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States ought not possess nuclear weapons

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The issue of nuclear proliferation has become one of today’s most pressing issues, as countries such as Iran and North Korea desire to join the elite group of nuclear powers. While many people call for total disarmament and the movement towards global zero, a world without nuclear weapons, others are proponents of the right of states to own nuclear weapons. Do nuclear weapons actually make the world safer, or do they pose too great of a risk to consider keeping?

All the Yes points:

  1. States will give terrorists nuclear weapons
  2. Terrorists will steal nuclear weapons from poorly guarded arsenals
  3. Irrational leaders make the possession of nuclear weapons dangerous
  4. Proliferation of nuclear weapons increases the chances of nuclear accidents
  5. It is immoral to use the threat of nuclear annihilation in order to achieve foreign policy aims
  6. There is no effective mechanism to scout the posession and to examine perils of warheads

All the No points:

  1. Nations should be allowed to possess nuclear weapons in self defense
  2. The existence of nuclear weapons deters large-scale conventional warfare
  3. Disarmament would actually cause increased insecurity among nations, as there can never be any guarantee that a nation has disarmed
  4. The abolition of nuclear weapons would actually incentivize the development and use of even more dangerous weapons, such as chemical and biological weapons
  5. Disarmament is impossible, rendering efforts to disarm pointless and simply wasteful
  6. Nuclear waste disposal is rarely safe/efficient; it is too much to expect a sqeaky clean disposal/disarmament of nuclear weapons
  7. Nothing to fear.
  8. peace, not war

States will give terrorists nuclear weapons

Yes because…

Non-state actors are always looking for new ways to cause mass terror, and nuclear weapons would be useful in terrorists’ pursuit for political leverage. States sympathetic to terrorists’ aims or ideals may develop nuclear weapons and give them away (e.g. Iran). In order to prevent states from dangerously empowering non-state actors, we must rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Related authors: David Krieger, Valerine Wilson, Sheena Chestnut, Harold Brown, Graham Allison
Counter-argument to second: Terrorists do not need to expend time/energy on building nuclear weapons/arsenals; as stated above they have the option of buying weapons from sympathetic states or sympathetic non-state actors(Case in point: A.Q.Khan).
Whether the state would be better or worse off; after cooperating with blackmailing terrorists can only be determined if both options(Cooperating&not-Cooperating) could be availed simultaneously. Such is impossible therefore baseless assumptions on this untested hypothesis are best avoided altogether.
Counter-argument: to third:
Again, this is rather presumptuous; especially in light of the thousands of deaths that occurred on the historic date of 9/11; not discounting the death toll in a host of countries/nations worldwide resulting from bombings,shootings and suicide-bombings conducted by terrorists on a daily basis.
On a side note: Terrorists on a suicide mission should not care about self-defeat.
While there has been no successful use of dirty bombs or nuclear weapons by terrorists to date. Attempts by terrorists to use these have been reported and preemptively countered. We
may not be as lucky the next time around. Ignoring previous attempts and pretending there is no threat, will not make it go away: Terrorism is not the Bogey man.

No because…

There is no reason states would simply give away their nuclear weapons. First, it is very likely that the international community would trace the nuclear weapon back to where it came from, giving the state no incentive to cooperate with terrorists for fear of intense international backlash.

Second, nuclear weapons take considerable effort, time, and resources to build, and no nation would simply hand over nuclear weapons to a non-state actor that it ultimately has no control over. The state cannot obtain any guarantee that the non-state actor will actually carry out its stated aims, and the state is much better off not cooperating with non-state actors.

Third, terrorists would not even use nuclear weapons. Terrorists use destruction as a tool to gain political leverage, not as an end goal in itself. If terrorists were to use nuclear weapons, they would cause massive destruction, promptly alienating a good portion of their support base. Using nuclear weapons would be self–defeating for terrorists.

Terrorists will steal nuclear weapons from poorly guarded arsenals

Yes because…

There have been over hundreds of cases of documented thefts of nuclear material, especially from poorly guarded arsenals. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many nuclear weapons arsenals’ security deteriorated rapidly, and it is becoming increasingly easy for terrorists to steal them. Terrorists can also obtain materials necessary to build nuclear weapons from the black market. The only way to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons or the materials necessary to build them is to completely, openly, and safely disarm.

