Throughout the second half of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries there has been constant debate concerning the desirability and the possibility of eliminating nuclear weapons globally. The two sides of this debate essentially state that either, complete nuclear disarmament is wholly desirable and possible, or that it is neither possible nor desirable. Analysis from a theoretical perspective helps in examining the question from both sides. Liberalism effectively advocates for the complete removal of all nuclear weapons globally, simply as it would reduce the possibility of a devastating nuclear war. This is evident when the potential impacts to human life and the environment are assessed, in addition with the amount of weapons still active in the world. Nuclear disarmament is also fundamental goal of the United Nations, specifically the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.[1] This overwhelming desire for the elimination of nuclear weapons is best demonstrated with the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT. When this is considered alongside recent progressions towards non-proliferation and disarmament, it can be argued that the global desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons is immensely high. However, from a realist scope global nuclear disarmament is less desirable and outright impossible to achieve. This is due to a number of reasons, most prominently that complete nuclear disarmament would undermine deterrence, causing conventional wars to become more frequent, thus disturbing the global peace the world is currently experiencing in the post-Cold War.[2] Hence, complete elimination of nuclear weapons is not desirable. However, following the Cold War, threats of a nuclear world war have effectively been replaced by concerns over nuclear attacks by rogue states and terrorist groups. Thus, the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons is still immediately required. However, the possibility of this realistically occurring seems close to impossible when the realist argument is assessed. Essentially, there is a significant desirability for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons globally; however, the possibility of this happening is minimal.

 

Those in the liberalism school advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons, simply because it would reduce the chance of a devastating nuclear war. However, there are various other details contained within this reason as to why nuclear weapons should be abolished. Firstly, as academic and former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans stated in a 2013 speech at the University of Cambridge, “Nuclear weapons are morally and environmentally indefensible”.[3] A nuclear attack would cause a tremendous loss of life, both combatant and non-combatant. In analysing the effects of nuclear weapons, American academics Samuel Glasstone and Philip J. Dolan used the example of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to demonstrate their immediate effect. “The data in the table also show that more than 80 percent of the population within 0.6 mile (3170 feet) from ground zero were casualties”.[4] When this is considered with the certain long-term casualties like cancer and genetic effects, the consequences of an attack could last for up to half a century.[5] In addition with the devastating human effects, “A regional war involving 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons would pose a worldwide threat due to ozone destruction and climate change”.[6] For example, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, according to academics Michael J. Mills, Owen Toon, Alan Robock and Julia Lee-Taylor, would result in, “… global ozone losses of 20-50% over populated areas, levels unprecedented in human history…would accompany the coldest average surface temperatures in the last 1000 years”.[7] I an article written in 2009, Robock and Toon projected that an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war would result in nearly a billion deaths outside the combat zone due to the rapid climate change.[8] The potential environmental destruction and devastating human casualties associated with a nuclear attack is plenty of incentive in the opinions of the liberalist and human security schools of thought. This is incentive is exemplified when the amount of active nuclear weapons in the world is assessed. Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris of the ‘Federation of American Scientists’ estimated in May 2015 that there are currently 16,300 nuclear weapons controlled by nine countries.[9] Within this, the United States and Russia account for 94 per cent of all weapons.[10] In the post-Cold War world, these weapons are unlikely to be used deliberately by nuclear weapon states. However, many of these American and Russian weapons remain on ‘hair-trigger alert’, meaning that they are ready to fire at any point.[11] Therefore, the accidental deployment of nuclear weapons is a significant concern. As Evans noted, “The greatest risk from the existing nuclear weapons… is their accidental or panicked use as a result of the ever-present potential for human error, system error, or misjudgement under stress”.[12] When observed through the liberal perspective, the desire to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons is strong. The reasons why centre around the devastating effects both on human casualties and the environment as a result of a nuclear attack today. This, partnered with the fears of accidental use, serves as a key component of the liberalism school’s desire for the eradication of nuclear weapons.

