View from Washington D.C.: Nuclear Weapons and the Zone

Soukaina El Anaoui*

Since the first appearance of nuclear technology, the world has suffered from many political and environmental problems. The Second World War concluded with a shocking and tragic end: the deployment of atomic weapons. The use of nuclear weapons since that era led to radical decisions.

The United States is one of the so-calledP5 countries, five major nuclear-weapons states, which also include the UK, Russia, France and China. All together they possess a massive number of nuclear weapons, currently estimated at about 13,000.[i] As NPT signatory states, each country promised to reduce and dismantle their nuclear weapons, provided the rest of the world commits not to build their own nuclear weapons. Furthermore, they also committed to providing civilian nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. However, those goals never fully came to fruition.[ii]

Since 9/11, the United States has instituted a variety of strategic approaches to deal with the use of WMD, in order to combat their spread and protect their national interests from terrorism and other threats.[iii] To do so, in 2002, President George W. Bush announced the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction which describes three important pillars: 1) preventing the proliferation of WMD; 2) protecting with strong non-proliferation measures; and 3) being prepared to use equal force against the enemy if necessary.[iv] Following that, in 2003, Bush announced the National Strategy to Combat Terrorism and in 2005 the National Strategy for Maritime Security.These two announcements focused on several strategies, which were supposed to demonstrate the type of approach used to ensure safety and protection with allies from the most dangerous threats on land and in the ocean.

During the Obama administration, stockpiles of nuclear weapons were cut unilaterally by 553 warheads, reaching 4,018 warheads total, which was the greatest reduction since the Bush administration.[v] This action bolstered US standing in regards to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for future negotiations with other nuclear-weapons states and increased pressure for new initiatives. However, the reduction of nuclear weapons has been always problematic, especially between the U.S. and Russia. Since the 1970s, bilateral agreements and other measures have been adopted to limit and reduce the proliferation of nuclear warheads.[vi] In 2018, President Donald Trump announced the National Strategy for Countering WMD Terrorism, which sought to restrict non-state WMD threats such as extremist groups and individuals able to conduct attacks by using nuclear weapons.

As to its position onthe Middle East, the United States remains open to creating a WMDFZ, but strictly conditional on other states’ demonstrated willingness to commit to the non-proliferation of WMD and the dismantling of said weaponry. The one major country that remains an obstacle in achieving progress on the Zone is Israel, which is on good terms with the US. Pressure on Israel from other countries to dismantle its nuclear weapons is therefore ineffective due to US support.

The US has signed and ratified a wide array of WMD non-proliferation treaties and participated in several related conventions. One of the most important treaties is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), ratified in 1970.[vii]In 1995, the treaty, with 191 party states, was extended indefinitely. Every five years progress is evaluated and further steps agreed upon. The US has signed and in some cases ratified other treaties and agreements regarding WMD, such as the Geneva Protocol, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, with the notable exception of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).[viii] The US considers other countries’ unwillingness to meet on an equal footing to be a major obstacle to the TPNW, and seeks for other global powers to destroy their stockpiles first.[ix]

As one of the five nuclear weapons states party to the NPT, the US does not wish to dismantle their own nuclear weapons or stop their nuclear programmes. Its disarmament agenda chiefly focuses on the question of Russian and Chinese nuclear weapons. They would never consider giving up their own nukes unless other states relinquished their stockpiles. The US also considers that a significant impediment to nuclear reduction relates to the radicalism of some Middle Eastern states, as well as those states’ potential intentions to develop a bomb.[x]

Most states in the Middle East do not actively endorse the idea of developing or using a bomb, others, such as Iran, often present difficulties and major differences leading to animosity between the country’s radical leadership and the U.S. and Western allies, such as Israel and some European states. This reality has led some in the U.S. administration to question the viability of nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East. Nevertheless, in 2015 the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was adopted by Iran, the P5 states, Germany and the European Union. In this nuclear deal framework, signatories collectively agreed that Iran would redesign, convert and reduce its nuclear facilities in exchange for the termination of all nuclear-related economic sanctions.[xi]

The US’s solutions to overcome these obstacles to WMD non-proliferation include negotiating with allies and partners in order to protect themselves from serious threats, including from terrorist groups like ISIS. In addition, the US has offered incentives for the reduction of WMD, for example by gifting new technologies to ally countries that have committed to the NPT. In contrast to those initiatives, the US has provided nuclear technology and cooperation with allies that are not signatory to the NPT, such as India and Israel.[xii] Nevertheless, the US has signed most WMD conventions (with the exception of the Treaty-on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as previously pointed out), but it still needs to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The country maintains that as soon as every other country has committed to sign and ratify all the above treaties, it is willing to do the same.

* Rollins College, Orlando, United States

[i] “The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.” UNIDIR,

[ii] “PREPARATORY Committee for 2000 REVIEW Conference of NPT to Meet at Headquarters 10-21 May | Meetings Coverage and Press Releases.”United Nations,

[iii] “Preventing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorism in the Maritime Supply Chain.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, 2001-2009.

[iv] George W. Bush, National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, White House, 2002.

[v] Hans M. Kristensen, “Obama Administration Announces Unilateral Nuclear Weapon Cuts.” Federation of American Scientists,

[vi] Vincent Intend, July 2020. “U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Agreements at a Glance”, Arms Control Association,

[vii] “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) – UNODA.” United Nations, United Nations,

[viii] Kena Alexander. “Disarmament Treaties DATABASE.” UNODA Treaties,

[ix] U.S. Dept. of Defense. Department of Defense Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2014

[x] “DOD Officials Warn of Increased Threat from Weapons of Mass Destruction.” U.S.

Department of Defense,, 2006

[xi] Kali Robinson, “What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?” Council on Foreign Relations, 18 August 2021.

[xii] “Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United States,” Arms Control Association, April 2020.