Related authors: David Krieger, Abdul Mannan, Micah Zenko, Matthew Bunn, Anthony Weir, Harold Brown, Ira Helfand

250 reported nuclear weapons’ thefts in 2007-[[http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/28/world/28nuke.html]]

No because…

These “poorly guarded” nuclear arsenals have been around for decades, and nothing has happened yet – the probability of a theft actually occurring in a nuclear attack is extremely low. Terrorists do not have the resources nor the knowledge to fully build a bomb capable of mass destruction, and fear of terrorists stealing weapons is misguided and exaggerated.

Irrational leaders make the possession of nuclear weapons dangerous

Yes because…

Leaders sometimes do not rationally make decisions, nor do they have the best interests of their people at heart. If these leaders were to obtain nuclear weapons, there would be nothing stopping them from using them for the purpose of causing mass destruction. Values including honour and national glory can sometimes be seen to be of higher importance than that of the long-term survival of the state. It could be argued that some leaders like Kim Jong-Il do not care about their people, and have no respect for the sovereignty of other nations. They therefore cannot be trusted to act rationally, and it would be unwise to expect them to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before pursuing any destructive course of action.

Some governments might be so blinded by ideological imperatives or incorrect analyses of their own capabilities that they may act ‘irrationally’ by conventional definition. For example, Iran has stated within the last decade that it wishes to see Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. Such an antagonistic statement, based on cultural/historical rather than strategic grounds, suggests that Iran’s anti-Semitic ideology is strong enough to justify the use of weapons of mass destruction. Iran might also falsely believe that Western powers would be unlikely to retaliate, given their previous troubles with interventions in the Middle East. While we may see such reasoning as irrational or deluded, it is reasonable to argue that, given the recent actions and statements of the belligerent Iranian regime, such a course of action might be considered.

Related authors: James Stegenga, Scott Sagan, Barry Blechman, Barry Wolf, Martin Hellman

No because…

No leader is irrational enough to launch a nuclear weapon without clear cost benefit analysis. All leaders are at least rational enough to work their way into positions of power. Moreover, even aims such as honor and glory require the leader to actually be alive, and the assurance of annihilation that nuclear weapons would cause is enough to deter leaders from actually using them. Today, no leader would be irrational enough to show such a predeliction for self-annihalation..

It is wrong to assume that national leaders, including dictators like Kim Jong-Il, make decisions in isolation. Every ‘leader’ is wholly dependant on some kind of power base or popular support in maintaining their position. In a democracy, the leader is only one component in the complex executive-legislative structure. They cannot act without the support of the constituent elements of this structure, meaning that in this context even an irrational individual would be constrained by the system within which they operate. Similarly, in an autocratic state like North Korea, Kim Jong-Il is wholly dependant on a military elite whose support allows him to rule. If Kim Jong-Il were to suddenly decide that a nuclear strike was desirable for the cause of ‘glory’ or ‘honour’, it is almost certain that his power base would recognise the abject consequences of such an irrational move and move to stop or remove him. In short, it is reductive to argue that today’s national leaders can act with the autonomy of medieval kings, and in the end no government is likely to succumb to the wholescale irrationality necessary to justify a nuclear strike. The consequences are too major for any right thinking nation to consider the possibility.

Proliferation of nuclear weapons increases the chances of nuclear accidents

Yes because…

An accident with nuclear weapons could set off warning systems and a chain reaction that would be disastrous. There are numerous documented cases of safety mechanisms failing on nuclear weapons, very nearly causing nuclear launches. New proliferating states often have crude security measures and are not as advanced as established nuclear powers, increasing the chance of an accident. Moreover, some nuclear programs are also secretive, decreasing the transparency and ability for groups to scrutinize and criticize the process. Instead of risking a potentially catastrophic accident, nuclear weapons should simply be eliminated.

Related authors: Scott Sagan, Morton Mintz, John Leslie, Bruce Berkowitz, Robert Art, Tad Daley, Martin Hellman, Nathan Busch, Paul Kerr

No because…

Once again, the probability of an accident occurring and leading to a nuclear attack is incredibly low. Today, there are many safety mechanisms on nuclear weapons that make accidents very unlikely (such as permissive action links). Older weapons are being secured, and the United States is taking action to help other nations increase safety mechanisms on their weapons [[Bruno Tertrais, The Case for No First Use: An Exchange, Survival, Vol. 51, Issue 5]]

Second, the risk of an accident is too dangerous for leaders to overlook security measures for their nuclear arsenals. No matter how poor or crude the nation’s government, leaders obviously want to safeguard their nuclear weapons and would spend a considerable amount of resources to prevent the likelihood of accidents.

