Scott-Heron, Harry Belafonte, and Linda Ronstadt, as well as various Hollywood and Broadway stars, performed, raised money, and lent their voices to the cause. We saw the power of this action when President Barack Obama was pushing the Iran nuclear deal.

We need filmmakers. One of the most successful strategies of the anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s was to create “The Day After.” Viewed by millions, this film, along with Helen Caldicott’s relentless pursuit of making sure the world knew the human effects of nuclear weapons, shook ordinary citizens to their core. We can and must replicate these actions to drive home the uncomfortable fact that nuclear weapons are a threat to everyone, everywhere.

We need to hold politicians accountable. Currently, we have a president who has threatened repeatedly to use nuclear weapons, has no problem spending billions on the nuclear arsenal, and may even want to resume nuclear testing. Moreover, we have local, state, and federal politicians who support the president’s decisions and are complicit in the march to nuclear competition and the perpetuation of the oppression imposed by the threat of nuclear weapons use. Whenever we have an opportunity to back a politician who fights for nuclear disarmament, we need to do so. We need to demand from our elected officials that they work toward the goal of nuclear abolition and indeed have some of our organizers within the movement run for office themselves. Of course, we need to vote.

We need to support the anti-nuclear movement and help it evolve. Much like new organizations that emerged in the 1980s, over the last decade we have seen groups such as Global Zero, Beyond the Bomb, and Don’t Bank on the Bomb and global disarmament networks such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons emerge. From the start, these groups have promoted intersectionality and made the connections among race, climate, feminism, and poverty in the fight to abolish nuclear weapons, not just in the United States but worldwide. In many cases, dynamic women have led this new movement. They are younger, with fresh ideas; savvy; and motivated. Whether one is in favor of working toward a no-first-use policy or a formal ban on nuclear weapons through negotiations at the United Nations, these organizers need our support, money, time, and respect.

With all this said, I cannot lie. I am saddened as I write this. Every five years on the anniversary of the first atomic bombings, the demand for my work seems to increase. Although I am thankful that I have the opportunity to write and speak about racism and nuclear weapons, this also means both are still with us.

Part of the problem is that we cannot wait until an anniversary of the atomic bombing or the release of another video of an unarmed person of color being murdered by police forces to talk about these issues.

Yet, I also remain hopeful. I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association, Ploughshares Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others. I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb. I find hope in seeing so many in the streets demanding racial justice and refusing to remain silent in the face of hate, racism, and bigotry. But mostly, I remain hopeful that there will come a time, perhaps on another anniversary of Hiroshima, when I will be asked to write about the past when nuclear weapons and institutional racism once existed and were finally dismantled. Until that day, the fight continues, and we march on.



1. Vincent J. Intondi, African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), pp. 29–31.

2. Paul Rubinson, Rethinking the American Antinuclear Movement (New York: Routledge, 2018), pp. 121–124.


Vincent Intondi is a professor of history and director of the Institute for Race, Justice, and Civic Engagement at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Maryland. His research focuses on the intersection of race and nuclear weapons. He is the author of African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement (2015).

Social movements to improve civil rights, fight climate change, and seek nuclear disarmament have been entwined since the start of the nuclear age.

Freeing the World of Nuclear Weapons: Arms Control Today interviews Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui

July/August 2020

As the site of the first atomic bomb attack, Hiroshima has served as a vital center for education about nuclear weapons and their effects. The people of the city, along with those of Nagasaki, have been steadfast in their advocacy for abolishing nuclear weapons. The survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings on Japan, the hibakusha, have worked to communicate their experience to global citizens and leaders. Kazumi Matsui, Hiroshima’s mayor since 2011, has played a major role in that effort. He serves as president of Mayors for Peace, an assembly of thousands of cities worldwide devoted to protecting cities from the scourge of war and mass destruction.

In a 2016 ceremony, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui (right) offers new names to add to the list of the atomic bomb deaths that is kept at the Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima. More than 290,000 names have been inscribed inside the memorial's stone vault. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Hiroshima is planning to scale back large gatherings and instead hold virtual events marking 75 years since the August 6, 1945, bombing. Matsui spoke with Arms Control Today on June 23.

Arms Control Today: Seventy-five years after the first nuclear test explosion and the atomic bombings that destroyed your city and Nagasaki, what message do you, as the president of Mayors for Peace, and the people of Hiroshima, including the hibakusha, have for others around the world about living under the dark shadow of nuclear weapons?

Mayor Kazumi Matsui: In August 1945, two single atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki instantly reduced them to rubble, taking more than 210,000 precious lives. With almost 75 years since the bombings, the hibakusha, those who barely survived, still suffer from the harmful aftereffects of radiation. While their minds and bodies are in pain, they, together with other members of the public, continue to make their appeal that “no one else should suffer as we have.”

However, today, the nuclear-armed states possess about 13,000 nuclear warheads. The destructive power of every one of them is far above the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These weapons could be used by accident or for terrorism. The current situation is far from what the citizens of Hiroshima, including the hibakusha, have been seeking for so long.

This is because the nuclear-armed states and their allies consider nuclear deterrence as essential for their security assurance, prioritizing the pursuit of only their own misguided national interest. However, this poses a grave threat to the survival of us all, the whole of humanity.

The current global coronavirus pandemic is a transboundary crisis that touches us all. We are experiencing firsthand that we can confront and defeat common threats through solidarity and cooperation. Based on what we have learned from this experience, we must build a robust global coalition of citizens everywhere to address and solve global security challenges, especially nuclear weapons. We must not take action based on self-centered nationalism.

