Ending the Nuclear Threat

As we’ve previously discussed in this class, the specter of nuclear war haunts the world – so it prompts the question – can we ever eliminate nuclear weapons from the world? It’s an optimistic goal that has long been in the sights of activists, and as the documents from the United Nations General Assembly (L.41) and Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will demonstrate (A Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons), they’re aspirations for intergovernmental bodies and NGOs as well. Although the Cold War is over, large stockpiles of nuclear weapons remain, posing a significant risk to the safety of the world. The only way to ensure safety moving forward, according to these documents, is for multilateral disarmament among the world’s nuclear powers. Previous treaty frameworks already allude to the eventual disarmament of nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is what this group calls the “cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime.” To that end, the Working Group of the UN General Assembly is convening a 2017 conference in New York to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. Let’s hope that they’re successful in producing a legal end to nuclear weapons. However, the question remains as to whether the nuclear-armed countries will acquiesce to such a ban.

Other weapons of mass destruction like chemical and biological weapons are governed by international treaties effectively banning their use; however, nuclear weapons have no such prohibition. Right now, what’s needed most is political will among the potential signatory countries to sign, enact, and then enforce a nuclear weapons ban. It might seem like the non-nuclear armed countries have little leverage over the nuclear-armed countries, but to give an interesting example, in 1987, New Zealand passed nuclear free zone legislation, which caused the United States to suspend its military alliance with it, but eventually the United States restored its alliance anyway. Broader security concerns seem to outweigh the desire to have nuclear weapons. Furthermore, as the Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will report posits, it is also possible to move forward with a complete ban on nuclear weapons without the support of the nuclear-armed powers. Perhaps the incremental process of eliminating nuclear weapons is insufficient for achieving the real goal of a world without nuclear weapons. We have to ask ourselves – what are we willing to commit in order to achieve a nuclear-free world? — Nicholas

19 thoughts on “Ending the Nuclear Threat

  1. While the example of the United State/New Zealand interaction is interesting, I would argue that it is not sufficient to back up the claim you then make, that “Broader security concerns seem to outweigh the desire to have nuclear weapons”. Instead, I would perhaps argue that the United States does not consider its broader security concerns threatened by the legislation that New Zealand passed, and merely suspended its military alliance temporarily to send a message of its’ disapproval, hoping to deter other nations from acting similarly.

    Unfortunately, I believe that nuclear weapons will remain crucial to how the major powers in today’s world envision their security. I would agree that a lack of political will poses a potent obstacle to signing, enacting, and enforcing a nuclear weapons ban. Yet, even if the public initiated a grass-roots movement to attempt to garner political will, I understand the true root of the problem to be the atmosphere of our current international system. Many of the relations between the major powers of the world, especially those in control of nuclear weapons, are unfortunately characterized by hostility and distrust. It would take stringent enforcement and true transparency to move past these barriers, and even with the best science and technology to convince each side that the other was cooperating, there has yet to be a technology developed that can completely eliminate this fundamental distrust.

  2. I think an interesting theory that may have some ramifications for your argument is the “stability-instability paradox.” Proponents of this theory argue that in a rational world, instances of major conflict between nuclear powers dramatically decreases because of the threat of mutually assured destruction (or at least catastrophic devastation). During the Cold War, for example, the US and USSR never fought an all-out, world-ending “total war;” they instead engaged in various proxy conflicts. I would further argue that a total war has not been fought in the nuclear age precisely because of the likelihood that it would be nuclear. In a nuclear weapon free world, would Japan and China already have gone to war over the Senkaku Islands? Would the US be fighting a full-fledged war against Russia in Ukraine? We shouldn’t ignore the important role in international stability that nuclear weapons play.

    In the event that the US does want to engage in bilateral talks to reduce nukes, the reduction/negotiation strategy could resemble the fairest way to split a piece of cake between two people. One person gets to cut the cake; the other person gets to choose which piece they want to eat. The US and Russia, for example, could agree to “cut” their nuclear arsenals into pieces. The US would then get to choose which chunk of Russia’s arsenal gets disarmed, and vice versa. Maybe it’s been tried before, but it seems like a good idea to me.

