Boys and their nuclear toys

Current debates on the renewal of the UK’s Trident Programme have seen the main political parties scrutinise the cost and security relevance of the UK’s nuclear capabilities.  It does seem that Trident is here to stay after prominent voices believe that the UK must maintain nuclear strike capabilities in order to protect the UK’s standing in the international system.  The Trident debate seems to have failed to open a wider debate on the whole idea of nuclear weapons in the first place and whether or not we should have outgrown them by now.

Nuclear weapons are ultimately the ultimate expression of an international system built upon an insecure sense of masculinity.  The first use of nuclear weapons against a population saw the deaths of an estimated 225,000 people and numerous illnesses and defects followed.  This level of suffering was inflicted with the aim of ending a war.  After this use nuclear weapons were used as deterrents during the Cold War as the US and USSR stood opposite each other flexing like two drunks outside a nightclub daring the other to throw the first punch.

Attempts have been made to dress nuclear weaponry up in theoretical niceties and so justify their existence.  Kenneth Waltz’s structural realism gives use deterrence theory which relies on the idea of mutually assured destruction in the event of a nuclear war, the threat of nuclear war is theoretically enough to prevent it.  Essentially, we’ll all hold a gun to someone else’s head and hope that no one is stupid enough to start shooting.  To its credit, this theory seems to be holding true and nuclear states having been going to war with one another, but subscribing to this theory seems to ignore the dangers that the very existence of nuclear weapons present to everyone and more of an effort should be made to move towards more disarmament based policy.

The idea that in order to feel secure a state has to possess a weapon capable of disseminating environments and eradicating entire cities is so profoundly infantile that it can only be employed and thoroughly believed an insecure masculine figure wanting to show how tough they are by letting everyone around them know that they could kill them if they wanted to.  Looking favourably at nuclear weapons could mean you are a psychopath that would welcome a nuclear winter following a brutal nuclear war, or have the mentality of an especially immature 4 year old who wants to prove he’s one of the toughest kids on the playground with the biggest stick.

Deterrence and the notion of mutually assured destruction at the hands of nuclear weapons seems a bizarre way of achieving peace.  Relying on the hope that no one is stupid enough to begin nuclear Armageddon has the massive pitfall as there lays the potential for nuclear Armageddon, and there won’t be much coming back from that.  In an international system that produces leaders like George W. Bush, I think I can be forgiven for feeling uneasy with the sort of person that can hover their finger over the big red button.  More effort should be made to pressure moves towards disarmament rather than expensive renewals and maintenance of nuclear weaponry and continuing to dare each other into starting a nuclear war.  Realisation of the infantile nature of nuclear weapons is essential, and it will hopefully be achieved by this form of international big dick-ery  has a chance to spill over.