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Thursdays with Friends featuring Emma Belcher

When Diane Randall asked nuclear disarmament expert Dr. Emma Belcher, whether we are safe today from nuclear war, she replied: “We are safer than we were in 2019, [but] for a number of reasons, we’re still a long way from being safe.”

Dr. Belcher was Randall’s guest during a recent Thursdays with Friends to discuss humanizing nuclear security. She is currently president of Ploughshares Fund, which supports FCNL’s advocacy on nuclear disarmament.

The recording is available at

A major reason why we are safer today is because of the change in our country’s leadership. “We don’t currently have someone with control over the nuclear button … for whom we have questions about their sense of judgment [and] stability.” Belcher said. “I think we are safer from that respect.”

However, she warned that with about 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, the world is still at high risk of something going catastrophically wrong.

More than 90% of these weapons are in the United States and Russia.

“These weapons present a very real danger that we might really end up blundering into a nuclear war purely by mistake or by accident,” she said. “It could be caused by cyberattacks, misinformation, [or] unstable decision-makers.”

“Human security is centering the needs of people over weapons.”

Although the total number of nuclear weapons has been greatly reduced, many countries, including the United States, are planning to modernize their nuclear arsenals and increase the numbers and the types of nuclear weapons. Despite the Covid–19 pandemic, the United States plans to invest nearly $2 trillion to modernize its arsenal over the next few decades.

“This is … an extraordinary amount of money that, in my view … does not keep us safe [but] makes things more dangerous,” Belcher said. “I’m highly concerned about this sort of new arms race that we appear to be entering into now.”

Dr. Belcher emphasized that in planning nuclear strategies and modernization, policymakers must think of what it will mean to and how it will impact the lives of everyday people.

She said that voices of people who have a stake in nuclear issues must be allowed into the discussions in a way that has not been done before.

“Human security is centering the needs of people over weapons, and centering dialogue and cooperation over threats and military responses,” she said. Belcher urged FCNL to challenge current assumptions about nuclear weapons issues, the threat of their use, and deterrence as the underlying policy.

“We need to challenge this and make sure that the nuclear policy [takes] into account what actually keeps people safe on a daily basis,” she said.