Free «Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Deterrence» Essay Sample


In recent years, the international community has faced a dilemma dealing with nuclear weapons and demand for them. Some think they are necessary. Among the proponents of nuclear weapons are authoritarian and totalitarian leaders, such as those of North Korea and Russia, while at the same time the United States supports partial conservation of the nuclear arsenals. There are also the supporters of the absolute destruction of all nuclear missiles. These are social groups opposing to the threat of nuclear war and any violence at all. They organize demonstrations and protests. Nuclear weapon since the day of its creation represented a threat to the existence of mankind. Therefore, for the international community it is necessary to completely destroy the remaining warheads, while some authoritarian ruler pressed at a critical moment the nuclear button. One does not need to look into science-fiction literature to understand the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. One has just to look back in history and remember the Cuban missile crisis, the accident in Chernobyl, as well as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Despite the fact that nuclear weapons were mostly used to warn and not to fight, this policy can be easily changed. Looking back at the history of nuclear policies and nuclear deterrence, this paper shows that even the policy of deterrence can be easily turned into war, which will have dramatic consequences for the population. Thus, in order to mitigate the danger of nuclear war it is essential to conduct a worldwide campaign on the elimination of nuclear armories and adaptation of all spheres related to nuclear weapon production, storage, and disposal.

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Nuclear weapons, which are available in Russia and the United States, despite the decline in the amount and tension between the two countries in the end of 20th – beginning of the 21st century are capable of destroying not only the two states, but also the whole humanity. This gives a special character to the interaction of the two states, as despite the cessation of the Cold War, there continues to operate a model of mutual nuclear deterrence in US-Russia relations. Consequently, this paper focuses primarily on the two states, as for around half a century they have been the two major forces in the global nuclear political war. Thus, without the review of the USSR the study of US nuclear policy would not be a complete one.

Nuclear weapons were the result of a complex interaction of objective and subjective factors on a global scale. Objectively, the possibility of its creation was inevitably encouraged by the rapid scientific and technical progress, which began with the brilliant fundamental discoveries in physics in the 20th century. The powerful subjective booster factor was the military-political situation in the 1940s, when the anti-Hitler coalition has made determined efforts to get ahead of Germany’s nuclear weapons (Tannenwald, 2007). As a result, further development shows that nuclear weapon has become a historically unprecedented military-political and military-strategic phenomenon, providing national security-holder and being able to decrease the role of any other weapon system.

Meanwhile none of the nuclear weapon states have abandoned and, of course, did not destroy their nuclear weapons. United States, Britain, France, and China have quite intensive programs of modernization of the nuclear weapons complex according to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (Goldstein, 2007). And India and Pakistan conducted a series of underground tests in 1998, thus actively building up their arsenals (Waltz & Sagan, 2003).

Nuclear Deterrence of the 20th Century

In the period of the 20th century that took place after the Second World War nuclear deterrence has become a key concept of international political communication. It still plays a significant role. Of course, the concept of nuclear deterrence is undergoing a profound transformation under the influence of the dynamics of scientific and technological development and international relations. In principle, deterrence is the prevention of any action by the other party with an obligation of inflicting damage on it (Powell, 2003). If the damage is greater than the benefits of such actions, the other party, in theory, should refrain from it. It thus shows that deterrence works. In more active and offensive sense deterrence is sometimes treated as intimidation, which means not only restraining but also forcing the enemy to certain actions. Since here the topic is nuclear deterrence, a deterrent here is the threat of use of nuclear weapons. This policy may be called nuclear blackmail in its aggressive form.

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Nuclear diplomacy is one of the key concepts that emerged in the sphere of international politics in the second half of the 20th century. It was a concept, which for more than half century was used by both the US and the Soviet Union. They were carrying out their military-political strategies openly, or had a tacit threat of the use of nuclear weapons. In the context of acute ideological confrontation politics inevitably demonize the enemy, and the destructive potential of nuclear weapons is the best characteristic to attribute to the enemy all conceivable sins. The nightmares of nuclear strikes were linked directly to the properties of oppressive social system, hateful ideology, and aggressive by nature state policy of the enemy. This leitmotif was typical for the Soviet and US propaganda.

