It has come to light that the U.N. is to begin discussions on unilateral nuclear disarmament, in a move that has shocked many within the international status quo. It is easy to understand why non-nuclear nations should wish to rid the world of the apocalyptic powers that others can wield, but it is equally to be expected that they should not demonstrate the perspective that has allowed for the current proliferation.
Deterrence by the threat of nuclear annihilation is merely the latest form of securing world peace through threat of arms – the overwhelming power of the Royal Navy served this purpose in the century between the fall of Napoleon and the Great War, whilst various military powers had likewise prevented large-scale wars by their power in the time beforehand.
It is an uncomfortable thought for many that peace should be maintained by the threat of violence, but it is an unfortunate truth that this has long proven the best means to deter those who would achieve their ends at the expense of their neighbours. As Churchill once said, ‘We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm’. Arms have proven throughout time to be the surest means to prevent bloodshed, and nuclear weapons stand as merely the latest iteration of this trend.
It would be possible to maintain peace in a world without nuclear weapons, as strong military forces were able to do before their advent, but th enuclear genie has been released from the bottle at this stage. Were many nations to agree to this idea and begin their disarmament, there would be no guarantee that all would do so, and those obeying the treaty would suddenly find themselves at an enormous strategic disadvantage – unable to safely compel the rogue state to disarm alongside them, and unable to rearm lest that be taken as provocation.
The unfortunate truth is that nuclear weapons have prevented an all-out war from erupting for almost 80 years; despite the dangers of the Cold War, cool heads prevailed. It was understood that only by seeming ready to do the unthinkable could it be deterred. The recent crises in world security, particularly those caused by Russia, are a result of a Western world that has forgotten the importance of the credibility of defence. A weakened conventional military likewise weakens the nuclear arm, as the last resort becomes increasingly relied in as the first response, and this has been taken advantage of. For nuclear deterrence to work, one must seem willing to launch an attack.
The aftermath of the Cold War has seen many forget the importance of nuclear arms in maintaining peace, and whilst their use should well appear abhorrent, their exsitence is the primary tool in the prevention of further global conflict. A readiness for war in all forms is the primary tool in deterring aggression, and the U.N. would do well to remember that good intentions alone are not enough to prevent the worst excesses of human ambition.
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