The Spread of Nuclear Weapons A Debate

This book is structured as a debate between the authors on the subject of nuclear proliferation. Waltz “argues that because nuclear weapons ‘will never the less spread,’ the end result will be stabilizing. His main point is that ‘nuclear weapons make wars hard to start’ and that even radical states will act like rational ones because of the mutually deterrent effort of nuclear weapons. Sagan . . . fears the worst because of ‘inherent limits in organizational reliability. He contends that the parochial interests of professional military leaders in emerging nuclear states, who will tend to see war as ‘inevitable’ and skeptically view any nonmilitary alternatives, will lead to deterrence failures or accidental war. In addition, Sagan argues these states will probably lack ‘positive mechanisms of civilian control’ to restrain militant tendencies.”

Because nuclear weapons are so much more powerful than any armaments previously known, their introduction at the end of World War II required a rethinking of strategic principles. State A seeks to prevent state B from attacking, by threatening to respond forcefully to attack and inflicting retribution on B. If B takes the threat seriously and refrains from attacking, A’s deterrence policy has succeeded. Nuclear weapons lend themselves particularly well to deterrence because they can impose tremendous damage on an enemy. Deterrence thus became the principal–indeed, they have argued, the purpose that nuclear weapons serve. In my opinion, Sagan is right. We should worry about the spread of nuclear weapons.

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Both the United States and the USSR achieved an assured destruction capacity by the 1960s. As a result, Waltz believed that all the countries should have nuclear weapons. No matter who start the war, the world will be destroyed. Why not add more members to join the club? She said that ¡§spread¡¨ rather than ¡¨proliferation¡¨. Someday the world will be populated by fifteen or eighteen nuclear-weapon states. What the further spread of nuclear weapons will do the world is therefore a compelling question.

According to the Times Newspaper, The United States secretly deployed thousands of nuclear weapons in 27 countries at the height of the Cold War, in some cases without even the knowledge of the governments involved.1 This issue remained me that Waltz¡¦s point: It is better to have more countries that own the nuclear weapons than just few powerful countries. However, Waltz¡¦s point of view is not a major thought of the issue of nuclear weapon. Almost the entire southern hemisphere is now covered by nuclear-weapon-free zones. The ones in Latin America and the South Pacific were established during the Cold War, those in Southeast Asia and Africa after its ending. Zones have also been proposed, so far without success, for the Middle East, South Asia and Northeast Asia.2 In fact, the nuclear power is extremely diseqilibrium in the world, and I believe it is almost impossible for most of the countries to have nuclear power.

In a large-scale nuclear war, each side would suffer such catastrophic destruction that neither could regard the outcome as a victory. To provide any chance for meaningful victory, a nuclear war would therefore have to be severely limited. But the prospects for controlling a nuclear war are at best uncertain. “Despite a steep draw down in U.S. and Russian nuclear forces in the years after 1991, both the United States and Russia continue to maintain large arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons poised for immediate launch. Under the most optimistic projections, these arsenals will remain large and launch-ready for decades.3 This is the point that Sagan talked about. More nuclear weapons will only product more damage. It is very difficult to control those destructive weapons.

As a practical matter the task of defense against large-scale nuclear attack is difficult, perhaps impossible, when each side has thousands of weapons that can be launched from different directions, at different speeds, and with decoys to confuse the defense. To stop all of them is unlikely, and, if only one penetrated a defensive system, it could cause catastrophic damage.

In United States, public boredom with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would prohibit all nuclear test explosions worldwide, is depressing but comprehensible. After all, the cold war is over. The problem is that Senate Republicans don’t recognize that fact, and they are playing with fire in the messy new 21st-century world. The debate over the treaty, first proposed by President Eisenhower and signed in 1996, tells us plenty about the rejection of the whole idea of diplomacy in favor of a new, highly partisan obtuseness in American foreign policy.4

The U.S. Senate’s recent rejection of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was a huge disappointment to many Americans. The U.S.’s allies and friends responded to this vote with universal shock. The situation in the U.S. seems worse, even the cold war is over. Several times in recent months in Russian, President Boris Yeltsin and other Russian leaders have warned about the dangers of a world war or reminded Washington that Moscow still has a huge nuclear arsenal. The warnings have accompanied recent disputes over Chechnya, Kosovo and Iraq.5 Despite regular disagreements, U.S. and Russian officials want to maintain their stable, if sometimes acrimonious relations.

Russian and U.S. not only compete to each other and maintain their stable but also prevent other countries to develop nuclear weapons. For example, nuclear physicist Wen Ho Lee, a central figure in the government’s Chinese espionage investigation at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was arrested yesterday in New Mexico and charged with 59 counts of mishandling classified information and violating secrecy provisions of the Atomic Energy Act. His arrest came after a federal grand jury issued a far-reaching indictment that charged Lee with downloading vast quantities of highly sensitive information related to the design, construction and testing of nuclear weapons from a classified computing network at Los Alamos to his unsecured office computer and to 10 portable tapes, seven of which are missing.6 The case is being prosecuted because Wen Ho Lee has denied the United States its exclusive dominion and control over some of this nation’s most sensitive nuclear secrets. In Asia the CTBT would make it harder for North Korea to advance a nuclear-weapons program or for China to develop the technology required to place multiple warheads atop a single mobile missile. The congressional committee investigating potential Chinese espionage concluded that it would be more difficult for Beijing to exploit secrets it may have acquired from the U.S. if it can’t conduct nuclear tests. By the way, this situation is what Sagan wrote about: the powerful countries with nuclear weapons will try to control forever, and this should be obstructed.

