There seems to be no doubt that the problem of the nuclear weapon is of a great relevance today due to the existence of the significant geopolitical dichotomy between such states as the U.S., North Korea, and the Russian Federation. It means that the nuclear crisis could happen at any moment. It is rational to evaluate the risks with the help of the examination of historic facts about the use of nuclear weapons. Evidently, the U.S. was the first country to use nuclear weapons in its military activities. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 revealed the extraordinary power of this weapon. In this period, the nuclear weapons have been described as the “absolute weapon” due to this destructive power (Steiner 1984: 366). Needless to say, that many social activists and scientists debated the threat connected with the use of the nuclear weapons and their essential role in the maintenance of the global political system. However, a single decision was not taken, especially due to the emergence of the Cold War.
In the modern world, there are many views regarding the expediency of the nuclear weapons storage and use. Thus, some scholars believe that the possession of nuclear weapons is necessary to maintain peace and security. Therefore, the elimination of these weapons is irrational. On the other hand, there exists an opinion that these weapons must be withdrawn from use due to their destructive nature. The disarmament process can be conducted under the observation of different international institutions and through series of negotiations and signing treaties between nuclear-weapon states. However, using the realist’s approach, this essay argues that the elimination of the nuclear weapons is not possible due to their fundamental role in the protection of peace and national security. Furthermore, the disarmament process is very complicated, which means that any country could not guarantee a complete elimination of its nuclear stockpile. To corroborate this point, the essay will first explore the role of the nuclear weapons to support peace and security of the global community. Second, it is crucial to discuss the benefits of the counterargument related to the nuclear disarmament process. Finally, the essay will challenge the efficacy of the nuclear disarmament process.
The nature of the political relations between the states requires the use of nuclear weapons as a mean to maintain peace and security. The realists state that this nature is characterized as an anarchic and self-help environment where the absolute security is not guaranteed and every state must then fight for its survival (Miller 2009: 169). Therefore, the development of a nuclear program is necessary to enhance the security of the states. For instance, some country could engage in a conflict with a neighboring state. Obviously, the possession of the nuclear weapons could be considered as a tool to deter any possible intention to start wars. This is what has often been described as the deterrence theory. The idea behind this notion is that the possession of nuclear weapons and the encouragement of proliferation would increase peace and stability among the states (Barkenbus 1989: 437). This mechanism works by making “the cost of war seem frighteningly high and thus discourage states from starting any wars that might lead to the use of such weapons” (Waltz 1981:387). The realists strongly advocate for the use of nuclear weapons as an instrument for deterrence to conserve the security of a state in an anarchic condition that exists in the international system. Thus, the abandonment of these weapons may make a state vulnerable to be attacked by a stronger state. For instance, the decision of the Ukrainian government to abandon nuclear weapons led to the unpunished aggression of the Russian Federation in 2014.
It is necessary to mention that the logic and motive behind the realists’ notion of deterrence can also be detected by analyzing the events of the Cold War. After the United States first used the nuclear bombs against Japan and after witnessing its destructive power, the threat and fear of the weapon influenced the other major powers to acquire nuclear weapons to protect their national security. In 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear bomb. In few years, the United Kingdom, France, and China have also adopted nuclear warheads (Sechser and Fuhrmann 2017: 3). These states are now known as permanent members of the Security Council, the (P5). Furthermore, they are the only legitimate nuclear weapons possessors under the terms of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) (Horovitz 2014: 127). After the WWII, there appeared a high tension between the Eastern block and the Western block due to the nuclear weapons acquisition: “there has never been a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed states” (Waltz 2012: 5). As it has already been mentioned, the fear of using the nuclear weapons and the recognition that starting a war could result in a complete destruction of both sides of the conflict prevented the Soviet Union and the U.S. from sloppy decisions. Furthermore, this situation led to the formation of a sort of balance of power between the competing nations (Powell 2015:591). Accordingly, the realists state that the existence of the nuclear weapons was the basic reason why the Cold War was a period that witnessed an absence of “general war” among the global powers (Waltz 1981:384). Therefore, nuclear weapons played a critical role by deterring the threat of nuclear capabilities between the states during the Cold War.
It becomes clear that one of the outcomes of the Cold War is the decisions of the other nations to develop get a nuclear reserve as a major mean to ensure the long-term political sustainability in a region. As Sagan suggested, “states build nuclear weapons to increase national security against foreign threats, especially nuclear threats” (Sagan 1996, 55). According to this point, the situation started to be complicated because of many states, such as North Korea, India, and Pakistan, acquired the nuclear weapons (Ludes 2014:9). For example, North Korea experienced an external invasion during the Korean War. This war showed the inability of the communist regime in North Korea to oppose the power of the U.S. and its allies. Therefore, North Korea’s leaders started to acquire nuclear warheads to counter any potential foreign threat (Ryang 2009: 25). Evidently, any country strives for an open conflict with North Korea today. Accordingly, in the realists’ anarchic world, each state must fight for its survival by accumulating nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, the accumulation of the nuclear weapons by a totalitarian regime is very dangerous for the welfare of the global community. There is a rational concern that North Korea could launch a nuclear strike against the United States (Belot 2017). The threat is conceived as a national security matter by the American government. Therefore, to counter this threat, it is essential for the U.S. nuclear deterrent system to be ready to respond to any possible nuclear attack. Indeed, the former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence, James Woolsey, stated “The U.S. must be prepared to pre-empt North Korea by any means necessary – including nuclear weapons” (Sharman 2017) In a similar case, the conflict between India and Pakistan regarding Kashmir requires both states to be prepared for the possible nuclear strike (Majeed 2013: 220). These constant risks of the international nuclear war could seem very frightening. Nevertheless, all the cases contribute to the notion of deterrence and the importance of the nuclear weapons in the prevention of the threat to the national security caused by some another country.
