Nuclear Proliferation: Favour of Nuclear Weapons Throughout History

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Since Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the nuclear bomb has always been sold as the weapon of excellence, allowing its owner infinite power and advantages in the international arena as well as peacekeeping, yet as time passes and many ideas emanating from nuclear deterrence seem false, and thus creating new dangers. Is nuclear deterrence the miracle cure for peace, stability and security? According to Kenneth N. Waltz, ​nuclear weapons deter states from going to war more safely than conventional weapons before that, states that went to war were aware that the price of defeat would be bearable​. But the First and Second World Wars left a lesson from these wars that has remained etched in people’s minds, allowing the United States to consolidate its power. Yet history has shown that when a great power began to become strong (the France of Louis XIV and Napoleon, the France of William II and Hitler’s Germany), an opposing coalition was formed each time in order to overthrow the dominant power, the accumulation of power for one state was never accepted by the others, and always met with opposition. Everything in the world is synonymous with and apologizes for the War. Nuclear weapons according to Kenneth N. Waltz therefore answer the question “How can we perpetuate peace without solving the problem of war?” The possession of nuclear weapons would deter States, whether or not they possess them, from going to war, those who possess them out of conscience and responsibility and those who do not possess them out of lack of power. Wars that could involve nuclear weapons have been extremely difficult to start, especially since before the major powers were very often at war, but nuclear weapons have changed their international status and given them security, and war has become the privilege of the poorest and weakest. It cannot be denied that since the Second World War the great powers have never known such a prosperous and peaceful era, and it is difficult to deny that nuclear deterrence has nothing to do with it. It is certain for him that nuclear States are in permanent military competition, and that as long as it is in their own security interests, war is constantly possible. So some of these ideas are distorted?

‘Nuclear weapons have brought peace for 60 years.’ It is widely accepted that, thanks to nuclear weapons, peace in Europe was preserved throughout the Cold War period. Whether through its deterrent effect and the prospect of a general holocaust or because it gave the two great powers a pretext not to confront each other directly, it would have prevented the outbreak of a third world war. But as Henry Kissinger said: ‘Deterrence can only be tested in a negative way, through events that do not occur, and since it is never possible to demonstrate why something did not happen,’ it seems very difficult to know if the policy implemented is the best and if it is effective, since nothing happens, nothing guarantees its usefulness and if the opponent wants to attack. Some have therefore questioned the usefulness of nuclear deterrence in maintaining peace during the Cold War, but it can therefore be said in a balanced way that nuclear weapons probably played a role in the fact that Europe did not experience war during this period. However, a general conclusion cannot be drawn from this, those who preach ‘nuclear peace’ at all will forget that the world of the 21st century is no longer that of the Cold War.

We have moved from a world divided into two blocks with two players and Westphalian to a multipolar world, Balkanized with hundreds of new players, which means that the strategic equation is changing and all the more so with globalization and economic interdependence giving way to new alliances, new players who are sometimes not even states. It may well be that proclaiming that nuclear peace is self-evident is a serious strategic error, even if the theory is sometimes evoked, which would imply that the possession of the bomb would imply ‘restraint’ by the responsibility of being the holder of the bomb as in India or Pakistan, but this rule cannot be generalized in an open world, where the strategic challenges are characterized in particular by their complexity, where many are considering acquiring the bomb, which is seen as the alpha and omega of the strategy, adding that the multiplicity of risks and their asymmetry encourage the temptation to use it and lower the nuclear threshold. ‘Nuclear weapons ensure independence, maintain the status of ‘great power’ for the countries holding them and allow them to make their voices heard in the world’ In general, this statement is accompanied by a reference to the presence of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, all of whom are holders of nuclear weapons. This is the reminiscence of a so-called ‘Gallic’ posture, which does not really stand up to a serious examination of the history and reality of today’s world. First, the choice of permanent members, who are the only ones with a right of veto, is explained by the fact that they were the main victors of the Second World War and represented the majority of the world’s population at that time (including colonial empires), which has nothing to do with the possession of nuclear weapons, which the other countries would later acquire: the USSR in 1949, the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960 and China in 1964. Moreover, today the world is multipolar: everyone sees the world beyond the ‘club of five’: so-called emerging countries occupy an increasingly important place in world trade and it is obvious that, despite the strong presence of American power on the international scene, the balance of power has changed.

