Many countries around the world suspect that Iran is attempting to build a nuclear weapon. Regardless of whether this is true or not, is there any objective reason why the US, UK, France, and others are "allowed" to have nuclear weapons, and others cannot, or is the only reason because they are either western allies or too powerful for the US to subjugate? E.g., would neutral countries have any reason to support the possession of nuclear weapons by the US, but object to nuclear weapons by Iran?

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    Would neutral countries have any reason to support the possession of nuclear weapons by any country?
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 9:22
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    @YannisRizos - yes. Once one of the major actors not noted for their isolationism has nukes, it may very well be in the strategic interest of truly neutral countries to have others have nukes for counterbalance.
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 15:39
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    "I don't fear the state that stockpiles thousands of nukes as a deterrent; I am scared of the state that has one and is willing to use it. " Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 2:16
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    I don't understand the question: "I have nukes, I don't want you to have nukes, if I can prevent you from having them, I do so"... do you need any more "objective" than that?
    – o0'.
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 21:55
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    It comes down to a perception of trustworthiness. Some countries are inherently more trustworthy, from a global perspective. I don't think the H-Bomb can be uninvented, and so I would rather a country like the UK held onto these than, say, Pakistan, for example.
    – PCARR
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 12:11

4 Answers 4


There is really no "good" answer. The countries only have as much rights as they have the actual practical power to enforce given objective worldwide geopolitical realities.

Remember that even UN resolutions don't have any practical power outside UN member states sending military forces to enforce them, or implement economic sanctions effectively.

This is the only[1] objective reason. Nobody has the power to stop US/USSR/China/UK/France from having nukes, whether they would like to or not.

OTOH, the Big Countries on the block sometimes have the power to stop other countries from having nukes - and note that they are not usually successful because they don't have THAT much power (witness Iran - despite all the posturing, the effective rate of success of everyone else in stopping - or even slowing down - their nuclear program is slightly below that of stopping Russians from drinking alcohol during their Prohibition in 1980s).

Pretty much the ONLY examples of countries that were seriously determined to get nukes but were stopped successfully due to non-related circumstances were Syria and Iraq (South Africa and Lybia don't count as they abandoned their programs for unrelated reasons).

[1] - Not quite - there is also domestic political pressure. A country may refrain from developing or having nuclear weapons because its domestic political considerations oppose the idea for whatever reasons - e.g., Japan opposes it because of the memory of 1945, Ukraine opposed it because they were enticed by material support offers from the West post-USSR-breakup (which I suppose they greatly regretted by now). There are powerful anti-nuclear movements in many western countries.

A second objective reason is that once one country has a lot of nukes, it may be in the interests of stability for other countries without means to match them to have a counter-balancing global power to have nukes. Mutual assured destruction may seem counter-intuitive, but it DID work.

  • Wikipedia says that the USA pressured Japan into staying non-nuclear. So it's successful at stopping its allies, just not its enemies.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 12:35
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    Japan is certainly an ally of the US now, but where does that come from? The US restraining Japan from having nukes (they have power plants) has certainly its roots from WWII.
    – Déjà vu
    Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 8:33
  • It's not just a question of how powerful a country is. It is also a question of how stable and rational it is believed the government is. There was concern when Pakistan became a nuclear power, but not nearly as much concern as there was and continues to be about NK becoming a nuclear power, nor as much concern as there is about Iran becoming a nuclear power. What separates NK and Iran from Pakistan is that the governments of Iran and NK are considered far more dangerous and for more likely to use the weapons.
    – Readin
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 2:11

The reason why some countries can have nuclear weapons is easy to find in this article: Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, where you can read very interesting topics.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

First pillar: non-proliferation

Five states are recognized by the Non-Proliferation Treaty as nuclear weapon states (NWS): China (signed 1992), France (1992), the Soviet Union (1968; obligations and rights now assumed by the Russian Federation), the United Kingdom (1968), and the United States (1968) (The United States, UK, and the Soviet Union were the only states openly possessing such weapons among the original ratifiers of the treaty, which entered into force in 1970). These five nations are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Non parties to the treaty

Four non-parties to the treaty are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan and North Korea have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons, while Israel has had a policy of opacity regarding its own nuclear weapons program. North Korea acceded to the treaty in 1985, but never came into compliance, and announced its withdrawal in 2003.

So as you can see in the previous quote there are exceptions to the rule like US, France, China and Russia, and there are countries which haven't approved the treaty like North Korea and India, but the countries that approved the treaty must fallow its pillars.

In fact there is no reason, in theory all the countries have the same rights, and so if United States, Israel, India and others have nuclear weapons then any other country should be allowed to have.

By my point of view if a country doesn't want that other country have nuclear weapons or biological weapons that country must show the example and do what it request and disable all its weapons of this kind, because the rule should be followed by everyone and not only for some unprivileged, because they are equals in rights.

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    All countries are equal in rights, but some are more equal than others. It may seem unfair but I think it is reasonable to prevent more country from building a nuclear arsenal, especially unstable countries.
    – Shautieh
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 15:31
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    The Non-Proliferation Treaty commits the five nuclear weapons states to nuclear disarmament, but provides no timetable for doing so. Maybe the last two paragraphs should be modified to note this (and remove "personal opinion", which is discouraged in SE answers). Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 8:01
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    @Shautieh It is debatable which countries are stable or unstable, especially since that may change over time. Just look at the mess the fall of the USSR caused. In hindsight it can be argued that were Ukraine not forced into the Budapest Memorandum, it would've been safer than it is now. Just like nukes on both sides stabilised Pakistan-India relations.
    – Alice
    Commented May 7, 2018 at 8:48

Yes. A very factual reason. Some States have won the last world war, and some others have not.

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    France won?????
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 11:25
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    Yes, France won. Not Pétain, but De Gaulle and Leclerc. After the war, the winners administered Germany, divided into four zones : one Soviet zone, and the West trizone, which was one French zone, one British zone and one American zone.
    – Nicolas B.
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 10:31
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    @NicolasB. After the war, the actual winners debated whether they wanted to treat France as a winner or not. Churchill wanted to and got his way but it wasn't initially obvious.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 1:17
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    I'd also add that many part of southern France freed themselves out of local resistance, without the help of the UK/US or anything. So yes, France won.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 9:15

The current system is indeed unfair to some extent, but pragmatically very effective as ensuring stability. If every state had nuclear weapons then the chance of nuclear war occurring would dramatically increase. If everyone got rid of their nuclear weapons would be that any state could secretly build nuclear weapons use them to bully other states around. The current solution limits both the power of states with nuclear weapons and the chances of nuclear war. The five states recognised as nuclear powers by the treaty may have disagreements, but are exceedingly unlikely to go to war with one another.

  • But does it not give an unfair advantage to the countries already possessing nuclear weapons. Are they allowed to bully other countries around because they got there first?
    – ITguy
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 13:29

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