THE FALSE PROMISE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS: GREAT POWER OR SUBORDINATE ALLY?
THE FALSE PROMISE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
GREAT POWER OR SUBORDINATE ALLY?
Since the Second World War, nuclear weapons have been critical assets for the affi rmation and projection of national power. The end of the Cold War raised the profi le of second and third tier nuclear states as well as of those aspiring to acquire such weapons. Although India has been a de facto member of the nuclear club since 1998, this has only heightened the security challenge posed by Pakistan which has also acquired a nuclear offensive force while carrying out asymmetric warfare, thereby making Indian full scale retaliation risky. By partly accommodating India’s strategic ambitions, the US has bound New Delhi in a partnership directed mainly against China and Iran hoping also to conquer the vast Indian market for American goods and services. Moreover India is still blocked from joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group and has sacrifi ced some strategic autonomy to satisfy Washington’s requirements while remaining vulnerable to Pakistani and Chinese hostility. On balance the pursuit of a nuclear deterrent has brought more losses than gains.
Ever since human beings organised themselves into political communities, the phenomenon of power maximisation has run throughout history. The maxim holds true for modern nation-states as well, as throughout history they have been nudged in the direction of a “struggle for power”. As Hans Morgenthau (Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, New Delhi: Kalyani, 2010, p31) has written, “International politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power. Whatever the ultimate aims of international politics, power is always the immediate aim”. While the expression of power has changed over time its presence in material terms has remained intact—notwithstanding the post-structuralist variant of knowledge as power. In international relations theory scholarship, the notion of power has been understood as an “entity” intrinsic to tangible things such as the military, wealth and geography (Janice B Mattern, “The Concept of Power and the (Un)discipline of International
Relations” in Christian Reus-Smit and Duncan Snidal (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Relations, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, p692). Following from this conception, the study of international relations has developed into a discipline focussed on material resources and the states that control them remain methodologically preoccupied with tangible measures normatively complicit with militarisation and violence (ibid).
Given such materialist anchorage of the discipline coupled with its normative complacency towards military augmentation and violence, the evolution of nuclear weapons has received both reception and rebuke by scholars. Kenneth Waltz views the presence of nuclear weapons in the international security architecture as a necessary condition for peace.
“Deterrent strategies induce caution all around the world and thus reduce the incidence of war ... deterrent strategies lower the probability that wars will begin. If wars start nonetheless, deterrent strategies lower the probability that they will be carried very far” (Scott D Sagan and Kenneth N Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate, New York: WW Norton, 2013, p36).
Scott D Sagan (ibid, p46) however rejects the “rational nuclear deterrence” thesis of Waltz and avers that a tense situation might fail to impress upon a belligerent nuclear armed state the global ramifi cations of its actions leading to disastrous consequences of a nuclear confl agration. Viewing the presence of nuclear weapons from the vantage point of the global hegemon, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and William H Riker (“An Assessment of the Merits of Selective Nuclear Proliferation”, The Journal of Confl ict Resolution, vol26, no2, 1982, pp283–306) state that nuclear weapons correct the asymmetric distribution of power between
adversaries, which in turn limits the chances of war. Offensive realists like John J Mearsheimer (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York: WW Norton, 2014, p128) also repose immense faith in the deterrent capability of nuclear weapons. He is of the opinion that nuclear weapons are pioneering in a purely military sense, ostensibly because of their potential to cause unprecedented levels of destruction in a short period of time.