  3. In response to your comment that: “the Working Group of the UN General Assembly is convening a 2017 conference in New York to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. Let’s hope that they’re successful in producing a legal end to nuclear weapons. However, the question remains as to whether the nuclear-armed countries will acquiesce to such a ban,” I would like to offer my own spin, which could be seen as realist or pessimistic or both. I agree with your skepticism about the efficacy of such a ban, especially with recent developments in international policy. For example, the Paris Climate Agreement, signed only last year, faces challenges ahead especially in relation to Trump presidency. While somewhat ambitious at avoiding a global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, the agreement has been criticized for lacking a binding enforcement mechanism.

    President Trump has made it very clear that he will place US business interests first, even if that means harming the environment in the process. With leaders who will blatantly go against transnational agreements, we will have to put more emphasis on grassroots campaigns that influence public opinion about the importance of stopping climate change. At the same time, we have seen that even massive efforts on a grassroots level to oppose business interests that harm the environment (Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines) can be overridden by an executive signature. We must hold our agencies accountable, especially the EPA, and I believe many Americans are poised to do just that. But because policy is so uncertain at this point, it will be up to the people to demonstrate (literally and figuratively) just how important environmental protection is and how devastating climate change will be if it is not averted. While I have been encouraged by the showing of support at recent protests, I fear that this excitement will eventually wear off and people will grow more complacent. – Allison

  4. Ohompe could not have put it better: “Many of the relations between the major powers of the world, especially those in control of nuclear weapons, are unfortunately characterized by hostility and distrust.” India and Pakistan frequently flex their nuclear muscles against one another. Israel keeps intimidating Iran with its nuclear weapons arsenal. And in the past few years, North Korea has done everything it can to violate international treaties and develop its own nuclear program in a very successful fashion, given its most recent ballistic missile test in the Sea of Japan. Although treaties, like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, have been long in place, nuclear weapons have not yet ceased to exist. In fact, US and Russia are still hesitant to mutually reduce their nuclear arsenal, despite owning an excessive amount of nuclear missiles when compared to the rest of the countries, which is evidence that even the leading military forces of the world are not able to reach a consensus due to distrust for one another. This is exactly the reason why India and Pakistan have been channeling a lot of resources in nuclear weapons production. This blatant violation of international treaties and profound hesitancy to cut down on nuclear weapons production and arsenals manifested by military superpowers is the reason why I believe nuclear missiles will never cease to exist.

    I am not claiming this is necessarily for the worse. PJ in fact makes a very good point about how the existence of nuclear weapons might be exactly the reason why so many tense incidents, like the annexation of Crimea by Russia, did not escalate into a military conflicts and all-out war. Because of the presence of nuclear warheads, war between military superpowers translates to committing suicide through global destruction. Therefore, although the ever-lasting threat of global catastrophe by nuclear war is not the best way of preventing World War III, it ensures any war of equal or smaller scale between superpowers is deterred.

    This benefit though comes though with a significant cost: If World War III occurs, there will be no World for World War IV to take place. And since whenever a country controls a nuclear warhead there will always be a country controlling two of them to counter it and one more for retaliation, and since North Korea, India and Pakistan do not seem willing to work towards the goal of complete nuclear disarmament, all people need to get accustomed to living with the constant threat of global destruction through nuclear weapons.

  5. I would agree with ohompe’s assessment of the interaction between the United States and New Zealand. Though the US and NZ have long been considered allies, the United States’ withdrawal from ANZUS, while largely symbolic, has plagued the relationship between the two countries for the past thirty years. Until this past November when former Vice President Biden visited the Pacific island-nation, no U.S. vessel had been on NZ shores or even in NZ waters since the incident in 1987.

    Additionally, I think the idea of a nuclear weapons ban within itself is fascinating given the setup of our international institutions. Similar to human rights treaties that are signed by countries and often violated, the subjects of international law and sovereignty shed light on the fact that no enforcement mechanism exists in the international sphere. The purpose of international organizations and law is to bind sovereign states to their commitments, but with little to no powers of enforcement, there does not seem to be a way to ensure compliance.

