The current global trends in nuclear security are not very encouraging as the world loses momentum towards "general and complete disarmament" as envisaged in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). There has been a progressive erosion of genuine moves toward this overarching goal as witnessed in unifocal discriminatory non-proliferation policies of the key powers, violation of treaty obligations and weakening of UN disarmament institutions. The end of the Cold War had provided an opportunity to revert to the concept of collective security, generating hopes that peace would no longer remain hostage to antagonistic, heavily militarised blocs. The world expected the foremost UN principle of "equal security for all" to become reality. But today the global scenario continues to be marked by a more dangerous, more bleak and complex reality. We are living in a difficult and turbulent nuclear era. It is a changed world though burdened with the same old problems but perhaps in their acutest form. Armed conflict remains pervasive. Historical grievances and outstanding disputes continue to remain unaddressed. Injustice and oppression remain unabated. The UN is no longer the instrument of peace and development. Regrettably, the multilateral system is being used to legitimise the strategic and security set up suited only to the few. India's former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh rightly sums up the situation as "nuclear apartheid." The events of the last eight years have immeasurably shaken the international system which is no longer governed by the rule of law or universally acknowledged norms. Unabashed use of military power without any legality has been the universal norm. Iraq is still burning. Afghanistan has yet to breathe peace. Palestine is tired and has given up. Kashmir is devastated, and disillusioned. The complacent world has never been so indifferent and so chaotic. The Cold War is over, yet tens of thousands of nuclear weapons remain in arsenals around the world. At least nine states including the five declared as nuclear-weapon states in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are known to be in possession of roughly twenty seven thousand nuclear warheads, and have produced and continue to produce weapons-grade fissile materials. Together the US and Russia alone possess more than 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. Their command and control systems are still tuned to permit immediate launch. The situation elsewhere is no less alarming. For the last two consecutive years, four prominent US statesmen, Henry Kissinger, William J Perry, George P Schultz, and former Senator Sam Nunn, representing a powerful bipartisan Quartet of individuals with impeccable credentials as "Cold Warriors" have been warning that "the world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era." In their view, the world had reached a tipping point because nuclear weapons considered as means of "deterrence" during the Cold War were now becoming "increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective." It is sobering to think that in more than 60 years since the first nuclear weapon was exploded (an occasion that moved one of its developers, Robert Oppenheimer, to famously admit that the sight made him think of the lines from the Bhagavad-Gita, "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds"), the threat to humanity from nuclear weapons has not only resisted containment but rather morphed into new forms including what the Quartet described as local, regional or even international nuclear ambitions as well as "non-state actors" and potential "rogue states." The real problem, however, with the overall architecture of the nuclear dilemma now is the rhetorical stance on the part of the NPT-5, especially the US and Russia, which have 95 percent of the nuclear arsenals. What they are really saying is that they can have their weapons forever, but everyone else should do without them. That is an unworkable position. President Obama has himself acknowledged that he may not live long enough to see a nuclear-free world, and that the United States will maintain a nuclear arsenal "as long as these weapons exist." In his Prague speech on April 5 this year, President Obama presented an ambitious three-part strategy to address the international nuclear threat proposing measures to reduce and eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals, strengthening the NPT and halting proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states, and preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or materials. According to him, nuclear terrorism is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security. At a meeting in Moscow on July 6, US President Obama and his Russian counterpart Medvedev reached an understanding for a follow-up treaty to the ongoing START before it expires at the end of this year. But the world knows that partial efforts at arms reduction and arms limitation in their essence do not amount to disarmament as envisaged in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. These measures only take away the focus from Article VI of the NPT calling for a nuclear-weapon free world through arms control and general and complete disarmament. To our friends in the Western world, the nuclear question has traditionally been uni-dimensional. The high priests of non-proliferation do not scratch below the surface. The symptom, not disease, is their problem. Their undivided focus has been and remains on non-proliferation only as a concept which they have adapted to their own self-serving intent and purpose. The all important underlying causes impelling nuclear proliferation are conveniently ignored. A whole vast field of the non-proliferation regime has been built up to confine everybody within its four walls. But this policy has already failed, in part because the nuclear powers have reneged on the promise of their various treaties which, after all, were supposed to be temporary measures, meant to keep the genie in the bottle while complete disarmament was the goal down the road. If we are still journeying toward that goal, it only seems to be getting further and further away. Discriminatory, country-specific and short-sighted policies for access to nuclear technology motivated by narrow gains in disregard of equitably applicable criteria have further undermined the international non-proliferation regime and detract from its credibility and legitimacy. The situation is further compounded by the clear possibility of such arrangements leading to diversion of nuclear material for military purposes. No doubt, nuclear dangers now abound on many fronts. All told, there are currently nuclear weapon materials in more than 40 countries, some in Senator Sam Nunn's words, "secured by nothing more than a chain link fence." These stockpiles do not seem to prevent the nuclear powers from admonishing the rest of the world to refrain from joining the nuclear club - or be subject to possible sanctions, a situation that Sam Nunn has described as telling people not to smoke while you have a cigarette dangling from your mouth. Progress toward a world without nuclear weapons is predicated on genuinely equitable efforts to break the current impasse in the UN disarmament machinery. In May this year, the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva took a step forward towards negotiating a new nuclear arms control treaty after several years of deadlock. It adopted its "programme of work" involving four core issues, namely, Nuclear Disarmament, Negative Security Assurances, Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), and Fissile Material Treaty (FMT). They are all equally important issues and need to be addressed in a balanced but effectively verifiable manner. Political will of the states, especially of the nuclear-weapon states will be the decisive factor. They cannot achieve security for themselves at the cost of insecurity for others. The nuclear weapon states must agree on the basic principles and elements to revive the consensus on international disarmament and non-proliferation. Unless the major nuclear powers take practical steps in pursuit of Article VI of NPT, the world will remain stuck on a hazardous nuclear precipice, and the prospects for a nuclear-weapon free world described as "Global Zero" would remain elusive. The writer is a former foreign secretary