Top U.S. Military Commander Says Nuclear Weapons Make the World Safer

The light from an atomic bomb test explosion (Operation Redwing, Shot Erie) is reflected in the waters of Enewetak Atoll, May 30 1956. Stringer/Reuters

The U.S. top nuclear weapons commander revealed Friday that he would not want to see the world ban nuclear weapons.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of the U.S. Strategic Command and the nation's nuclear arsenal, told journalists at the annual meeting of the Military Reporters and Editors Association that such weapons of mass destruction actually made the world safer by discouraging military conflicts among nuclear-armed states. He criticized a proposed resolution being debated at the U.N. General Assembly that would call for a universal ban on nuclear weapons, saying that the tens of thousands of nuclear warheads estimated to exist around the world acted as a deterrent.

"Can I imagine a world without nuclear weapons? Yes, I can. That's a world I didn't like," Hyten said, according to Politico.

Hyten said that the conflicts of the post-nuclear age did not compare to the massive international conflicts of the first half of the 20th century including World War I, in which about 17 million people were killed, and World War II, in which around 80 million people died. Many of the powers involved in these conflicts now have nuclear arms and the world has not seen a global conflict on such a scale since. Hyten said all the wars since "don't even come close," according to Politico. "As horrible as the world is today—and it is nasty—it is not anywhere near like that."

While most nations have kept their nuclear arsenals confidential, analysts have estimated that nine nations currently possess nuclear weapons. These nations, in order of stockpile, are Russia, the U.S., France, China, the U.K., India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. The latter four have not signed or have withdrawn from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, raising international concerns about their potential nuclear arsenals.

The two largest nuclear powers, Russia and the U.S., signed a landmark treaty known as START in the final days of the Soviet Union in 1991, pledging to reduce and limit their nuclear arms stockpiles. This agreement was renewed by former President Barack Obama in 2010. Since taking office, President Donald Trump has said he would advocate for more nuclear weapons. Russian President Vladimir Putin also supported expanding his own nuclear arsenal.