Many social activists and scholars challenged the realists’ notion of deterrence on the conceptual level. This opinion is based on the assumption that the non-use of nuclear weapons during the Cold War did not mean the decrease of a military violence and the national security threat. In fact, the nuclear power did not prevent many wars, such as the war in Vietnam or Afghanistan. Simultaneously, the Chinese communist soldiers attacked the American troops in the Korean War during the Cold War (Brune 2005: 173-174). The Americans did not escalate the issue by launching a nuclear strike over China. However, the scholars suggest that there have to be some normative constraints behind the non-use of nuclear weapons in a situation where there is a direct conflict between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states. In what is known as the “Nuclear Taboo”, Buzan and Herring defined it as “a strategic cultural prohibition against the use of nuclear weapons” (1998: 165). Moreover, it is possible to suggest that there are other motives behind the non-use of the nuclear weapons after the WWII. Therefore, the use of nuclear deterrence as a tool to protect national security interests seems not a convincing argument for some specialists.
It seems fair to state that it is necessary for the scholars to investigate the reason to acquire nuclear capabilities by such states as North Korea or India if not for surviving in a self-help environment. For the constructivists, identities and ideas reflect social purposes and they all play a critical role in defining interests of the states. Furthermore, actions and interactions between states should have meanings (Wendt 1994: 384-387). Therefore, “The continued prevalence of nuclear weapons and states’ dominance in the nuclear arena constitute social facts” (Van Wyk et al 2007: 23). For example, North Korea aims to view itself as a self-reliance state. The leaders of the country have constructed the state’s ideology on the assumption that the Western ideology brings harm. Consequently, North Korea used this social fact “as the basis for the development of its nuclear program (Van Wyk et al 2007: 33). Thus, the constructivists view the international system as a reflection of social and cultural norms of the states. The formation of the military culture could be the primary reason for a country to develop the nuclear program.
The above-mentioned case shows that there are states, which abandoned the use of nuclear weapons and called for nuclear disarmament due to the peaceful intentions. Obviously, there is a reason for such an intention. The Japanese experience of mass destruction caused by nuclear bombing symbolizes the darkest moments of the human history. Therefore, the non-proliferation of nuclear works is a social norm and priority for the Japanese government. The aim of these policies is to prevent any similar events from happening in the future. As the former Japan’s Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, state that Japan will “lead the international community to promote nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation and devote itself to abolish nuclear weapons” (2004, cited in Doyle 2015: 59). Other states, such as South Africa, Argentina, and Ukraine also abolished their nuclear warheads and signed the NPT. These states shifted their cultural norms by considering the nuclear weapon as a weapon that may pose a threat to their national interests (Sagan 1996, 76). This shift can clearly be linked to the constructivist’s idea of states’ social interests.
Consequently, for some states, there is a possibility to completely abolish the nuclear weapons. As the Japanese case shows, the nuclear weapons caused a massive destitution and death. Therefore, the states like Japan set the dialogue with the international community regarding the importance of the refusal to possess nuclear weapons. In particular, there is a call to shift the social norms and join the NPT program in order to make the world free from nuclear weapons. In fact, many states started to reduce its nuclear stockpile. For instance, the former U.S. President, Barack Obama, stated: “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” (2009, cited in Kelleher and Reppy 2011: 14). Furthermore, the U.S. and the Russian Federation signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to halve the nuclear stockpile (:28-29). The two major global powers had an intention to make the world free from nuclear weapons (Florick 2016: 371-374). This shift may influence the other nuclear states to take the same steps. Thus, the UN tries to eliminate the number of nuclear warheads in the world through the series of negotiation and treaties. The UN and its bodies will observe any nuclear activities and ensure the success of the nuclear disarmament process. (United nation 2016; Sidel and Levy 2007: 1590). Therefore, there is a desire of the nuclear states to reduce the nuclear weapons and abolish them if possible.
However, the process of abandonment of nuclear weapons is rather difficult. In response to the constructivist notion of social norms and purposes, states such as North Korea may preserve the acquisition of nuclear weapons serves as its national interests. As it has already been mentioned, North Korea’s leaders suppose that there exists a necessity to possess nuclear weapons to counter the U.S. threat. Therefore, the other states, such as India or Pakistan, could also approach the issue in a similar manner when the nuclear weapons are used as deterrence against another nuclear state. Evidently, North Korea faced economic sanctions posed by the international community to deter it from its nuclear program. Yet, so far this strategy is ineffective (Chang 2007:80-83). Nevertheless, even if every country agrees to reduce its nuclear warheads as a first step to abolishing them it could be then difficult to guarantee that the nuclear weapons are completely abolished and nothing is hidden. Thus, it seems that nuclear abolishing is rather complicated. It requires a complete social shift from considering nuclear weapons as a mean to serve national security to a weapon that must be destroyed.
It is possible to conclude that the elimination of nuclear weapons seems to be impossible. Evidently, the realists believe that nuclear weapons serve as a tool to deter a possible attack by another nuclear state. On the other hand, the constructivists claim that acquisitions of nuclear weapons reflect states social purposes, especially cultural values. Thus, there are some states like India and North Korea that conceive nuclear weapons as a tool to protect their nation security. Therefore, it could be impossible for the global community to abandon nuclear weapons without the long-term political, social, and cultural changes. It is necessary for all the states to shift their perception of the nuclear weapons in order to enter the NPT program. Unfortunately, even in a case of a decision of all countries to abandon nuclear weapons, there may be no guarantee that some states will completely destroy their nuclear stockpile. Therefore, it is impossible to imagine the humanity without the nuclear weapons in the future.
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