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Nuclear deterrence is the best way to achieve security.

Once upon a time, you could defend your own state by patrolling borders and keeping all arms of the defence force strong. With the invention of the nuclear bomb in the U.S. in 1945 (by The Manhattan Project)1, all of that can be disregarded. With one detonation, a city and its people can be destroyed. No matter how large the army, they are no contest for a weapon of such potency. How does one combat a nuclear bomb? Obtain one the same or bigger. Perhaps this is the right way to defend your state. Ensure that you always have the corresponding weapon of mass

destruction. An eye for an eye Biblical stuff. The question of security is still unanswered though. If every state obtains the same weapons exactly, is anyone more secure than they were before? Is the nuclear bomb the only threat to international security? Since their conception in 1945, only two nuclear bombs have actually been detonated in a defensive means. The United States attack on Japan that ended World War II and obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killed an immediate two hundred thousand people and in the long term, many more who have acquired cancer caused by radiation2. With the capabilities of todays technology3, this death count is not nearly as awful as what could occur if a nuclear war was
1 2 3

Goldstein, J. International Relations (1994) New York: HarperCollins College Publishers. p242. Goldstein, J. pp242-243 Ibid.

to break out next week. A single weapon the size of a refrigerator can destroy a city4. With five states being in possession of nuclear missiles, three being in possession and unsigned to the NonProliferation Treaty and suspect ninth and tenth states denying activity5, there is no doubt that the feeling of security amongst states has decreased. The fact is however, that unless one of the states wishes to bring nuclear warfare upon its self by attacking another state, they would not risk detonating such a weapon, due to the cost that would be inflicted on his own country once the attack occurred. The backlash could potentially be much, much worse than the initial damage, as demonstrated by Robert McNamara,

Secretary of Defence for the United States in 1967: That is what deterrence of nuclear aggression means. It means the certainty of suicide to the aggressor, not merely to his military forces, but to his society as a whole.6 In this statement McNamara clearly conveys what the United States would be prepared to do in the case of a nuclear attack on their country. Absolutely annihilate the offending country. So in turn, what is there to gain from using nuclear weapons as an offensive? The eradication of your own state through nuclear attack on a much grander scale. The possession of a nuclear weapon makes your state more secure when there is no threat; once an attack is made, whether you have a nuclear weapon or not,
4 5

Goldstein, J. p242

Cirincione,J., Wolfsthal, J., Rajkumar, M. Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats Second Edition (2005) Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. p8 Table 1.2.

McNamara, R. Mutual Deterrence (1967) speech transcript available at atomiarchive.com

you suffer the same end. The only difference is that you have a mode of revenge. Once the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been committed, certain policies were put in place by the United Nations to prevent the reoccurrence of such an act and the continuation of the arms race. The Non-Proliferation Treaty prevents any state (who has signed) from transferring nuclear weapons to other states and using nuclear substances for anything other than peaceful outcomes such as nuclear energy. The non-nuclear states are not allowed to attempt to acquire any weaponry or materials to create weapons 7. This greatly restricts the value of the nuclear weapon for those who have signed the treaty, which is a staggering 191 states, including the 5 nuclear states, since its 1970 implementation8. It aims for an eventual disarmament of all nuclear weaponry and of course for total disarmament in the future9. With the contribution of

international groups, such as the U.N., the common good is the goal rather than the furthering of the individual state, as this is a states usual intention. While it is not a legal requirement to sign the treaty, any state not signing poses a dilemma for those who have, as technically, those particular states are free to continue to acquire further weaponry and develop more powerful technology. Provided they all ready have access to the resources (such as Uranium and

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Document. Accessed from the United Nations website.
8 9

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Accessed from the United Nations website.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Document. Accessed from the United Nations website.

Plutonium) that is. The treaty prevents the sale or provision of these hard to come by resources by signatory states for the furthering of arms or any non-peaceful outcomes10. The prevention of other nations acquiring weapons is lead by the five nuclear states (of course) and as discussed by anthropologist Nancy Bonvillain, this breeds discontent among states without weaponry due to feelings of hypocrisy11 on the parts of the five. Still, the regulation of nuclear weaponry by the U.N. has stopped the accumulation of further stores by superpowers, which supports some sort of idea of security; or attempted security. While there is some control over nuclear weaponry the likely hood of an attack is lessened, as the consequences of misconduct for a signatory state would be extreme and there is still the matter of counter-attack by the victim state; which should be deterrence enough. Due to the technological age that we are in, the nuclear bomb is a relatively old development, considering the rapid growth of technology in the last 10 years alone. As communication systems improve and scientific discoveries are made every day, there are surely greater fears for breaches in security than a nuclear bomb. On a similar tangent, there is the advent of the chemical bomb, which while also relatively old in conception, would be severely advanced on the bombs used in WWI12. Also important to consider is
10 11 12

