3-2: Nuclear Winter and Nuclear Disarmament

One of the most interesting components of the literature on nuclear winter is the discussion of the role that the prediction of nuclear winter played on disarmament. The negative impacts of nuclear winter seem significant enough that they remove the benefit from defensively launching a nuclear strike. If Russia were to bomb the US, the harm that the US would incur upon itself by bombing Russia back is significant due to nuclear winter, and so there becomes an incentive not to keep weapons as they incur a harm domestically even if they are being launched overseas.

However, the alternative approach is that of the Reagan administration according to Badash, who says that the Reagan administration employed the nuclear winter concept as justification for a build-up (17). Perhaps the argument here is that having a significant weapon stockpile is the only way to prevent other countries from employing their weapons. While there may be some truth to this mutually assured destruction strategy, it seems to guarantee that a nuclear war would lead to serious environmental impacts.

So which is the right way to handle the problem? As I see it, if disarmament is completed, even if another country builds bombs and launches an attack, they may be able to have stockpiled enough to create significantly devastating environmental effects (though Robock and Toon suggest that only 100 bombs would be necessary). The problem here is that we may not be able to control countries like India and Pakistan, and they have enough warheads to cause a catastrophic nuclear winter. As the nuclear winter concept demonstrates, a local war between India and Pakistan can have devastating consequences; if the US cannot get these countries to participate in full disarmament, what is the correct strategy: do we keep stockpiled weapons to threaten both India and Pakistan or do we disarm and hope that it sets an example for the future? Is there any merit to keeping stockpiled weapons as an added threat, or does our knowledge of nuclear winter weaken the perceived likelihood of the US deploying its weapons? — Dan