 

From a liberal standpoint, the desire for the complete eradication of nuclear weapons is primarily championed by the United Nations. The UN states that nuclear disarmament “…is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations”. And that “it was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946”.[13] The United Nations, as an intergovernmental organisation, ultimately represents the collective desires of the international community. Academic Michael N. Barnett noted the significance of the United Nations as a representation of the liberal order, “…No other international organization or body has the capacity to legitimate the underlying principles and norms of the international order, so it is to the UN that states turn for legitimation and sanction”.[14] Through this, it can be seen that there is a strong international desire for the elimination of nuclear weapons globally.

 

The best example demonstrating this overwhelming desire can be seen within the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT. Signed in 1968 and effective in 1970, the NPT is a treaty signed by 190 parties that is tasked to, “…prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology…” and, “…to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament”.[15] In regards to preventing any further proliferation, the NPT has been immensely successful, as one of the world’s leading experts in nuclear non-proliferation Thomas Graham Jr. noted in 2004, “…in the early 1960s, there were predictions that there could be as many as 25-30 nuclear-weapon states within a couple of decades…Yet, there has been very little actual nuclear weapons proliferation since the entry into force of the NPT in 1970…”[16] There have also been recent progressions in reducing the amount of nuclear weapons globally. The ‘New START,’ (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is one such progression. This is a treaty between the United States and Russian Federation stating in 2010 that both nations would reduce their strategic nuclear missile launchers by half.[17] Following the signing of this new treaty between the world’s largest two nuclear superpowers, many liberal thinkers like Barry M. Blechman state that if acted on immediately and effectively a nuclear-free world is possible; he writes, “…there is a greater opportunity for governments to embrace complete nuclear disarmament than has ever existed before. The challenge is to translate this enthusiastic rhetoric and vision into the…elimination of all nuclear weapons from all nations within a reasonable period of time”.[18] As the key liberal institution in global politics, the United Nations since its inception has advocated and implemented steps toward a nuclear-weapon free world. Hence, from a liberal perspective there is a universal desire and emerging belief that the world can experience a life without nuclear weapons.

 

In contrast, when considered through a realist perspective, the elimination of nuclear weapons is nether possible nor desirable. Realists argue that the disarmament of all nuclear weapons as per the NPT is thoroughly impossible. Although proliferation as not increased substantially since the Cold War, significant disarmament has not occurred. Critics of the treaty point to the fact that the NPT “…discriminates against the non-nuclear weapon nations which are called upon to forego any of the advantages of developing or possessing nuclear weapons…”[19] This relates to ‘Article VI’ of the treaty that states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to… general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.[20] Essentially, realists argue that nuclear-weapons states have not fulfilled their responsibility, and until they do, nuclear disarmament cannot occur. According to realist David Cliff, the ‘new START’ agreement, “…shorter-range tactical weapons and stored warheads – neither of which have ever been limited by treaty – will remain untouched”.[21] He reaffirms the notion that the key nuclear weapon states must lead by example in promoting disarmament. According to the realist argument, if they continue in their lack of clear disarmament, a nuclear-free world remains impossible to achieve.

 

Realists also maintain little desire to eliminate all nuclear weapons. This is due to the usefulness of nuclear weapons being a deterrence for war. Deterrence is defined by theorist Michael S. Gerson to mean, “… the threat of force intended to convince a potential aggressor not to undertake a particular action because the costs will be unacceptable or the probability of success extremely low”.[22] Deterrence was a key policy employed by both the Soviet Union and the United States. Called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction Theory,’ MAD theory essentially stated that full-scale use of one’s nuclear arsenal would ensure the complete destruction of both belligerents. Prominent realist scholar Kenneth Waltz stated that it was because of the presence of nuclear weapons, that an “uneasy peace” was established, preventing the Cold War from becoming “…a hot one…”[23] Following the conclusion of the Cold War, realist scholars state that nuclear weapons are simply an exaggerated threat. This is primarily due to there being less proliferation than expected after the Cold War. Therefore, there should be less attention garnered towards counter-proliferation, as it is essentially not required.[24] Therefore, due to the benefits of nuclear annihilation as a deterrence for war, realist thinkers maintain that there should be no desire to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons.

