To what extent do nuclear weapons support international peace?

We will examine the extent of which nuclear weapons has supported international peace. Some argue that nuclear weapons provide deterrence and this keeps states from attacking each other however, others argue that in an ever-increasing hostile world miscalculation can lead to nuclear war thus making the deterrence system useless. Nuclear weapons, some argue, are used for symbols of power which is why it has not been used since Nagasaki and Hiroshima however; others say that the rise of terrorist groups has increased the chances of them gaining their hands on these weapons thus making nuclear weapons dangerous. The theory of ‘balance of power’ has created stability and peace and has brought about nuclear statesmanship showing how nuclear weapons support international peace. But, the recent trend of states making useable nuclear weapons shows how dangerous these weapons can be. On the basis of points this essay raises it concludes that nuclear weapons ultimately supports international peace.

The primary acquisition of nuclear weapons is to prevent hostile action through devastation that would befall an aggressor, known as deterrence and this can be the reason why Israel acquired a nuclear weapon. The same could be applied to both Iran and North Korea both of whom want nuclear weapons to deter countries, mainly the USA, from their foreign policy agenda. This is backed up by Bull who says that “the chief object of arms control is international security”[1] which is why many states want to acquire nuclear weapons. The Cold War is an example of when the USA had monopoly of these weapons, and used their ‘capacity for strategic nuclear warfare … (as) a credible deterrent’[2] against the Soviet Union. Bull further argues that the purpose of states having nuclear weapons is ‘to prevent an attack by the threat (of attacking): not defense, but deterrence’[3] further agreeing with the deterrence point. Nuclear weapons massive capabilities for destruction makes it well suited for this role as it cannot be used for defensive purposes due to its ineffectiveness. This means that a first strike nuclear submission is virtually impossible due to states consistently seeking to develop a second strike capability and this system of deterrence through mutually assured destruction has stopped nuclear warfare and maintained peace showing how nuclear weapons supports international peace.  However, the creation of nuclear weapons will always carry the threat of nuclear war as misfortune, miscalculation and accidents are inevitably inevitable effectively valuing deterrence as useless. In the environment of war and tension many blunders will happen and one fatal blunder may escalate into a full-out nuclear war. In addition, the foundation of nuclear weapons is a threat of reprisal but this does not work with terrorist groups since it is not possible to locate them therefore the threat of reprisal is not plausible under these frameworks thus ‘there are serious difficulties with nuclear deterrence’[4]. Therefore as Heywood concludes ‘theory of nuclear deterrence is naïve and dangerous’[5] thus nuclear weapons as weapon of deterrence does not support international peace.

The rarity of nuclear weapons being used due to its perpetuation ‘as a political status symbol’[6] is notable. Apart from the two nuclear weapons that were used in World War 2 against Japan in 1945 in order to end the war they have not been used since then. This shows how nuclear weapons are ‘almost entirely of symbolic, not practical, importance’[7] because war between nuclear states has not broke out which is significant when examining whether nuclear weapons support peace and on this analysis it seems that it does. However, nuclear weapons are effective beyond the symbolisms involved with it. In this increasingly multi-polar and unstable system states are always trying to get the upper hand thus increasing the chances of nuclear weapons being used. Nuclear weapons worked during the Cold War because the world was bipolar and both the USA and Soviet Union pursued it as symbolism. With terrorist groups increasing their influence with the addition of attempted military takeovers occurring, as seen in Turkey, it would be a catastrophe if nuclear weapons were to be controlled by any of these two because they would not view nuclear weapons as just symbols but as weapons that should be used. Which is why Walker argues that ‘nuclear weapons are almost certainly worthless … and indeed constitute a far greater potential danger than advantage’[8].  Realists argue that due to the selfishness of states nuclear weapons will always be acquired due to the power it emits to the detriment of the weak thus making it a considerable threat to international peace.

International peace has not been undermined due to the vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons in fact it has maintained it through the ‘balance of power’. This is backed up by Bull who says that ‘a balance of power is an important source of security in a divided and anarchic world’[9]. Humphrey, who was chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Disarmament since 1955, pointed ‘out that a “balance of power” is less horrible than an “imbalance of terror”’[10]. The number of countries that has nuclear weapons has increased from five to eight and yet as Heywood says ‘the gradual spread of nuclear weapons preserves international stability better than either no spread or a rapid spread’[11]. Realists such as Waltz portray ‘the balance of power as the theory of international politics’[12] and that the balance of power is the only assured way of keeping international peace. This is further backed up by Bull who argues that the ‘balance of strategic nuclear power was viewed … as providing a system of international security’[13] which is why some view nuclear weapons as supporting international peace. However, vertical or horizontal proliferation does not maintain the balance of power as proliferation will unavoidably create momentary inequality which will be exploited by hostile states this can be seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the USA took advantage of the difference. In addition, liberals have criticized the idea that the balance of power keeps peace and have argued that it ‘legitimizes and entrenches power politics and international rivalry, creating inherent instability and deepening distrust’[14] and therefore it is ‘more likely to cause war than prevent it’[15]. Feminists have similar beliefs to liberals in that the balance of power increases international tension and conflict and this feminist belief ‘reflects a gendered conception … in which power is almost always conceived as power over’[16] thus nuclear weapons does not support international peace.

