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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2965

Nuclear Deterrence: a meaningless short-cut to complacency?

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The short-lived supremacy enjoyed by the United States from 1945 to 1949, owing to its possession of nuclear weapons, was almost on a par with the caveman, who first invented a spear. As for the latter, the gratification came to an abrupt end, as soon as his rival invented a shield to keep the threat at bay.

In the same way, when the then Soviet Union developed its own nuclear arsenal, the US met its match, the polar opposite or as some call it, the mirror image, at the other end of the world and the vested interests coined the term, nuclear deterrence, in order to justify the combination of cost and danger that they pose to mankind, something that the masses were brainwashed to accept as an inevitable reality in the post-World-War-Two scenario.

Judging by what is going on in the Korean Peninsula, it is becoming glaringly obvious that the possession of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world does not seem to be a very good deterrent after all. Nor does it offer the hypothetical advantage that the country in question once envisioned.

The dwindling confrontational tone in the Team Trump in recent days, coupled with a policy-U-turn over the willingness of the administration to start direct talks with North Korea, shows that the new US administration is slowly understanding the gravity of the situation: North Korea is neither Iraq nor Libya; it’s not a place for a few Tomahawk game.

On one hand, the fact, the country in question shares its borders with two regional powers, does not make things easier for the US defence establishment. On the other hand, two of the US allies, South Korea and Japan, are open to direct retaliation in the event of a war breaking out, if Kim Jong-un sticks to his word, either by conventional means or some forms of weapons of mass destruction, despite the fact that it will bring the ruling dynasty to an end on an unceremonious note.




As the tension is mounting in the Korean peninsula in direct proportion to the distance covered by the US armada in that direction, China has been placed under immense pressure by the US to do more to rein in North Korea. China, on its part, says that its influence is limited, citing the fact that North Korea is a sovereign nation, while emphasizing that it wants to see the region free of thermonuclear weapons. Even during the recent emergency meeting at the UN Security Council, China reiterated its position.

Russia, which fell out with the Trump administration very badly recently, meanwhile appeared to be backing China’s position. The speed of at which the US conveyed the meeting shows the urgency that the formers sees to stop the crisis from escalating to a point of no return. Its hands, however, are tied behind the back, as two Veto-holding global powers do not see eye to eye with the US at present over this issue – and a few more as well.

In the most parts of the 19th century, the nuclear world was mainly bipolar – the US and the Soviet Union. In the 20st century, however, it is gradually becoming regional and even stateless, if terrorists get hold of the technology in order to make miniaturized devices that could cause maximum carnage in a limited area. The nuclear deterrence that the Big Powers often talk about, will be completely meaningless in the event of such a case.

The West made a cardinal mistake that only they are capable of making nuclear weapons as if the human ingenuity was a monopoly of a few, completely overlooking the historical evidence that shows otherwise. The history shows that a nothing could stop a nation led by a determined individual from acquiring what he wanted, despite repeated failures or even ridicules.

The potential for having nuclear weapons by Iran, North Korea or even Israel must be analysed in this context; neither the failures nor the threats would stop them in tracks. That’s why we are, unfortunately, where we shouldn’t be.

It was two refugees from Nazi Germany, both turned to be physicists, who wrote the first pamphlet on nuclear weapons, their potential to cause havoc and the impact on a region or a country at the receiving end for years to come, after arriving in Britain. Since the two men in question ended up in the West, the nuclear phenomenon originated from it. On the other hand, if the pair ended up in the East, things would have been the polar opposite, exposing us to a whole, new world.

Deterrence, when it comes to defence, exists in the natural world too. The pioneers of the Theory of Evolution saw far beyond what we see in toxins, stings, smells and spines in a potential prey and the corresponding counter-mechanisms in the predators. Those who witness the proverbial fight between a cobra and a mongoose in the tropics have seen the emergence of a Darwinian evaluation through a macabre fight.

The lesson that we can learn from the natural world, however, is not very encouraging for those who hoard nuclear weapons as deterrence. Because, the tentacles of deterrence – and counter-measures – according to the Theory of Evolution, has been co-evolving since time immemorial.

In short, nuclear deterrence is just a short-cut to complacency, which could be pretty meaningless in the long run.

- Asian Tribune -

Nuclear Deterrence:  a meaningless short-cut to complacency?
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