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Nuclear deterrence – a dangerous myth

Atomic-Bomb-Smflag-indiaNuclear deterrence is overrated, THE HINDU RAMESH THAKUR , 23 Aug 13 The real risks and costs of having these weapons, both monetary and human, far outweigh their security benefits The Indian Navy has figured in three recent, global news items. The launch of the indigenously developed aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, expected to be operational by 2018, makes India only the fifth country after the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom and France to have such capability. …. The strategic rationale is to acquire and consolidate the three legs of land, air and sea-based nuclear weapons to underpin the policy of nuclear deterrence. Unfortunately, however, the whole concept of nuclear deterrence is deeply flawed.


Nuclear weapons are uniquely destructive and hence uniquely threatening to our common security. There is a compelling need to challenge and overcome the reigning complacency on the nuclear risks and dangers, to sensitise policy communities to the urgency and gravity of nuclear threats and the availability of non-nuclear alternatives as anchors of national and international security.

A nuclear catastrophe could destroy us any time. Because we have learnt to live with nuclear weapons for 68 years, we have become desensitised to the gravity and immediacy of the threat. The tyranny of complacency could yet exact a fearful price if we sleepwalk our way into a nuclear Armageddon. It really is long past time to lift the shroud of the mushroom cloud from the international body politic.

The normative taboo against this most indiscriminately inhumane weapon ever invented is so comprehensive and powerful that under no conceivable circumstances will its use against a non-nuclear state compensate for the political costs. This explains why nuclear powers have accepted defeat at the hands of non-nuclear states rather than escalate armed conflict to the nuclear level.

Nor can they be used for defence against nuclear-armed rivals. The mutual vulnerability of such rivals to second-strike retaliatory capability is so robust for the foreseeable future that any escalation through the nuclear threshold would be mutual national suicide.

Their only purpose and role, therefore, is mutual deterrence. In order to deter an attack by a more powerful nuclear adversary, a nuclear armed state must convince its stronger opponent of the ability and will to use nuclear weapons if attacked. But if the attack does occur, escalating to nuclear weapons will worsen the scale of military devastation even for the side initiating nuclear strikes. Because the stronger party believes this, the existence of nuclear weapons may add an extra element of caution, but does not guarantee immunity for the weaker party. If Mumbai or Delhi was hit by another major terrorist attack which India believed had Pakistan connections, the pressure for some form of retaliation could overwhelm any caution about Pakistan having nuclear weapons.

Limited India-Pakistan war

The putative security benefits of nuclear deterrence have to be assessed against the real risks, costs and constraints, including human and system errors. Modelling by atmospheric scientists shows that a limited, regional India-Pakistan nuclear war using 50 Hiroshima-size bombs each would, in addition to direct blast, heat and radiation deaths, severely disrupt global food production and markets and cause a nuclear war-induced famine that kills up to a billion people around the world.

The extra caution induced by the bomb means that the subcontinent’s nuclearisation raised the threshold of tolerance of Pakistan’s hostile mischief, like provocations on the Line of Control and cover for cross-border terrorism. Yet, India did not need to buy deterrence against China. The best available evidence shows that China’s nuclear weapons, doctrine, posture and deployment patterns are designed neither to coerce others nor to fight a nuclear war with the expectation of winning, but solely to counter any attempt at nuclear blackmail.

The role of nuclear weapons in having preserved the long peace of the Cold War is debatable. How do we assess the relative weight and potency of nuclear weapons, west European integration, and west European democratisation as explanatory variables in that long peace? There is no evidence that either side had the intention to attack but was deterred from doing so by the other side’s nuclear weapons. Moscow’s dramatic territorial expansion across eastern Europe behind Soviet Red Army lines took place in the years of U.S. atomic monopoly, 1945–49. Conversely, the Soviet Union imploded after, although not because of, gaining strategic parity…….

As long as anyone has nuclear weapons, others will want them; as long as nuclear weapons exist, they will be used again some day by design, accident, miscalculation or rogue launch; any nuclear exchange anywhere would have catastrophic consequences for the whole world. We need authoritative road maps to walk us back from the nuclear cliff to the relative safety of a progressively, less-heavily nuclearised, and eventually, a denuclearised world.

Our goal should be to make the transition from a world in which nuclear weapons are seen by some countries as central to maintaining security, to one where they become increasingly marginal, and eventually entirely unnecessary.


August 23, 2013 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, India, politics international, weapons and war


  1. I’m not black and white on this issue. Or maybe I am, you can decide. I hear about nuclear weapons and my skin crawls. I am a patriot of peace. I will not support war although, like us all except for a few radicals, I pay taxes…which in turn builds nuclear bombs that could and most likely will kill innocent people. I don’t like this. I don’t like separate states or countries. I believe in a world that is united as ONE.

    Comment by Katherine Brooks | September 3, 2013 | Reply

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