Skip to main content


Back to Resources

Democratic Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons

31 December, 2005



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Relevance of Democratic and Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons

3. Key Elements of Nuclear Weapon Decision-Making

4. The Actors in the Process of Control

5. The Case of the United States
5.1. Civilian Control and Nuclear Policy, Strategy, Programs, and Plans
5.2. Nuclear Weapons’ Programs and Funding as Instruments of Civilian Control

6. General Observations and Recommendations


The focus of this paper is on whom - by what institutions and authorities acting under what procedures - should the questions of nuclear-weapon development, nuclear policy, strategy and doctrine be answered and how the principles of democratic control of military power should be applied. For the governance of these weapons presents fundamental issues, not just of substantive policy, but of the legitimacy of the decision-making process for them and of the application of basic principles of democratic government to such decisions.

Accordingly, this paper addresses how control over nuclear weapons can, and should, be exercised by the civilian authorities, and, in particular, how it should be exercised by duly constituted democratic governments. The focus is heavily on the on the case of the United States, not only because of personal experience, but because the US has the largest nuclear arsenal and has the longest, and in most respects the most open, historical record to examine.