  6. The “one person slices, the other person chooses” idea mentioned earlier sounds appealing. But nuclear states have no reason, or perhaps even less reason to go for that kind of proposal. It gives no further motive for a nuclear state to give up its nuclear weapons, and instead injects uncertainty in a situation that is already dangerous precisely due to its precariousness and global risk.
    When you’re a kid, and you get to split a cupcake with your brother, you agree to do it because 1) it’s the nice thing to do and 2) your mom said so. I for one would rather keep the cupcake for myself. It’s only given the fact that you have to share that the “you split and other chooses” method sounds fair, since it gives you some modicum of control over the other person. But with nuclear weapons, there is no overlying force requiring them to give the weapons up. That’s the whole problem. I don’t see any way that America would allow Russia to choose which side of its arsenal to dismantle, or how each country would make those distinctions (class, ton, age, etc.). If they went through with it, each would choose the deadliest weapons of the other state, yes, but that presupposes this trade happens at all. Either way, we could end up with Acheson’s critique of NPT’s step by step dismantling, which is that it still “serves to legimitise the continued possession of nuclear weapons in the meantime” (16). To quote the earlier comment, “in the event that the US does want to engage in bilateral talks,” I don’t see them choosing an approach with any unnecessary uncertainty at all compared to traditional negotiations.
    While Acheson et. al urge that non-nuclear states negotiate without the main nuclear players, as long as rogue actors or clearly antagonistic states possess nuclear weapons, or as long as banana trucks can be mistaken for fissile material, I don’t see why America or other nations would sit down and seriously dismantle their nuclear capabilities. Even if smaller countries decide to divest from nuclear weapons industries (i.e. Norway), or ban nuclear weapons from passing through its territories (i.e. New Zealand), if push came to shove, I doubt that the United States would hesitate to set off a nuclear weapon if doing so meant violating temporarily a smaller ally’s territory or airspace or the like. America would already be going past the point of no return in affecting the world order, and so might have minimal incentive to abide by those laws.

  7. A question that touches on some of the uncertainty associated with the effect of the 2017 UN conference is: “how can they be sure?” In an era of rampant distrust between nations, secret alliances, public scandals, digital media reporting stories faster than they can verify – how will the UN make certain that the nations most unwilling to dispose of their nuclear arsenals are following these directives?

    In the investigative journalism piece “Billions over Baghdad”, James B. Steele and Donald L. Bartlett revealed that a non-governmental organization tasked with distributing large amounts of cash into the Iraqi economy committed major fraud, and that over $9 billion was unaccounted for. The “company” that was supposed to audit the transactions was run by an elderly man living in a small residence in San Diego. The mailing address of this company was in the Bahamas, a tax haven. The answer Bartlett and Steele reached at the end of their piece was that the US government doesn’t care.

    The strictness of the enforcers of these new policies will be crucial to ensure that the countries who will be unwillingly dismantling their nuclear weapons will follow the UN’s guidelines. So perhaps another question we must ask of those enforcing new policies of disarmament might be: “will you care”?

  8. Like many of the other commentators, I’m skeptical that this will legal ban will be successful. But while much of their focus has been on Russia and the US, I’d like to point out the challenges in disarming the smaller nuclear-armed states, such as Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea. All of these countries have tense disputes with neighbors. Unlike the US or Russia (as well as nuclear NATO allies, to a lesser extent), most of these countries’s conventional capabilities aren’t sufficient to guarantee their survival. Thus, until these countries no longer feel that their survival is threatened, persuading them to disarm will be quite difficult. There is a large body of evidence pointing to the benefits of possession of nuclear weapons for smaller states. The Cuban missile crisis caused the US to publicly guarantee that it would not invade Cuba unless directly provoked. Similarly, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons was an important factor in preventing a total Arab victory in the Yom Kippur war. States that have voluntarily disarmed have seen the flipside of these benefits. The decision of NATO to promote regime change in Libya through a conventional bombing campaign may have been made much easier by Libya’s then recent elimination of its WMDs and nuclear program. Similarly, if Ukraine had not given up the nuclear weapons it inherited from the USSR, it seems possible that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the civil war in eastern Ukraine would have been prevented. Based on past readings about the global effects of regional nuclear war, it seems like the great nuclear powers must try to ease the concerns of the smaller nuclear-armed countries to promote their disarmament.

