Nuclear Weapons: Can They Be Made Obsolete?

25 Feb, 2013    ·   3824

Shubhra Chaturvedi discusses the criticality of adopting a rational paradigm to nuclear disarmament

Shubhra Chaturvedi
Shubhra Chaturvedi
Research Officer

As an aftermath of unintended proliferation, strategic exchanges have taken place for better, substantial and productive steps towards nuclear disarmament. The process of reflection on the political, economic, moral and defensive connotations of the possession of nuclear weapons is a consistent one. It is well accepted that nuclear weapons are highly destructive in nature. What then, are the reasons behind the failure of nuclear disarmament initiatives? Is strategic obsolescence feasible or attainable?

Is Strategic Obsolescence of Nuclear Weapons Possible?
There can be different reasons that eventually lead to the obsolescence of any category of weapons ranging from technical to functional, to planned or strategic ones. It is hard to imagine nuclear weapons as a part of any of the categories. Nuclear technology is much coveted and, for a majority of the states, is still under development; hence, technical obsolescence is out of question. The functional aspect does not apply to them since their use is not the reason for their possession.

The last category implying a strategic or planned way for obsolescence is highly unlikely, given that states would rarely abide with or follow such a strategy. Moreover, the problem of verification of the intentions and the abiding of the states would stay in that scenario as well. How then, does one see the establishment, if ever, of strategic obsolescence of nuclear weapons? The suggestion towards a conventional and economic parity as the way to make nuclear weapons obsolete, and expecting it to materialise, is perhaps a highly delusional way of looking at it. It is important to kill the rationale behind the possession and development of nuclear weapons. Can norms ensure that?

Effectiveness of Norms in the Nuclear Domain
Nuclear disarmament makes a consistent appearance in the foreign policies of several states. Iran and North Korea have ensured that the call for nuclear disarmament is taken seriously. It is precisely because of these states that, along with serious efforts towards arms reductions taken by the US, there is always a fraternity that believes that the outliers are the reasons to not go ahead with arms reductions. It is because of these states that the norms in favour of disarmament are questioned.

The problem is that the moral odium that exists in the realm of nuclear domain is detached from the possession of nuclear weapons because of the political status that they enjoy. The uniqueness of nuclear weapons and the taboo against them is that the experiential learning in one case has been enough to develop the taboo against the use. Yet the fear of use exists.

Need for Intervention?
The domain of nuclear weapons is full of rich grammar and complicated terminology. It is the realm of “high politics”. Yet in all the complicated exchange of technical terms, a basic lexicon is missing which could induce an understanding between states. In order to ensure the development of “international norms” one would have to imagine an international state as suggested by Andrew Hurrell in Kant and the Kantian paradigm in International Relations. However, the possibility of establishment and acceptance of such a state is not very likely. How then, can norms be put in place?

This is where civil society can be given more space in the diffusion of the belief towards an arms reduction at the least. Statements and policies advertised by statesmen have proven to be ineffective and have been found to be contradictory to the public opinion too, as in the case of Iran. Civil society, therefore, can work on three major aspects:

• It is important that the nuclear weapons should be delinked from the national prestige and status that they represent along with the political currency they possess.
• Civil society needs to play a major role in merging the moral aspect and the microeconomics that is threatened by the possession of nuclear weapons to reduce the pace at which states are moving towards them.
• It is necessary to spread awareness about the strong nuclear security measures in place and pressurise for better ways to overcome insecurities.

The taboo against nuclear weapons can only emerge when a strong belief driven by rationale against its use is initiated within the masses. In this regard, a rational approach to the obsolescence of nuclear weapons rather than their strategic obsolescence needs to be ensured.