Post No.: 0106
Do deterrents such as possessing nuclear weapons work? So far, since WWII at least, they haven’t been used in ‘hot’ anger (although they’ve played a key part of a tense and long ‘cold’ war) so we could say that they work. But less than a hundred years since the invention of nuclear weapons isn’t that long in the context of humans not destroying themselves if humans aspire to be a species that makes it across the stars (even a hundred thousand years isn’t that long in the context of the existence of life and the universe – Homo sapiens haven’t proven to be a successful species yet by a long way in terms of both time and space, even compared to many other species that have been or are still on Earth regarding longevity). And it could potentially just take a mere day for mutual assured destruction (MAD) to be executed on this planet too.
Do intergovernmental military alliances like NATO or CSTO, or other international treaties that involve a form of collective security, work? The following is not to say that aggressive nations should be allowed to do whatever they want without consequences, but WWI arguably escalated because of (violations of) a treaty that urged signatory states to intervene and defend Belgium if it was invaded or trampled upon (the German Chancellor of the time even, reportedly, remarked that countries were joining a war over a mere ‘scrap of paper’). Yet arguably, because WWIII hasn’t happened (yet), intergovernmental military alliances like NATO and CSTO are, overall, working as deterrents.
However, in a military simulation (a standard practice for many countries) with former British Generals and officials, they simulated a situation where Russia (allegedly) invaded Estonia, and because Estonia is a NATO alliance country, the UK and USA joined the fight, and this eventually escalated to nuclear weapons being used by both Russia and USA, on both soil and assets (at least in this particular simulation – and many question whether such simulations are predictive). We currently, as of writing, have a real-life situation involving Ukraine and Russia, but, although not pleasant for some of those around the Crimea region and eastern border, it has not escalated into a large-scale conflict or war with any consideration of using any nuclear force by anyone with such force available. There’s far more to any particular political situation than what military alliances are involved, but arguably the main difference between the real situation in Ukraine and that fictional war game scenario is that Ukraine is not (currently) a member of NATO and Estonia is.
So deterrents such as nuclear weapons and intergovernmental military alliances work well when they work, but they can quickly escalate the force if they don’t work to deter against force. One could say that nuclear weapons are working successfully as a deterrent every single day because every day without nuclear war is a day without nuclear war, but it could just take a mere few moments for MAD if they one day fail as deterrents and a ‘hot’ war ensues.
People at the time thought WWI was the war to end all wars (it was called the ‘Great War’ at the time) but it wasn’t, and whenever people invented new and deadlier weapons, people thought they’d never be used in anger because they were far too atrocious to use, but people did and do (e.g. machine guns). These attempts at deterrence are tricky without the benefit of hindsight but we don’t have the benefit of hindsight when trying to make decisions with foresight. Well we do know that nuclear weapons have been used in anger before (ordered and carried out by persons not considered ‘crazy’ or ‘deranged’ too) – yet conflicts still occur across parts of the world today, including ones that have at least partial involvement of officially or unofficially nuclear-armed states.
As a minor aside, if you knew you were about to die because a nuclear warhead was heading your way, would you fire a nuclear warhead (assume your country has or shares some in this thought experiment if it doesn’t in real life) in retaliation at another largely innocent population from the opposing country that just fired one at you – just as a ‘show of face’, as ‘principle’ or for ‘revenge’? Most people would say, “No” and so would I. For example, just because if Russian command sent a warhead our way, it wouldn’t mean Russian civilians did so, chose so or desired so. And it’d be the same from British civilians – we’d generally never choose so or desire so either. And I’m sure the feelings are broadly the same from civilians of other nuclear-armed states too. Having said that, the decision to actually possess and have the tactical option of a nuclear arsenal or not is an incredibly complex and dilemmatic one – it’s a classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ situation. It’s inescapably about politics. You don’t want to be the bad guy (idealism) but you also don’t want to be the fool (realism).
I wish no nation had any nuclear weapons at all, but if there are any in the world, you might rather have some yourself too, or at least a strong and loyal military ally who has some, if you were leading a nation. But if everyone thought and acted like that then it creates a horrible world to live in (and you can’t morally blame states like North Korea for wanting some if your country has or shares some) – so I again wish no nation had any at all. Now if the Cold War nuclear threat hasn’t disappeared then surely the UK and its nuclear programme are part of that global problem too. Or at least maybe the UK, for instance, just shouldn’t have 200+ of them! A quarter of that amount is enough deterrent, especially if potential belligerents don’t know where in the world they are because they’re in submarines in international waters. It’d also vastly reduce the risk of accidents or some rogue group getting hold of them from the inside or outside. It’d be cheaper for the taxpayer too.
