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Do nukes make the world safer?

“Belarus threatens to use nukes if any aggression is directed towards the county”

This became the headline of newspapers and channels across the globe after the comment was made by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The president further pushed that it was on his request that the short-range nuclear weapons were being deployed to Belarus from Russia and stated that he would not shy away from using them ‘if the circumstances call for it.’ 


Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia has consistently used the threat of nuclear weapons to prevent Ukraine from getting foreign aid and NATO protection. Thus, the nuclear power has managed to threaten countries, especially the United States of America and its non-nuclear neighbor Ukraine which it invaded last year in February after fearing that Ukraine would join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). 


This constant threat of using nuclear weapons by countries like Russia and Belarus in the face of sanctions and foreign aggression reignites the long-standing debate of whether nuclear weapons make the world a more dangerous place or not. 

Famous International Relations scholars such as the realist Clausewitz have previously remarked that while war is a continuation of politics, nuclear war is nothing but an end to all politics, and Brodie commented that while the chief purpose of armed forces is to win a war, with the emergence of nuclear weapons, remarked that their chief purpose is now to prevent wars from taking place; Thus, through these remarks, there has been a constant effort to hint towards the detrimental consequences of the use of nuclear weaponry by nuclear powers. 


To focus on the debate of whether nukes make the world safer or not, it is important to first explore why nukes are used, to begin with. The answer to this question lies in the various theories formulated to explore the reasons.


The theory of Mutual Assured Deterrence (popularly known as MAD) is the most important to explain the answers to this question. According to MAD, nuclear weapons are used as a retaliation to an attack and to ensure that the retaliation produces immense damage to the enemy, thus negating the opponent's ability to strike back. Furthermore, MAD is believed to be a reality as the destruction of a nuclear attack is so great that any defense against it is very vulnerable, and hence, any counter-attack is simply unacceptable as seen in the case of the world war-II where Japan did submit after the nuclear attacks by America.


Another theory dealing with nuclear weapons is the Nuclear utilization theory or NUT. This theory disagrees with MAD and states that there can be limited nuclear weapons i.e. nukes are relative rather than absolute and thus, to escalate on the ladder, the size and amount of nukes are of great importance. As explained by the article “Are you MAD or NUTS”, NUTS and MAD are opposed to each other as one focuses on escalation and the other on de-escalation.  


Upon coming back to the question of whether nukes make the world a safer place or not, the topic can be debated either way.


One of the primary arguments supporting the idea that nuclear weapons enhance safety is based on the concept of deterrence. The possession of nuclear weapons by a country can potentially deter other nations from attacking, as the consequences of a nuclear war could be catastrophic for both sides. This line of thinking suggests that nuclear weapons create a balance of power, preventing large-scale conflicts.

Furthermore, Some also argue that nuclear weapons contribute to global stability by ensuring a balance of power among nuclear-armed states. This equilibrium is said to discourage aggressive actions, as the risk of retaliation is high. It is believed that this stability has helped prevent major conflicts between nuclear powers since the end of World War II. However, it has been reflected throughout history that despite having a nuclear defense mechanism, countries have still gone to war such as the Kargil war of 1999 between the two nuclear powers India and Pakistan. 

In contrast to this, the arguments condemning the use of nuclear weapons focus on how despite their existing safety protocols, the existence of nuclear weapons carries inherent risks. Accidents, miscalculations, or technical malfunctions could potentially lead to the unintended launch of a nuclear weapon, resulting in devastating consequences. The potential for human error or technological failures raises concerns about the safety of relying on nuclear weapons as a means of ensuring security. 

Besides the risk of unwarranted accidents, the possession of nuclear weapons by multiple countries has increased the chances of their acquisition by non-state actors such as terrorist organizations or less stable states as in the case of Iraq. The more nations possess nuclear weapons, the greater the risk of them falling into the wrong hands or being used irresponsibly. Thus, the proliferation of nuclear weapons undermines global security and stability.

The most important argument against the use of nukes is the humanitarian impact of a nuclear war that would cause widespread loss of life, environmental devastation, and long-term health effects as nuclear radiations can spread over a great distance. Hence, the use of nuclear weapons could potentially lead to a catastrophic escalation and cause irreparable harm to humanity and the planet affecting the generations to come.


Thus, these arguments may help one draw an opinion of their own, of whether nukes are making the world more dangerous and if all countries should join the Nuclear proliferation treaty or if it makes the world a safer place.

While both sides of the argument are quite strong, I am still unable to come down to a proper conclusion as with regards to the humanitarian perspective it just adds to the danger, however, militarily it remains a question.


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