Past-Cold War Nuclear Weapon Perspectives

The nuclear arms race became inextricably associated with the Cold War and ideological confrontation and geopolitical rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union from late 40s to late the 80s of 20th century (Tannenwald, 2007). It would seem that in the last decade of the 20th century the situation would change with end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Someone could expect these changes to be the end of the nuclear arms race. But the nuclear arms race did not end completely, even though the strategic nuclear arsenals of the US and the Soviet Union have significantly decreased over the past decades. Moreover, both states have substantially narrowed and slowed down their modernization programs. Still, despite the relative peace the two nuclear superpowers as well as third nuclear powers intend to maintain and develop nuclear weapons as part of their armed forces for the foreseeable future. As time passes, more countries are getting interested in nuclear weapon potential and are either joining the nuclear club or are actively working in this direction.

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The end of Cold War itself could not stop the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament cause without the huge efforts of the leading countries in the reduction and elimination of such weapons, and the reconstruction of the entire security system that was based until then on the military-strategic balance of forces between the East and the West. Without this, the termination of Cold War could not automatically result in nuclear disarmament. But such efforts in the 1990s were not made. A little more than a decade after the end of the Cold War in the deep disappointment and growing concern prevailed in public perception of this problem, and the nuclear factor once again took a central stage in world politics, albeit in a considerably modified form.

Treaties of the 21st Century

In May 2002 the US officially left the ABM Treaty of 1972, which has been the cornerstone of the whole process and regime of the centralized nuclear disarmament over the previous thirty years (Schwartz, 1998). To replace the ABM Treaty the sides signed a new document for general cooperation in the area of strategic missile defense system. This agreement has so far seen no practical or technical implementation. With the ABM Treaty the START-2 Treaty has also ended, as well as the framework agreement on START-3 (Glaser & Fetter, 2001). In the 21st century the old treaties were replaced with a new one. It was a treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT), which was signed in Moscow in 2002 (Schwartz, 1998). It outlined the decline of nations’ nuclear arsenals over the following ten years to 1,700-2,200 warheads. Unfortunately, this agreement was neither a letter of intent and did not contain any right to offset warheads or schedule reductions or eliminate procedures of arms, nor the system of verification and control. In addition, it would expire concurrently with the term of the cuts.

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Although Washington’s official declarations stated that the United States and Russia were no longer adversaries. The actual operational plans and lists of targets for the use of nuclear weapons at targets in Russia remained practically unchanged, which limits being placed on the prospects for reduction of these funds. Moreover, the United States are developing new nuclear weapons of small capacity (Schwartz, 1998). According to the official version, it is made to penetrate deep into the earth and destruct warehouses and bunkers of terrorists. This was the reason why Washington has refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT, 1996) and was preparing for their eventual resumption in Nevada (Glaser & Fetter, 2001).

If at the times of the Cold War the official Soviet propaganda called for nuclear disarmament, democratic Russia, which was building a market economy according to the western model as well as relied on large foreign investment, an impressive nuclear arsenal was primarily oriented in the same direction as at the times of the USSR it was still maintained. Moreover, this policy has always had the unanimous support of the government, political and strategic elite, and the people. Unlike the Soviet Union Declaration of 1982 renouncing the first use of nuclear weapons, a cornerstone of the Russian military doctrine is currently the dangerous principle of the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances.

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Nuclear Deterrence as a Political Tool

However, since nuclear weapons have an enormous  and almost unlimited destructive power and threatens dire secondary consequences, it is still not much considered a weapon of war, but rather an instrument of political pressure, containment or deterrence of other countries. As such, nuclear weapons are considered a highly effective instrument of national security and national interests in the broadest sense of the word. At the same time, respectively, in non-nuclear states under certain circumstances there is also a desire to acquire this type of weapon, which, of course, is superior to all other weapons created by man to kill his own kind. Thus, nuclear deterrence is constant and always feeds the nuclear proliferation (Ikenberry, 2002). This is the dialectical relationship between these two important factors in terms of the nuclear issue in world politics. As never before, nuclear deterrence now seems to be a factor that will remain forever in international politics until people invent even more devastating weapons, and not just because of all the difficulties of achieving complete nuclear disarmament. The supposedly inherent significant advantages of nuclear weapons are also seen as means of security and are even viewed as means of creating civilizing effects on international relations.

In a perfect world nuclear deterrence means that nuclear weapons are not the means of war but are used as a political tool. It might sound unusual, but nuclear deterrence, which is the threat to existing nuclear arsenal, can be used to guarantee that nuclear weapons will not be used in practice. Nuclear deterrence has to ensure that nuclear weapons are not used either in the context of a deliberate attack or as a result of non-nuclear escalation of the conflict between the nuclear powers. History shows that this policy was not always maintained in the past and thus no one can guarantee that something will change in the future.

