Thomas Speckmann argues on Atlantic-Community.org that complete nuclear disarmament should not be done, because a world without nuclear weapons makes conventional war more likely, an argument in line with the idea of nuclear deterrence. This theory suggests that nuclear weapons would inflict unacceptable damage on an aggressor and that the potential aggressor is aware of this risk. Therefore, he refrains from any aggression, even with conventional weapons. The converse argument is that in a world without nuclear weapons, that risk is minor, making war once again a "useful instrument." Even if one questions the logic of this theory, proponents of "global zero" have to face another question: could it be done? They have to make clear how to organize the process of disarmament and how to secure the status of nuclear disarmament (a world free of nuclear weapons). Both steps have their challenges and obstacles. I mention only some.
In the process of disarmament, one of the most important concerns is to maintain the stability of nuclear deterrence, even in a crisis. Is that stability maintained if the US and Russia reduce their deployed warheads to - let us say - 300, the number France has today? How would these remaining warheads be deployed (on strategic submarines, on mobile ICBMS, or on airplanes), and what would that mean for extended deterrence and crisis stability? Step by step the other nuclear powers have to be integrated into this process as well; is it conceivable that these countries - UK (160), Israel (about 80), India & Pakistan (each 60) and finally North Korea with less then 10 warheads - reduce their arsenals proportionately, or would the US and Russia insist on having a much higher number than these countries due to their "global" tasks and the waywardness of a county like North Korea? Would other countries accept that special status?
Even if these (and many other) problems could be solved, how could the world maintain its status as nuclear weapons-free? The issue poses complex technical, political, and organizational questions beyond any experience. There has been some debate about features of a theoretical system of checks, but many questions remain open. Who would be responsible for verifying that no nuclear weapons existed? How could anyone do this to a reliable certainty? Is there any chance of detecting clandestine nuclear activities in undemocratic, non-transparent states before they develop actual weapons? These countries lack what Joseph Rotblat has called "societal verification," in that here are no whistle-blowers, watchdogs, open sources, etc., disclosing suspicious activities or facilities, which greatly hinders international detection. Should there therefore be some kind of "insurance" against the possibility of such a state developing a clandestine nuclear weapons program? Who has the legal and moral authority to maintain and control these "insurance" measures? What if scientific progress makes hydrogen bombs possible without any nuclear material (such as weapons plutonium or highly enriched uranium)? Who should then control that technology, and how?
Therefore, because complete disarmament is unclear, unlikely, and perhaps unfeasible, what is necessary is arms control. But this sharp reduction of nuclear arsenals should only go to a certain level, namely one that still assures second strike capabilities, crisis stability, and extended deterrence. That could improve the chances of dealing with eventual proliferation and new weapons states, but that is another debate.
Wolfgang Fischer is a political scientist and a researcher at a scientific research institution in Germany.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
• Thomas Speckmann: A Nightmare: Obama Wants Nuclear Disarmament
• Daryl Kimball: We Can Not Afford To Delay Nuclear Disarmament
• Henry Sokolski: Nuclear Disarmament: Dream or Politically Realistic?