The spectre of nuclear destruction was unleashed at the end of World War II when the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan. From 1945 until today, the fear of nuclear annihilation has waxed and waned. It peaked during the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and '60s. Then it lessened when the Soviet Union collapsed 30 years ago, and the U.S. and Soviet Union seemed willing to disarm and eradicate their nuclear stockpiles. However, Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation focusing on nuclear disarmament, says while things are better now — the arms race is heating up again.
"Climate change can destroy human civilization over decades, nuclear weapons can do it in an afternoon. So, while it is not at any given point necessarily an immediate threat, it's something you have to work on and it's something you have to be aware of," he says. "Because things can go wrong very, very quickly and we're starting to feel some of that here in the United States with the turbulence in the White House."
Cirincione notes that proof of an escalating nuclear threat is in the numbers. Every year, $55 billion is spent on nuclear weapons and related programs in the United States, he says.
"That’s more than we spend on the State Department — just for nukes. That's a lot of money," says Cirincione. "We have plans to spend almost $2 trillion over the next 25 years. That is a lot of money that could be going to other places."
History has shown that humans are fallible. And Cirincione says that it's unrealistic to think 14,000 nuclear weapons can be kept throughout the world and not have "something terrible" occur.
"It will," he says. "So we have to take this moment that we have, this opportunity when we can safely reduce, to reduce the numbers, change the policy, save some money, save the planet."