The nuclear weapons in the multipolar world22.2.2013
The period after the Cold War has ushered in a new condition of international relations which can be generally called multiplolarity. This new condition is characterized, as we very well know, by an increasing volume of regional conflicts and tensions between state and non-state actors. It is interesting to note that despite a lot of academic analysis written on the subject of post-Cold War transition, there is very little through debate on how the end of the Cold War has affected the key parameter of the Cold War strategic security, namely nuclear weapons.
The central question is why do the states acquire nuclear weapons in the first place? What is the role that the nuclear weapons play in today's world and how do they affect the strategic security?
I would like to frame this question in the context of strategic choice that the leadership of the state that wishes to acquire nuclear weapons faces. I distinguish between security choice, the domestic choice and the normative choice. In all three choices there are gains and losses and ultimately it boils down to contingency and a combination of factors when as states move along the continuum between ”yes” and ”no” with regard to nuclear weapons. I will come back to the issue of contingency towards the end of my presentation.
The Security choice
Despite the common understanding that nuclear weapons have become militarily obsolete they still play a military role. I would like to call this strategic insecurity. Countries like Britain and France have nuclear weapons, they are not directed towards any particular threat or enemy but rather imply an insurance policy, where nuclear weapons are seen as insurance against threats that might develop either from states or terrorists groups.
This is particularly evident between the United States and the Russia, both of these countries still maintain nuclear arsenals to project the military power onto each other. This projection of power serves largely symbolic purpose, as we can not imagine the nuclear weapons being used for actual defense. However, given the plans for the new US missile defense systems and the cancellation of the ABM treaty the actual function of nuclear weapons is both deterrence and defense.
Nuclear weapons also have security and defense meaning in different regional contexts, such as the one between India and Pakistan. There are rivalries between neighboring states which are played out through nuclear arsenals.
The bipolarity between US and Russia still takes place in terms of numbers of nuclear warheads, the recent new START agreement and future planed reductions of nuclear weapons which aims at limiting a number of nuclear weapons possessed by the two nuclear powers at 95% of world`s arsenal. NATO and Russia were supposed to cooperate within this field, however the newly formed friendship in the NATO summit in 2010 was quickly crashed.
The Domestic choice
The domestic model is one of political survival. For some countries nuclear weapons are also an insurance policy for state survival. This applies to countries as Pakistan and Israel. Authoritarian leaders are more likely to purchase nuclear weapons than those leaders who prioritize economic gains, globalization and market stability. The nuclear arsenal may be developed in order to achieve own political objectives, i.e. to stay in power. Political oppositions can be kept down through providing external threat image. The mastering of nuclear technology provides a social pride for the population and gathering the support for the regime.
Regimes that are isolated from the international community are subject to sanctions, such as Iran and North Korea, are often in a situation where nuclear weapons can work as means to avoid military intervention. A comparison can today be made between North Korea, which actually has tested three nuclear devices, and Iran which has not made the decision to acquire a bomb. The latter is under a threat of a military strike from Israel, while no one threatens North Korea with a military intervention.
North Korea is also able to use nuclear weapons as means to get fuel and food as aid to avoid hunger and collapse of the state and simultaneously to avoid reform that can lead to a collapse of the regime.
Iran claims that through nuclear technology it would like to diversify its energy sources and is developing nuclear energy for domestic purposes. The Iranian model of potentially accessing nuclear weapons through peaceful uses of nuclear technology for energy purposes may in the future be an even more adopted by other countries and lead to potential spread of the nuclear weapons.
Not only Iran and North Korea accessed nuclear technology for political gains at home. India`s decision to nuclear tests in 1998 was viewed by some as an attempt by the prime minister to generate domestic public support for his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Also domestic political concerns for defense expenditure may lead to a choice of nuclear weapon programs. The development of nuclear weapons, especially if technologies available, through a country like North Korea or through an individual, like the Pakistanian network of Aga Khan. A nuclear bomb would be more effective for the same amount of money than larger conventional forces.
The normative choice
This model emphasizes the normative importance attached to nuclear arms. By acquiring nuclear capability, states hope to establish their identity as technologically advanced, independent power deserving a special recognition. States seek honor and prestige. States are in this model motivated to acquire nuclear capabilities and they preserve it as a symbol as prestige and modernity enhancing the state`s status. Of the five established nuclear states France is the one clearly belonging to the norm model. Pierre Mendes France, the statesman arriving from a UN meeting pointed out that a country without a bomb is not a country. France claims that nuclear weapons guarantee its autonomy and independent decision making in all situations.
The NPT codifies these norms by giving some states the prestige of nuclear weapons and prohibiting others of accessing the same weapons. These double standards provide the basis for governments both to stay outside the NPT, such as Pakistan, India and North Korea and also provide motivation for countries, if they want to stay in the NPT, not to cross the line to actual weapons development. The latter is the case today in Iran.
Now, where does it take us? When creating conditions for a nuclear weapon free world, all these choices have to be taking in to account simultaneously. There are several ways how the nuclear problem is dealt with in today's multipolar world. All these ways are meant to affect the strategic choices of the countries.
Legitimizing nuclear weapons, for example through NPT, has been one way to tackle the problem during the Cold War. This way primarily affects the security choice by preserving the nuclear status quo and encouraging cooperation and reduction. But on the other hand, it does not affect the normative choice and it creates the gap between those who have the right to have the nukes and those who do not.
Stressing the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear attack or even worse, a nuclear war, is another strategy to proceed toward these conditions. This way would be tackling the normative aspect. However, as long as the NPT regime legitimizes the existence of nuclear weapons of five states and these same states also enjoy the prestige of being permanent members of the UN Security Council, the conditions are not to bound to be created. Strengthening the NTP regime may prohibit news states of acquiring nuclear weapons but does not solve the double standards of the regime. How to demolish the prestige that is attached to nuclear weapons? One of the ways would be to seek that in the Security Council of the UN only members without nuclear weapons are accepted.
Finally, we have the sanctions as the ways that tackle the domestic choice. Iran and North Korea are the most evident examples. However sanctions do not work as intended. A good example is Iran.
The nuclear weapon free zones, which today encompass about 120 states, is one way of expanding the geographic realm of nuclear free world. The efforts to create a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East should be promoted and activated as well as the question of a nuclear weapon free European Union. Through this kind of develop pressure could be exercised together with the modernization of nuclear weapons towards the remaining nuclear weapon states. How to exit as a nuclear weapon state could also contribute to this discussion.
On the global level there seem to be two alternative competing paradigms for solving the nuclear weapons question. One is to try to through disarmament to approach global zero and create conditions for this. Recently the other one is, and which has recently been promoted by Paul Bracken in The Second Nuclear Age, is the question of seeing nuclear weapons and the emerge of new nuclear weapon states and sub state actors as a management problem. In this case, through the management of nuclear provocations conflicts and potential wars, the effects could be minimalized. However, given these two approaches, I would not hesitate in selecting the former.
Speech in the Conference 'Building the Framework for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World'
Suomi / Finland
Philip de Langesalle 5a
1435 Copenhagen, Denmark