I sincerely hope that everyone in the world will share in the hibakusha’s message and join us in realizing a peaceful world free of nuclear weapons.

ACT: There are now fewer and fewer hibakusha and fewer people who have witnessed the devastation of the atomic bombings. What can be done over the next 75 years to remind current and future generations of the experiences and the messages of the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the health impacts of the use of nuclear weapons? Are we at risk of forgetting?

Matsui: The average age of the hibakusha has exceeded 82. With their unshakable conviction that “no one else should suffer as we have,” they have conveyed their experiences and their desire for peace to younger generations. However, if we leave this important task of passing down to the future generations to the hibakusha alone, then unfortunately, sooner or later, there will no longer be anyone able to do so.

In order to ensure that the hibakusha’s messages will be faithfully inherited and shared with future generations, the City of Hiroshima conducts various initiatives.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum exhibits belongings and photos of victims along with the words of their bereaved family members. Each item conveys to visitors the memories, sentiments, and the pain and sorrow of the victims and the bereaved. In addition, displays on the harm caused by the radiation tell the world of the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons. We encourage all world leaders and their fellow citizens to visit this museum to see the long-term catastrophic effects of the atomic bombings for themselves.

We also have a project to train A-bomb Legacy Successors, volunteers who pass down hibakusha experiences and their desire for peace on their behalf. Today, 131 successors are engaged in such activities.

We also make videos of hibakusha testimonies and collect memoirs in collaboration with the government. We are translating these into many languages so that all can understand their tragic experiences.

We intend to continue our efforts to enrich and expand these and make them available physically and online to share the messages of the hibakusha with the younger generation, who are the future of our society.

ACT: You and others have noted that "vital nuclear arms control agreements are being abandoned, budgets for development and production of new nuclear weapons are growing, and the potential for nuclear weapons use is too dangerous to tolerate. We are badly off course in efforts to honor the plea of the hibakusha and end the nuclear threat.” On an international level, how can and should the world get back on track toward nuclear disarmament?

Matsui: We see unilateralism is rising in the international community, and exclusivity and confrontational approaches have increased tensions between nations. Now, the international situation surrounding nuclear weapons is very unstable and uncertain. But why is that? Fundamentally, policymakers should tackle issues, even if they are rooted in local contexts, from a global perspective. However, they are more likely to jump to a short-term compromise, which results in the current international situation.

In order to break the status quo of dependence on nuclear deterrence and get back on track toward nuclear disarmament, it is essential to mobilize civil society’s shared values and create a supportive environment to give world leaders the courage to shift their policies.

Those shared values and desires of civil society aim at securing every citizen’s safety and welfare. As a nonpartisan organization made up of the very heads of local governments responsible for realizing that goal, Mayors for Peace implements a number of relevant initiatives.

Specifically, by utilizing its network of more than 7,900 member cities in 164 countries and regions, Mayors for Peace conveys the realities of the atomic bombings and works to increase the number of people who share in the hibakusha’s message. In this way, we can build a consensus among global civil society that the elimination of nuclear weapons is key to the peaceful future we need. This consensus will serve as the foundation for a collaborative international environment in which policymakers around the world can take decisive steps forward toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

I sincerely hope that all states, including the nuclear-armed ones, will engage in good-faith dialogue led by world leaders who wholeheartedly accept the earnest wish of the hibakusha, that is, the realization of nuclear weapons abolition as soon as possible. Through this, they will surely share wisdom and come up with an approach to make substantial progress in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

ACT: What more can be done at the local level, especially by the younger generations, wherever they may live, to support global efforts for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament?

Matsui: As I understand it, what civil society is sincerely seeking is to secure the public’s safety and welfare. But when it comes to big global challenges to the peaceful existence of humanity as a whole, such as the abolition of nuclear weapons, we should not limit our solutions to the framework of nation-states. Solutions should also be based on that sincere desire of civil society at the grass-roots level across the world. I believe that we should spread awareness of this throughout civil society.

My hope for younger generations, the future of our society, is that they will start thinking about the preciousness of their daily lives, which are supported by rules based on mutual trust. Hopefully, they will then understand that this is exactly what peace is and think what they can do to preserve it and take action.

In civil society, which is based on democracy, if every person develops such concepts of peace and takes action accordingly, it follows that policymakers will be elected who can realize our common wish. It is also not a dream for them to become policymakers themselves.

If more people come to envisage a future different from the past and work to realize it, they will become the drive to change the world.

Mayors for Peace puts emphasis on peace education aimed at raising awareness among younger generations as part of its intensified efforts. Through our various programs, we nurture young leaders who engage in peace activities proactively.

ACT: What more can Japan’s national leadership do to move us closer to the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons?

Matsui: As the only country to have experienced the devastation caused by nuclear attacks, Japan has a responsibility to share the hibakusha’s sincere desire to abolish nuclear weapons with the world and take the lead on various initiatives to make that a reality.

Japan has a role in international society as a “bridge” between the nuclear-armed states and the states-parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to foster and promote dialogue and cooperation. To realize abolition as soon as possible, Japan can and should do even more to fulfil this role. I hope this will happen from the bottom of my heart.

With the declining number of atomic bomb survivors, Hiroshima is leading efforts to share their experience for generations to come.

Setsuko Thurlow Remembers The Hiroshima Bombing

July/August 2020
By Setsuko Thurlow

I use the word “miracle” lightly, but really, 71 years ago I did experience a miracle, and here I am in your company today.