 

While nuclear deterrence theory may be well suited in preventing potential conflicts between nuclear weapon states, its suitability for preventing nuclear attacks from rogue states and terrorist groups is dubious. Many liberal theorists have criticised the notion put forward by realist thinkers that nuclear weapons should not be eliminated as they actively prevent conventional warfare through deterrence. Nuclear security and non-proliferation specialist James Doyle criticised deterrence theory by stating that, “Such a strategy is futile,” for, “the theory of nuclear deterrence says little about how the roles of nuclear weapons might change in an ever-evolving international system”.[25] Many scholars and nuclear terrorism experts note that there is a growing threat of a terrorist group enacting the first nuclear attack in the modern era, and that conventional policies of deterrence cannot dissuade this.[26] This is because terrorist groups and rogue states do not act according to the same underlying beliefs. Moreover, many of the more aggressive terrorist groups function by an apocalyptic or martyrdom agenda; therefore, they are often not concerned about the resulting military repercussions following a nuclear attack.[27] For example, former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden stated that the acquirement of nuclear weapons or the materials to engineer them was a “religious duty”.[28] Hence, through the liberal perspective nuclear weapons have to be eliminated for, “the risks they create outweigh their value”.[29] Especially when the risk of nuclear terrorism is considered.

 

The debate surrounding the desire and possibility for the complete eradication of nuclear weapons has been prominent in international politics since 1945. When assessing this debate, two theoretical approaches help to determine the overall desirability and possibility of this preposition. Essentially, through the perspective of the liberalism school the desire for the establishment of a nuclear weapon-free world is immensely strong. The reasons why are simply because it removes the chance of a nuclear war emerging through accidental or deliberate reasons. As 190 states have signed the NPT, and the notion of deterrence has largely been dismissed since in the post-Cold War, the elimination of nuclear weapons globally is desirable. However, the realist perspective indicates that the possibility of ridding the world of nuclear weapons is minimal. This is primarily due to the reluctance and lack of faith demonstrated by the nine recognised nuclear weapon states in substantially reducing the size of their nuclear arsenals. Realist theorists note that if these states do not lead by example in actively eliminating their nuclear weapon stockpiles, then the possibility of a nuclear weapon-free world remains impossible. Therefore, there is a significant desire for the elimination of nuclear weapons, but until more work is done on behalf of the nuclear weapons states in pursuing disarmament, it remains impossible to achieve.

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Books:

 

Gavin, Francis J. Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age. Cornell University Press. 2012. 156.

 

Glasstone, Samuel and Dolan, Philip J. The Effects of Nuclear Weapons. 3rd ed. United States Department of Defense and the Energy Research and Development Administration. 1977. 544-545.

 

Sharfman, Peter. The Effects of Nuclear War. The United States Congress Office of Technology Assessment. 1979. 9-10.

 

Journal Articles and Reviews:

 

Barnett. Michael N. ‘Review: Bringing in the New World Order: Liberalism, Legitimacy, and the United Nations’ World Politics. Cambridge University Press. Vol. 49, No. 4 (Jul., 1997) 548-549.

 

Blechman. Barry. M. ‘Why We Need to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons—and How to do it.’ Elements of a nuclear disarmament treaty. Washington DC: Stimson Center, 2010. 7-9.

 

Bunn, Matthew and Col-Gen. Maslin, E.P. ‘All Stocks of Weapons-Usable Nuclear Materials Worldwide Must be Protected Against Global Terrorist Threats.’ Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Harvard University. 2010. 1.

 

Cliff, David. ‘The Elimination of Nuclear Weapons: Desirable? Achievable? Sustainable?’ International Relations and Security Network, Center for Security Studies. Zurich: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. 2010. 1-5.

