U.S. strategic and diplomatic efforts, along with those of the United Nations, have been geared towards the prevention of the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons by certain nations. Although the nuclear genie is apparently out of the bottle in North Korea, the U.S. government is hopeful that a mix of diplomatic, trade and military efforts will be enough to convince the Iranians to shelve their nuclear ambitions. Although it would be heresy to state it in Washington D.C., countries such as Iran should be free to develop any nuclear weapons that they want. Why ? Because they too will learn what a tremendous waste of money and national resources these weapons are.
It is estimated that by the year 1998, the United States had spent $ 5,800,000,000,000 ($ 5.8 Trillion- no, that is not a misprint) on developing and deploying nuclear weapons (and the delivery systems for them.) This figure is from a 1998 Brookings Report which estimated that annual maintenance was at least another $ 35 billion per year (so add another $ 350 billion or so to come up with the total price tag to date.) These numbers are staggering to say the least and do not include the amounts spent by the former Soviet Union, China, India, Pakistan, France and United Kingdom on their arsenals (not to mention Israel and possibly South Africa.) Taken in total, these numbers could easily double the amount spent by the United States.
Critics will argue that it was the very existence of these weapons that prohibited the Cold War from becoming a shooting war. They say the very deterrence based upon the threat of global annihilation was instrumental in creating one of the longest periods of peace in recent history. While global conflict may have been avoided, a new type of war by proxy was favored to keep the superpowers from conflicting head to head- as evidenced by Korea, Vietnam, the Arab-Israeli wars, Indo-Pakistani conflicts, Nicaragua and Afghanistan. Although the United States and Soviet Union faced no destruction on their own turf, many other nations were mercilessly destroyed in the game of global domination.
As nations like Iran and North Korea will learn, the deployment of nuclear weapons is easily countered by more nuclear weapons being deployed by your adversaries and so on, and so on. The rapid escalation in the sizes of the U.S. and Soviet arsenals matched this spiral as new generations of weapons were deployed leading to new weapons to counter them and so on. Eventually, the arsenal sizes far exceeded any possible strategic use and became the tremendous drain on national expenditures that they are. Moreover, they are tactically useless to these countries. They are vulnerable to adversaries first strike capabilities and guarantee virtual annihilation if unleashed.
Nuclear weapons represent the pinnacle in man's never ending quest to develop better ways to kill other men. Antiseptic terms like CEP, throw-weights, first strike and others totally ignore the horrific capabilities of these weapons which make them so appealing to the madmen who covet them. One document I read as a young intelligence analyst still sticks in my head twenty odd years later. It stated how the Soviets second strike on U.S. cities would utilize biological weapons, smallpox in particular, deployed by ICBM to kill off any survivors crawling around in the rubble. This wasn't fantasy concocted by anti-nuclear proponents, it was hard intelligence. The complete lack of humanity necessary to concoct such a plan (and probably the U.S. counter plan) is beyond frightening.
I would use a completely different diplomatic approach in dealing with these nations. First off, cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal by 90 % and encourage all other nuclear powers to do the same. Use the fuel for the peaceful generation of power and then negotiate to eliminate another 9%. Demonstrate to the wannabe nuclear powers how useless $ 5.8 Trillion worth of paperweights really are. Fears of proliferation can be countered by methods to track the origins of the materials used to make weapons. Every potential nuclear weapon has a return address. Make it clear that any use of such weapons by terrorists puts their host nation on the hook for retaliation. Keep 1% of today's weapons around as a safeguard. That is still adequate to annihilate anyone foolish enough to use them.
The enormity of the cost of nuclear weapons is not the only staggering part. The other is the way in which the U.S. government spent money with little or no oversight from the American people. We were sold a bill of goods by our elected officials based upon fear and propaganda in the same way the the citizens of the Soviet Union were. The entire sorry affair is yet another example of the innate corruption of governments and the economic rape of their citizenry which they indulge in. Imagine the good that these trillions of dollars could have done. The United States could stand, right now, completely debt free and funding the development of medicine, hospitals and transportation throughout the world. Instead, it was squandered in the name of the balance of power. What a different world it could have been.