We all fear nuclear annihilation.
The concept that in the space of minutes, we could all be disintegrated in a series of blasts across the globe; that at the push of a button, a button in the hands of a single person, our lives as we know it would fall apart, is a concept difficult to come to terms with.
With such power and yet a lack of assured responsibility it makes sense to attempt to eradicate these weapons from the face of our planet. To work to ensure nobody gets their hands on them again.
Or does it?
Whilst an ideal world wouldn’t have weapons of mass destruction, we don’t live in a utopian fantasy. It is an issue that has to be dealt with but disarmament isn’t necessarily a realistic answer.
At the start of July, 122 countries moved to ban nuclear weapons through the UN. It is worth noting, that not a single one of these nations has nuclear capabilities. It is here that we see one of our major issues.
Who would disarm last?
Nuclear disarmament isn’t as simple as a UN vote. This has been shown by not one nuclear country voting in favour of the movement.
Singapore was the only country to abstain from the vote. The Netherlands was the only country to vote against the movement. The majority of NATO nations were not present at the meeting, including all nuclear armed nations. Japan was a notable inclusion in the list of countries boycotting the meeting, despite its history with nuclear weapons.
One thing is clear: Nuclear powers are not ready to disarm.
Weapons of mass destruction are hegemonic power materialised. Say the UN were to ban nuclear weapons, the participating nations were compliant and there were sactions against any nuclear powers; who would disarm last? It is almost certain that the United States, Russia and China would all be vocal in expressing that they would only disarm if they were the final nation to do so. And this is assuming the UK, France, Israel, India and Pakistan would step aside so easily. The nation to disarm last could turn around and flat out refuse. They would be alone in having enough power to flatten the planet and nobody could stop them. This dilemma, this lack of trust, prevents nations from disarming.
Not to mention the issue surrounding North Korea. To say that North Korea will disarm its nuclear capabilities is, of course, ridiculous. Even under intense pressure of sanctioning and embargoes, it is highly doubtful the state would give in. Can the rest of the world really disarm and leave such an unpredictable and threatening nation in control of the worlds only supply of weapons of mass destruction?
Nuclear disarmament is not a realistic option.
Instead, the United States, France and the United Kingdom are hoping to add strength to their Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. This treaty hopes to prevent any nation asides from the original five (Russia, China, the US, the UK and France) from pursuing any form of nuclear program.
The hope is that this treaty will allow for a balance on such a tenuous subject.
(Above) The atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
Why keep nuclear weapons? Deterrence.
Asides from disarmament being an unfortunately distant dream, is there no beneficial reason to maintain weapons of mass destruction?
Very often, the benefits of nuclear weapons are overlooked.
If you grew up or lived during the Cold War you are no doubt familiar with the doctrine of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, or MAD for short. For those unfamiliar, the belief is that if two or more nations possess the power to destroy each other, they will have no incentive to initiate any form of conflict or to disarm. The doctrine is a form of game theory, specifically nash equilibrium, and is a response to what is known as a security dilemma (where two nations see each other as a threat and so keep responding to the others attempts to improve firepower).
In more detail, MAD states that if one nation were to fire nuclear weapons at another in a pre-emptive nuclear strike, the other nation would immediately respond with a second strike. The damage would cause both nations to take just as much losses as they create. Therefore, any incentive to use nuclear weapons is nulified. The doctrine specifically works against the building of nuclear shelters or any other form of safety, as this would minimise the fear of a second strike.
As a deterrent, it is indisputable that MAD has worked. In total there has been one conventional war between two nuclear armed nations, the Kargil War between India and Pakistan. Furthermore, this war was incredibly short and small in scope.
Though the Cold War may have been a time of concern and fear, the reality is, this fear prevented direct war between the USA and USSR.
Ever since the First World War, the major hegemonic powers have sought methods to deter war. Encouraging global trade and diminishing state power has worked well. However, nothing has worked as well as nuclear deterrence.
Nuclear weapons are the most successful peace keepers in history.
We may not like it, but it is an unfortunate fact. Instead of looking on nuclear weapons as a time bomb, perhaps it’s time we once more saw them as a deterrence which, in the hands of a trusted government, allow for world peace.