After reading several recent popular articles, a common trend of likening the possibility to nuclear attacks in the modern world to the apocalyptic language of the Cold War. Considering the mountain of popular literature, art, and media surrounding the reality of nuclear weapons, it should not come as a surprise that the zeitgeist holds such an extreme view of any use of a nuclear weapon. That being said, the reality is simply that a singular or even relatively widespread use of nuclear weapons likely with current conflicts will not result in a world ending scenario.
Historically, the build up of hysteria surrounding the threat of nuclear attack was an intentional movement lead by academics and carried by artists in concurrence with the adoption of minimum deterrence strategies by the United States and Soviet Union. The thought process was that by overestimating the result of a nuclear war, the actual possibility to world annihilation could be lessened by guiding both nations to adopt minimum deterrence rather than uncontrolled arms acquisition. In large part, this strategy worked and economy ruining arms race and potentially world ending arsenals never came to pass. Arguably, this effort played a key role in the success of the Cold War and avoidance of nuclear and/or conventional war.
Now that the first nuclear age has come to an end, the veracity of this strategy of building a non-scientific culture of hysteria around nuclear weapons must be called into question. Denying that nuclear weapons have any use or application outside of a MAD strategy of world destruction fails to see the wide possibility of creative uses possible with nuclear weapons. A creative scientific study examining the myriad of possible uses of nuclear weapons outside of a limited MAD deterrence strategy should be conducted to reveal the other possible motivations for acquisition of nuclear weapons. However, before such a study is conducted, the utility of nuclear weapons and their desired acquisition is already apparent across the world.
Whether or not the acquisition of these weapons is to the long term benefit of the countries acquiring them remains a pertinent question. However, the pertinence of the this question should not override the understanding that nuclear weapons are desired and acquired for more reasons than simply to destroy the world. Furthermore, if they were to be used, total nuclear end game is not an inevitable determinant. Therefore, choosing to simply and ignorantly view nuclear weapons as mere tools of world destruction not only is narrow minded but dangerous.
Failing to recognize the efficacy of these weapons leads nations to adopt extreme and aggressive strategies of disarmament which threaten to heighten conflict and exasperate the possibility of nuclear weapons use. Therefore, if one seeks to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, it is wiser to not overestimate their capabilities or to insist upon speedy disarmament and non-proliferation. Rather, realistic models and estimations of nuclear weapons use should be guided by accurate intelligence and scientific data. Only then, can reasonable diplomacy be conducted to prevent the use of these weapons.
Furthermore, the unthinkable needs to be thought. Accurate models and estimations of realistic nuclear strikes need to be conducted. In doing so, the work of diplomacy need to not simply stop at the point at which nuclear weapons are fired. If the work is not conducted then two primary results will happen. First, in the event of an actual strike the powers that be will not be prepared to carry on and maintain governance. On the other hand, incorrect diplomatic decisions will be made that will only move the world closer to nuclear war rather than further from it.
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Mahaffey, James. Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2014.
Bracken, Paul. The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics. New York: MacMillian, 2012.
Beckman, Milo “We’re Edging Closer To Nuclear War Experts are worried about India, Pakistan and North Korea.”, Five Thirty Eight May 15, 2017 accessed May 15, 2017 at https://fivethirty eight.com/features/were-edging-closer-to-nuclear-war/?ex_cid=538twitter
Mason, Paul, “Nuclear war has become thinkable again – we need a reminder of what it means”, The Guardian April 17, 2017 accessed May 16, 2017 at https://www.theguardian.com/commen tisfree/2017/apr/17/nuclear-war-has-become-thinkable-again-we-need-a-reminder-of-what-it-means