Print Читать на русском
Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
Mikhail Troitskiy

PhD in Political Science, Associate Professor, MGIMO University, RIAC Expert

Commemorating the 70-year tragic anniversary of the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it seems appropriate to once again ponder over the role of nuclear weapons in the world, as well as over their impact on security of separate countries and the entire world. The countless human losses and unbearable sufferings inflicted by the August 1945 attack unveiled the dangers of possessing nuclear weapons, while future developments seemed convincing enough to heighten the awareness of the menace as their destructive force and long-tem consequences were becoming increasingly visible.

Commemorating the 70-year tragic anniversary of the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it seems appropriate to once again ponder over the role of nuclear weapons in the world, as well as over their impact on security of separate countries and the entire world. The countless human losses and unbearable sufferings inflicted by the August 1945 attack unveiled the dangers of possessing nuclear weapons, while future developments seemed convincing enough to heighten the awareness of the menace as their destructive force and long-tem consequences were becoming increasingly visible.

First, the risks of maintaining substantial nuclear arsenals – plus the fissile materials for weapons manufacturing – are increasing because terrorist groups are craving to get hold of the WMD.

Second, top readiness of the nuclear arsenals hoists the cost of a technical failure or a human error. There have been several such cases, for example an unintentional discharge of a nuclear warhead from a bomber during exercises or erroneous installation of nuclear missiles on an aircraft that later flew several thousand kilometers above the U.S. territory. We also know about the properly documented failure of the Soviet missile attack warning system on September 26, 1983.

In all these cases an A-bomb discharge or massive launch of nuclear missiles were prevented only by a fluke or personnel’s deftness. Finally, even if technical systems operate appropriately and nuclear materials are highly secure, quite plausible appears misinterpretation of mutual intentions by the nuclear power leaders, especially in a fog of war, i.e. under the enormous stress and uncertainty specific for any conflict.

These risks and threats notwithstanding, politicians and experts keep insisting on the stabilizing role of nuclear weapons. Among other things, proponents claim that the Cold War did not grow into a hot one mainly due to mutual deterrence, although proving on practice the ability of nukes to prevent a conflict with undue risks is not so easy.

First, how can one find the causal relationship between absence of a world war during the past 70 years and possession of nuclear weapons by global powers? Was it the nuclear deterrent that has been restraining warmongering politicians itching to attack their opponents?

For example, the United States gave up the idea to nuke the Soviet Union in early 1950s in the meanest period of the Cold War when Moscow was short of retaliation weapons and Washington seemed capable of smashing the geopolitical rival at a stroke. A decade later the USSR hesitated to use the vulnerability window and attack China that was close to acquiring nuclear weapons but still had none in its possession. In both instances the prevailing states hardly chose to forgo their military advantage in the fear of a nuclear response.

Even if in some cases it was the A-factor that contained aggression, the sides were too close to a nuclear war for the conflict outcome to be proclaimed as a nuclear containment success. Was it really the nuclear war risk that made the USSR and the U.S.A. discontinue the escalation during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962? Of course, President Kennedy and First Secretary Khrushchev may have stopped one step before the head-on collision because of the nuclear war fears. However, such a propitious outcome seemed hardly predetermined. The very approach to the red line was sharply elevating the nuclear exchange probability due to the fog of war or a technical failure. Hence, the relatively fortunate resolution of the Cuba conundrum can be hardly seen as a proof of nuclear containment efficiency.

REUTERS/Mike Segar/Pixstream
Mikhail Troitskiy:
Political Deadlock over Nuclear Disarmament

Also of importance seems the fact that it was not immediately after the invention of the Doomsday weapon that the nuclear powers agreed to regard it as a measure of last resort applicable only if national survival was at stake. For example, in September 1954 the Totsky Training Ground in Orenburg Region was the venue for an exercise envisaging an army offensive through the A-bombed territory. According to some experts, modern nuclear doctrines may include secret sections prescribing the use of nuclear weapons even in absence of a clear-cut lethal threat to the state.

Besides, certain nuclear countries or those able to obtain nukes within a short period of time are known for heightened sense of vulnerability, which generates major risks of a nuclear conflict, a scientifically proven scenario with abysmal consequences for the world. It was Pakistan that repeatedly declared readiness to use nuclear weapons even in response to action lacking features of a classical armed aggression, i.e. military intrusion into its territory.

There are many other factors prompting to question the fundamental effectiveness of nuclear containment. Nukes did not help London to prevent the breakup of the British Empire, and Paris failed to stop the secession of Algeria, the site of the first French nuclear testing ground. In 1973, the Arab coalition attacked Israel that was known to possess a nuclear potential. And the gigantic nuclear arsenal turned useless for the USSR that first lost its allies and then fell apart.

Although the list is hardly complete, it seems more practicable to understand that possession of an A-weapon may often engender psychological consequences conflicting with the restraint of potential rivals and self-restraint of a nuclear state.

Availability of nuclear weapons may cement the state of conflict in relations between great powers. The logic runs as follows. Martial arts experts say that if you are barehanded, it is difficult to defeat an opponent armed with a knife because a skilled knifeman would have a noticeable edge. However, the unarmed fighter may be saved by the attacker's fear to lose the knife that becomes the focus of his attention, while the unarmed fighter obtains an opportunity to surprise the opponent with a series of neutralizing strikes.

wikipedia.org
Alexander Savelyev: The First Robin?

In the same way, a nuclear power begins to suspect the potential enemies of a desire to deprive it of the overkill and interpret practically all moves of other actors as insidious plots to steal the nuclear shield, its security guarantee. To this end, arms control and proposals on mutual inspections of cuts of fissile materials would appear as sly advances aimed to render the nuke possessor defenseless. And if someone is seen do so, for example suggesting to cut nuclear arsenals, this someone may be perceived as a plotter eager to attack as soon as practicable, which means that a large nuclear potential must be preserved at any cost.

Hence, the circle is closed. Availability of nukes not so much heightens one's assuredness and self-esteem as invites more suspicions against other actors and spawns the premises for the conflict escalation. This is the logic well known and artfully employed by the defense sectors of major nuclear powers.

No doubt, the world with minimum nuclear weapons will differ from the today's world minus nuclear weapons. There are too many existing and potential conflicts to be settled before massive nuclear cuts could be launched. However, the above argumentation may suggest that major nuclear powers including Russia should benefit from leading the nuclear disarmament process than from insisting on their exclusive right to have massive nuclear arsenals. This approach would noticeably raise Russia's prestige in the eyes of developing nonnuclear states that Moscow is willing to engage as priority partners.

Peaceful atom might have no alternative if mankind is serious about diminishing the hydrocarbon discharges into the atmosphere, but the military nuclear technologies have so far failed to save anyone from any danger, as well as to provide meaningful advantages that would outweigh the risks.

Read more:

Response of Alexei Fenenko "A Dangerous Alternative"

Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
For business
For researchers
For students