This paper focuses on : does having nuclear weapons prevent conventional war or international interventions?
Does having nuclear weapons prevent conventional war or international interventions?
There is a risk in aiming for total nuclear disarmament, because the loss of the barrier to conventional escalation will be ruinous
This month, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will open for signature at the United Nations. Signatories will promise never to “develop, test, produce, manufacture … possess or stockpile nuclear weapons”; never to transfer weapons to other parties nor to receive them; and never to “use or threaten to use nuclear weapons”. The treaty’s aims, if they could be universally effected, are noble. After all, the prospect of nations — including an international pariah like North Korea — facing off with their respective nuclear arsenals is horrific. Their renewed use in war would be catastrophic. But there is a risk in aiming for total nuclear disarmament, because deterring nuclear war isn’t their only legitimate use. Nuclear weapons also deter conventional war.
In recent decades, great powers have fought proxy wars, but since 1945, they have not come into direct armed conflict.
Through the Cold War, nuclear weapons kept the peace in Western Europe. Only once, during the Cuban missile crisis, did deterrence come close to breaking, but the then United States president, John F. Kennedy, and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and the rest of the world learned well.
India and Pakistan have skirmished in recent decades, but the realisation that a conflict could escalate to nuclear catastrophe has contributed to the rival nations eventually standing down. The probability that Israel has nuclear weapons is the ultimate guarantor of its existence.
Since the Soviet Union’s first atomic test in 1949, the existence of nuclear weapons in many hands has not only deterred the use of nuclear weapons, but also made nuclear possessors and their adversaries think carefully about the desirability of going to war at all. When conflict has broken out, the nuclear deterrent has limited war aims to those short of total destruction of adversary nations or regime change. That’s why North Korea has sought nuclear capability so fervently.