 

Doyle, James E. ‘Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons?’. Survival: Global Politics and Strategy. Routledge. 2013. 55:1, 23-24.

 

Graham. Thomas Jnr. ‘Avoiding the Tipping Point.’ Review of: ‘Campbell, Kurt M; Einhorn, Robert J, and Reiss, Mitchell B. The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices. 2004.’ In, Arms Control Association. Washington DC. 2004. Accessed: 2 June 2015. Available from: http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_11/BookReview

 

Gerson, Michael S. ‘Conventional Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age.’ Parameters. Strategic Studies Institute. 2009. 34.

 

Klein, John J. ‘Deterring and Dissuading Nuclear Terrorism.’ Journal of Strategic Security. 2012. 5:1. 15-18.

 

Kristensen, Hans and Norris, Robert. ‘World Nuclear Weapon Stockpiles.’ The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 2015. Accessed 2 June 2015. Available from: http://www.ploughshares.org/world-nuclear-stockpile-report

 

Mills, Michael J.; Toon, Owen B.; Robock, Alan; and Lee-Taylor, Julia. ‘Multi-decadal global cooling and unprecedented ozone loss following a regional nuclear conflict.’ Earth’s Future. AGU Publications. 2014. 2-3.

 

Robock, Alan and Toon, Owen B. ‘South Asian Threat? Local Nuclear War = Global Suffering’, Scientific American, 2009. 74-79.

 

Toon, Owen B.; Robock, Alan; and Turco, Richard P. ‘Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War.’ Physics Today. American Institute of Physics: Rutgers University. 2008. 37-42.

 

Vinovskis, Maris A. ‘Book Review of Non-Proliferation Treaty: Framework for Nuclear Arms Control.’ William & Mary Law Review. 1969. 11:1. 279.

 

Waltz, Kenneth. ‘The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory.’ Journal of Interdisciplinary History: The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars. 1988. 18:4. 628.

 

Internet Sources

 

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons 26 September. United Nations.org. 2011. Accessed 2 June 2015. Available from: http://www.un.org/en/events/nuclearweaponelimination/

 

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Nuclear Weapons. United Nations.org. 2011. Accessed: 31 May 2015. Available from: http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/

 

United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) United Nations.org. 2011. Accessed 2 June 2015. Available from: http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/NPT.shtml

 

Other sources:

 

Evans, Gareth. ‘Eliminating Nuclear Weapons: An Impossible Dream?’ Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Statecraft and Diplomacy. University of Cambridge. 2013. Speech. Accessed 1 June 2015. Available from: http://www.gevans.org/speeches/speech514.html

 

‘Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic and Offensive Arms.’ Signed 8 April 2010. The White House Blog. Washington DC. 2010. 1-4. Accessed 2 June 2015. Available from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/04/08/new-start-treaty-and-protocol

 

‘Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.’ International Atomic Energy Agency. Published: 22 April 1970. Accessed 3 June 2015. Available from: https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/infcircs/1970/infcirc140.pdf

 

 

[1] United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Nuclear Weapons. United Nations.org. 2011. Accessed: 31 May 2015. Available from: http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/

 

[2] Cliff, David. ‘The Elimination of Nuclear Weapons: Desirable? Achievable? Sustainable?’ International Relations and Security Network, Center for Security Studies. Zurich: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. 2010. 1-5.

 

[3] Evans, Gareth. ‘Eliminating Nuclear Weapons: An Impossible Dream?’ Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Statecraft and Diplomacy. University of Cambridge. 2013. Speech. Accessed 1 June 2015. Available from: http://www.gevans.org/speeches/speech514.html

 

[4] Glasstone, Samuel and Dolan, Philip J. The Effects of Nuclear Weapons. 3rd ed. United States Department of Defense and the Energy Research and Development Administration. 1977. 544-545.

 

[5] Sharfman, Peter. The Effects of Nuclear War. The United States Congress Office of Technology Assessment. 1979. 9-10.

