Do you agree with Waltz's recommendation to spread nuclear weapons?
On Sunday, April 9, 2006, the Washington Post announced that the Bush administration is studying options for military strikes against Iran as part of a broader strategy of coercive diplomacy to pressure Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear development program (Washington post, 9/04/2006). That shows perfectly that the question of the nuclear proliferation is one of the burning issues of the day. Nuclear proliferation means the spread of nuclear weapons to states that for the moment are known as non nuclear weapon states. Only five states are acknowledged by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as possessing nuclear weapons: China, France, Russia, United-Kingdom and United-States, yet several others have the capability to construct nuclear devices at short notice and deliver them, if necessary, by increasingly sophisticated means (Howlett, 2001: 416). A traditional view states that further nuclear proliferation is likely to increase instability and the potential for conflict between states. This contrasts with the more may be better thesis advanced by Kenneth N. Waltz in the early 1980s and restated in the mid 1990s to account for changes brought about by the end of the cold war.
So one can wonder to what extent Waltz's proposition that more nuclear weapons will be better can be justified. In a first part, one can try to expound Waltz's thesis and the arguments that sustain it. In a second part, one can underline the weaknesses of Waltz's thesis using mainly Sagan's arguments.
[...] Deterrence is based on the destructive consequences of nuclear weapons and on a strategy of second- strike nuclear forces. The punishment of attackers would be so huge that they are dissuaded from attacking. Waltz supposes a certain rationality of attackers who have to compare the gains and the losses. Therefore, nuclear deterrence improve the prospect of peace since states are not likely to run major risks for minor gains and are more cautious in presence of nuclear weapons since the question is about surviving or being annihilated. [...]
[...] Therefore there are two worries, that rulers of nuclear states become more authoritarian and even more given to secrecy or that some potential nuclear states are not politically strong and stable enough to ensure control of the weapons and control of the decision to use them. Yet Waltz argues against these worries that building nuclear arsenal requires a long lead-time, considerable money, administrative and technical teams to which unstable government has short time to pay attention. Therefore such governments are unlikely to initiate nuclear projects. [...]
[...] The third issue concerns potential accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear arsenals. Organisational perspective raises doubts about whether any state can build a large nuclear arsenal that is completely secure from accident because of limited rationality and political conflicts over goals and rewards at work (Sagan and Waltz, 2003:73). Moreover, Sagan underlines some factors making new nuclear state less secure from nuclear accident than the others. Thus, some emergent nuclear powers lack the organisational and financial resources to produce adequate mechanical safety devices and safe weapons design features. [...]
[...] Finally the last weakness of Waltz's thesis is the fact that he excludes the possibility of terrorist use of nuclear weapons to focus exclusively on states unit. Yet, after the events of September no one doubts that terrorist might be interested in killing a lot of people. And nuclear proliferation increases the risk of seizure of nuclear weapons by terrorists. Waltz states that nuclear deterrence has had a stabilising effect since the Second World War and tries to demonstrate that it will be the same concerning the would-be new nuclear states. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee