If the fiasco of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t enough to steer the world’s attention towards the damage that nuclear weapons could do and the scale of such damage, the 45 years that followed should have served that purpose. The Cold War between the US and erstwhile-USSR (a term that is widely borrowed to use for the tensions between America and China today) caused trouble for millions around the world with no certainty as to when peril would strike.
The 13-day long Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961 is of particular relevance in this context. It may be remembered that if not for one man’s rational decision in the last minute, there could have been a massive slaughter of lives, thus culminating the tensions that rose and fell during the period. It was a whole different meaning of ‘quarantine’ that people knew back then courtesy of Kennedy’s naval blockade. Years have passed, but, as politics has shown us, the lust for weapons has not dimmed. Conflicts mar bilateral and multilateral relations in the world today – those that began in the 20th century were dragged right into the new decades. The latest to have captured the news is the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno Karabakh.
Such escalations and unilateral assertions by individual players in the global order makes us question whether the theory of nuclear deterrence is sane or not. To be frank, it makes no sense at all – it’s flawed and when you cut down all the flowery diplomatic words surrounding this theory, you can see that it does not evade the possibility of mass murder. Three years since the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Prize for Peace, we’re still deliberating on the unavoidability of nuclear weapons. The theory of deterrence continues to occupy the prime position in defence policies across the globe without taking into consideration regional disparities and burgeoning confidence in the ‘other’s’ intention to not fire weapons first. This, of course, takes away the primary responsibility from one’s own side and provides an unnecessary ground for substantiation when ‘forced’ to retaliate.
Deterrence has not been the reason for preventing nuclear wars in all these years and merely relying on it would do nothing for the world. This blind upholding of nuclear deterrence narrows down to a factor called ‘luck’. If anything, rational actors in politics should know that luck or any other abstraction cannot be seen as a credible pilot for crucial policies or decisions. A stronger global framework for nuclear weapon control must be thought of and implemented. We should also begin thinking of reforms for multilateral institutions and how these institutions ought to be regarded by constituent members. The UN needs much strengthening to prevent its restriction to an advisory entity and its leadership can be more inclusive for better cooperation.
The future of security cannot be left to abstractions or irrational individuals – there must be a better pillar to keep wars away than a ‘No First Use’ policy.