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Historical Discourse

In order to come up with the idea of nuclear weapon as a means of psychological pressure to deter the enemy and implement it in practice it was necessary to create an entire military and political theory. Of course, it took some time to move the nuclear theory from offensive to defensive strategic understanding. When the atomic bomb was created in the United States it was seen simply as a new weapon. This new tool of war was far more destructive than any other in history. It was a weapon that could be used in the war. United States did not hesitate to use nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the atomic and hydrogen bombs in the form of munitions and missile warheads were produced by the United States on a large scale and were considered mainly as a means of total destruction of the enemy cities if the Soviet Union would attack US allies in Europe or Asia (the strategy of massive retaliation) (Cirincione, 2008). If present in this strategy control was rather as a byproduct not a primary goal of military policy and military construction of the United States. And only after 10-15 years of accumulation of nuclear weapons and, more importantly, after the building of similar weapons arsenals and their delivery to the Soviet Union, the concept of deterrence came to the forefront of American political-military strategy.

Some time around the end of the 1950s the US leadership began to realize that nuclear weapons should not be used as a weapon (Schwartz, 1998). The number of nuclear weapons has reached many thousands of nuclear bombs. Land and sea ballistic missiles began to come into service and the deployment was planned. The US strategic theory was developed not by the generals but mostly by civilian specialists, including natural scientists and humanities scholars. The works of such theorists like Henry Kissinger, Brody, Schelling, Kennan and others became a basis for the theory, according to which nuclear weapon is not just a devastating weapon of war but an entirely new weapon that can destroy the world and thus not to leave the winners (Glaser & Fetter, 2001). Therefore, it was a truly epochal conclusion: nuclear weapons should be used not to defeat the enemy in the war as any other type of weapon but have to be used as a tool of war prevention. Thus, nuclear weapon was perceived by the US authorities as a means to control the acts of the alleged enemy that could lead to a war.

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In the Soviet Union this conclusion was made much later, because there were neither free-thinking scholars in the humanities or natural scientists, nor even the military could freely discuss such topics. Everyone had to strictly follow the tenets of Marxism-Leninism and the very poor military doctrines. On the ideological level, the theory of deterrence was branded as a servant of the aggressive policy of imperialism, which was opposed to the peaceful course of the USSR. On the military-strategic level nuclear weapons were seen in classical canons of conducting of world war and achieving victory in it.

Western strategic theory was based on the relatively free communication between military strategists, assisted by open discussion of political scientists and military experts. The openness of military information gave scientists a possibility to access data and get involved in debates on the nuclear issue. Moreover, the regular movement of civilian and military posts between government and the academic world gave a possibility to see various perspectives on the issue. The Soviet Union by contrast was characterized by “watertight” separation of policy and strategy, civilians and military. The country maintained complete secrecy of defense. Hence, the soviet military doctrine was two-sided and hypocritical.  On the one hand, the peace-loving policy of the USSR was openly proclaimed. On the other hand, if war broke out the army and the people under the wise leadership of the Communist Party would achieve the defeat of the enemy and emerge victorious, while all means, including nuclear weapons, would work in this case. To achieve this victory the USSR ought to prepare nuclear and conventional armed forces, which required utmost power to achieve superiority over the enemy and to focus on the offensive strategy. The idea that all these preparations question the peace-loving Soviet policy and push the other side to the counter-measures was regarded as monstrous heresy and until the beginning of 1980s could lead to service and even criminal consequences (Arbatov, Dvorkin, & Evseev, 2006).

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Of course, in the 1990s, the situation in Russia has changed dramatically in terms of greater availability of military information, communication and movement of the military and civilian experts, freedom of opinion and assessment. But in many respects the Soviet legacy persists to this day: the lack of transparency of information, secretive decision-making on military issues and, most importantly, a stable stereotype according to which military matters are strictly military and political aspect should be the concern of politicians and political scientists. Russian foreign and military policy is based on largely contradictive and inconsistent stems.

In the Soviet Union only in the early 1970s the official political line of the country (with great reservations and ambiguity) accepted the idea of unattainable victory in the nuclear war because of its destructive consequences and, accordingly, accepted the opinion on nuclear weapons as a means to deter imperialist aggression (Arbatov, Dvorkin, & Evseev, 2006). This change played a major role in the ideological dispute with China, whose leadership openly proclaimed the possibility of the victory of communism through general nuclear war. And in 1982, Moscow has made a symbolic but politically important step in consolidating the containment strategy. This was a commitment of not to be the first one to use nuclear weapons.

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