Consequences of nuclear weapon proliferation

The Economist draws attention to the risk of nuclear war:

New actors with more versatile weapons have turned nuclear doctrine into guesswork. Even during the cold war, despite all that game theory and brainpower, the Soviet Union and America frequently misread what the other was up to. India and Pakistan, with little experience and less contact, have virtually nothing to guide them in a crisis but mistrust and paranoia. If weapons proliferate in the Middle East, as Iran and then Saudi Arabia and possibly Egypt join Israel in the ranks of nuclear powers, each will have to manage a bewildering four-dimensional stand-off.


Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

6 thoughts on “Consequences of nuclear weapon proliferation”

  1. It is a highlight of the last seventy years that the world has avoided nuclear war, especially since before then mankind has been unable to resist the temptation to use its most powerful weaponry.

    It would be a wonderful peace dividend if we could have also avoided now and into the future the nuclear arms expenditures.

  2. Asian nuclear weapons
    What lurks beneath

    Many will be looking out for one vessel in particular: the INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear-powered submarine armed with ballistic missiles (SSBN, in military jargon). The 6,000-tonne boat will provide India with the third leg of its nuclear “triad”—it already has land- and air-launched nukes. But in doing so, it will also risk accelerating a nuclear arms race in Asia (see chart).

    India believes SSBNs are a vital part of its nuclear strategy, which forswears the first use of nuclear weapons. The Indian navy’s latest statement of maritime strategy, published in October, says the country’s nuclear-deterrence doctrine involves having a “credible minimum deterrent” that can deliver “massive nuclear retaliation designed to inflict unacceptable damage” in response to a nuclear strike against India. Because they can readily avoid detection, SSBNs can survive a surprise attack and thus ensure India’s ability to launch a retaliatory “second strike”.

    China is ahead of the game. It has a fleet of four second-generation Jin-class SSBNs and is testing JL-2 missiles to install in them. These weapons have a range of 7,400km (4,600 miles)—too short, for now, to reach the American mainland from the relative safety of the South China Sea. Pakistan, for its part, is in the early stages of a lower-cost approach. This involves arming diesel-powered subs with nuclear-armed cruise missiles with a range of 700km.

    A more immediate worry to India is Pakistan’s development and deployment of smaller “tactical” nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield. These may make it more likely that any war between India and Pakistan will go nuclear. They also increase the risk of Pakistan’s weapons being used accidentally—or falling into the hands of extremists (such weapons are under the control of lower-level commanders whose professionalism and loyalty may be dubious). Pakistan says tactical nukes are needed because of an Indian doctrine known as “cold start”. Though never formally adopted, “cold start” foresees Indian units being ready to respond to Pakistani provocation (eg, a terrorist outrage) with little or no notice, by seizing parts of Pakistani territory to use as a bargaining chip.

  3. An unenriching debate
    How a Saudi nuclear reactor could accelerate an arms race
    The kingdom’s nuclear ambitions make little economic sense

    Saudi Arabia only wants bronze. The kingdom has its own ambitious nuclear plans: 16 reactors, at a cost of up to $80bn. But, unlike the UAE, it wants to do its own enrichment. Iran, its regional rival, is already a step ahead. The most controversial provision of the nuclear deal it signed with world powers in 2015 allows it to enrich uranium. Iran did agree to mothball most of the centrifuges used for enrichment, and to process the stuff only to a level far below what is required for a bomb. Still, it kept the technology. The Saudis want to have it, too.

    Lawmakers in Washington are worried. Granting the Saudis such a deal could prompt other countries, such as the UAE, to ask for similar terms. It may undermine global efforts at non-proliferation. Indeed, critics of the Iran deal fear that a Saudi enrichment programme would compromise their effort to impose tighter restrictions on Iran. But Donald Trump, America’s president, is less concerned. He has close ties with the Saudis. He has also pledged to revitalise America’s ailing nuclear industry. Among the five firms bidding for the Saudi project is Westinghouse, an American company that filed for bankruptcy last year. It would not be able to join the project without a 123 agreement.

    Yet nuclear energy does not make much economic sense for the kingdom. Saudi Arabia burns 465,000 barrels of oil per day for electricity, forgoing $11bn in annual revenue. But the last nuclear reactors will not go online until the 2030s. They will generate less than one-sixth of the 120 gigawatts needed during periods of peak demand. In a country with vast deserts, it would make more sense to use gas and invest in solar energy. Today the kingdom generates almost none: its largest solar farm, at the headquarters of the state oil company, powers an office building.

  4. Better missile defence could undermine mutually assured destruction, which creates deterrence by guaranteeing that a first strike triggers a devastating response. Speaking on March 1st, Mr Putin brandished exotic new nuclear weapons he would soon deploy to counter future American missile defences. A new nuclear arms race, with all its destabilising consequences, is thus likely. A cyber-attack to cripple the other side’s nuclear command and control, which could be interpreted as the prelude to a nuclear first strike, is another potential cause of instability in a crisis. Verifying the capabilities of software is even harder than assessing physical entities such as launchers, warheads and missile interceptors. New approaches are urgently needed. None is being contemplated.

    Extending New START, saving the INF, creating norms for cyber-weapons and enhancing the Iran deal are eminently doable, but only if there is sufficient will. For that to gel, today’s statesmen need to overcome a fundamental misunderstanding. They appear to have forgotten that you negotiate arms-control agreements with your enemies, not your allies. And that arms control brings not just constraints on weapons of unimaginable destructive force, but also verification that provides knowledge of capabilities and intentions. In a crisis, that can reduce the risk of a fatal miscalculation.

  5. But the political leadership’s exaggerated perception of American defense capabilities and intentions, as well as military-industrial lobbying and possibly some domestic political considerations, pushed the president to essentially challenge the United States to match Russia in a new arms race.

    The vicissitudes of Russian missile defense: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Vol 74, No 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *