May more nuclear weapons be better?
To give an answer on whether more nuclear weapons would be better we need first to define what is meant with more and what we consider to be better. Does more refer to the quantity of weapons or the spread of them to more countries? And more importantly, in what ways is a situation with more nuclear weapons better than a situation without or no further increase to what already exists? Whether one concludes a positive or negative answer to this question the argumentation would benefit if emanating from Kenneth Waltz reasoning, that in 1981 provoked a debate that until this day is engaging scholars and strategists. Waltz’s positive answer to the question stood, and stands, in sharp contrast to the general public understanding that proliferation of nuclear weapons is dangerous and undesirable. The classical debate that Waltz initiated has been focused on whether nuclear weapons create stability or not. Many scholars have acknowledged the need to broaden the focus and taking other factor into account, for example implications nuclear weapons have for economy or environment (Knopf 2004: 42-43). Because of the limit of this paper I will build my argument within the scope of the classical debate in order to answer the question. Waltz argues that more states with nuclear weapons will have a positive effect on stability in the world. This stems from a realist perspective on the international system and states’ behaviour; assuming that states coexist in a condition of anarchy and that they act rationally. In the anarchic order, self-help is the principle of action, meaning that states help themselves by providing for their own security. In this case self-help refers to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. As rational actors states wont run major risks for minor gains and thus war becomes less likely when the costs of war rises in relation to possible gains. Waltz therefore concludes that the knowledge of the large-scale destruction that nuclear weapons can cause make states exceedingly cautious (Waltz 1981: 4-6). Furthermore, the strength of nuclear weapons does not lie in their ability to win wars but in their deterrence function, they create fear. This is the essence of “Rational Deterrence Theory” and what makes nuclear wars different from conventional wars where sides are uncertain about winning or loosing, in contrast to the former, where one is uncertain about surviving at all. The idea of deterrence is to dissuade another state from attacking through military threats, “if you attack we will punish you to an extent that more than cancels your gains”. Between nuclear states it works through mutual deterrence where the awareness of the opponents nuclear capability and will to use it, together with the understanding that it is this action that he must refrain from, is what creates balance between states. As long as both sides ensure second-strike capability, that is to preserve the ability to retaliate, both will be deterred considering the level of destruction. Even preventive strikes are unlikely according to Waltz, since a country that fears an adversary that is trying to develop nuclear capabilities, never can be certain that its preventive attack will be so hard that it would destroy the potential for future nuclear development. The more advanced the stage of nuclear development the less likely a preventive strike becomes (Schelling 1980:232, Waltz 1981: 6-8, 16). But even if states would not use nuclear weapons as a means of war, why would that stop them from waging a conventional war? Waltz argues that the fear of escalation to a nuclear war makes states reluctant to even wage conventional war, with nuclear weapons simply too much is at stake (Waltz 1981: 29). Waltz’s theory has earned much credibility thanks to the fact that no nuclear weapons have been used since 1945. However, the logic was developed during the Cold War and it is questioned whether it has bearing in a world where...
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