Setsuko Thurlow, speaks for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons at a conference in Madrid on February 24. She has spent decades describing her experience as a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. (Photo: David Benito/Getty Images)I would like to share my personal experience with you. I know many of you are experts, arms control specialists; and I’m sure you’re quite well informed and knowledgeable of all kinds of human conditions, including the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. But I thought I would offer my personal and first-hand experience.

In 1945 I was a 13-year-old eighth grade student in the girls’ school, and on that very day, I was at the army headquarters. A group of about 30 girls had been recruited and trained to do the recording work of the top-secret information.

Can you imagine, a 13-year-old girl doing such important work? That shows how desperate Japan was.

I met the girls in front of the station before 8 o’clock; and at 8 o’clock, we were at the military headquarters, which was 1.8 kilometers from ground zero. I was on the second floor and started with a big assembly, and an officer gave us a pep talk.

This is the way you start proving your patriotism for emperor, that kind of thing. We said, “Yes sir, we will do our best.” When we said that, I saw the blaze of white flash in the window, and then I had the sensation of smoking up in the air.

When I regained consciousness in the total silence, I was trying to move my body. I couldn’t move it at all. I knew I was faced with death.

Then I started hearing whispering voices of the girls around me: “God, help me, mother help me. I’m here.” So, I knew I was surrounded by them, although I couldn’t see anybody in the darkness.

Then, suddenly, a strong male voice said, “Don’t give up. I’m trying to free you.” He kept shaking my left shoulder from behind and pushed me. We kept kicking, pushing; and you see, we’re finally coming to the door opening, get out that way, crawl, as quickly as possible.

By the time I came out of the building, it was on fire. That meant about 30 other girls who were with me in that same place were burning to death. But two other girls managed to come out, so three of us looked around.

Although that happened in the morning, it was very dark, dark as twilight, and I started seeing some moving black object approaching to me. They happened to be the streams of human beings slowly shuffling from the center part of the city to where I was.

They didn’t look like human beings. Their hair was standing straight up. Burned, blackness, swelling, bleeding. Parts of the bodies were missing. The skin and flesh were hanging from the bones. Some were carrying their own eyeballs, you know, they’re hanging from the eye socket.

They collapsed onto the ground, their stomach burst open with their intestines sticking out. The soldier said, “Well you girls, join that procession, escape to the nearby field.”

That’s what we did by carefully stepping over the dead bodies, injured bodies. It was a strange situation. Nobody was running and screaming for help. They just didn’t have that kind of strength left.

They were simply whispering, “Water please, water please.” Everybody was asking for water.

We girls were relatively lightly injured. So, by the time we got to the hillside, we went to a nearby stream and washed off the blood and dirt, and we took off our blouses and soaked them in the stream and dashed back to hold them over the mouths of the dying people.

You see, the place we escaped to was the military training ground, a huge place, about the size of two football fields. The place was packed with the dead and dying people.

I wanted to help, but everyone wanted water, but there were no cups and no buckets to carry the water. That’s why we resorted to that rather primitive way of so-called rescue operation. That was all we could do.

I looked around to see if there were any doctors around us, but I saw none of them in that huge place. That meant, tens of thousands of people in that place without medication, no medical attention, ointment.

Nothing was provided for them. Just a few drops of water from a wet cloth. That was the level of support, rescue operation you could offer.

We kept ourselves busy all day doing that. Of course, doctors and nurses were killed too. Just a small percentage of the medical professionals survived, but they were serving people somewhere else, not where I was.

So, we were three girls, together with hundreds of other people who escaped to the place. We just sat on the hillside and all night, we watched the Empire City burn, to see the moon from the massive scale of death and suffering we had witnessed.

I was mad, strongly, appropriately, emotionally. Something happened to my psyche. When we close off our psychic memory, in an ultimate situation like that, the cessation of the emotions takes place automatically. I’m glad of that because if we responded emotionally to every graphic sight I witnessed, I couldn’t have survived.

The day ended. Other people can tell about being near the rivers, full of floating dead bodies, and so on. But I didn’t see that then.

But I’ll tell you about the few people in my family, my friends, how they lost their lives. That will show you just how the bomb affected human beings.

I mentioned about 30 girls who were with me, but the rest of the students were at the city center. The city was trying to establish the facilities to be prepared for the air raid.

So, the seventh-grade and eighth-grade students from all the high schools were recruited, went to the center of the city. We were providing the minor labor.

A victim of the Hiroshima atomic bomb is treated at a makeshift hospital in September 1945. Immediately after the bombing, Setsuko Thurlow sought to provide aid and comfort to wounded survivors. (Photo: Wayne Miller/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Now, they were in the center right below the detonation of the bomb. So they are the ones who simply vaporized, melted, and carbonized. My sister-in-law was there with a student. She was one of the teachers supervising the students. We tried to locate her corpse, but we have never done so. On paper, she’s still missing, together with thousands of other students.

I understand there were several thousand students, 8,000 or so. They simply disappeared from the face of earth. The temperature of the blast, I understand, was about 4,000 degrees Celsius.

Another story I can tell is about my sister and her four-year-old child, who came back to the city the night before to visit us. Early in the morning, they were walking over the bridge to the medical clinic, and both of them were burned beyond recognition.

By the time I saw them the next day, their bodies were swollen two or three times larger than normal, and they too kept begging for water. When they died, the soldiers dug a hole and threw in the bodies, poured gasoline, and threw a lighted match.

With a bamboo stick, they kept turning the bodies. There I was, a 13-year-old girl, and I was standing emotionlessly just watching it.

That memory troubled me for many years. What kind of human being am I? My dear sister being treated like animal or an insect or whatever.

There was no human dignity associated with that kind of cremation. The fact that I didn’t really shed tears troubled me for many years. I felt guilt.

