Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Role of Nuclear Weapons

In the Tannenwald reading he makes a claim that the use and even the existence of nuclear weapons has is taboo. Though these weapons are known to be in existence, it is not generally accepted into use by much of the world thus creating a sort of stigma about it. I gather from the reading that he is against nuclear weapons being put into use even as a deterrent. The simple fact that they are still considered an available weapon in arsenals is the primary reason that they have not been used since WWII. A situation of MAD is created with a semi-stable environment in which battles can be fought without much fear of the other side striking with a nuclear weapon. He also brings up that if deemed as illigal under international law, the nuclear weapons would be dismantled in all of the arsenals of the nuclear powers. I do not believe this to be the case. Due to the fact that it would be relatively easy for a state to secretly keep a few of their nuclear weapons, it would be impossible to totally relinquish the only real nuclear deterrent. "You bring a knife to a knife fight, but you still want your gun in case the other decides to pull out his".

Though these weapons are known and accepted as being different than conventional weapons due to their immense power, they should still always be ready to be used as a second-strike weapon, not a first strike weapon. However having the ability to keep them in the arsenal of available weapons gives the state a sense of protection against a first strike as well as an edge over the other state, who may not be a nuclear power by inciting fear in their troops, the government and the citizens of that state.

1 comment:

Dr. Duke Nukem said...

It's difficult to speak about nuclear weapons in an objective matter, but I believe Tannenwald's article is more about expanding on a particular aspect of nuclear weaponry than presenting her own "for or against" opinion. The particular issue addressed in her article is the nuclear taboo, which leads directly into an examination of who can affect whether or not nuclear weapons are used - regimes or the populace.

Depending on who has more influence in particular situations - the citizenry or the government, the nuclear or non-nuclear countries, the powerful or weak states - and considering what kind of massive role nuclear weapons play in international weapons, war and (surprise) national security, the issue of the nuclear taboo can have some powerful effects on the debate between realists and institutionalists. On page 7, Tannenwald highlights this very point: "The case of the nuclear taboo ['prohibiting first use of nuclear weapons'] is important theoretically because it challenges conventional views that international norms, especially in the security area, are created mainly by and for the powerful."

The point is, the article is less about changing the nuclear policy held by the US or another nations than it is about who can decide whether or not - or how - nations engage in certain types of conflict.

Ms. Tannenwald's beliefs aside, the article does have some interesting implications, such as those that you succesfully address in your post. For example, the question of whether or not the taboo really affects the use of nuclear weapons. Is it the nuclear taboo, or the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation that has prevented the use of nuclear weapons so far?

If/when a nuclear weapon is used in the future, there will be a nuclear retaliation. We (the US) still keep warheads and other nations still want them, and not just for coat racks and conversation pieces. A taboo is "you shouldn't", not "you can't". There is a taboo against genocide and murder, yet they occur. The moral component is not a moral imperative.

Most people - and here I make an assumption - are probably against their country's initiating a nuclear first-strike regardless of reasoning (self-preserving or moral). But what happens to this taboo once someone has crossed that line? What does it matter if a democratically-empowered world populace can impose a taboo on the first use of nuclear weapons? A nuclear taboo is, in essence, just a way of saying "We won't unless we have to." That's why, despite the growing prevalence of a nuclear taboo, there has not been a sufficient halt on nuclear proliferation. Check out this article on global nuclear stockpiles.

If the purpose of Tannenwald's article is to look at a certain aspect of the realist vs. institutionalist debate by means of an analysis of the nuclear taboo, then the conclusions are not so rosy. True, the nuclear taboo has helped to prevent the use of nuclear weapons since the conclusion of WWII. However, the simple fact that people mourn the deaths in Japan, that people consider the use of nuclear weapons as contrary to basic moral and ethical standards and that governments, ngo's and global citizens decry the very existence of nuclear weapons may not be sufficient to prevent nuclear warfare in the future. If that is the case, then the issue of the nuclear taboo does nothing to further the case of the opposition to realism.

A final question to consider, then, is whether or not proliferation actually contributes to the deterrent effect and hence helps ensure that there will be no outbreak of nuclear warfare. If so, then the taboo and institutional processes are vital. If not, then at best they've delayed a very nasty future, and at worst, they've contributed to the nuclear armament of enough dangerous states to guarantee a nasty future for all of us.