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The composition of the Security Council will eventually take this evolution into account and it is not the possession of nuclear weapons that will make the difference between States; the challenges of international relations have also changed with new modes of cooperation and new competition, but also new threats, which are called: economic and financial crisis, energy crisis, terrorism, pollution, global warming, poverty, epidemics… It is stupid to think that nuclear weapons, a legacy of the past, will answer all the questions and problems before us, and yet the overall financial burden of nuclear arsenals is likely to exceed 700 billion euros for the next decade at a time when financing needs are critical for other things. As for the independence of nuclear-owning countries, these are mainly the ‘smaller’ countries such as France or England, which would have enabled them to avoid American hegemony, and allows them to always avoid it. But this argument overlooks the reality of the notion of independence in a world where everything has become interdependent. Take the example of France, which is the most prominent country in terms of claiming independence from the United States, in 1966 General de Gaulle expressed his desire to make France a militarily independent nation by leaving NATO’s integrated command. Forty-two years later, Nicolas Sarkozy, while indicating that France remained fully independent, had this command reintegrated into our country, which would make the concept of independence variable according to time.

We can add that France has not joined the Nuclear Planning Group, an internal body that determines the nuclear policy to be followed and it considers that its nuclear forces are independent, it has only its nuclear codes, which gives it ‘decision-making autonomy’ as Charles de Gaulle said, but what is the meaning of this freedom today? A French president could never make such a decision without talking to his main allies (who will be the main decision-makers), and could France defend itself against a nuclear attack or attack another nuclear power alone? Ironically, it was cooperation with the Americans that enabled France to acquire this nuclear deterrent, to design them and to maintain the force that has been called the ‘French connection’. To make its voice heard and respected, countries do not need to use its nuclear toolbox. Through their analyses, proposals and actions, they can exert influence, as do Germany, Japan and Brazil. In addition, the more nuclear weapons ownership is sold as the main reason for a country’s status, the more threat nuclear proliferation will pose to countries seeking to make their voices heard, such as North Korea, for example. And in the absence of complete industrial control and in a globalised world, independence remains only a myth. ‘In the face of proliferation and the Iranian and North Korean threat, nuclear weapons are essential.’

It cannot be denied that the phenomenon of nuclear proliferation refers to the responsibility of States that have knowingly or unknowingly transmitted information and materials, enabling States to acquire nuclear weapons. Thus, France is fully responsible for the Israeli arsenal, since it has authorized companies (Société alsacienne de construction mécanique, groupement Saint-Gobain Techniques Nouvelles…) to build the Dimona reactor, which provided the fissile materials needed for the Israeli bomb. Following the same pattern, it provided Pakistan with a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the late 1970s, essential to its plutonium production, which allowed Pakistan to have bomb access. Russia has disseminated its nuclear know-how, first to China, to which it provided plans for its first atomic weapon, and more recently, it has simply allowed India to acquire an underwater nuclear component, technological assistance and engineering cooperation has helped to accelerate the process of this Indian force and, consequently, to increase the instability of the region against China and Pakistan. As for the United States, through the ‘Atom for Peace’ programme, it has disseminated a multitude of technologies and research reactors (including one to Iran in 1967), thus contributing to the dissemination of nuclear knowledge. Existing nuclear arsenals have not deterred other countries, some of them very poor, from developing their own nuclear arsenals. It is because the five nuclear-weapon States favour nuclear weapons as a guarantee of security and stature that proliferation finds its own justification and that this risk becomes a real threat. This makes nuclear weapons in the current strategic context, multipolar and polycentric, to become by itself, in an apparently paradoxical way, a major factor of proliferation and its presentation as the ultimate protection against false proliferation. To conclude, the arguments in favour of nuclear weapons seemed true during the Cold War, but with a constantly evolving, multipolar, Balkanized, interdependent and polycentric world, it is essential to review nuclear strategy at least as not the Holy Grail for States.

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