I could forgive myself after learning how our psyche automatically functions in situations like that. But, you know, it’s the image of this four-year-old child that is burned to my retina. It’s always there.

That image just guided me, and it’s the driving force for my activism. Because that child came to represent all the innocent children of the world without understanding what was happening to them. They agonized.

So that child is a special being, a special memory. If he were alive, he would be 75. It’s a sobering thought, but regardless of passage of time, he’s still a four-year-old child guiding me.

It was interesting, [President Barack] Obama made a lot of references about innocent children, how we need to protect each one of them, and I was weeping. I couldn’t help it.

Now, let me tell you another example of how the atomic bomb affected the human beings. We rejoiced to hear my favorite uncle and aunt survived. They were okay. They didn’t have any visible sign of injury.

Then several days later, we started hearing a different story. They got sick, very sick. So after my sister and my nephew died, my parents went over to my uncle’s place, started looking after them.

Their body started showing purple spots all over the body, and according to my mother, who cared for them until their death, their internal organs seemed to be rotting, dissolving, coming out as a thick black liquid until death.

Now, radiation works in many mysterious and random ways. Some people are killed immediately, some weeks later or months later, a year later. The horrible thing is, 71 years later, people are still dying from the effects of the radiation.

The hibakusha, the survivors, struggled to explain in the aftermath. It’s surviving in the unprecedented catastrophic aura and the unprecedented social, political chaos due to Japan’s defeat and the occupational forces’ strict control over us.

I finished university in Japan, and upon my graduation, I was offered a scholarship, so I came to your country. I came to Virginia, very close to this city.

That was 1954. The United States tested the biggest hydrogen bomb at the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific that time, creating the kind of situation similar to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki experience.

All of Japan was up in arms with fury. It was not only Hiroshima, not only Nagasaki, now the Bikini Atoll. Well, the United States continued with the testing and actually using them.

That’s when all of Japan became fully aware of the nature of nuclear weapons development. Anyway, at that time, I left Japan, arrived in Virginia, and I was interviewed by the press.

I gave my honest opinion. I was fresh out of college and naive and believed in honesty. I told them what I thought: The United States nuclear policy was bad. It has to stop. Look at all the killings and damage to the environment in the Pacific. That has to stop, and all these kinds of thing I said.

The next day, I started receiving hate letters. “How dare you? Do you realize where you are? Who is giving the scholarship? Go home. Go back to Japan.” Just a few days after my arrival, I encountered this kind of situation, and I was horrified. It was quite a traumatic experience.

What am I going to do? I can’t go back, I just arrived. I can’t put a zipper over my mouth and pretend I never knew anything about Hiroshima bombing.

Would I be able to survive in North America? Well, I spent a week without going to the classroom. I just had to be alone and do my soul-searching.

It was a painful and lonely time in a new country. I hardly knew anybody, and I had to deal with this issue. I’m happy to say that I came out of that traumatic experience with more determination and a stronger conviction.

If I don’t speak out, who will? I actually experienced it. I saw it. It’s my moral responsibility. So, I have my experience to warn the world. We’ve seen this is just the beginning of the nuclear arms race. I just have to warn the world.

Adapted from remarks delivered to the Arms Control Association on June 6, 2016, shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. At the age of 13, Setsuko Thurlow survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. She has since worked to tell the story of the survivors, the hibakusha. She was the Arms Control Association’s 2015 Arms Control Person of the Year, a leading champion within the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for the negotiation of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and for that was a co-recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Seventy-one years afterward, a survivor recalls helping the wounded on August 6, 1945.

Plan A: How a Nuclear War Could Progress

July/August 2020

Seventy-five years ago, the United States tested the first nuclear weapon in New Mexico and then used one to destroy Hiroshima and another to destroy Nagasaki. As devastating as they were, those atomic bombs were small by today’s standards, each exploding with just a tenth of the explosive yield of typical warheads now deployed on missiles, submarines, and planes by a handful of countries. Fortunately, no nuclear weapons have been used in combat since the bombings in Japan, but the risk of nuclear war ebbed and flowed throughout the Cold War. It has been increasing in the past three years. The United States and Russia have abandoned long-standing nuclear arms control treaties, started to develop new kinds of nuclear weapons, and expanded the circumstances in which they might use nuclear weapons. However a nuclear exchange might start, it could quickly escalate from a local disaster into a global catastrophe.

To illustrate how this could happen, Princeton University’s Program on Science & Global Security (SGS) developed a simulation that shows a plausible step-by-step escalation of nuclear war between the United States and Russia that starts in Europe. The images that follow are moments taken from the simulation’s four-minute video.

SGS researchers used independent assessments of current U.S. and Russian force postures, nuclear war plans, and nuclear weapons targets. The simulation was also supported by extensive data sets of the nuclear weapons currently deployed, weapon yields, and possible targets for particular weapons, as well as the order of battle estimating which weapons go to which targets in which order in which phase of the war to show the evolution of the nuclear conflict from tactical, to strategic by city-targeting phases. It is estimated that there would be more than 90 million people dead and injured within the first few hours of the conflict.

The immediate fatalities and casualties that would occur in each phase of the conflict are determined using data from NUKEMAP, an online tool to estimate casualties that was developed by Alex Wellerstein at the Stevens Institute of Technology. The actual fatalities would be significantly increased by deaths occurring from the collapse of medical systems, as well as nuclear fallout and other long-term effects, including a possible global-scale nuclear winter.

