Friday, January 1, 2010

Why a nuclear-free world cannot be stable?

A nuclear-free world may look morally and politically appealing and is unquestioningly accepted as the ultimate goal. However, as Thomas Schelling (via Marginal Revolution) brilliantly illustrates, it could unleash forces of instability that would make the world more dangerous. The risk of "known-unknowns" of the present world would be replaced with the far more dangerous uncertainty of "unknown unknowns" of a supposedly "nuclear-free" world.

As Prof Schelling argues, former nuclear nations cannot unlearn their nuclear expertise and will remain "latent nuclear powers" with ability to rapidly mobilize both fissile materials and other required materials and knwoledge to assemble their nuclear capacity. And on the face of the slightest threat of war, they would have the temptation/incentive/pay-off to defect from any disarmament agreement.

The painstakingly established rules of the deterrence game, with its concept of strategic readiness - configure strategic nuclear forces to provide reasonably comfortable assurance against surprise or preemption, with appropriate command and control - among all the actors concerned, will need to re-develop before the stability of a strategic equilibrium can be achieved. He writes,

"In summary, a "world without nuclear weapons" would be a world in which the United States, Russia, Israel, China, and half a dozen or a dozen other countries would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons and mobilize or commandeer delivery systems, and would have prepared targets to preempt other nations' nuclear facilities, all in a high-alert status, with practice drills and secure emergency communications. Every crisis would be a nuclear crisis, any war could become a nuclear war. The urge to preempt would dominate; whoever gets the first few weapons will coerce or preempt. It would be a nervous world."


A matrix of the strategic game, involving India and its ex-nuclear partners, under the aforementioned conditions would look like this



In other words, a world without nukes has all likelihood of being a throw-back to the uncertainty of the immediate post-war era. In due course, the non-proliferation movement will get revived to contain the then covert nuclear programs of the same violators. History would have turned the full circle.

2 comments:

Harish YN said...

Nuclear Deterrence can foster a peaceful world order. It will check the aggressiveness of a warring enemies. But the safety and security of nuclear arsenal in the countries like Pakistan is a big cause of worry. If 'non-state' actors in any country lay their hands on a nuclear stock file or get access to the technology and material to develop one;it could end a civilization for sure.

The world leaders instead of chasing a mirage of nuclear-free world should develop a global nuclear governance mechanism to ensure the safety of the present bombs and also come up with a very stringent, vigilant measures to check the nuclear proliferation.
Obama must work on these lines instead giving torrent of rhetoric on a 'nuclear-free' world and get unworthy 'peace' prizes.

gulzar said...

spot on. i agree with you.

"global nuclear governance mechanism to ensure the safety of the present bombs and also come up with a very stringent, vigilant measures to check the nuclear proliferation"

in other words, accept the reality of a nuclearized world, and initiate a dialogue among all nuclear powers (acknowledged and unacknowledged) to build confidence building measures (CBMs) involving specific rules of the game and thereby develop a strong implicit strategic deterrence mechanism among them.