With the possession of nuclear weapons comes the sense of nuclear statesmanship and this thankfully favors carefulness even if in the past states had shown hostility. This can be seen in the case of South Asian where the acquisition of nuclear weapons has drastically reduced the chances of war between the two countries and this is backed by Schlosser who says that ‘nuclear weapons discourage warfare between the states that possess them, stabilize international relations and encourage world leaders to be more cautious’[17]. This assumption is also echoed by Bull who says that ‘the spread of nuclear weapons is to be welcomed as strengthening international security, not feared as undermining it’[18]. In addition, the same could be applied to the Cold War where the chances of war between the Soviet Union and the USA were slim due to the possession of nuclear weapons thus showing nuclear weapons do support international peace. However, recently countries such as the USA and Russia are developing useable nuclear weapons that can be used in small-scale attacks and these demolishes the symbolism that was involved with nuclear weapons and worryingly makes them ‘tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons’[19]. States development towards useable nuclear weapons means that it highly possible for some degree of nuclear exchange to occur and this was apocalyptically argued by Wiesner who says that if this type of ‘arms race is allowed to continue … there is an ever-increasing likelihood of a war so disastrous that civilization, if not man himself, will be eradicated’[20] which clearly shows that nuclear weapons do not support international peace.

To conclude, the issue of nuclear weapons rages on as seen with the debate about whether the UK should renew their trident and this is because there are good arguments on both side of the argument. One could argue that nuclear weapon drastically reduces the chances of war because of its deterrent usefulness. However, others might argue that in this increasingly multi-polar world the use of nuclear weapons increases as states want to gain the upper hand in the international arena thus making the deterrent system virtually insignificant. In addition, some argue that nuclear weapons as used as symbols of political power in order to further states goals however, in this increasingly multi polar world nuclear weapons may be used in order to gain the upper hand in the international arena. Overall, based on research this essay has concluded that nuclear weapons do support international peace.

Reference:

 

  • Haywood, Andrew. Global Politics. Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011.
  • Rochon, Thomas. Mobilizing for Peace The antinuclear Movements in Western Europe. California: Princeton Uni Press, 1988.
  • Walker, Security and Arms Control in Post-Confrontation Europe. Oxford: Oxford Uni Press, 1994.
  • Bull,Hedley. “Arms Control and the Balance of Power.” In Arms and Arms Control, edited by Ernest Lefever, 27-49.  London:Thames and Hudson,1962
  • Hubert H. Humphrey,“US. Defence and Disarmament Policies” a speech on the floor of the United State Senate, June 4, 1959, in Congressional Record, 8864, 8865.
  • Wiesner,Jerome. “Peace could be achieved in our lifetime if….” In Arms and Arms Control, edited by Ernest Lefever,125-131. London: Thames and Hudson,1962
  • Schlosser, E.S. (2014) Why we must rid the world of nuclear weapons. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/27/nuclear-weapons-near-misses-iran-bomb-peace (Accessed at 23 November 2016)

 

[1] Hedley Bull, “Arms Control and the Balance of Power”, in Arms and Arms Control, ed. Ernest Lefever (London: Thames and Hudson,1962),27

[2] Hedley Bull, “Arms Control and the Balance of Power”, in Arms and Arms Control, ed. Ernest Lefever (London: Thames and Hudson,1962),34

[3] Hedley Bull, “Arms Control and the Balance of Power”, in Arms and Arms Control, ed. Ernest Lefever (London: Thames and Hudson,1962),34

[4] Thomas R. Rochon, Mobilizing for Peace The antinuclear Movements in Western Europe. (California: Princeton Uni Press, 1988)

[5] Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011), 272

[6] Jenonne Walker, Security and Arms Control in Post-Confrontation Europe (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press,1994)

[7] Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011),

[8] Jenonne Walker, Security and Arms Control in Post-Confrontation Europe (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press,1994)

[9] Hedley Bull, “Arms Control and the Balance of Power”, in Arms and Arms Control, ed. Ernest Lefever (London: Thames and Hudson,1962),36

[10] Hubert H. Humphrey,“US. Defence and Disarmament Policies” a speech on the floor of the United State Senate, June 4, 1959, in Congressional Record, pp. 8864, 8865.

[11] Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011),272

[12]Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011),268

[13] Hedley Bull, “Arms Control and the Balance of Power”, in Arms and Arms Control, ed. Ernest Lefever (London: Thames and Hudson,1962),35

[14] Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011),268

[15]  Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011),268

[16] Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011),268

[17] “Guardian”, Eric Schlosser, Accessed November 23, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/27/nuclear-weapons-near-misses-iran-bomb-peace

[18] Hedley Bull, “Arms Control and the Balance of Power”, in Arms and Arms Control, ed. Ernest Lefever (London: Thames and Hudson,1962),37

[19]  Andrew Heywood, Global Politics. (Basingstoke: Macmillan Publishers, 2011),

[20] Jerome Wiesner, “Peace could be achieved in our lifetime if…”, in Arms and Arms Control, ed. Ernest Lefever (London: Thames and Hudson,1962),127

 

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