The simulation was developed by SGS researchers Tamara Patton, Moritz Kütt, and Alex Glaser, together with Bruce Blair, Zia Mian, Pavel Podvig, and Sharon Weiner, with sound by Jeff Snyder and graphics by Alex Wellerstein. It was originally prepared as part of the “Shadows and Ashes” exhibition at Princeton University’s Bernstein Gallery curated by Mary Hamill, the gallery director.

Princeton University researchers have simulated how a European conflict could escalate into a U.S.-Russian nuclear war.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings and the Nuclear Danger Today

July/August 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

The U.S. atomic bomb attack on the people of Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, and the second attack on the city of Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m. on August 9 killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting men, women, and children in a horrible blast of fire and radiation, followed by deadly fallout. In years that followed, those who survived—the hibakusha—suffered from the trauma of the experience and from the long-term effects of their exposure to radiation from the weapons.

Historians now largely agree that the United States need not have dropped bombs to avoid an invasion of Japan and bring an end to World War II. President Harry Truman and his advisers were aware of the alternatives, but Truman chose to authorize the use of the atomic bombs in part to further the U.S. government’s postwar geostrategic aims.1

The bombings helped to launch the dangerous, decades-long U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race; and they ignited a debate about the dangers of nuclear weapons, their role in foreign and military policy, their regulation and control, and the morality and legality of their possession and use that continues to this day.

Although nuclear weapons have not been used in a military attack since 1945, they have left a trail of devastation, including cancer from atmospheric nuclear test fallout, toxic waste and environmental contamination, and workers and residents exposed to radiation and hazardous chemicals from nuclear weapons production plants, uranium mines, and research labs.2 All too often, indigenous and disempowered communities have found themselves downwind and downstream.

Beginning with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when U.S. authorities sought to censor information about nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapons establishments have tried to hide and stifle debate about the health and environmental effects of nuclear war and nuclear weapons development, testing, and production.

In 1956, however, the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings came together and pledged to work to “save humanity from its crisis through the lessons learned from our experiences” and issued their first formal appeal to the world that “there should never be another [h]ibakusha.”

The voices, testimony, and outreach of the hibakusha have been central to the decades-long struggle to put in place meaningful, verifiable, legally binding restraints on nuclear weapons; to realize a global treaty prohibiting their possession and use; and to advance the steps necessary to achieve the peace and security of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Through the decades, persistent citizen pressure and hard-nosed disarmament and nonproliferation diplomacy have produced agreements and treaties that have successfully curbed the spread of nuclear weapons, slowed the arms race, and reduced the danger of nuclear war. These initiatives slashed the staggering size of the Cold War-era U.S. and Russian arsenals, prohibited nuclear test explosions, and strengthened the taboo against nuclear weapons possession and use.

Yet, far too many of these weapons still exist. Combined, the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals total some 12,170 nuclear weapons, more than 90 percent of the global total, which is estimated to be 13,400.3 In addition to the United States and Russia, there are now seven more nuclear-armed nations, with smaller but still very deadly arsenals: the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

In addition, many of the dangerous policies developed over the years to justify the possession and potential use of nuclear weapons persist. For instance, the United States, Russia, France, and the UK maintain significant numbers of their nuclear weapons on prompt-launch status, ready to retaliate in response to a nuclear attack. The United States and Russia also cling to the option to use nuclear weapons first and against significant non-nuclear threats.

Making matters worse, the dialogue on disarmament has stalled. Tensions between many of the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising, and the risk of nuclear use is growing. The Trump administration has severely undermined U.S. credibility and capability to provide effective global leadership on nonproliferation and disarmament.

The world’s nine nuclear actors are squandering tens of billions of dollars each year to maintain and upgrade nuclear arsenals, monies that could be redirected to address real human needs. The United States and Russia have discarded or disrespected key agreements that have kept their nuclear competition in check, and other agreements are in jeopardy. Other nuclear-armed states, for the most part, still remain outside the nuclear risk reduction and disarmament enterprise. We are once again on the verge of a new, global nuclear arms race.

Our nuclear anxieties persist, and humanity’s efforts to contain and eliminate the nuclear weapons danger continue.

The historic 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which has won the support of the vast majority of the world’s non-nuclear states, is a step forward, but the current environment necessitates even bolder action from civil society and governments everywhere. We must reduce nuclear risks, and we must freeze, reverse, and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons.

The survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings bear witness to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. As the authors of a new 2020 appeal from a consortium of hibakusha leaders and organizations write, “The average age of the [h]ibakusha now exceeds 80. It is our strong desire to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world in our lifetime, so that succeeding generations of people will not see hell on earth ever again.”

Arms Control Today presents the following annotated photo essay to honor their call to action.


1. J. Samuel Walker, “The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update,” in Hiroshima in History and Memory, ed. Michael J. Hogan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

2. Arjun Makhijani, “A Readiness to Harm: The Health Effects of Nuclear Weapons Complexes,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2005. See Arjun Makhijani, Howard Hu, and Katherine Yih, eds., Nuclear Wastelands: A Global Guide to Nuclear Weapons Production and Its Health and Environmental Effects (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

3. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists, April 2020, https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/.


