It is axiomatic that the worst place to be in a nuclear war is in a country with nuclear weapons, yet to this day, nuclear weapons are considered to be the ultimate sign of prestige in international relations, and represent for many countries an important guarantor of territorial integrity.
Particularly notable is the role that nuclear weapons play in allowing nuclear states dominance over non-nuclear states in territorial or border disputes. Which non-nuclear state would dare launch a major conventional attack against a nuclear power?
It is also inconceivable that any nuclear state would launch a nuclear strike on behalf of a non-nuclear ally simply to protect that ally’s territorial integrity. Therefore, the balance in any border dispute between a nuclear and non-nuclear state is woefully one-sided.
While nuclear weapons may have had a role in preventing the Cold War from turning hot, they currently act as a destabilising influence on the system of nation-states by granting a certain military impunity to nuclear states in their dealings with their neighbours.
Moreover, the environmental costs of storing and decommissioning nuclear weapons is plain for all to see, and primarily affects those countries that maintain a large store of nuclear warheads. All pollution is, first and foremost, local pollution.
There is a tiny audience that matters in the nuclear disarmament debate, namely the presidents of the United States, India, Pakistan, France, Russia and China, and the prime minister of the United Kingdom, as well as the leaders of a few states with nuclear aspirations.
I believe that each of these leaders is a patriot, genuinely concerned about their nation’s security and standing in the world, and therefore any appeal for unilateral disarmament without a credible solution for maintaining international order is certain to fall on deaf ears.
There may be a solution however in High Impact Conventionals (HICs), conventional weapons that offer a sufficiently high-level of destructiveness to provide a deterrent effect on any would-be conventional opponent, while mitigating to some extent the cost to the planet and to global security of nuclear weapons.
The United States in 2017 deployed its Mother-of-all-Bombs in Afghanistan, while Russian and China have both been working on the development of thermobaric munitions. In 2007, Alexander Rukshin described Russia’s Father of All Bombs thus:
Potentially, its effectiveness and capabilities are comparable to nuclear weapons. At the same time, use of this weapon doesn’t damage or pollute the environment like a nuclear weapon.
Serious consideration should be given to laying the framework of a multilateral treaty in which the world’s great powers commit to replacing their store of nuclear weapons with high-impact conventionals within a timeframe of, at most, twenty years.
Not only would such a compact contribute enormously to nuclear non-proliferation, it would also help to preserve the current multipolarity within the international system by allowing a toned-down equivalent to mutually-assured destruction to be developed by the world’s largest militaries, without the enormous security and environmental costs for both nuclear and non-nuclear states of standing nuclear deterrents.
While such a plan would not satisfy everyone, not least committed pacifists, I believe that it could find support from both communist and nationalist; from liberal and conservative; and, from nuclear and non-nuclear states.
It is not a solution that will lead to perpetual peace, but one which may well prevent the untimely destruction of the United States, Russia, China and the countries lying in their way.
It is not a solution that depends on global government, which even Kant viewed as a precursor to tyranny, but rather is one which can be pursued within the existing global system of sovereign nation-states.
It is a realistic realist solution.