Why the US Ought to Denuclearize

Opinion Essay By Matthew Nakamura

The 1983 American film “War Games” told the fictional story of a young man who stumbled onto confidential government activity involving nuclear weapons. This blockbuster rode the coattail of the Cold War frenzy, where millions of Americans experienced the fear of an arms race with the Soviet Union.

It ended with a clear and dramatic explanation of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction. This theory of nuclear deterrence states that simply owning nuclear arsenals will deter other nations from launching nuclear attacks. This is because those other nations will fear retaliation.

Many accepted the idea of MAD during and after the Cold War; recently, however, a large number of people are beginning to call into question America’s policy of nuclear deterrence. They have put forth both ethical and practical considerations; the time for ignoring them is long overdue.

Ethical Considerations

First off, it is true that our plethora of nuclear arsenals makes us feel safe as a country. “They will have to think twice about attacking us if we can get them back,” we think to ourselves. But it is here we forget to stop and think about what exactly a policy of MAD actually entails.

First, we are embracing a policy of threatening mass murder. Influential philosopher Michael Walzer articulates this problem using the analogy of domestic policies toward murder.

“It is as if the state should seek to prevent murder by threatening to kill the family and friends of every murderer – a domestic version of the policy of massive retaliation. Surely that would be a repugnant policy.”

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars

We are too quick to forget the intense destruction that nuclear attacks require.

Weapons of mass destruction kill indiscriminately. They do so by design. Embracing MAD means we are threatening to murder millions of innocent civilians that never had a say in their nation’s military operations.

Secondly, the theory of nuclear deterrence is founded on a fundamental mistrust of foreign nations. Specifically, we perpetuate suspicion toward countries that we have historically characterized as enemy states. As the U.S., we spread this notion that we would never use weapons of mass destruction; yet we will keep them around in case they decide to attack us.

Such blatant jingoism is reminiscent of the beginning of World War I; framing countries like China and Russia as immoral threats that will destroy us as soon as we drop our guard certainly hasn’t done much for future relations with the global superpowers. The government is stuck in this cycle of fear that has justified MAD for decades.

Practical Considerations:

Nuclear War?

The first problem is the increasingly possible consequences of nuclear warfare. For decades, no one thought nuclear weapons would really find their way onto the battlefield. But advancing technology has opened doors that should never have been found.

“…the U.S. in particular has been moving toward smaller and more accurate nuclear weapons, especially suitable for tactical, battlefield use. …but the more usable they are, the more liable they are to actually be used. Add to this the fact that every war game scenario shows that such use inevitably escalates to all-out nuclear war.”

David P. Barash Ph.D., Psychology Today

America is playing a dangerous game with the blurred lines of nuclear power, one that ought to be left alone for everyone’s sake.

Nuclear Proliferation

The second problem is one of nuclear proliferation. We must consider the total count of nuclear weapons in the world. The United States has an opportunity to lead by example, rather than merely talking; and this is the only way global denuclearization might one day be achieved.

Nuclear expert Zia Man explains that reframing weapons of mass destruction as “a crime against humanity” would take nuclear arsenals away from questions of national security. In the same academic paper, Perkovich and Acton elaborate further,

“…disarmament strengthens the willingness of mainstream states to cooperate in enforcing the treaty against proliferators….Rather than the current situation in which nuclear-armed states try to enforce a regime based on a double standard, the abolition framework could mobilize a “global campaign to exert moral, political, economic, and even military pressure against the few holdouts….”

George Perkovich and James Acton, Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: A Debate

A future world where superpowers work together to keep nuclear arsenals out of the global order is possible. There is a solution to the threat of nuclear proliferation among extremist groups and militant dictators. But nothing will change while the cycle of fear continues. America must extend the olive branch first.

Unless the United States steps up to change things for themselves, the world will continue to live under the possibility of nuclear warfare.

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