Therefore this point needs to be made – a nation only really needs a handful of nuclear weapons in order to act as a deterrence – certainly not ~7,000 like USA and Russia each currently! The North Korea situation is currently in potential flux as of writing but they have an estimated dozen or few and that’s been enough to stop USA, who has overwhelmingly more, from starting a war with them (admittedly along with crucial factors like China, militarily and diplomatically, and other factors internal and external to North Korea).
There are also opportunity costs – when Germany and Japan were de-militarised after WWII, engineering talent and public expenditure went onto other things, including car design and their manufacturing industries, and it was therefore no surprise that the German and Japanese automotive industries became world-leading. It also helped their manufacturing sectors and their export economies, and ultimately their overall economies – both countries each grew to have greater economies than the UK only at most 50 years later, despite apparently being losers of a very deadly war and the UK a winner (indeed other factors were and are at play, it may depend on what economic measures we use, and right now Japan faces economic challenges; albeit we wouldn’t say that these challenges are due to the consequences of WWII or that Japan is the only country in the world currently (still) facing economic challenges).
Of course there’s no point in rules, laws, regulations or treaties if no one referees, polices and ultimately enforces them i.e. they can’t just be idle threats – but really, a handful of nuclear warheads are enough if you decide to have any at all… unless your country has a bad habit of p***ing off virtually every other country in the world simultaneously to make so many potential enemies to watch out for(!) In which case, work on your diplomacy skills/vote for better leaders! Meow.
We only need such weapons against our enemies – hence we need to make friends, not enemies, between all nations. Then we can save or spend that public money on something else more productive (on things we intend to actually use rather than on things we hope to never use). Many military innovations have led to many consumer-level products, but it’s not logical to say that concentrating more resources and efforts more directly on consumer innovations would not lead to more consumer innovations.
So in an ideal world no one would have nuclear weapons, but in the real world I understand the game theory behind the human behaviour as to why – as long as one country has them then other countries will want them too. One arguably legitimate reason is for self-defence, but it can easily be misused for offence instead – maybe not always overtly aggressively but passive aggressively as a coercive threat.
And so does this world full of nuclear weapons that could blow the entire surface of the planet up multiple times over bring world peace? Well we haven’t had that mutually assured destruction yet but it’s still very early days (less than a hundred years is hardly a long time when we talk about ‘ages’ such as the ‘stone age’ or ‘bronze age’) and we live in a perpetual state of being potentially only hours away from an all-out nuclear war.
In wild nature, animals with large horns actually seldom fight to the bloody end because the threat of those weapons on view is enough to stop most fights from ever even starting. But with the threat of nuclear weapons – ‘seldom fight to the bloody end’ is not good enough(!) We’ve only got one planet so once could be too many. Moreover, animals with such overt weaponry on display won’t fight if it’s clear which animal has the larger or otherwise better weaponry, but when two animals that seem evenly-matched come together, whether they have large or small weapons – that’s when they will fight! And so if two or more nations with a lot of weapons come together and consider themselves roughly evenly-matched or they otherwise each think they have a good chance of winning (maybe also because they believe they have ‘God on their side’) – that’s when those weapons are no longer deterrents but are precisely what spur a nation to think that they can fight and beat anyone out there.
Humans don’t possess impressive natural weaponry like horns, talons, big teeth, stingers, venom or what have you, or even hard skin/armour – humans are not the type of animal to need to attack, defend, compete or duel for mates or resources in this kind of manner, at least routinely. This could possibly be due to a couple of reasons – the lack of natural weapons was/is made up for, and then some, by the killing tools and machines that humans invented, and humans can use their brains rather than brawn to solve social problems. So how about using the latter approach a bit more?!
Whatever deterrents collectively exist today, conflict is still a part of life in many parts of the world today, so the answers haven’t been found, or at least implemented, yet. Some will say that much progress has been made, and indeed in many ways that’s true (e.g. economic rather than military alliances work because hurting an economic partner will be in effect spiting one’s own face, for the interests of the members are more aligned) but in some ways it’s moved backwards (e.g. greater nationalism (as if the lessons from WWII have already been forgotten) and some countries leaving or considering leaving economic alliances with their neighbours rather than simply renegotiating them, thus ‘shrinking the pie’ as opposed to ‘expanding the pie’ in negotiation parlance, and making everyone involved worse off). But I hope everyone keeps on trying to reach a state of world peace…