  9. North Korea (DPRK) is the perfect example that demonstrates precisely why a treaty universally banning nuclear weapons is unlikely to be fruitful. The DPRK has thumbed its nose at the NPT and has disregarded other countries’ disapproval while continuing to develop nuclear arms. The DPRK’s decision to focus on nuclear arms development is quite rational when viewed from the perspective of regime-survival. Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Il have made regime-survival a priority. Having a weapon that can inflict genocide-level damages raises the economic cost of war with the DPRK and provides them with a certain level of independence as well as bargaining power.

    Now, one may make the argument that the DPRK would disarm if everyone else disarms, but there are some major problems with this conjecture. First, the level of distrust between the DPRK and the U.S. is virtually insurmountable. Thus, the DPRK would have much trouble believing that the U.S. would truly disarm its nuclear weapons and vice versa. Second, the asymmetry of nuclear arms possession leads to a greater power differential and would incentivize the DPRK as well as other countries to not follow a treaty banning nuclear arms. Essentially, possessing nuclear arms when others do not provides an asymmetry of military and perhaps political bargaining power that is extremely appealing to the one who possesses these nuclear arms and thus cheats on the aforementioned treaty. Some may say that sanctions, stigmatization, and other forms of punishment lower this incentive to the point where it is not appealing anymore. However, at least in the case of the DPRK, sanctions and stigmatization are already being used to try to deter the DPRK from continuing to develop nuclear arms. The DPRK simply does not care.

    In short, developing nuclear treaties with idealistic approaches that possibly lead to “pareto improvement” where everyone is better off does not take into account the new strategic incentives that are introduced when such treaties are employed. These new strategic incentives could have effects that are counterproductive and that lead to a worse-off situation than the status-quo.

  10. In order for a nuclear weapons ban to function, all countries must be in compliance.  The problem is that if a single country bucks the trend and opts to create nuclear weapons anew, then the whole system falls apart, with a global arms race ensuing.  The problem is that the basic science and technological knowledge of nuclear weapons will not simply disappear, and this information leaves the door for nuclear armament open indefinitely.  Therefore, in the best case scenario of a nuclear weapons ban, global powers would be constantly on guard against the possibility that another country might be working to obtain nuclear weapons.  This could lead to increased spy efforts and mistrust, and possibly the proliferation of secret, underground nuclear weapons programs.  Prevention of the development of secret nuclear weapons would also be extremely difficult to police. What is more, in this type of scenario, we cannot account for the possibility of a non-signatory group (like a terrorist organization) obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    Although this theoretical situation of a successful nuclear weapons ban is not “ideal,” it would still be better than the current state of affairs by those who do not believe that deterrence is an effective strategy.  However, it is not realistic.  Even if, unlikely as it may be, the United States, Russia, Israel, France, the United Kingdom, India, and Pakistan, all agree to destroy their nuclear weapons, there is simply almost zero chance that North Korea would ever agree to destroy its existing weapons.  

    North Korea’s inevitable refusal to destroy its nuclear weapons would then set off a chain reaction.  If North Korea maintains its nuclear weapons, the United States would likely be motivated to maintain its nukes to protect its close ally Japan.  In response, China and Russia would also almost definitely maintain their nukes.  And If China keeps its nukes, then so will India, and if India maintains its nukes then so will Pakistan.  The problem is, without 100 percent compliance with a nuclear weapons ban, the ban simply will not work.  And 100 percent compliance is nearly impossible.  Also, if 100 percent compliance were somehow achieved, the resulting disarmament would likely be short-lived and highly-strained.  It would also leave existing global powers open to surprise nuclear attacks by groups who developed secret nuclear weapons.

  11. One factor that I think might be central to your question is that it is in the best interest of these nations to disarm. As today’s lecture noted, current states that are of highest security concern regarding nuclear arms, will ultimately be harmed in the event of a nuclear war. There is simply no benefit to nuclear arms. This absolute approach is modeled by simple game theory, where both players in a nuclear standoff will lose in the event of nuclear war.

