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Andy Walker

Student Question: Nuclear Disarmament

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We seemed to have wandered off topic a little.

Differing political systems led to countries taking a "side", but the question was "Why in the 70's and 80's were those who opposed nuclear weapons portrayed as naive rather than those who believed having lots of them would make the world safer?"

I think the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) can be said to have worked. Each side knew that a nuclear attack would (in policy anyway) result in a similar response or in some cases, a full retalitory strike.

The consequences of any nuclear strike would have been unthinkable.

If, however, one 'side' adopted unilateral nuclear disarmament, there would exist an opportunity for the other 'side' to make an all-out strike and almost completely eliminate the military capability of the other 'side'. Both sides would have to give that option serious consideration, and a tempting one it would have been.

THAT'S why the idea was naive. The "nuclear genie" was out of the bottle, and it could not be put back. More weapons did NOT "make the world safer" but a parity in deliverable megatonnage, delivery systems and capability did.

A gradual, bilateral reduction in nuclear capability was the answer. As weapon efficiency improved, so delivery systems became more accurate and invunerable to interception. Each side could be confident that the other did not have a significant advantage. Each side still had its "boomers" (SSBNs) to ensure that any first strike would be responded to, even by a 'dead hand'.

The ideals of those opposed to nuclear weapons were just & moral - and shared, I believe, by those who controlled the weapons. It was simply that total disarmament could not be rapidly or practically achieved without INCREASING the risk of a nuclear engagement.

Edited by Evan Burton

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Differing political systems led to countries taking a "side", but the question was "Why in the 70's and 80's were those who opposed nuclear weapons portrayed as naive rather than those who believed having lots of them would make the world safer?"

I think the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) can be said to have worked.  Each side knew that a nuclear attack would (in policy anyway) result in a similar response or in some cases, a full retalitory strike.

The consequences of any nuclear strike would have been unthinkable.

If, however, one 'side' adopted unilateral nuclear disarmament, there would exist an opportunity for the other 'side' to make an all-out strike and almost completely eliminate the military capability of the other 'side'.  Both sides would have to give that option serious consideration, and a tempting one it would have been.

THAT'S why the idea was naive.  The "nuclear genie" was out of the bottle, and it could not be put back.  More weapons did NOT "make the world safer" but a parity in deliverable megatonnage, delivery systems and capability did.

You raise some interesting points. It is true that the major powers (United States, Soviet Union and China) could not afford unilaterally get rid of all their nuclear weapons. Everyone was aware that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was working. For example, if the Soviet Union did not have nuclear weapons, the United States would no doubt have invaded Cuba in 1960. This also explains why the United States did not provide military help to the Hungarians in 1956.

Members of the CND recognised this reality. However, if MAD worked, then the logical thing was for all nations to own nuclear weapons. This was the only thing to guarantee that your country would not be occupied as the invader would fear being attacked by nuclear weapons. CND argued that as a result of this thinking, proliferation was bound to occur.

Eventually, a small, unstable country, would use these weapons. Countries with nuclear weapons were not in a moral position to say it was alright for them to have them for their protection but were against other countries from acquiring the same level of protection. Therefore, the CND urged countries like Britain to take unilateral action in order to get the whole world to adopt this policy. It believed, as I do, that without this happening, it is only a matter of time before a country uses nuclear weapons. At the moment the Middle East appears to be the likely place where this will happen.

The current policy of the United States is to stop any country from acquiring nuclear weapons. (Those who already have them are of course safe from a United States invasion). This is an expensive policy and does nothing to deal with the problem of those countries who already have them.

Unless complete nuclear disarmament takes place, then it is only a matter of time before the world is destroyed.

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You raise some interesting points. It is true that the major powers (United States, Soviet Union and China) could not afford unilaterally  get rid of all their nuclear weapons. Everyone was aware that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was working. For example, if the Soviet Union did not have nuclear weapons, the United States would no doubt have invaded Cuba in 1960. This also explains why the United States did not provide military help to the Hungarians in 1956.

Members of the CND recognised this reality. However, if MAD worked, then the logical thing was for all nations to own nuclear weapons. This was the only thing to guarantee that your country would not be occupied as the invader would fear being attacked by nuclear weapons. CND argued that as a result of this thinking, proliferation was bound to occur.

Eventually, a small, unstable country, would use these weapons. Countries with nuclear weapons were not in a moral position to say it was alright for them to have them for their protection but were against other countries from acquiring the same level of protection. Therefore, the CND urged countries like Britain to take unilateral action in order to get the whole world to adopt this policy. It believed, as I do, that without this happening, it is only a matter of time before a country uses nuclear weapons. At the moment the Middle East appears to be the likely place where this will happen.

The current policy of the United States is to stop any country from acquiring nuclear weapons. (Those who already have them are of course safe from a United States invasion). This is an expensive policy and does nothing to deal with the problem of those countries who already have them.

Unless complete nuclear disarmament takes place, then it is only a matter of time before the world is destroyed.

I agree with most of your comments. I certainly agree that a nation such as the UK could have unilaterally disarmed itself of nuclear weapons. The UK is, and has always been, a strong ally of the US and could afford to feel safe under the 'nuclear umbrella' of the US. Of course, there are arguements that the UK might have believed that it could be treated as an "acceptable loss" in any limited nuclear exchange between the Western / Soviet spheres of influence. How valid these arguements are I'll leave for others to discuss.

It still leaves us with the problem of the "nuclear genie". It is out of the bottle, and unless we adopt a position of repressing knowledge in areas of physics, chemistry, and engineering, anyone with the required knowledge, materials and facilities can produce a nuclear weapon. Once a weapon can be produced, then suitable delivery systems can see those hypothetical weapons being used to threaten almost anyone.

The "nuclear nations" have so far never used that capability. Hopefully that demonstrates a restraint and understanding of how terrible these weapons can be.

This is why I think it should be a universal policy to prevent any non-nuclear state from gaining the capability to produce such weapons. This will cause problems, of course, and I'll let others raise those issues.

Perhaps the only solution is for a UN Nuclear Force to be established concurrently with all nuclear-capable nations disaming. This has been raised in many science-fiction novels, and is certainly worth considering. If only one group, multi-cultural, multi-secular, trans-national, is equipped with nuclear weapons - and has an effective and suitable protocol for their use - then coupled with an anti-proliforation arm, fears of a nuclear holocoust could be addressed.

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