Dangerous Ideas
A Nuclear Weapon Free World and Other Delusions

Some high-minded ideals really aren’t worth fighting for.

Published on: July 1, 2014
Bilahari Kausikan is former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore.
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  • Boritz

    A NWFW would require dismantling of existing weapons. &nbspWould this be handled with the same efficiency as the Syrian chemical weapon disposal or with the same efficiency as Hans Blix trucking all over Iraq? &nbspYes.

    • A nuke-free USA, however, could be accomplished by never designing or building new weapons, losing the engineering capability and human capital to do so, and by refusing to maintain the current stockpile, even though experts have, for decades, noted that our stockpile is becoming increasingly at-risk. Both of these courses of inaction have been pursued by the past few administrations.

  • qet

    Yes. Excellent. Thank you. A welcome clear-sighted analysis of the genie that can never be put back in the bottle no matter how fantasists whinge about it. And I have always found it not a little ironic that the Nobel committee would award its prize for the mere mouthing of the fantasist pieties when it is the existence of nuclear weapons that has probably prevented a WW3 from breaking out.

    If I understand the author’s statement about diplomacy as therapy for small nations correctly, I believe that this is exactly what it is becoming in the United States and especially in the current Administration. I would argue that this attitude seriously undermines the ability of the US to perform its role in the balance of power the author notes is necessary to the security of smaller states. It just goes to show that will is a greater component of power than material means. The US governing class and the cultural-entertainment elite it aspires to emulate are busy eradicating the will of this country to function in any such balance of power.

    And I can’t help but ask: how is it possible to be a former Permanent Secretary? 🙂

  • An unaddressed issue is demographics. Should Great Powers again find themselves faced with an opponent intent on committing the kind of atrocities of a NAZI Germany or Imperial Japan, and taking quite large swaths of territory, no nation in the civilized world can muster the tens of millions of men to oppose them conventionally as did the West and Russia in WW2. This is a fact rarely discussed in NWS commentary; it is unfortunate that this is the case, for battles happen. Wars happen. Productivity in war – destroying the enemy at a lower cost than he can destroy you – is what wins wars. Nuclear weapons are extremely productive. A Great Power fighting a regional opponent only capable of small-arms, and using oinly small-arms to do so is not only unproductive, it is grossly immoral. The Great Power is making the strategic statement that being “nice” in war is more important than its own future generations. Should ISIS look to Great Powers (essential for keeping the peace) as though its five-year plan could come to fruition, imprisoning hundreds of millions in a barbarism far worse than the NAZIs, the ONLY way the West can respond effectively is through nuclear weapons. Pretending we can – or will – send our only son or daughter to engage barbarism in infantry battles, when a strategic, moral option of far greater productivity exists – is fantasy.

    • qet

      If nukes were just really big conventional explosives then I would agree with you, and they would already have rained down on the world more than once in the last 70 years. Nuclear weapons are unusable. The radiation effects are too severe and long-lasting. A nuke is a defensive weapon only. It has prevented (in my opinion) a WW3 whose casualties and destruction would have vastly exceeded the sum total of all the smaller wars fought in those years, but its costs/negative effects have not been zero.

  • Fat_Man

    The entire idea of a NWFW is nonsense on stilts. The laws of physics are known, and they will not become unknown. They allow the construction of nuclear weapons. The fact nuclear weapons have existed and been used is also known and will not become unknown.

    If a treaty signed by all the states of the world and observed by them were to ban nuclear weapons, it could not stop the first regime that defected from building nuclear weapons. Once that happens other states will be forced to defend themselves by building nuclear weapons, and we will be right back where we started.

    That Obama is willing to tout such nonsense means either that he is a fool or that he believes that his acolytes are fools who cannot see that he promoting nonsense. Given his support of NWFW, and his record in other maters to date, I cannot reject the hypothesis that Obama is a fool.

    • Boritz

      The laws of physics as they apply to firearms is a lot simpler than nuclear physics but a great American political party believes they can make those go away too.

  • TheBoogerpicker

    One might suggest that the author, his ilk, the concurring commentariat, and the middling supporters of this comment forum peruse the forward to the 25th Anniversary Edition of Richard Rhodes’s incomparable “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.”

  • LarryD

    A specific instance of the Arms Control Delusion.

    I’ll point out that a lot of countries that could have joined the nuclear club held off only because they trusted the US to defend them with (if necessary) its own nuclear arsenal. Obamas feckless behavior and pursuit of nuclear disarmament will have the end result of more countries having nuclear weapons in the future.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Of course the world is not going nuke-free, and of course the major powers must never stop mentioning that we should—-even though we aren’t.

  • B-Sabre

    I’ve always looked at the premise that Country X has nuclear weapons because the US has nuclear weapons as fundamentally flawed. My belief is that countries like Iran and North Korea have nuclear weapons not to deter US nuclear superiority, but to deter US conventional superiority. Think about it – even if the US does not have a declared “No First Use” policy, all our pundits consider the use of nuclear weapons almost unthinkable. And it truth, we probably don’t need to discuss it except where we are threatened by a comparable nuclear arsenal.
    When there were rumors of Iraq having a “dirty bomb” or using chemical weapons against US troops in the first Gulf War, there was discussions on how to retaliate. The use of a nuclear weapons against regime targets was ruled out. But they looked at using conventional airpower to blow the damns on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and put Baghdad under several meters of water. It may not have been a nuclear weapon, but how many people would that have killed?
    But if a country demonstrably has nuclear weapons, then any conflict with that country automatically risks becoming a nuclear exchange – and the US has said that it unwilling to play that game anymore. Look at India and Pakistan – the ISI’s fingerprints were all over the Mumbai attack, and besides some threats, nothing happened to Pakistan despite the attack being an act of war. Why? Because Pakistan had nukes and India was unwilling to start that fight. Why would Iran, a sponsor of terrorism, slack off of an effective strategy because of nukes? I think they would increase their activities, and use their nuclear capabilities as a shield to prevent retaliation.

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