    The way to approach this issue, that lobbyists and politicians should emphasize, is to look at the humanitarian effects of such weapons. To use nuclear weapons should be emphasized as a crime against humanity, a violation of international human rights law, all of which have been known, analyzed, and discoursed for decades. The simple fact that nuclear weapons and war can destroy economies and life on the planet as we know it is a well known fact. This is one of two distinct ways of looking at nuclear weapons, compared to the current paradigm of viewing them as a tool wielded by rational states to control global security. The first view violates laws and moral conscience, and seems much more convincing and straightforward than the other view that nuclear weapons are a tool for security, but only after an agreed number of rational actors take control of them. A paradigm shift is necessary if a nuclear-free world is ever to be successful.

  12. While I agree with the central points you make in this post, I believe further distinction should be made regarding the question of whether “nuclear-armed countries will acquiesce to such a ban.” Primarily, I do not believe the countries in possession of nuclear weapons can be discussed as a single grouping. For example, the history and objectives behind nuclear possession in nations such as the United States and Pakistan are far different. On top of this, the variety of government systems and degree of willingness to consider international precedent make disarmament far more likely for some than for others.

    Unfortunately, these inconsistencies themselves make for a legitimate argument to continue nuclear possession. It is not only unlikely, but also perhaps irresponsible for some nations to willingly undergo disarmament without assurance that all others will do likewise. In other words, though it would undoubtedly be impressive to see countries such as the United States disarm, it is less clear whether the world should be left with a state such as North Korea as a theoretical last possessor.

    In this sense, it only takes a handful (or even one) unpredictable or dangerous player in the nuclear realm for there to be this logic of continued possession. Given that such actors quite clearly exist in today’s world, I would suggest not only that disarmament is highly improbable, but that it may even be for the best.

  13. I find it highly unlikely that either the US or Russia will be disarming their nuclear arsenals any time soon, regardless of what laws or treaties are passed. Having said that, how likely these countries are to use a nuclear weapon is definitely related in some way to the feelings of the international community on the subject. I also think that both countries could be persuaded to decrease the number of active weapons they have, although if it takes just a few or a few dozen weapons to destroy the planet these decreases won’t have a relevant impact.

    At the end of the day, I’m also somewhat skeptical if all of this effort devoted specifically towards nuclear weapons is worth it. Technology improves every day, and I’m sure there will soon be similarly destructive weapons of other kinds. I think general bans on research or development of weapons that can cause more than a given amount of damage or casualties may be more effective. Regardless, most countries will continue to secretly develop ways to protect themselves, and the real purpose of all this in my opinion should be to make it as unacceptable as possible to actually use these weapons rather than to try to eliminate their existence.

  14. It is at least comforting that there appears to be widespread agreement that the use of nuclear weapons would have deleterious effects that would cover the world, ranging from the immediate effects on the receiving country’s population, eventual effects, as Ray Acheson reiterated frequently, on the country which used the weapon, and potential effects regarding radiation, climate impact, and new, dangerous precedents for the art of warcraft. In short, I agree with Nicholas’s assessment that we ought to avoid “the specter of nuclear war.” But I remain unconvinced from his post, this week’s readings, and Ms. Acheson’s lecture that the only logical conclusion to opposing nuclear war is supporting nuclear disarmament.

