Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Stanford University


Image of Cover

The Great Debate: Is Nuclear Zero the Best Option?

Opinion Piece/Newspaper Article

Scott D. Sagan - Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science; FSI Senior Fellow
Kenneth Waltz - Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Columbia University and Ford Professor of Political Science Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

Published by
The National Interest, Sept-Oct 2010

The nuclear debate continues:


Nuclear weapons may have been a dangerous necessity to keep the Cold War cold. But scholars and policy makers who are nostalgic for the brutal simplicity of that era’s nuclear deterrence do not understand how much the world has changed. The choice we face is not between a nuclear-free world or a return to bipolar Cold War deterrence; it is between creating a nuclear-weapons-free world or living in a world with many more nuclear-weapons states. And if there are more nuclear nations, and more atomic weapons in global arsenals, there will be more opportunities for terrorists to steal or buy the bomb. - Scott Sagan

We now have a president who wants to free us from the atomic bomb in the hope of making the world a safer place. This “zero option” has intuitive appeal. Nuclear weapons are immensely destructive. No defense against them is possible. Why then should states not band together and agree to abolish them? Why is the zero option not the best choice? Abolishing the weapons that have caused sixty-five years of peace would certainly have effects. It would, among other things, make the world safe for the fighting of World War III.Kenneth Waltz