We need to talk about nukes

Mankind has the ability to destroy itself in two ways: climate change and nuclear weapons. This latter method provokes very little discussion these days, presumably because fashionable preoccupations like terrorism or the presidential elections take precedence. There should be much greater debate, in particular about news that the US is busy developing “precision” nuclear weapons and that there is a new nuclear arms race with Russia and China.

In the old days of East-West confrontation, there was rightly very considerable public concern about what nuclear weapons were being stockpiled and under what circumstances they might be used. There is, by contrast, almost no information about these new weapons, especially about their use doctrine: when and how would such weapons be deployed? This is not academic. A basic requirement of nuclear stability is that potential warring parties understand the red lines – when and how their opponents might use nuclear weapons against them. During the Cold War, there was such understanding, not least thanks to the extensive, informed and detailed public debate about things like the MX missile or the controversial deployment of so-called “theatre” nuclear weapons in the 1980’s: Russian SS-20’s, and US cruise and Pershing missiles. If potential protagonists are uncertain when nuclear weapons might be used against them, they may be tempted to use theirs first, pre-empting a devastating first strike.

The US has not explained why it needs “precision” nuclear bombs (surely a gross contradiction in terms in any case). Israel has not explained how it would use its nuclear arsenal. Neither have India or Pakistan published their nuclear doctrines. Thus is uncertainty created. Thus is the risk of war increased. This is irresponsible. It merits much greater public attention.


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