Would a World Without Nuclear Weapons Be More or Less Secure?

1 January 2017

Nuclear weapons are the deadliest weapon ever created by the human being, “Western newspapers struggled to explain how thousands of American, British and Canadian scientists had managed to harness the power of the sun to such deadly effect” , becoming weapons of mass annihilation. Though, do they provide us security? It’s true that they can provide nuclear deterrence, but can they actually physically protect us against a nuclear attack? The answer is no. Thus, possessing them doesn’t make us any safer.

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In fact, if nuclear weapons fall on hands of inadequate people like terrorists, or are employed by accident and miscalculations; effects can be lethal and irreversible. John F. Kennedy said, “The world was not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution”. Living in the seventh decade of the Nuclear Age, with nuclear weapons more broadly available, deterrence is decreasing while increasing danger. Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in January 2007: “It is becoming clearer that nuclear weapons are no longer a means of achieving security; in fact, with every passing year they make our security more precarious”.

Nuclear weapons can also be thought of as ‘military equalizers’, making a country think twice about attacking. Often giving a nation a false sense of security. For instance, they did become essential in maintaining international security during the Cold War because there were a means of deterrence. However, if deterrence fails, even if its only one nuclear weapon; the world would be instantly facing catastrophe. Hence, deterrence is not a viable solution, especially when threats such as terrorism cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons.

Nuclear deterrence being a psychological phenomenon and as such, inherently unstable, destabilizes political relationships by endorsing mistrust, hostility and arms racing. Nonetheless, some researchers argue that the bomb may actually make us safer. As Kenneth Waltz said “We now have 64 years of experience since Hiroshima. It’s striking and against all historical precedent that for that substantial period, there has not been any war among nuclear states”. Reflecting that although some leaders may be venal, unwise or evil, they tend to act rationally and take sensible decisions.

For instance, taking war as an example, a country will only start a fight when it’s certain that the benefits it will obtain exceeds the costs involved. So if two nations possess the ability to turn the other to ashes just with one single move, not even the maddest leader would deny that war with a nuclear state is unwinnable, thus, pointless. “Not even Hitler or Saddam waged wars they didn’t think they could win. ” Moreover, taking a look to the Cuban Missile Crisis back in 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union constantly threaten each other with irreversible destruction, coming to the border of having a nuclear war.

Fortunately, both stepped back when they realised that both of them would end up with serious catastrophic consequences. As Soviet Nikita Khrushchev’s aide Fyodor Burlatsky said: “It is impossible to win a nuclear war, and both sides realized that, maybe for the first time”. Ever since then, a pattern could be seen in the timeline; nuclear-armed enemies would slide toward war but eventually would pull back, always for the same cause, the cost to pay were higher than anything .

However, even if this pattern has been held in the past, we cannot always rely on it now and in the future. “Getting weapons does not always bring security as it can have unanticipated consequences”. Nuclear weapons are deadly weapons, irreversible and the world cannot afford even one mistake. All it takes is one mistake to create catastrophe. Also, it is assumed that leaders are highly rational; so none of them would be crazy enough to actually use nuclear weapons. Being proven wrong when such rational leaders used nuclear weapons in war, against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Robert McNamara, who has participated in three world crisis – Berlin 1961, Cuba 1962 and the Mideast war of 1967 – stated “In no one of the three incidents did either the United States or the Soviet Union intend to act in a way that would led to military conflict, but on each of the occasions lack of information, misinformation, and misjudgements led to confrontation. And in each of them, as the crisis evolved, tensions heightened, emotions rose; the danger of irrational decisions increased”.

Equally, if a war did surge as a consequence of wrong gamble by the leader, the high price would be paid by millions of innocent people. “Starting an atomic war is totally unthinkable for rational men because it affects the civilian population and murders them by wholesale”. Since 9/11 more concern has been taken into account to nuclear terrorism. A global black market in nuclear weapons has been discovered. Several countries violated the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and hidden their weapons programs from the U. N. ’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.

Such destructive weapons are becoming easier to obtain, build, hide and transport; enhancing the acquisition of lethal weapons for terrorist groups. Facilitating terrorist attacks and giving support to oppressed populations in fighting off genocide and ethnic cleansing . As a result, the continuation of nuclear weapons existence in the world doesn’t bring more peace, but it threatens it. The world lives under the fear of disaster by the irrational use of nuclear weapons directed by terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda or smaller ones like the Basque national organization, ETA.

Additionally, in the West, individuals tend to think that nuclear weapons are most hazardous when they are in the hands of Third World Leaders. Indian and Pakistan enhanced this when they set off their salvos of nuclear tests in May 1998. Nuclear proliferation is becoming a worldwide matter, since more countries want to get hold with nuclear weapons in order to gain prestige and honour on a global scale or to satisfy pressures of domestic politics. Likewise, deterrence in the Third World tends to be very unstable.

For instance, between the conflict of India and Pakistan, “one of the many dangers to be reckoned with is there would no time for caution. Not enough time to confirm a threat or even think twice before giving the order to return fire, and perhaps mistakenly incinerate an entire nation”. Proliferation in the Third World is often represented as a result of lacking impulse control and led by fanatical, brutal or narcissistic leaders who might misuse nuclear weapons, leading to permanent damages.

What’s more, Third World nations may use nuclear weapons to pursue religious squabbles and crusades; many analysts fear an “Islamic bomb” and a Muslim Holy war. Proliferation among nations is becoming more accessible due to the increased technology. Not even the technical barrier of obtaining the required nuclear material is that much of a barrier today. “Thirty-six countries with nuclear power plants produce at least enough plutonium for forty nuclear weapons per year from each such plant”.

Nuclear proliferation correlates positively with nuclear violence, as more weapons are created, higher the chances are that they may fall on hands of irrational people and may use them to damage the world. Thus, small nuclear wars between countries with small numbers of nuclear weapons could eventually give rise to major nuclear wars between superpowers. Such proliferation is also being recognized as one of the factors fuelling inter-ethnic conflicts. In conclusion, nuclear weapons may seem to protect us and enhance world security, but it is a false sense of security; its existence is the real hreat, a threat to humanity, a true weapon of mass destruction.

“I see the danger not in the number or quality of the weapons or in the intentions of those who hold them but in the very existence of weapons of this nature, regardless of whose hands they are in. I believe that unless we consent to recognize that the nuclear weapons we hold in our hands are as much as those that repose in the hands of our supposed adversaries there will be no escape from the confusions and dilemmas to which such weapons have brought us, and must bring us increasingly as time goes on.

For this reason, I see no solution to the problem other than the complete elimination of these and all other weapons of mass destruction from national arsenals; and the sooner we move towards that solution, and the greater courage we show in doing so, the safer we will be”.

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