President Donald Trump stated in a Tweet that he would increase America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, which would violate treaties aimed to decrease the proliferation (spread) of weapons of mass destruction. This is a radical departure from US policy and is seen by many as a worrying return to the arms race of the Cold War. Currently the USA, Russia, Great Britain, France, Pakistan, India, China and Israel have nuclear weapons. North Korea has nuclear ambitions and Iran recently signed a deal to abandon their nuclear weapons programme. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is under significant pressure over the malfunction of a Trident missile in a recent weapons test. These are weapons of mass destruction that could end life on Earth but debatably the proliferation of nuclear weapons has helped prevent a Third World War. Do nuclear weapons have a place in the 21st century?
- Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) prevented the Cold War from becoming ‘hot’. Belligerent (angry) nations armed with nuclear weapons cannot attack each other because they risk being annihilated by nuclear war.
- Many more people have been killed in regular war than in nuclear attacks. Nuclear weapons have only been used twice, both by America against Japan in the Second World War. These attacks killed an estimated 226,000 people. However this attack arguably brought a swift end to the war which had already claimed 50 million lives.
- So long as only ‘responsible’ countries have nuclear weapons then the world is safe. We should focus on stopping other countries developing nuclear weapons instead of abolishing them entirely.
- The nuclear deterrent stops expansionist ambitions. Though many fear Putin’s Russia may seek to acquire more territory, they cannot attack a NATO country without risking nuclear war.
- The technology exists to make weapons of mass destruction. Like it or not some countries will seek to gain them so we must maintain our nuclear weapons to keep them in check.
- Nuclear war is indiscriminate and breaks the Geneva Convention. It does not target combatants and would kill countless civilians, animals. plants and the radiation would irreversibly ruin the planet. The living would envy the dead.
- Weapons of mass destruction have not ended war. Though there has not been a war between nuclear-armed countries there has still been war. In 2017 conflict rages in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, South Sudan, DR of Congo and the Central African Republic. Arguably nuclear weapons have just pushed war to poorer countries.
- Ineffective against terrorists. Terrorists do not represent countries so MAD does not work against them. In fact there is a danger that terrorists could get hold on these weapons and use them in attacks. This danger is acute in Pakistan which is struggling to contain several terrorist insurgencies.
- Human / technical error. There have been numerous occasions when we were on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Most notably with the Cuban Missile Crisis where the USA and USSR almost came to war. But there are lesser known occasions such as in 1983 when glitches in Russian radar systems almost triggered a nuclear counter-attack which would have ended life on Earth.
- Nuclear weapons and their systems are very expensive. For instance Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons programme costs around £35 billion. Think what the NHS, the education system or even Debate Mate could do with that money!