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1. Nuclear Proliferation Unit 5 60 Points

Q5. ‘Nuclear proliferation is a major threat to peace.’ Discuss. (60)
‘If you want peace prepare for war.’ This Roman axiom would seem to suggest why horizontal proliferation is inevitable – and possibly desirable. States that are seen to be well-armed are accorded more respect than those which are not. It follows that these well-armed states are less likely to get into a war than is not of their (partial) choosing.
Military strength gives security which provides stability that in turn allows a state to focus on domestic matters and improvements that regime deems most important. Nuclear weapons are seen as a short cut to that goal. Also given the technological lead enjoyed by the U.S.’s conventional arms, it may be the only way for non-allies of the U.S. to make the superpower pause for thought in any confrontation. certainly that was the lesson drawn by the Iranian leadership after the wars in Iraq in 1991 and 2003.
So surely nuclear weapons bring peace – and they rule out hard, military power in international relations. They should promote the use of soft diplomatic power. Certainly the Cold War suggests so, as do developments in the tensions between China and India as well as India and Pakistan. Once both sides have nuclear weapons, conventional warfare may still be threatened and tensions remain high but combat is no longer initiated by either side.
Additionally, all members of P5 (the Permanent members of the UN Security Council) possess nuclear weapons – suggesting why they and not Germany or Japan ‘rule the roost.’ Furthermore, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea all have nuclear warheads and missiles to deliver them giving them special status too. It seems it is only a matter of time before Iran joins the ‘nuclear club’ too.
Horizontal proliferation is becoming a fact of life and yet no conventional war has been waged between two sides that both possessed nuclear weapons at the time. So this would seem to prove that along with the observation that democracies don’t fight one another (or states with branches of MacDonald’s) nuclear armed states don’t either. Proliferation brings peace. Q.E.D. – or is it?
First, nuclear weapons aren’t like other armaments. It took the Korean war to make this clear to most politicians (not just those in the U.S.). Nuclear weapons cannot be used defensively. The doctrine of M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) underlines the fact that nuclear strikes cannot be turned aside – only retaliated against. You can’t save your own people, only drag your enemy down with you.
This brings us to the next point – the targets of nuclear weapons. Unlike other weapons, strategic nuclear weapons aren’t really intended to destroy military units (with the exception of missile silos) they are aimed at the enemy population. (There are ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons but given the risk of rapid escalation from ‘tactical’ to ‘strategic’ they are even more problematic than their bigger cousins). Even the strategy of ‘Decapitation’ is dangerous – it can be too effective. Then there is the question of radiation and fallout – both of which will respect no borders. Added to contamination, this means a nuclear conflict will have far more long term repercussions than minefields do. Both the scale and duration of nuclear weapons puts them in a unique category. With the 1898 – 1914 ‘Naval Race’, for example, the rival navies couldn’t themselves destroy the opposing society quickly (even with ‘blockade’). There was time and space for diplomats to act even after an ‘incident’ turned ‘hot’. (In 1914, they chose not to act). With nuclear warheads mounted on missiles, with no ‘recall’ possibility, this ‘last chance’ doesn’t exist. Also once the missiles strike, the opponent has already lost and – as the Chinese triads observed - ‘the man who has nothing left to lose is the most dangerous enemy of all.’
Even allowing for the terrible and unparalleled nature of nuclear weapons, surely the Cold War shows use they do ‘keep the peace’. Both sides built up formidable arsenals that included ‘first strike’, ‘counter strike’ and ‘second strike’ abilities. Nuclear weapons varied in size, range and platform. Battlefield weapons were developed, the Superpowers extended nuclear ‘umbrellas’ to allies so they wouldn’t need to develop their own weapons. Horizontal proliferation was contained by vertical proliferation.
Yet the Cold War’s nature and deployments were unique and very different from the situation today. A comparison between – say - 1972 and 2007 is misleading.
First, there were fewer nuclear armed states. Control was easier to administer and verify. That is not true now. Second, both sides in the Cold War believed ultimately that time was on their side – so they had much to lose and nothing to gain from launching a nuclear war. They had largely stable governments. (Even so, in 1983 geriatric confusion and KGB paranoia nearly caused a war). The regimes that have crossed or are about to cross the nuclear threshold are very different in nature. Some are fanatical – with an apocalyptic philosophy. Consider what this means. The Nazis had they had the bomb in 1942 would not have used it, but in 1945 would have, especially as Hitler was determined Germany would perish with him. Some of the new nuclear members see these weapons as a guarantee because time is not on their side. (North Korea). Such regimes are more likely to use their weapons. Theocracies too – with an emphasis on the ‘afterlife’ could also transgress the psychological barrier of M.A.D.
In addition, during the Cold War, the quantity and diversity insured the Superpowers against a nuclear ‘Pearl Harbor’. However, new nuclear states don’t enjoy that depth. Their detection systems aren’t so good. Nor is their command and control. This makes them vulnerable to a first strike and also to launching first against an imagined threat. During the Cold War, both Superpowers realised openness reduced this risk. That openness doesn’t exist among the new nuclear states. Moreover, it is possible for the U.S. to now believe it faces a nuclear ‘proxy war’ with Iran or North Korea and broaden any counter-strike beyond those two states. The USSR refused to let any of its allies have any nuclear weapons. The post Cold War world isn’t so restricted. The final difference is that during the Cold War ‘non-state actors’ were absolutely denied access to nuclear weapons. Now it is much harder to guarantee this. The more states that have nuclear weapons, the greater the danger of a terrorist group acquiring them. Nuclear weapons are ‘state killers’ (hence ‘WMD’) – and M.A.D. doesn’t apply to non-state actors. However, given this U.S. reaction to Afghanistan’s part in 9/11, ‘rogue’ states might draw back from sheltering WMD-armed terrorists.
For nuclear proliferation to act as a peace promoting process, it depends on very different conditions from those found in today’s world and especially in those which have (relatively) recently or are about to join the nuclear ‘club’. Each new member increases the overall risk of war and the possible additional ‘would be’ members who seek a ‘counter force’ versus those new members. Proliferation would only accelerate. Therefore, as desirable as the notion of proliferation (especially horizontal) promoting peace is, it is erroneous.