The world’s nuclear powers will meet with Iranian diplomats this week in Moscow, where Iran will probably insist that it should have the right to enrich uranium while Western nations demand cuts in Iran’s nuclear program.
The struggle over Iran’s nuclear program comes at a time when Russia and the United States are actively reducing the size of their arsenals, according to a new report from a Swedish organization that tracks global arms and conflicts. Some experts believe the trend gives the United States greater authority to make demands on Iran.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that the eight countries that are known to have nuclear weapons — the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel — “together possess a total of approximately 19,000 nuclear weapons, as compared with 20,530 at the beginning of 2011.”
The reductions come from the United States and Russia, which cut their numbers by 500 and 1,000 warheads, respectively, from last year. The report attributes this trend partly to the 2010 New START treaty between the two countries, which put limits on the number of deployed nuclear warheads. At the time the New START treaty was signed, some argued that the agreement intended to set a good example for Iran and aimed to reverse the “haves-versus-have-nots” rhetoric between nuclear and non-nuclear powers:
“The two nuclear superpowers’ commitment to further reduce their arsenals . . . reinforces the legitimacy of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and efforts to enforce it,” wrote three Middle East researchers from the Center for American Progress think tank in a 2010 Guardian editorial. “And addressing the Iranian programme is clearly part and parcel of this system.”
Steven Pifer, director of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings Institution, told NPR that the treaty helped pave the way for international support for U.S. efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear program and gives President Obama “moral authority” on nuclear nonproliferation.
The U.S. Department of Defense has also said that while nuclear weapons are an important part of national security, the rise of new threats, such as cyberattacks, makes them less of a cornerstone of defense policy.
“It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy,” according to the January 2012 Pentagon strategy document, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”
But rather than simply reducing their supply, the world’s nuclear powers are also upgrading and modernizing their weapons systems.
“At the same time, all five legally recognized nuclear weapon states — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — are either deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems or have announced programmes to do so, and appear determined to retain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan [two countries that aren’t party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but have conducted nuclear tests] continue to develop new systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons and are expanding their capacities to produce fissile material for military purposes,” the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report said.
The Washington Post