(Waltz elaborates on these ideas)

It is immoral to use the threat of nuclear annihilation in order to achieve foreign policy aims

Yes because…

People cannot just be used as a means to an end. In order for the theory of nuclear deterrence to work, a nation has to issue a credible threat of retaliation against innocent people in the case of a first strike. However, this blurs the distinction between innocent and guilty people, needlessly punishing members of a nation for the actions of their government.

Related authors: Steven Lee, Gerald Dworkin, Peter Beckman, Jeff McMahan, Daniel Farrell

No because…

The ultimate intent of nuclear deterrence is to protect people – both the innocents in the target nation and the innocents of the original nation. The small infringement upon human liberty that occurs when a state threatens another state is negligible, compared to the benefits.

Also, states always treat other states as entire groups and not as individuals. A government by definition can only deal with other governments, and cannot always distinguish between innocent actors and guilty ones – for example, during war, innocents unfortunately die, but these deaths are an inevitable byproduct of international actions.

There is no effective mechanism to scout the posession and to examine perils of warheads

Yes because…

Though there are bodies of intra-national repute present in respective states, world we live in lacks a regulatory body or a watchdog for the use and misuse of WMDs. As long there are economic and military super powers, which doesn’t abide by the international laws, it is impractical to allow the possession of nuclear warheads.

No because…

In order to successfully outlaw nuclear weapons you must first discover an effective mechanism to scout the possession of warheads, create a regulatory body and find some way to hold large, irresponsible countries to international laws. Once it is possible to outlaw nuclear weapons, the prop’s argument becomes invalid.

Nations should be allowed to possess nuclear weapons in self defense

No because…

In the current international arena, there is no guarantee of safety or peace, and each nation must build up its own defenses to combat the anarchy of the state system. Nuclear weapons are a powerful tool that nations can use to defend themselves: the chance of a nuclear power being attacked is incredibly low, and these weapons are seen as self-defense mechanisms. Many countries have renounced first strikes, but wish to hold onto their weapons in case of attack. There is no reason a ban should exist on nations’ attempts to protect themselves, and such a ban would violate their sovereignty.

Related authors: Beth Polebaum, Victor Utgoff, Ted Carpenter, Charles Pena

Yes because…

Nuclear weapons are an excessive form of self-defense. There is no reason that nuclear weapons are necessary in order for a country to defend itself; these weapons can only be seen as hostile and antithetical to the idea of global cooperation and peace. If no nations had nuclear weapons, there would be no need to have second strike capabilities.

Further, nations have committed atrocities in the name of self defense, and there clearly need to be some well-define limits constraining what a nation can and cannot do in order to defend itself. The possession of nuclear weapons is by its very nature offensive and cannot be viewed as defensive..

The existence of nuclear weapons deters large-scale conventional warfare

No because…

Superpowers that possess nuclear weapons are deterred from instigating large-scale conflict because they know that the cost of a nuclear war is total annihilation, and the outcome is much more obvious. Since the invention of nuclear weapons, there have been no world-wide conflicts, largely due to the peace and stability that nuclear weapons bring. With the knowledge that attacking a nuclear power would be virtual suicide, nations refrain from being aggressive toward the superpowers.

Related authors: Kenneth Waltz, Paul Huth, Bruno Tertrais, Shai Feldman

Yes because…

The theory of deterrence assumes many things, including rational actors, the absence of accidents, and the absence of terrorist threats/nuclear weapons being given to terrorists. If any of those are likely scenarios, then deterrence fails, because it relies on these principles in order to be true. However, as explained elsewhere, each of these scenarios are actually possible.

Second, the existence of nuclear weapons actually increases conventional conflict. The widespread fear of other nations acquiring weapons of mass destruction has pushed nations into waging pre-emptive wars (e.g. the United States against Iraq) that undermine global stability. While nuclear weapons may seem to deter large-scale conflict (which they don’t, as mentioned earlier), they also cause more conflict among nations, especially those that want to prevent other nations from becoming nuclear.

Disarmament would actually cause increased insecurity among nations, as there can never be any guarantee that a nation has disarmed

No because…

Potential conflicts would arise from the disarmament process itself, as nations would constantly second-guess each other and doubt the other nation’s counts of nuclear arsenals. This tension would make relations even worse than they were in a world with nuclear weapons, and thus disarmament actually causes more conflict.

