Unilateral nuclear disarmament is the best way to create a safer world

Last updated: March 2, 2017

Barak Obama has over the last year been moving on reducing nuclear weapons. He has signed a new arms control agreement with Russia. Held an immense nuclear security summit that came out with reducing the amount of nuclear material in countries like Ukraine. On the other hand not everything Obama has done has been good: he is pressing ahead with a slimmed down version of missile defence, he missed the opportunity the nuclear posture review of taking the USA’s nuclear armed missiles off alert meaning two decades after the end of the cold war Russia and the USA are still pointing missiles primed and ready to go at each other. Even the smaller nuclear powers like Britain are unwilling to contemplate disarmament, the current government has kicked the issue of renewing trident into the long grass. It seems unlikely that any nuclear power is going to advocate or engage in unilateral nuclear disarmament. Critics of systems like trident often claim that unilateral nuclear disarmament will both save money and create a safer world. Even if successful and there is nuclear world is it the best way to create a safer world. Many more people are killed in conventional conflict than have been by nuclear weapons or the radiation they create. Perhaps the effort would be better spent ending conflict, reinvigorating international organisations or fighting climate change?

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is the best way to create a safer world
Yes because...

The potential for a safer world.

What is safety? The condition of being safe; freedom from danger, risk, or injury.[[The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2009) http://www.thefreedictionary.com/safety%5D%5D The essential part is risk. Having nuclear weapons creates a risk for everyone on the planet, a global risk of almost complete destruction. The world would therefore be much safer without nuclear weapons.
No because...
Everyone’s idea of what is the most urgent threat to the world is different. This makes it very difficult to decide what should be tackled to create a safer world.
Kofi Annan
Almost everyone in today's world feels insecure, but not everyone feels insecure about the same thing. Different threats seem more urgent to people in different parts of the world.

Probably the largest number would give priority to economic and social threats, including poverty, environmental degradation and infectious disease.

Others might stress inter-state conflict; yet others internal conflict, including civil war. Many people – especially but not only in the developed world – would now put terrorism at the top of their list.
[[Kofi A. Annan, Princeton University, 28/11/06, Role of disarmament, non-proliferation examined in Princeton lecture http://www.un.org/News/ossg/sg/stories/statments_full.asp?statID=6%5D%5D So tackling which is the best way to a safer world?

It is true taking away nuclear weapons removes an element of risk from everyone on earth. But that risk is very small, should this small risk be worth more than very large risks to smaller numbers such as that posed by more conventional conflicts and civil wars?

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is the best way to create a safer world
Yes because...

Unilateral disarmament will encourage others to disarm.

Unilateral disarmament would encourage others to disarm their own nuclear weapons. This would especially be the case if the state that was unilaterally disarming was one of the major nuclear powers such as the USA or Russia.

Why this would be the case can be best illustrated by turning the argument around and asking why states want nuclear weapons. The answer can be summed up with the security dilemma
Wheeler and Booth
the military preparations of one state create an unresolvable uncertainty in the mind of another as to whether those preparations are for defensive purposes only (to enhance its security), or whether they are for offensive purposes (to weaken anothers security)
[[Paul Roe, ‘The Intrastate Security Dilemma: Ethnic Conflict as a ‘Tragedy’?’, Journal of Peace Research, vol.36, no.2, 1999, pp183-202, http://www.jstor.org/pss/424669%5D%5D This dilemma is equally apparent with nuclear weapons as with any other type of military preparation.
kofi Annan
the more that those states that already
have [nuclear weapons] increase their arsenals, or insist that such
weapons are essential to their national security, the more other states
feel that they too must have them for their security
[[Quoted in, ALTERNATIVE WHITE PAPER Safer Britain, Safer World The decision not to replace Trident, Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament, 11/6, p.3., http://www.cnduk.org/images/stories/briefings/trident/alt_white_paper_07.pdf%5D%5D The security dilemma is potentially even worse for nuclear weapons than with other types of weapons. This is because with other weapons such as tanks other states can see them moving towards their borders so have time to prepare, negotiate and defuse a crisis. Nuclear weapons in their silos are however the ultimate offensive weapon. There is no defensive use for them. Moreover they cannot be seen or monitored easily by other powers. So other states if they want to have any security have to have them to create deterrence.

Conversely if we begin reducing the number of nuclear weapons the threat created by the security dilemma reduces. If Britain disarms then Russia, France and the other nuclear powers have one less set of nuclear missiles to worry about and one less reason to keep their own (especially if Britain was the power they most worry about). At the same time states without nuclear weapons have one less reason to procure them.
No because...
Unfortunately the security dilemma is better at escalating than it is at de-escalating. If a state such as Britain gets rid of its nuclear weapons then rather than applauding the action (though they will do so in public) others such as Russia will see it as one less threat to worry about. But look from Russia’s perspective there is still France, the USA and China all to worry about. Compared to Britain China is much more worrying as they share a border, and the USA is a long term rival. So does this British action make any difference?