 

[6] Toon, Owen B.; Robock, Alan; and Turco, Richard P. ‘Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War.’ Physics Today. American Institute of Physics: Rutgers University. 2008. 37-42.

 

[7] Mills, Michael J.; Toon, Owen B.; Robock, Alan; and Lee-Taylor, Julia. ‘Multi-decadal global cooling and unprecedented ozone loss following a regional nuclear conflict.’ Earth’s Future. AGU Publications. 2014. 2-3.

 

[8] Robock, Alan and Toon, Owen B. ‘South Asian Threat? Local Nuclear War = Global Suffering’, Scientific American, 2009. 74-79.

 

[9] Kristensen, Hans and Norris, Robert. ‘World Nuclear Weapon Stockpiles.’ The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 2015. Accessed 2 June 2015. Available from: http://www.ploughshares.org/world-nuclear-stockpile-report

 

[10] Ibid ^

 

[11] Markusen, Eric. ‘The Genocidal Nature of Nuclear War.’ Journal of Genocide Research. 2007. 9:3, 361-362.

 

[12] Evans. 2013: Speech.

 

[13] United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons 26 September. United Nations.org. 2011 Accessed 2 June 2015. Available from: http://www.un.org/en/events/nuclearweaponelimination/

 

[14] Barnett. Michael N. ‘Review: Bringing in the New World Order: Liberalism, Legitimacy, and the United Nations’ World Politics. Cambridge University Press Vol. 49, No. 4 (Jul., 1997) 548-549.

 

[15] United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) United Nations.org. 2011. Accessed 2 June 2015. Available from: http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/NPT.shtml

 

[16] Graham. Thomas .Jnr. ‘Avoiding the Tipping Point.’ Review of: ‘Campbell, Kurt M; Einhorn, Robert J, and Reiss, Mitchell B. The Nuclear Tipping Point: Why States Reconsider Their Nuclear Choices. 2004.’ In, Arms Control Association. Washington DC. 2004. Accessed: 2 June 2015. Available from: http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_11/BookReview

 

[17] ‘Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic and Offensive Arms.’ Signed 8 April 2010. The White House Blog. Washington DC. 2010. 1-4. Accessed 2 June 2015. Available from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/04/08/new-start-treaty-and-protocol

 

[18] Blechman. Barry. M. ‘Why We Need to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons—and How to do it.’ Elements of a Nuclear Disarmament Treaty. Washington DC: Stimson Center, 2010. 7-9.

 

[19] Vinovskis, Maris A. ‘Book Review of Non-Proliferation Treaty: Framework for Nuclear Arms Control.’ William & Mary Law Review. 1969. 11:1. 279.

 

[20] ‘Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.’ International Atomic Energy Agency. Published: 22 April 1970. Accessed 3 June 2015. Available from: https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/infcircs/1970/infcirc140.pdf

 

[21] Cliff. 2010: 2.

 

[22] ‘Gerson, Michael S. ‘Conventional Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age.’ Parameters. Strategic Studies Institute. 2009. 34.

 

[23] Waltz, Kenneth. ‘The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory.’ Journal of Interdisciplinary History: The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars. 1988. 18:4. 628.

 

[24] Gavin, Francis J. Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age. Cornell University Press. 2012. 156.

 

[25] Doyle, James E. ‘Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons?’. Survival: Global Politics and Strategy. Routledge. 2013. 55:1, 23-24.

 

[26] Klein, John J. ‘Deterring and Dissuading Nuclear Terrorism.’ Journal of Strategic Security. 2012. 5:1. 15-18.

 

[27] Ibid ^

 

[28] Bunn, Matthew and Col-Gen. Maslin, E.P. ‘All Stocks of Weapons-Usable Nuclear Materials Worldwide Must be Protected Against Global Terrorist Threats.’ Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Harvard University. 2010. 1.

 

[29] Doyle. 2013: 28.

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