Will Nuclear Weapons Become Obsolete?

I just read Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons by Ward Wilson. Nuclear weapons have been on the minds of many lately. Several of my friends worry about Trump and his ability to use nuclear weapons and the breakout of a war with North Korea. So I decided to break through some of the myths surrounding nuclear weapons by reading this book. There are five major myths about nuclear weapons, which I shall discuss.

Myth One: Nuclear weapons shock and awe opponents. According to this myth, Japan surrendered due to the bombing in Hiroshima. The theory goes, in the popular imagination, that the bombing was so shocking that the Japanese simply had to surrender. However, this myth does not take into account various evidence that Japan wasn’t ready to surrender until the Soviets decided to enter the war, among other evidence.

Myth Two: The H-Bomb quantum leap. On this myth, the H-Bomb is imagined to be a thousand times bigger than than the bomb used in Hiroshima. However, this “thousand times bigger” is measured in yield–not in the measure of destruction. If one were to measure the destruction, it would be about 5.5% bigger.

Myth Three: Nuclear deterrence works in a crisis. On this myth, nuclear deterrence works, especially in a crisis. However, this does not take into account things like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Gulf War.

Myth Four: Nuclear weapons keep us safe. On this myth, the “long peace” we have had globally is due to nuclear weapons. This myth overlooks other factors that may play a role in keeping the peace between nations, such as distraction with other issues, closer economic ties, alliances and international treaties. Finally, it misses the fact that sometimes there are simply periods of peace and have been throughout history. So, this period of peace cannot be attributed to nuclear weapons.

Myth Five: There is no alternative. On this myth, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle. Even if we do not like nuclear weapons, the theory goes, we can’t simply unmake them. This myth misses the point that there are many inventions that never catch on and/or become obsolete.

Wilson concludes that we should do more serious thinking about nuclear weapons. I agree. And since I read this book, I have done some thinking. My current view is that war, if it should continue, should become much more like a game of chess, where one strategically targets the enemy’s military–not civilian populations. Not only is it wrong to target civilians, history shows it’s ineffective. There’s no reason why civilians, then, should be fodder to militaristic games. It won’t make your enemy surrender.

My thinking is that weapons that merely produce destruction are ineffective when it comes to military strategy. Thus, nuclear weapons will prove useful only if they have strategic value. If they do not have such value, they may indeed become obsolete.

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