Related authors: George Dvorsky, Christopher Ford, Takaya Suto, Hirofumi Tasaki

Yes because…

The abolition of nuclear weapons would actually incentivize the development and use of even more dangerous weapons, such as chemical and biological weapons

No because…

Some nations pledged not to use chemical and biological warfare because they had nuclear weapons. In other instances, nuclear weapons have directly deterred the use of chemical and biological weapons – for example, Saddam Hussein confessed that Iraq wanted to use chemical and biological weapons, and that US conventional forces were insufficient to deter them, but the presence of the nuclear threat ultimately swayed him. Chemical and biological weapons are just as harmful as nuclear weapons (if not worse).

Related authors: Keith Payne, Anthony Cordesman, John Holdren, Raymond Zilinskas

Yes because…

The existence of nuclear weapons actually encourages the development and use of other dangerous weapons, such as chemical and biological weapons. This is because chemical and biological weapons are relatively easy to manufacture, and smaller states may see nuclear proliferation as a threat to their safety, and in order to counter these nuclear threats, they may build up their own arsenal of alternate weapons (such as chemical and biological warfare).

But there is no evidence that nuclear weapons even deter chemical and biological weapons in the first place; the origin of chemical and biological weapons attacks is almost impossible to trace, and thus nuclear deterrence is actually of very limited effectiveness, as deterrence assumes knowledge of the original attacker.

Disarmament is impossible, rendering efforts to disarm pointless and simply wasteful

No because…

Nations will never entirely give up their nuclear weapons, and more countries want to proliferate, not fewer. There is no way to actually enforce a ban on nuclear weapons; attempts to date, including the NPT and the CTBT, cannot actually enforce a ban and have done relatively little to stop determined nations from proliferating. Instead of focusing their attention on abolishing nuclear weapons, nations should focus on alternatives, such as increased weapons safety and decreased arsenals.

Related authors: Bruno Tertrais

Yes because…

There is no reason disarmament is impossible – nations such as South Africa, Kazakhstan, etc. had nuclear weapons at one point but decided to disarm. If a few nations can do it, there is no reason that the larger superpowers cannot let go of their weapons, either.

And even if disarmament is very unlikely, there is no reason that the international community should not make an effort to reach that goal. It is still true that nations ought not possess nuclear weapons and that a world of global zero would be better, even if the chances of reaching that global zero are incredibly small. Attempting to achieve an impossible goal is not always fruitless; for example, society strives toward a crime-free society, and while that is arguably impossible, there is still merit in attempting to do so.

Nuclear waste disposal is rarely safe/efficient; it is too much to expect a sqeaky clean disposal/disarmament of nuclear weapons

No because…

We’re all well aware of the problems/issues associated with nuclear waste disposal; ranging from radiation/disease to pollution to the construction of dirty bombs with stolen components of used/faulty nuclear material.

Now imagine, the horror of attempting to obviate all the workable nuclear weapons in the world. This will be a tardy task that will require considerable effort,time and money. To safely remove nuclear weapons will prove too expensive for nuclear states with third-world economies and it is likely that since most nuclear waste disposal is inefficient and unsafe; nuclear weapon disposal will be much more inefficient/unsafe.

Poor Nations will have the incentive to sell weapons to terrorists or whoever during the disposal process to curtail costs.

Poor Nations will also not be able to pay for a safe removal of nuclear weapons and during the disposal/disarmament nuclear material will/would be more exposed than ever before. Making the threat of impending nuclear-terrorism very likely as a result.

Yes because…

Nothing to fear.

No because…

In an idealistic world, nuclear weapons would not exist. However, in the modern society that we live in, being unprepared for terror attacks leaves a nation in serious danger, which after all, is a primary concern for governments. There is no way of guaranteeing we, as a nation, can live in a safe environment without knowing we are properly prepared for any event. All nations should have the same rights when considering nuclear weapons; there is no clear way of telling if one nations stability is more suited to possessing such a dangerous weapon from the next. By trying to place limitations on other nations we simply encourage resentment, further increasing the dangers of a weapon which would otherwise no doubt lie dormant. The fact is, often these weapons are portrayed in the media to be the end of man kind, therefore decreasing public support. However, these weapons play a crucial role in security a countries position as a super power; something more important now than ever.

Yes because…

peace, not war

No because…


Yes because…

Nuclear weapons do not mean that there will be war, indeed so far they have been good at preventing war. The only problem being that if there is war it will be much more destructive.

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