Relevance of common nuclear deterrence and global peace

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Dr Rajkumar Singh

The proliferation of nuclear weapons technology to other great powers and later on to the Third World countries was a cause of concern for the US. In its view, to ensure its usefulness and to hinder that it should instead become a destroyer of mankind it was first of all necessary to prevent the secrets of the new weapon from falling into the wrong hands. From that time onwards, US policy has been guided by the premise that, in an anarchic world with expansionist and nuclear-armed enemies, there is no better way to preserve the peace than possessing a superior nuclear force – either in quantitative terms, as in the 1950s and 1960s, or in qualitative terms, as in the 1970s, 1980s and, 1990s.
Significance in Cold War: Successful nuclear deterrence turned out to be in cold war years 1945-1989. It was an exceptional period of stability in great power relations. While there have been many disputes since the war, neither power has had a grievance so essential as to make a world war whether nuclear or not. In fact, the cold war rivals were no longer deterred by the threat of nuclear retaliation of their opponent, but by the shared risk of a common danger they faced whenever they actively pursued their competition. They did not deter each other, they were jointly deterred by a force external to both. This force is best called common deterrence. It served as a functional equivalent to a monopoly of violence at the global level. The rivals were like siamese twins that die when they are separated. Consequently, beginning with the limited test ban and the hot-line agreement they became entangled in security co-operation with arms control. Even the term ‘cold war’ lost its meaning after the beginning of security co-operation but it was because the rivalry between them continued for political and economic advantage; for military superiority; for protection of allies and spheres of influence.
Mutual relationship of super powers: In the pre and post-cold war periods the United States of America responded favourably the Soviet preparations/changes that were taking place in the USSR. Ronald Regan, the then President of the US, gave hint about this in his presidential Press conference when said, ‘If it can be definitely established that they no longer are following the expansionary policy that was instituted in the Communist revolution, that their goal must be a one-world Communist State they might want to join the family of nations and join them with the idea of bringing about or establishing peace. As a result of the large measures, conditions began to change rapidly and dependence of Western security on nuclear weapons first eased. In 1989 the Soviet Union’s grip on Eastern European empires began to relax, and in 1990 the satellite nations had been freed. The Warsaw Pact dissolved. In 1990-91 the Soviet Union itself dissolved into constituent states. Russia itself was weakened and for all intents and purposes the nuclear confrontation of the cold war was now over.
Global change in nuclear perception: In the similar manners, the weapons that had been built up by the United States of America and Soviet Union during a later cold war period began to seem burdensome as tension eased. The Soviet Union was under especially severe economic pressure to reduce its arms expenditure and Gorbachev announced that he was going to do so unilaterally. His declaration made it harder for Western governments justify large sums for military machines. They began to consider that big armies are expensive, inconvenient and perhaps irrelevant in the present context. At first they both reduced cautiously but after the failure of Soviet hardline coup in August 1991 and ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty by the US Senate in 1992, both sides moved further to reduce arms. Even nuclear competition has become irrelevant after the demise of hegemonic rivalry. A common nuclear regime should, therefore, be formed for all relationships together based on the lessons and experience of the bipolar relations. The utility of nuclear weapons is decreasing not only in military terms, but also in political terms and depends largely upon the basic health of a country’s society and economy.
After its post-cold war ascendance to the status of the sole superpower, the US has been seeking to establish its right to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons by the use of force, if other forms of discouragement failed. It is trying hard gradually to mould international public opinion to accept that position. Today, the world is no longer bipolar, but there has not been a revival of multipolar great power rivalry; there is no power as yet to challenge the position of the United States. In the context of nuclear revolution, five powers possessed sophisticated facilities with second-strike capability. Mutual Assured Disagreement (MAD), and common deterrence now extend to all five of them despite their differences in strength. If common deterrence obtains between all the full nuclear power, a future ‘great war’ has an extremely small probability. Powers that would have become rivals in pre-nuclear times now have a strong common interest in forging a regime of nuclear deterrence, based on cooperation.
— The writer is Professor and Head, P G Department of Political Science, Bihar, India.