The cloud generated by “Little Boy,” the uranium-based atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, rises above the city with a wartime population of approximately 320,000 on the morning of August 6, 1945. The blast packed a destructive force equivalent to about 15 kilotons of TNT. In minutes, approximately half of the city vanished. (Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)




Three days later, the city of Nagasaki burns following the decision by U.S. leaders to drop “Fat Man,” a plutonium-based bomb with an explosive yield estimated at 21 kilotons, on the city of approximately 260,000 at the time of the attack. (Photo: UN/Nagasaki International Cultural Hall)



The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall stands alone in the rubble. The explosion produced a supersonic shock wave followed by extreme winds that remained above hurricane force more than three kilometers from the hypocenter. A secondary and equally devastating reverse wind ensued, flattening and severely damaging homes and buildings several kilometers further away. Only remnants of a few reinforced structures remained.  (Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)



A burned body in the ruins 500 meters from the hypocenter; and the pattern of a woman’s kimono burned into her skin. The intense heat rays of the Hiroshima bomb reached several million degrees Celsius at the hypocenter and incinerated everything within approximately two kilometers. The heat scorched flesh and ignited trees and other flammable materials as far as 3.5 kilometers from ground zero. Flash burns from the primary heatwave caused most of the deaths at Hiroshima. By the end of 1945, an estimated 140,000 were killed by the blast, heat, and radiation effects of the nuclear attack. (Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)





The city of Hiroshima on fire on August 6, as seen from four kilometers away. A firestorm ravaged the city of Hiroshima for hours after the explosion, peaking around midday. Firestorms leveled neighborhoods where the blast had inflicted only partial damage and killed victims trapped under fallen debris. Within 20 minutes, the explosion also produced black rain laden with radioactive soot and dust that contaminated areas as far away as 29 kilometers from ground zero. (Photo: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)




The ruins of Nagasaki on August 10, 1945, at about 700 meters from the hypocenter. The nuclear attack on Nagasaki killed an estimated 74,000 by the end of 1945 and injured approximately another 75,000. The attack occurred two days earlier than planned, 10 hours after the Soviets entered the war against Japan, and as Japanese leaders were contemplating surrender.  (Photo: UN/Yosuke Yamahata)




The remains of a religious temple in Nagasaki on September 24, 1945, six weeks after the bombing. Many of those who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks would die in radiation-induced illnesses years later. The number of survivors contracting leukemia increased noticeably five to six years after the bombing. Ten years after the bombing, the survivors began contracting thyroid, breast, lung, and other cancers at higher than normal rates. These hibakusha and their descendants helped form the nucleus of the Japanese and global nuclear disarmament movement. (Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)





Seventy-five years on, the effects of the bombings haunt the survivors and inform the global debate about nuclear weapons and the ongoing pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

No Progress Toward Extending New START

July/August 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia concluded the latest round of their strategic security dialogue on June 22 without agreeing to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining arms control agreement limiting their nuclear arsenals.

U.S. arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea speaks to the media in Vienna on June 23 after holding talks the day before with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. (Photo: Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)The United States is “leaving all options available” on the future of the treaty, said Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, who led the U.S. delegation at the talks in Vienna, during a June 24 briefing in Brussels.

“We are willing to contemplate an extension of that agreement but only under select circumstances,” he said. Those circumstances include making progress toward a new trilateral arms control agreement that has strong verification measures, covers all nuclear warheads, and involves China, according to Billingslea.

New START will expire in February 2021 unless U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years. Russia has repeatedly stated that it is ready to extend the treaty without any preconditions and warned that there is not enough time to negotiate a new agreement to replace it before next February. U.S. allies have also urged the Trump administration to extend the treaty.

Trump administration officials, however, have argued that New START is outdated and are instead prioritizing the pursuit of a broader agreement. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Billingslea characterized the talks with Russia in Vienna as “positive” and said the two sides had agreed to form technical working groups to discuss key issues.

The special envoy said he was hopeful that the working groups would make “sufficient progress” to allow for a second round of talks “at the end of July or maybe beginning of August,” when “China again will be called upon to attend.”

The Wall Street Journal on June 23 quoted an unnamed U.S. official who said that the topics for the working groups would be nuclear warheads, especially Russia’s unconstrained stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and doctrine; verification; and space systems. But a June 24 report in Kommersant cited Russian officials saying Moscow did not necessarily agree to discuss nuclear warheads.

Asked about the discrepancy, Billingslea replied that he would have “to circle back” on this issue with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who had led the Russia delegation in Vienna.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said at the conclusion of the talks that “the delegations continued discussing the future of arms control, including extending [New START] and maintaining stability and predictability in the context of the termination of the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty, as well as a comprehensive dialogue on resolving international security problems.”

Prior to the start of the June 22 talks, Billingslea tweeted a picture of the table, with some empty seats reserved with Chinese flags. “Vienna talks about to start,” Billingslea said. “China is a no-show…We will proceed with Russia, notwithstanding.”

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replied, “What an odd scene… Good luck on the extension of the New START! Wonder how LOW you can go?” The United States and Russia are currently believed to possess about 6,000 total nuclear weapons apiece, while China has roughly 300.

Following the Vienna talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on June 23 that the U.S. placement of Chinese flags at empty seats “is unserious, unprofessional, and unappealing for the U.S. to try getting people’s eyes in this way.”

Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea tweeted this photo of empty seats designated for China at nuclear talks on June 22 in Vienna. Earlier in the month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and Russia.” (Photo: @USArmsControl/Twitter)He also noted the incorrect design of the flags that the United States set on the table. “We hope certain people in the U.S. can do their homework and improve their general knowledge to avoid becoming a laughing stock,” he said.

The Trump administration claims that China is engaged in a secret, crash program to build up its nuclear forces and that future arms control efforts must include Beijing.

China has repeatedly refused to join trilateral talks with the United States and Russia and bilateral talks with the United States. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Billingslea on June 8 invited Beijing to join the talks in Vienna, but the following day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying declined the invitation. “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and Russia,” she said. “This position is very clear.”

