T.V. Paul has captured something both intangible and frustrating in debates over nuclear deterrence: the disconnect between strategic and moral thinking. Anyone who has worked on these issues is — or should be — struck by the almost casual way in which planners and strategists speak about the use of nuclear weapons, especially against small nuclear powers or even against non-nuclear states about to cross the nuclear threshold. It is not unusual to hear the use of five, ten, or twenty tactical nuclear weapons being mooted in various scenarios, or even to contemplate the employment of a small number of strategic strikes.
Tag: nuclear weapons
Jayita Sarkar’s generous though critical review of my article flags several aspects concerning its methodology and substance. These criticisms demand answers and I am happy to provide them.
Gaurav Kampani investigates a crucial research puzzle in nuclear proliferation literature, namely, the possible underpinnings of India’s slow weaponization process. Addressing the period 1989-1999, he argues that despite acquiring nuclear weapons in 1989-1990, New Delhi lacked the capability to “deliver them reliably or safely until 1994-95 or possibly 1996” (81). According to Kampani, it was internal secrecy that prevented India’s swift acquisition of operational nuclear capability. He underlines that the “hoarding and compartmentalization of information not only prevented India from coordinating the weapons development and weaponization programs efficiently, but also encouraged sequential decisionmaking” (82).
One of the perennial questions of the nuclear age is ‘How Much is Enough?’ In the late 1950’s, Admiral Arleigh Burke and the U.S. Navy argued that the American arsenal could be much smaller than the massive one that had been created over the course of the decade. The Navy position, which came to be known as one of ‘minimum’ or ‘finite’ deterrence, never prevailed during the Cold War; the American nuclear arsenal during the Cold War contained over 30,000 warheads by the late 1960’s. In his thoughtful and provocative new book, Tom Nichols argues that the time for the adoption of a minimum deterrent posture is now. Despite the large reductions in the American arsenal since the end of the Cold War, Nichols argues that further reductions in the size of that arsenal are long overdue. In his view, the 1550 warheads provided for by the ‘New Start’ treaty can and should be reduced much further.
In 2010 U.S. President Barack Obama stated that nuclear terrorism was “the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term”. The events of September 11, 2001 demonstrated the real risk of catastrophic terrorism. It also exacerbated existing fears that groups such as Al-Qaeda would be willing to detonate a nuclear device either on U.S. territory or American valuables abroad. It is one thing to hijack a plane and crash it into a building. It is quite another challenge to obtain a nuclear weapon or the materials needed to assemble a nuclear bomb. Unlike ‘conventional’ arms which proliferate much more easily in the international system, nuclear weapons are much harder to assemble or obtain; a terrorist group would need a state’s assistance to do this. This has raised the issue of terrorism as a technique – that a state might resort to nuclear attack by proxy against the United States and its allies in order to avoid attribution.