    I rest this belief upon finding Ms. Acheson’s lecture to insufficiently describe the current nuclear landscape in its differences from the nuclear age from 1945 through the height of the Cold War. In the summer 2003 issue of Orbis, Paul Bracken lays out a number of ways in which the post ~1970 “Second Nuclear Age” is different from the first emergence of nuclear weapons. For example, nuclear weapons during the first nuclear age were possessed by two major powers, making game theoretical approaches to their use and policies governing them easier to consider. Now, with several nuclear-weapons states, the game theory is much more complex. Bracken also makes the case that a cultural divide between East and West is at play. Even though the United States and the Soviet Union were bitter adversaries during the Cold War, their differences were within the same internationalist worldview springing from the European Enlightenment, albeit two very different facets. Bracken writes that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. each “advanced their own unique ‘internationalisms,’ democracy in the case of the United States, communism in the case of the Soviet Union. In many ways the Cold War was really a civil war between different wings of the Enlightenment.” He continues by pointing out that the emerging nuclear weapons states are all Asian, steeped in a heritage of nationalism. In describing the American-Soviet rivalry, Bracken writes, “Neither believed that their peoples were innately superior to each other, only that their core political beliefs were.” This, like the expansion of a previously-simple two-player game, makes it much harder to simply propose a complete global disarmament as a lasting solution. Couple this with the rising costs of conventional defense, making nuclear weapons a relatively most cost-efficient investment for a state under threat.

    All of this suggests that global disarmament as a policy or a strategic objective may have made sense in 1969, but the world in 2017 looks much different. Some of my classmates and many scholars have made arguments as to why limited possession of nuclear weapons can serve as a stabilizing force; I need not repeat them here. But however the experts presume to avert the improbable (yet admittedly potentially catastrophic) prospect of nuclear war, I think the solution must respond appropriately to the reality of a new, second nuclear age that has grown distant from the first.

  15. Nicholas argues that “it is also possible to move forward with a complete ban on nuclear weapons without the support of the nuclear-armed powers.” I disagree, and instead would argue that this would be impossible. Without the support of major powers like the United States, China, and Russia, how would we expect for complete dismantlement of nuclear weapons across the globe to be successful? After listening to our guest lecturer today, I have come to the conclusion that a nuclear weapons ban could not come without the support of a P5 nation or other great nuclear power.

    PJ made an interesting point above about how mutually assured destruction is a reason why the great powers should maintain nuclear weapons. Even putting aside the Cold War between the US and the USSR, we can consider mutually assured destruction through the modern lenses of conflicts between Israel and the Arab States or India and Pakistan. Many arguments could be made that these states are not currently at war because of their possession of nuclear weapons. Although Israel, for example, has never officially admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, the allegations that it does possess nuclear weapons act as a deterrent from other states attacking Israel. It would be difficult to convince a small state such as Israel (in spite of its many other military advantages such as the Iron Dome) to disarm its nuclear weapons. If a threat to a state still stands, the state would clearly see the proposed ban to be unfeasible in the future. It was difficult enough to obtain signatories for the Non-Proliferation Treaty; therefore, I believe it would be even more difficult to obtain signatories to a treaty that would completely ban and disarm all nuclear weapons.

  16. Michael mentioned how each country evidently has different policy motives regarding their possession of nuclear weapons (i.e. the difference in foreign policy between the U.S. and Pakistan), which makes it tough to consider their disarmament as a single grouping. I agree that disarmament should still be the best option for the future, but a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons might create more humanitarian problems than it seeks to solve.

    One reason for this is based on the debatable assumption that any coalition holding nuclear weapons would rationally consider the overall consequences of an actual nuclear war. This ignores the growing threat that non-state actors and terrorist groups could potentially have the capabilities to harness a nuclear weapon in the near future. These groups would never abide by UN regulations or international law mandates, and even if a ban on nuclear weapons is enabled, that would encourage and not discourage these groups from attempting to overpower their enemies and continuing to seek possession of such weapons. Ideally every group would abide by a ban to limit their own nuclear weapons stockpile for humanitarian reasons, but international stability against possible nuclear terrorism should remain a priority.

  17. Having read the responses here, I find that I really agree with Michael Smerconish’s statement that “it only takes a handful (or even one) unpredictable or dangerous player in the nuclear realm for there to be this logic of continued possession” – therefore, nuclear disarmament is both improbable and perhaps not even the best solution to a more peaceful word. In accordance to what PJ stated earlier, the ‘mutually-assured destruction’ caused by nuclear war renders such a war an option that is more or less off the table.