Billingslea urged China to reconsider. “Achieving Great Power status requires behaving with Great Power responsibility,” he tweeted on June 9. “No more Great Wall of Secrecy on its nuclear build-up.”

Russia has refused to pressure China to change its position and join the talks. “China should itself decide whether these talks are beneficial for the country,” said Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, on June 20. “We will not force our Chinese friends.”

Antonov also repeated a longtime Russian stance that if China joins arms control talks, then U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom should as well.

Billingslea acknowledged that the U.S. “definition of multilateral might be different, but the principle remains the same.” He claimed that China’s nuclear buildup poses a much greater threat than the French and UK nuclear arsenals.

The Trump administration has yet to put forward a concrete proposal for what it wants arms control with China to achieve or detail what the United States would be willing to put forward as concessions in trilateral talks with Russia and China.

Prior to and following the talks in Vienna, Billingslea touted the support of U.S. allies for the Trump administration’s approach to arms control.

Allies have praised the administration for resuming talks with Russia and seeking to bring China into the arms control process, but they also continue to urge the Trump administration to extend New START by five years.

During the Brussels Forum on June 23, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that he welcomes “Russia and the United States sitting down and talking to each other on arms control” and agrees “that China should be involved.”

Still, he added, “in the absence of any agreement that includes China, I think the right thing will be to extend the existing New START agreement.”

“We should not end up in a situation where we have no agreement whatsoever regulating the number of nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Under its monitoring and verification regime, the treaty allows for short notice, on-site inspections.

As the Trump administration continues to assess whether to extend New START, inspections under the accord have been suspended since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is not clear when such inspections might resume.


Prospects remain dim for extending New START or engaging China in nuclear arms control efforts.

U.S. Testing Interest Triggers Backlash

July/August 2020
By Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration faces widespread opposition, including from members of Congress and nuclear weapons scientists, to the potential restarting of U.S. nuclear weapons testing.

Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, visited the Nevada Test Site in 2015, where structures remain from a planned, but never conducted nuclear test, in 1992. In May, Zerbo urged all countries to refrain from restarting any nuclear testing. (Photo: Lassina Zerbo Twitter)The Washington Post reported on May 22 that the Trump administration weighed whether to conduct a nuclear test explosion during a May 15 meeting with national security agencies. (See ACT, May 2020.) The administration reportedly believes that a nuclear test would help prod Russia and China into negotiating a new trilateral arms control deal.

During a June 24 press briefing in Brussels, Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, said, “[W]e maintain and will maintain the ability to conduct nuclear tests if we see reason to do so,” but that he is “not aware of any reason to test at this stage.” Nevertheless, “I won’t shut the door on it because why would we?”

The United States conducted a total of 1,030 nuclear tests, with more than 900 of them performed at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site, until President George H.W. Bush declared a moratorium on U.S. nuclear testing in 1992. According to U.S. nuclear test readiness guidelines, a “simple test” with limited instrumentation could be conducted at the former site within six to 10 months if the president decides to resume nuclear testing.

“With no stated justification to resume testing, we unequivocally oppose any administration’s efforts to resume explosive nuclear testing in Nevada,” said Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen on June 12. They were joined by the state’s Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford, and Susie Lee.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced an amendment to the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) calling for $10 million for the administration to execute a nuclear weapons test “if necessary.” The Senate Armed Services Committee passed the amendment June 10 along a party-line vote, but whether it will be included in the final bill remains unclear.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) joined the Nevada delegation in criticizing any resumption of nuclear testing and introduced legislation that would deny the administration any funds to conduct a nuclear test.

“A return to U.S. nuclear testing would dishonor the lessons from the Cold War and expose a whole new generation of Americans to the horrors of radiation sickness,” said Markey when introducing the Preserving Leadership Against Nuclear Explosives Testing (PLANET) Act on June 4. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and 13 other senators co-sponsored the legislation.

Titus and Horsford introduced a companion bill to the PLANET Act in the House on June 8.

“Resuming nuclear testing would open a door to allow other nations to openly conduct nuclear test explosions while imposing immense financial and health costs on the American people,” said Horsford.

On July 1, Cortez Masto introduced legislation and an NDAA amendment, along with five other senators, to require a joint resolution of approval for the United States to conduct an explosive nuclear weapons test. The passage of the joint resolution would need a two-thirds affirmative vote in the Senate. “The decision to conduct an explosive nuclear test should not be made without congressional approval, and should never be made by a president hoping to gain political points,” said Cortez Masto.

Condemnations also came from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). “It is unfathomable that the administration is considering something so short-sighted and dangerous,” they wrote in a June 8 letter to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) spearheaded a bicameral letter of 80 members of Congress to President Donald Trump warning against the resumption of U.S. nuclear weapons testing.

“A return to nuclear testing is not only scientifically and technically unnecessary but also dangerously provocative.... It would needlessly antagonize important allies, cause other countries to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, and prompt adversaries to respond in kind—risking a new nuclear arms race and further undermining the global nonproliferation regime,” they wrote on June 8.

Meanwhile, a group of 12 former scientists with nuclear weapons expertise signed a June 16 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), saying, “We strongly oppose the resumption of explosive testing of U.S. nuclear weapons. There is no technical need for a nuclear test.”

The Trump administration has faced international condemnation as well, with Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo saying on May 28 that “any actions or activities by any country that violate the international norm against nuclear testing would constitute a grave challenge to the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime, as well as to global peace and security more broadly.”

The Russian and Chinese foreign ministries also condemned the Trump administration for contemplating a resumption of nuclear testing.

“This bombshell,” said a Russian statement, demonstrates “a U.S. campaign against international law.” Russia ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 2000.