Ibid. Bonvillain, N (2006) Cultural Anthropology New Jersey: Pearson Education, Limited Pp359-360 Goldstein, J. International Relations (1994) New York: HarperCollins College Publishers. p247.

the biological bomb. The ability to contain a fatal disease and then release it into a water system or on a busy street could surely pose just as much of a threat as a nuclear bomb. There is potential for the same numbers of people to suffer death depending on the contagiousness of the infection. It also could go unnoticed, as detonation is not necessarily violent. And most importantly, the nuclear bomb has no power against it except the hope of deterring the attack to begin with. Both of these weapons of mass destruction are controlled under treaties of the U.N., prohibiting their use in warfare13, much the same as nuclear weapons. The only difference is that nuclear resources have other uses, namely new advances in the realm of nuclear power. So nuclear states would be hopeful that the threat of a retaliatory nuclear attack is enough to deter any other kind of attack that a state could make on them. The characteristics of a state often determine its status, such as economic stability, population and territory. There has also been a connection made between prestige and the possession of nuclear weapons. As discussed by Forge and Myhra, the state is well aware that the possession of a nuclear weapon is not for the use of fighting a war, as that would be unthinkable14 and self destructive so the only reason to acquire a nuclear weapon after the Cold War is to assert itself as a powerful state actor15. This is the thought of the
13 14


Forge, J. and Myhra, S. (1995) The Utility of Ambiguity: Towards a Theory of Horizontal Proliferation in the New World Order Canberra: Peace Research Centre. p7


period around 1960, hence France and Britains acquisition of nuclear weaponry. In the present day however, a stable economy ranks a country more powerful rather than armed force so the possession of nuclear weapons and therefore deterrence are not relevant factors in evaluating a states success today16. It could also be said that, due to a strong economy placing a state in a better position, a threat of an economical nature (e.g. boycott of products exported from a particular state by another) is much more concerning due to a nuclear weapon not providing deterrence from non-armed attacks. An area that nuclear deterrence does not appear effective is that of terrorism. Prior to global terrorism, the only actors in the international system were states. States know how to combat states as they all act in the same ways and for the same (or similar) reasons. The survival of their state is the most important goal and therefore all actions are for this motivation, closely followed by the seeking of power or prestige. The introduction of non-state actors into the international system throws everything askew. Terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda have definitely showed us in the last ten years that nuclear weaponry is not necessary to break down security17. The September 11 attacks are the most obvious example to draw on, demonstrating exactly what can be achieved through communication,
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Forge, J. and Myhra, S. p8

Walker, W. (2004) Weapons of Mass Destruction and International Order New York: Oxford University Press. p55

advancement. This is a force that states have not had experience in dealing with before and therefore they struggle to do so, as terrorists do not behave as a state would. Their work is the epitome of secrecy, they ruthlessly aim for civilians and they are not condoned by or acting on behalf of any official entity nor can they be controlled by any entity18. Though the creation of a nuclear weapon by such a group is unlikely due to the difficult nature of construction as well as financial means, the potential acquisition of one19 poses a threat to all states, regardless of their nuclear state. A nuclear weapon is not likely to deter a terrorist attack, especially because nuclear reciprocity is not viable. There is no state to attack as they are not acting legitimately and thus attack would result in the slaughter of innocents and destruction of a state that the terrorist group may or may not be representing. It is this situation where nuclear deterrence is simply not enough to hold off an attack that may decimate the population. Nuclear deterrence is the form of security employed by powerful states since their invention in 1945. Even with the technological advances in other areas of weaponry, the nuclear bomb remains the most destructive20 weapon at a states disposal. The ownership of the weapons has proven to give states security through the deterring fact that if an aggressor were to attack a
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Walker, W. p53 Ibid. Goldstein, J. P242

nuclear state, they would reciprocate doubly. The security however only extends to protect states from other states in an armed attack21. In the era of global terrorism, the nuclear warhead has done nothing to protect states from devastating incidents of abhorrent violence and can do nothing to avenge them. In the face of non-state actors who are not restricted by fears of international law or repercussions, the nuclear warhead may as well be a bow and arrow. The main threat to international security today comes in the form of non-state actors and the modern state needs to change its tactics of old war in order to overcome the challenges it will face. Beginning a nuclear war now will do nothing to solve the problems and the more than probable outcome is the destruction of the world, as we know it. Now that the main threat to security comes in a different form, the reign of the nuclear bomb is coming to an end as its use becomes less and less feasible. A change in the way states think about security may just bring the answer.


Forge, J. and Myhra, S. p38