    If we took a look at nuclear arms development as a game we see that it’s a prisoner’s dilemma (specifically called the ‘arms race’) in which the payoffs for developing nuclear arms are only positive if your opponent does not develop nuclear arms as well. The dominant strategy is clearly to develop arms – but one country not developing arms puts it at a disadvantage relative to the other country that does. The speaker from the U.N. in class today referenced the argument that that more nuclear weapons leave both parties worse off, even if they’re not worse off in relation to each other.

    Perhaps my view is unpopular, but I don’t dispute that having nuclear weapons leaves every party worse off in the arms race. But, developing nuclear weapons is still the dominant strategy because what matters in international security is not total security but relative security (i.e. ‘how susceptible is our country to foreign attack by another country?’ as opposed to ‘how safe is everyone in both of our countries?’). Given certain states’ leaderships that are less than rational (North Korea, namely), a truly nuclear-free world just comes off as naive.

  18. I think Nicholas best explains in his blog of the strong need for multilateral disarmament in order to ensure safety and the success of international treaties. However, I find the dynamic of the theoretical multilateral system to have some obvious though overlooked nuances (and a potential flaw). In essence, a multilateral system only works insofar as the countries that are creating such ally-ships are in states of power which contrast the potential threats of nuclear warfare in other countries (who do not necessarily have other state allies). Nicholas mentions an interesting example with New Zealand and America that, I think, is niche and not as evidencing of how countries deal with nuclear warfare tensions which I hope to now evidence.

    I’m specifically drawn to the situation of North Korea’s history, specifically in response to its nuclear tests and the stockpile of roughly 15 to 22 weapons. There have been attempts at treatises that stemmed from multilateral disarmament attempts by the UN and America, and in response the U.S gave a nuclear reactor at the cost of North Korea’s disarmament (the reactor was intended for energy sufficiency, and the Soviet Union had done a similar diplomatic hand when it refused to help North Korea create bombs but was willing to give nuclear energy educational aid). The country ultimately received the agency necessary to produce energy and profit – enough so to bribe Pakistan for its nuclear weapons, bringing North Korea to a sort of “nuclear statehood”. So, treatises did not work with North Korea, and financial sanctions have been attempted directly at North Korea to only marginal success. Secondary sanctions at Pakistan and other countries that have aided North Korea, however, have helped to curb resources.

    My point of bringing up North Korea is mostly to express a situation in which treatises of multilateral intent have not worked, and negotiation has come only at the force of direct and secondary sanctions. By virtue of a secondary sanction, America has to place itself further against other countries, its allegiances affecting its diplomatic relationships. I think this example better nuances Nicholas’ New Zealand example because of the more current global catastrophic risk that Korea represents and the failure of negotiation among superpowers with developing countries.

  19. While I personally would like to see nuclear weapons eliminated, I am not optimistic that they will be, nor do I believe the United States should participate in the upcoming treaty talks.

    Since the majority of nuclear-armed states will not engage in the treaty talks, the proposed “ban” on nuclear weapons is not a ban at all. Because most of the nuclear-armed states will be largely outside the treaty’s jurisdiction, the treaty will actually serve as an official condemnation of states that do not engage in nuclear disarmament. This is not to discount the aims of the treaty or its supporters, who explicitly say that the treaty movement was designed largely to re-stigmatize nuclear weapons. Hopefully, such a treaty would in fact increase the political and financial pressure on nuclear states, encouraging them to disarm more of there existing bombs.

    In his post, Nicholas seems to touch on the optimism of the ban’s proponents. He says, “Let’s hope they’re successful” but that “the question remains as to whether the nuclear-armed countries will acquiesce.” Quite simply they will not. If your enemy possesses nuclear weapons, the dominant strategy is to possess your own. Every nuclear-armed state faces this predicament, including the United States. While I would like to see nuclear disarmament, I would not want the United States to give up its nukes before, say, Russia. I’m sure the Russians feel the same way about us, which is why we’re at a standstill.

    While multilateral cooperation sounds nice, we should remember how difficult it is to enforce nuclear disarmament. It has been a struggle in the past to oversee the nuclear programs of weaker countries like Iran and North Korea. Therefore, I don’t see how we could enforce measures such as IAEA inspections in countries like the United States and Russia, which are far less susceptible to economic sanctions.

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