U.S. lawmakers and international officials have criticized the Trump administration’s consideration of restarting nuclear testing.

IAEA Board Presses Iran

July/August 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors urged Iran in June to cooperate with the agency’s investigation into possible undeclared nuclear materials and sites in the country. The board resolution prompted Iranian lawmakers to call for Tehran to suspend a voluntary monitoring arrangement with the agency that gives inspectors greater access to information and locations in Iran.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (left), delivers his opening statement to the Board of Governors on June 15. The board convened with reduced attendance to reduce risks from the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The board passed the resolution June 20 by a vote of 25–2, with seven countries abstaining. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom introduced the resolution after IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said on June 15 that Iran’s continued refusal to cooperate with IAEA requests for information about certain nuclear activities and for access to two locations over the past year was “adversely affecting the agency’s ability” to provide “credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.”

The resolution calls on Iran to “satisfy the agency’s requests without further delay” and to provide “prompt access to the locations specified.”

Grossi raised concerns with the board about Iran’s failure to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation during its previous quarterly meeting in March. In reports issued March 3 and June 5, he said that the IAEA first requested clarifications from Tehran regarding possible undeclared nuclear material and activities at three locations in Iran in January 2019. After a year of attempting to get information from Tehran about the locations in question, the IAEA requested access to two of the sites in January 2020 to take environmental samples. Tehran has refused to allow inspectors to visit the site.

The two reports indicate that the activities and materials in question predate 2003, when the IAEA and U.S. intelligence community assessed that Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program. There is no indication in the report that the IAEA has evidence that any of the activities under investigation are currently ongoing.

Before the vote on the resolution, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran has “nothing to hide” and that addressing the IAEA’s investigation is possible but a resolution “will ruin it.” After the vote, he blasted the three European countries for their “total impotence in resisting U.S. bullying.”

Ahead of the vote, Jackie Wolcott, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, described the resolution as a “balanced and fair reaction to Iran’s alarming refusal to comply with its legal obligations” and urged states to support it. Wolcott said that “ignoring such critical safeguards-related questions in Iran would undermine the implementation of safeguards everywhere.”

According to the June 5 report, the IAEA is seeking information about a uranium metal disc that Iran did not declare to the agency; possible fuel-cycle-related activities, including uranium processing and conversion; and possible storage of nuclear material at a location where explosive testing took place in 2003.

Iran is legally obligated to declare locations where nuclear material is present and respond to IAEA requests for information and access under its safeguards agreement, which is required by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has also permitted additional agency monitoring as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

These measures, laid out in the additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement, allow for shorter-notice inspections and expand the use of environmental sampling. Unlike a safeguards agreement, an additional protocol is not required by the NPT, but 136 states are currently implementing additional protocols.

According to the June 5 report, Iran told the IAEA in a June 2 letter that it is “willing to satisfy the agency’s requests” but certain “legal ambiguities” must be addressed first.

The IAEA responded to Iran on June 4, saying that the agency’s requests were “strictly in accordance” with Iran’s safeguards agreement and the additional protocol.

In a statement signed by 240 of the 290 members of Iran’s parliament, lawmakers called the resolution “excessive” and demanded that the government “stop voluntary implementation of additional protocol and change inspections.” The statement urged the IAEA to act “independently and professionally, not under the influence of political and hostile pressures of some members” of the board.

Russia and China opposed the resolution, citing concerns about the origin of the evidence behind the IAEA request and the negative repercussions that it could have on the JCPOA.

Wang Qun, Chinese ambassador to the IAEA, said on June 18 that the legal basis of the IAEA request is questionable and that the agency acted too hastily in submitting a report on Iran’s refusal to cooperate to the IAEA board.

Wang said if a resolution were adopted, it could “be the basis for further actions in the [UN] Security Council, leading to the ultimate termination of the JCPOA,” and would damage the global nonproliferation regime.

In 2006, after Iran had failed to comply with several IAEA resolutions urging Tehran to cooperate with the agency’s investigation into illicit nuclear activities, the board referred Iran to the UN Security Council. This led to a series of council resolutions requiring Tehran to halt its nuclear activities and sanctioning Iran for failing to do so. That investigation was resolved in 2015 as part of the JCPOA, and the Security Council sanctions were also modified by the nuclear deal.

Wang blamed the United States, saying the root causes of the issue “lie in the unilateral and bullying practices” of the U.S. maximum pressure campaign.

Although Mikhail Ulyanov, Russian ambassador to the IAEA, said on June 19 that Iran and the IAEA need to resolve the investigation “without delay,” Moscow views the resolution as “counterproductive.”

Brian Hook, U.S. special envoy for Iran, called the Russian and Chinese votes against the resolution “irresponsible” and said on a June 19 press call that “Russia and China tried to shield Iran from scrutiny.”

Ahead of the vote, Ulyanov also raised concerns about information provided to the IAEA from third-party states, saying that there are “no clear rules in the agency on the use of information received from third countries” and it is “high time” this issue was addressed.

Ulanyov was likely referring to information stolen from Iran by Israel and provided to the IAEA. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly pressured the IAEA on several occasions to follow up on information contained in the documents. (See ACT, November 2018.) The documents allegedly provide more information about Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, which the IAEA assessed was halted in 2003.

Grossi pushed back against assertions that the IAEA should not have acted on information provided by states. He said on June 15 that the IAEA does not take any information provided “at face value” and that the agency conducts “dogged technical and scientific analysis of information coming from any state.”


The IAEA Board of Governors approved a resolution calling on Iran to provide more information about its past nuclear activities.


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