>Nuclear Disarmament: Are you For, Against, or Inbetween?

>Imagine you were the elected leader of a country with nuclear weapons. Would you want to disarm unilaterally? Would you only consider disarmament if you could do so multilaterally with other countries? Or would you keep your nuclear stockpiles come what may?


  • >Where multiple parties hold nuclear weapons, a nuclear arsenal of one's own only offers the most negative form of defence: that of mutually-assured destruction. That sort of worked, by the skin of its teeth, before the thaw of the Cold War arms race in the early 1970s. This worked because both parties, and their satellites, were deeply conscious of the consequences of nuclear technology and were heads of nation states; they had territory populations to protect. The Gandhian notion of 'an eye for an eye and we'll all be blind' gradually became revealed truth to both sides. For these reasons, Iran gaining the bomb, though not desirable, would not be the catastrophe the west makes it out to be.The biggest nuclear threats, to my mind, are Pakistan and North Korea (in that order); not because the current regimes have or are likely to use nuclear devices, but that they:a) have nuclear weaponsand b) are very unstable (Korea's instability is, granted, more potential, depending on the eventual succession of Kim Jong Il).Pakistan's instability is particularly worrying because of its history of regime flux, a summer of enormous social and political disruption, and geopolitical location, with Taliban heartlands to its north-western border. Like so much else in a changing military environment, nuclear weapons are products of an age of 20th century state-on-state total warfare involving developed powers. In the 20th century, mutually-assured destruction ensured that two nuclear-armed nuclear powers would hold each other in a state of perfect equilibrium; a Mexican standoff like the final scene of Reservoir Dogs. We are no longer in the twentieth century and by far the greater threat is terrorist organisations filling the political and military void in a failed nuclear state. Would mutually-assured destruction – the very basis of a peaceful nuclear deterrent – in fact deter a stateless organisation which, in any case, may often embrace the destruction of a rival ideology and, if necessary, martyrdoms in the process? If, in short, al-Qaeda got hold of a nuclear weapon is there a deterrent in the world that would prevent their detonating it? I don’t think there is.

  • >To answer the question, I advocate the retention of a nuclear deterrent alongside strong efforts towards multilateral disarmament. This is in case the prospect of major state-on-state warfare returns and, less optimistically, as a deterrent against anyone ever using one. However, I feel that should, say, Pakistan collapse and fall into the hands of the Taliban such an arsenal would be of neither use nor ornament. It is too late to resurrect a programme akin to Reagan’s SDI (let alone the prohibitive financial cost and scientific endeavour) although, however idealistic (and I do appreciate that, if not fully inclusive of all nuclear powers, if might provoke another arms race to find ‘smarter’ technology to evade the satellite system), establishment of actual defence is far more productive than deterrent.Realistically, major powers – including all major nuclear powers – must be prepared to intervene in the event of revolution or massive political disorder in toppling nuclear states. Should North Korea collapse, China and NATO must collaborate to secure the nuclear arsenal; the same goes for Pakistan or, indeed, any other nuclear state in the process of failing. The prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremist trans- or sub-national organisations is terrifying and, frankly, a problem far beyond the scope of any deterrent.

  • >Good post Ross.I guess this is the real reason for the war on terror, and I defintely agree that the proliferation of nuclear arms in unstable countries could be the end for us all.Because of this, I think that defence systems need to be developed with the same haste they developed nuclear arms back in the 50s and 60s.To Rob's original post, I think I would keep the nuclear deterrant until we can figure out a way to put the genie back in the bottle.

  • >I agree and disagree. Talk of nuclear weapons being part of twentieth century warfare is a little odd. Sixty thousand year old stone points, which have been identified as arrowheads, were found in caves in South Africa. Yet is the bow defined as a weapon of that era? Nuclear weapons are the biggest weapons we have available to us today, and they are not as 'out of sync' with all other forms of military technology as many people think. Indeed tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on the battlefield, were a large part of the nuclear stockpiles held by the US and USSR during the Cold War. And the US has long been designing small tactical nuclear weapons for use by footsoldiers. And what about death tolls? The biggest killers in a Third World War are just as likely to be bio-chemical or spread through nano-technology as they are to result from nuclear arms.In other words nuclear weapons are not a weapon of the past. I understand this isn't what you meant, but I just want to correct a common misconception that with the end of the Cold War the world suddenly changed, and that the era of superpowers confronting each other in a nuclear stalemate is over. Terrorism and guerilla warfare, which is often heralded as the 'new warfare' is far from new, and if Western forces in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan had had more Officers with a proper training in Military History they would have dealt with those wars a lot better. So nuclear war between states may one day come, because history is not linear, and nuclear weapons are not a weapon of the past.In answer to the question my first resonse would be to agree with Ross that we should push for multi-lateral disarmament. However in this I am a little bit of a realist in that I don't think that day is going to come. I don't believe this should stop us trying however. It's non-sensical to argue that you won't try and do something just because it's going to be difficult. Yet if we think disarmament is not going to come, how do we seem credible in saying we want it? One way is by doing what the US and Russia are doing: reducing their stockpiles through mutual agreements. But this is not possible once your stockpile is reduced below a certain size, and the next step is what often stumps decision makers. I say that next step should be to cede control of the entire nuclear stockpile to a regional bloc, where useage is limited to the approval of every head of state in the region. Now this can only work in certain regions. For instance the EU Heads of State trust each other, but that trust is tenuous, and present pretty much nowhere else in the world. But if it is doable it would share costs between all member states in the region, and efectively prevent the weapons being used. Each state could seize the stockpiles located in their countries, but this could be prevented with various technological solutions to keep control (i.e. the launch button) in different countries. Take the EU as an example. Can you imagine the European Council ever agreeing to their useage for offensive reasons? Of course not, and that's what everyone else would think. So it would strengthen the word of Europeans that they act on what they say. Yet if Europe were invaded then the European Council could still easily agree to their useage, and hence they would still count as a deterrent, just over a wider area.

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