Are Nuclear Weapons Strategically Obsolete?

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Are Nuclear Weapons Strategically Obsolete? Why or Why not?

The ongoing debate of whether or not nuclear weapons are obsolete or not is a very complex one. Numerous studies have purported that nuclear weapons no longer serve an important strategic purpose for countries such as the United States of America and Great Britain. Clausewitz stated that war and politics were inextricably linked. So the distinction between “political” and “military” viability of nuclear weapons is one without meaning. Essentially this implies that deterrence theory still works, at least between state actors. After all, no nuclear power has ever been attacked by another state, and the same can’t be said about attacks by nuclear powers on non-nuclear states. Although until ‘Global Zero’ (which is the campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth) has reached their goal, one would find it hard to say for certain that nuclear weapons were strategically obsolete. The fact that deterrence theory has worked so far does not mean it is always going to work. As Robert McNamara said after the Cold War ‘it was luck that prevented the cold war’ not deterrence theory. McNamara carries on to emphasize how ‘rational individuals came “that” close to total destruction of their societies… a hair’s breath away.’ With this statement in mind one must look favorably on the viewpoint that nuclear weapons are not strategically obsolete whilst they are still accessible, because human judgment will always play a part.

The fear of nuclear devastation has so far created peace and prevented a third world war. Rather than weapons of war, strategic weapons are becoming weapons of intimidation used to influence political and strategic outcomes. The actual likelihood of a nuclear warhead being used becomes slimmer by the day, with non-proliferation treaties, campaigns such as ‘Ground Zero’ and regulations on transporting nuclear weapons becoming stricter and stricter. The publication of a volume edited by Bernard Brodie, The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order, in 1946 marked the first systematic attempt by specialists in international relations to think through the political and strategic implications of the nuclear age. Brodie argued that nuclear weapons had made total war obsolete and that U.S. military strategy from then on would have to emphasize deterrence: "Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose".

Nuclear deterrence is the most effective way of preventing the use of nuclear weapons at the moment. Shelling depicts the notion of nuclear deterrence extremely well; he emphasizes how nuclear missiles give nations the potential to not only destroy their enemies but humanity itself without drawing immediate reprisal because of the lack of a conceivable defense system and the speed with which nuclear weapons can be deployed. A nation's credible threat of such severe damage empowers their deterrence policies and fuels political coercion and military deadlock, which in turn can produce proxy warfare. Mutually Assured Destruction is a frightening concept but not insane, and back in the days when the Soviet union wanted to dominate the world and were equipped to destroy the west’s major cities, only the near-guarantee that it too provided the west with security. An example is the fact that the Soviet Union weren’t able to take out British nuclear capabilities within one strike, which would have made a strike almost suicidal. However the reality now is that Britain is not an independent deterrent. Britain relies on its technology from the United States and therefore does not have an effective independent deterrence. Britain’s independent deterrent being ineffective is not an issue though; the fact that Britain has nuclear support from the U.S. is sufficed to prevent an attack. This deterrence from Britain and America does...
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