Disarmament Committee Background Statement
The devastating power of nuclear weapons shown with its mushroom cloud. Image Source: TeachPeace.com



The invention of nuclear weapons had been a massive breakthrough in science as well as in weapons technology. Nuclear weapons have a unique characteristic of using the processes of fission or fusion of atoms to create an explosion. For this reason, they have become the most destructive type of weapons. These devices have an explosive yield ranging from a few kiloton (KT) to several megaton (MT). This units of measurement specifies the equivalent explosive power of nuclear weapons to thousands or millions of tons of TNT. Because of this unimaginable power of nuclear weapons, many countries in the past coveted the possession of these.

The United States was the first to start investing on nuclear weapons. During the Manhattan Project, the US successfully achieved the first nuclear test explosion on July 16, 1945. Just months later, in August 6 and 9, these nuclear weapons were used by the United States on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a successful effort to put an end to World War II. However, following this massive achievement by the US, other countries started developing their own nuclear weapons. In 1949, the Soviet Union made their first successful test of a nuclear bomb, and thus followed others countries such as the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960, China in 1964, India in 1974, Israel in 1979, South Africa in 1979, Pakistan in 1998, and most recently, North Korea in 2006. Among these countries, the US and the Soviet Union (later on, Russia) are considered as the nuclear superpowers.

The greatest risk of nuclear weapons is through their proliferation. In definition, nuclear proliferation means more countries acquiring nuclear weapons. Currently, North Korea and Iran are the countries most feared to be equipped with nuclear weapons. North Korea had been successful in developing nuclear weapons, but this was greatly frowned upon by the international community and the United Nations. On the other hand, Iran continually denies accusations that it strives to develop nuclear weapons. Instead, the country states that its nuclear program is solely for the civilian use of nuclear energy. The threat of further nuclear proliferation garners great international concern, that’s why efforts have been made before to prevent such thing from happening.

Even during the early years of nuclear weapons, the nuclear countries started putting together several agreements concerning the testing, stockpiling, and proliferation of nuclear weapons. The first significant agreement was the Limited Test-Ban Treaty which was signed by the US, USSR, and UK in August 1963. This treaty established a prohibition of testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outer space, or underwater. This international agreement was later reinforced with the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty of 1996 which bans all nuclear testing. Another internationally binding document which aims for a nuclear-free world is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This treaty allows nuclear states to remain in possession of their nuclear weapons as long as they pledge to relinquish them later on. Additionally, this Non-Proliferation Treaty forbids nuclear states on using their nuclear weapons on the non-nuclear state signatories of this treaty. Also, the NPT have established the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which conducts the mandatory inspections for the countries of this treaty. Altogether, these treaties have contributed greatly on preventing further proliferation and promoting nuclear disarmament on both nuclear and non-nuclear countries.

Nevertheless, there are several other treaties made in the past, but specifically in an aim of a gradual disarmament of the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Soviet Union. This began with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Treaties (SALT) of 1972 and 1979. The SALT Treaties established restrictions for the number of nuclear weapons of the US and Soviet Union. Later on, a more stringent treaty was put into effect, the Intermediate-Range Forces Treaty. It was an agreement of President Reagan of the US and Secretary Gorbachev of the Soviet Union concerning the removal of about 2,300 intermediate-range ground missiles from Europe. Furthermore, at the turn of the decade, the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) was enacted bringing the two countries in a definite milestone towards nuclear disarmament. The START I Treaty, signed in July 1991, prohibited ballistic warheads and launchers, and also cut down the US and Soviet strategic nuclear weapons by 30%. In addition, the START II Treaty, signed in January 1993, further reduced both countries nuclear stockpiles by another 25%. During the Cold War, tensions between the US and USSR have reached levels extremely close to nuclear war and annihilation; however, through much diplomacy and agreements, the tensions eased and a partial nuclear disarmament was achieved.

Recently, aims for further nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament have been made; the most recent of which was the renewal of the START Treaty. In April 8, 2010 US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev agreed upon the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a plan which strives to reduce each of the countries’ nuclear stockpile from 2,200 warhead to 1,500. In addition, this new treaty would further decrease the number of strategic nuclear weapons, and also mandate the policy that all nuclear weapons be inside the country’s territory.

The development of nuclear weapons brought forth the danger of nuclear proliferation. However, this threat is later on neutralized through different means of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Yet even with all these documents, treaties, and agreements, a nuclear-free world is still yet to come.


- Which of the following treaties is the most important? Explain.
- What is the role of the United Nations concerning the disarmament of nuclear weapons?
- Should the goal to harness nuclear energy be pursued? Why or why not?
- How would the world be different today if nuclear weapons were never developed?
- Do you think nuclear weapons are an effective means to end wars as was done in World War II? Why or why not?


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