Instead the paranoia that is inherent in the security dilemma would mean that the country’s with nuclear weapons are likely to respond with ‘why should I believe you?’ At the same time the security dilemma would be encouraging Britain to rearm. While we may consider ourselves under the US nuclear dilemma it would only take the US seeming to become isolationist again for us to have to begin reconsidering.

The security dilemma far from encouraging or providing a case for unilateral disarmament works against it. Instead if there is to be disarmament unilateral disarmament is not the best way to go about it. There needs to be multilateral disarmament so that the threat everyone poses declines at the same time.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is the best way to create a safer world
Yes because...

There will be less nuclear weapons

Obviously if one country disarms then there are going to be less nuclear weapons in the world. If Britain was to disarm then that would be 225 less weapons.[[Richard Norton-Taylor, Britain's nuclear arsenal is 225 warheads, reveals William Hague, guardian.co.uk, 26/5/10, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/26/uk-nuclear-weapons-stockpile-warheads%5D%5D If it was the USA which as disarming then that would be a reduction of 5,113 weapons.[[Colum Lynch, Obama administration discloses size of U.S. nuclear arsenal, Washington Post, 4/5/10, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/03/AR2010050302089.html%5D%5D Any reduction in the number of nuclear weapons is a good thing.
No because...
This is all going to happen; assuming that disarmament will be a perfectly smooth efficient eco-friendly and somehow affordable process.

Most people have lived long enough to understand that no politically motivated government directed mission ever goes perfectly to plan. And we are historically aware from experiences in the United States and the Russian Federation that methods employed to disarm to date have not been very successful.
...application of radioactive materials was not efficiently accompanied by a solution to the problem of managing the radioactive waste produced as a result of implementation of such technologies. Therefore, the main part of waste accumulated with no preliminary classification and preparation. As a result, significant areas have been alienated to store the radioactive wastes and there is a possibility of uncontrolled release of radionuclides into the environment

...As a consequence, there are serious risks of radioactive pollution of the environment and, in case of fuel leaking (60% of the decommissioned nuclear-powered submarines still have fuel inside), of a significant radioactive contamination of the sea on an international scale

We do not know enough about safe disarmament to achieve it presently. Also, all nuclear states are not first world countries; for them, conducting a safe/efficient removal of nuclear arsenals when/if a process of this kind is discovered; will prove be to be too financially taxing for them to agree.

And if these poorer countries do agree (reluctantly post-aggressive coercion) they will most likely resort to rather sinister means of floating and obtaining finances to conduct the process.

The key study to analyse safe disposal mentioned on the UNESCO website is recommended but has currently borne no fruit.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is the best way to create a safer world
No because...

Would anyone disarm?

Unilateral disarmament relies upon other countries then disarming afterwards to make it a viable strategy to follow. We have two problems in deciding whether this would really happen.

1, is even one state likely to unilaterally disarm and 2, would other states then follow it.

Obviously it is quite possible for a single state to unilaterally disarm, the decision process behind the disarmament is much easier than in a multilateral attempt at disarmament. However so far no country has voluntarily given up nuclear weapons once it has attained them.

It is even very rare for states to give up conventional weapons when they have them let alone something that is so much bigger and more powerful. Most examples of reductions of armament multilateral. For example the various arms deals, START I/II, SALT I/II, SORT, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, between Russia and the USA.[[http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/USRussiaNuclearAgreementsMarch2010]] Other examples for conventional weapons would be the Washington Naval Treaty[[http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/pre-war/1922/nav_lim.html]] that limited naval armaments creating ratios for the major powers to stick too in terms of capital ships and essentially banned new weapons like aircraft carriers and submarines. As well as the Hague conferences sought to regulate warfare.[[ http://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Hague_Convention%5D%5D

The other way in which disarmament can come about is through one state winning a war and imposing disarmament on the defeated party. Hence at the end of both world wars Germany was disarmed[[http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/versailles159-213.htm]][[ http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/truman/psources/ps_potsdam.html%5D%5D and at the end of the second world war Japan was disarmed as well. None the less this option is not possible to contemplate as the war would create the destruction which it is necessary to avoid.

It is very unlikely that even an individual state would unilaterally disarm their nuclear weapons (with the exception of if they became obsolete – but then presumably they would either no longer be a threat themselves due to defences or there would be an even bigger weapon!)
Yes because...

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John Cannon

The United States should be the first
to disarm our Nuclear Weapons. Why?
1. Our country is governed by citizens.
2. We value all innocent people.
3. We only target specific individuals.
4. We have no need for WMDs.
5. Terrorism is our biggest threat.
6. WMDs offer no threat to terrorists.
7. Disarming WMDs brings admiration.
8. Admiration is a threat to terrorists.