While the U.S. military provides an overwhelming deterrent to any rational adversary, we must also worry about how to deal with potential threats from sources that are not rational. And it is against these dangers that the Administration is developing and testing a limited NMD system, with a decision on deployment possible as early as next summer. This decision will be based on our overall security interests and will take into account cost, threat, technological feasibility and effects on arms control.7 This pointed out that nuclear proliferation is producing some bad effect to the U.S and also the world. Like Sagan said that not only nonproliferation is necessarily but also the powerful countries should reduce their nuclear weapons.

China wants to be a world power on a par with the U.S. This country¡¦s strategic nuclear arsenal is 300 times as small as that of the U.S. The entire arsenal packs about as much explosive power as what the U.S. stuffs into one Trident submarine. The process began in the early 1990s, at the very top of the armed forces, when politicians pushed the military to streamline its command-and-control structure.8 More than a year after U.N. arms inspectors left Iraq, the issue of whether Saddam Hussein has used the time to rebuild his weapons program is vexing U.S. policy makers and stirring debate on the campaign trail. The Security Council is struggling to forge a new policy that would allow the inspectors to return, but its members remain divided on the sanctions. It agreed to a series of short extensions of the oil-for-food program, which lets Iraq to bypass sanctions and sell oil to buy food and humanitarian goods.9 If those powerful countries don¡¦t reduce the nuclear weapons, the other countries will not feel securely. It will produce a vicious circle. Obviously, the real international competitions are not like Waltz¡¦s thought. The more countries have nuclear power the more this world is in dangerous.

After World War II ended in 1945, considerable support again developed for arms control and for alternatives to military conflict in international relations. The United Nations Charter was designed to permit a supranational agency to enforce peace, avoiding many of the weaknesses of the League of Nations covenant.

After the carnage of World War I, the international climate was more receptive to the idea of arms control. During the years between the two world wars, many formal arms-control conferences were held and many treaties were drawn up. One of the most important agreements on arms control was the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968. Signatories pledged to restrict the development, deployment, and testing of nuclear weapons to ensure that weapons, materials, or technology would not be transferred outside the five countries that had nuclear weapons. Sagan¡¦ idea obviously is the trunk stream, which the whole world have worked on it.

Perhaps the most pressing nuclear problem since the ending of the cold war is that of nuclear proliferation. It has become increasingly difficult to prevent advanced Third World states from developing nuclear weapons if they desire them. Attempts to police the use of nuclear technologies and fuels through inspections and controls imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency have been useful in slowing proliferation, but in the end nonproliferation is likely to rest on political judgments–for example, can a nation adequately protect its security without nuclear weapons? Will the political costs of acquiring them be prohibitive?10

The difficult nonproliferation challenge in the future is not to ensure that the U.S. government and people are opposed to the further proliferation of nuclear weapons. In deed, it is not difficult to understand why a large nuclear state, with the most powerful conventional forces in the world, would want to limit severely the spread of nuclear weapons to other states in the international system.

The real challenge is to create a future in which the government leaders, the organizations under them, and the citizens of nonnuclear states around the globe believe that it is in their interests to remain nonuclear states.11

The awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons clearly increase the cost of war, and a statesman¡¦s awareness of this basic fact can be, in theory at least, a positive force for peace. But nuclear weapons are not controlled by states or statesmen; they are controlled by organization. These organizations, like all complex organization, will inevitably have biases and parochial interests, will by necessity develop routines and standardized procedures, and will occasionally make serious operational errors. The military¡¦s biases in favor of preventive war, common organizational problems in producing survivable forces, and inevitable imperfections in the safety of alert nuclear arsenals produced very serious problems for the superpowers during the cold war. These kinds of problems are likely to reemerge, sometimes quietly and sometimes with a vengeance, in new nuclear nations. Nuclear weapons do not produce perfect nuclear organizations; they only make their inevitable mistakes more deadly. Because of the inherent limits of organizational reliability, the spread of nuclear weapons is more to be feared than welcomed.


Ben Macintyre, ¡§US had secret nuclear arsenal in 27 countries,¡¨ Times Newspaper, October 21 1999

Ramesh Chandra Thakur, Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone. St. Martin’s Press, Inc, 1998

Bruce G. Blair, The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and de-Alerting of Nuclear Weapons. Brookings Institution Press, 1999

Jonathan Alter, ¡§Playing Politics With the Bomb- Rejecting the test-ban treaty would be a green light for ambitious regimes everywhere,¡¨ Newsweek October 1999

Barry Renfrew, ¡§No New Cold War Appears Imminent,¡¨ Associated Press 13 December 1999

Vernon Lobe and David A. Vise, ¡§Physicist Is Indicted In Nuclear Spy Probe-Wen Ho Lee Accused Of Mishandling Secrets,¡¨ Washington Post 11 December 1999

Madeleine Albright, ¡§A Call for American Consensus,¡¨ TIME magazine 22 November 1999 Vol. 154 NO. 21

Frank Gibney JR. ¡§Birth of a Superpower,¡¨ TIME magazine 7 June 1999 Vol. 153 NO.22

Tom Raum, ¡§Questions Remain About Iraq Weapons,¡¨ Associated Press 8 December 1999

Peter D. Feaver, Guarding the Guardians: Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons in the United States. Cornell University Press 1992

Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons- A Debate. W. W. Norton & Company, 1995

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The Spread of Nuclear Weapons A Debate. (2018, Aug 27). Retrieved from