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Are nuclear weapons a deterrent?

Are nuclear weapons a deterrent?

  • Yes

    Votes: 38 74.5%
  • No

    Votes: 4 7.8%
  • Maybe

    Votes: 7 13.7%
  • Other

    Votes: 2 3.9%

  • Total voters
    51

ThePlayDrive

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Are nuclear weapons a deterrent?

It has been said by many that the primary reason the Soviets never used nuclear weapons on us is because they knew we had them too, and would use them on them in retaliation. May be a tad simplistic, kind of a 'nutshell' description, but I think there is merit to that point-of-view.

We often try to keep other smaller nations from getting nuclear weapons. The stated rationale has been what they might do with them against their neighbors. There might be a grain of truth to that, but I suspect that the real reason we don't want them to have nuclear weapons is because we don't want them to use them against us should we decide to attack them.
First, it's nearly impossible to say with 100% certainty that they are a deterrent because it's nearly impossible to know with 100% certainty why nations act or restrain themselves. Consequently, nuclear deterrence theory, like much of IR theory, is based in an understanding of humanity and in applying that understanding to the international system.

Second, yes, I think nuclear weapons are a deterrent. However, they are not a deterrent in the sense that they make a nuclear power immune to physical attack or other forms of aggression. While it may create such immunity in some cases, the real power of nuclear weapons is in their ability to deter states from escalating conflicts, particularly in ways that would engage states in another world war. Nobody rational is going to use nuclear weapons in any situation other than desperation which is why nukes don't make nuclear powers immune to aggression. However, everybody rational is going to stop themselves from pushing a nuclear power in a corner. So if you don't want people to try to overthrow your government or ignite a regional/world war, then you want nukes.
 

StillBallin75

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First, it's nearly impossible to say with 100% certainty that they are a deterrent because it's nearly impossible to know with 100% certainty why nations act or restrain themselves. Consequently, nuclear deterrence theory, like much of IR theory, is based in an understanding of humanity and in applying that understanding to the international system.

Second, yes, I think nuclear weapons are a deterrent. However, they are not a deterrent in the sense that they make a nuclear power immune to physical attack or other forms of aggression. While it may create such immunity in some cases, the real power of nuclear weapons is in their ability to deter states from escalating conflicts, particularly in ways that would engage states in another world war. Nobody rational is going to use nuclear weapons in any situation other than desperation which is why nukes don't make nuclear powers immune to aggression. However, everybody rational is going to stop themselves from pushing a nuclear power in a corner. So if you don't want people to try to overthrow your government or ignite a regional/world war, then you want nukes.

Couldn't have put it better myself. A bit of a throwback to my IR class.
 

MarineTpartier

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Even if China could beat us militarily (just saying for the sake of conversation), they are so tied to our best interests economically that they'd lose as well. Something tells me they know this.

Great point, wish I'd have made it lol.
 

Luna Tick

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They were a deterrent with the Soviets and with us because both sides simply had too much to lose if the weapons were used. Both sides, despite their differences, were reasonable enough to know that it would be madness to use even one of those weapons. The scary thing is if such a weapon falls into the hands of someone who is mad and doesn't understand the consequences or doesn't care.
 

stsburns

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All I have to say is this. An empty gun, never shoots.
 

ThePlayDrive

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They were a deterrent with the Soviets and with us because both sides simply had too much to lose if the weapons were used. Both sides, despite their differences, were reasonable enough to know that it would be madness to use even one of those weapons. The scary thing is if such a weapon falls into the hands of someone who is mad and doesn't understand the consequences or doesn't care.
I'm not sure how much of a problem this actually is. A well-known IR theorist, Stephen Walt, made an interesting point once that 'mad' leaders are still surrounded by people who aren't crazy who would stop them if they wanted to irrationally unleash nuclear weapons.
 

MarineTpartier

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I'm not sure how much of a problem this actually is. A well-known IR theorist, Stephen Walt, made an interesting point once that 'mad' leaders are still surrounded by people who aren't crazy who would stop them if they wanted to irrationally unleash nuclear weapons.

Yeah, thats true. Kinda like a mad leader who wanted to genocide an entire race of people because they weren't Aryan. Or a mad leader that dropped nerve gas on an entire city in his own country. Someone was there to stop those guys too. Great theory by Mr Walt. What an idiot!
 

LaughAtTheWorld

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Ask North Korea. The deterrent factor has certainly worked for them. You may not agree with Iran if they are seeking to produce nuclear arms, but you cannot deny their reasoning for doing so.

It's not their nukes, it's their artillery that threatens 20+ million people that makes a war impossible
 

LaughAtTheWorld

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I'm not sure how much of a problem this actually is. A well-known IR theorist, Stephen Walt, made an interesting point once that 'mad' leaders are still surrounded by people who aren't crazy who would stop them if they wanted to irrationally unleash nuclear weapons.

Red Storm Rising also includes that aspect, though I didn't focus much on it. Interesting theory
 

LaughAtTheWorld

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I understand people's concerns with potentially mad governments and such, but I have to call anybody who thinks nuclear war is possible now legally insane
 

ThePlayDrive

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Yeah, thats true. Kinda like a mad leader who wanted to genocide an entire race of people because they weren't Aryan. Or a mad leader that dropped nerve gas on an entire city in his own country. Someone was there to stop those guys too. Great theory by Mr Walt. What an idiot!
He's talking about nuclear weapons not genocide. In other words, his theory does not make any claims about what those around a "crazy person" would do when it comes to genocide. Let me explain why a theory about nuclear weapons does not apply to a theory about genocide: Genocide puts a segment of society at stake. Nuclear war puts the entire nation at stake and perhaps an entire region or the world. Higher stakes equals more caution.

When a theory is specifically about nuclear weapons and the specific implications that come with it, bringing up genocide doesn't do anything to the theory. It's just a red herring.
 

EagleAye

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He's talking about nuclear weapons not genocide. In other words, his theory does not make any claims about what those around a "crazy person" would do when it comes to genocide. Let me explain why a theory about nuclear weapons does not apply to a theory about genocide: Genocide puts a segment of society at stake. Nuclear war puts the entire nation at stake and perhaps an entire region or the world. Higher stakes equals more caution.

When a theory is specifically about nuclear weapons and the specific implications that come with it, bringing up genocide doesn't do anything to the theory. It's just a red herring.

It's more about doing stupid things. Committing genocide and using nukes offensively are stupid things. Doing either will incur the wrath of the rest of the world and cause far more problems than it solves. Mostly likely either one will result in the beheading of the leadership (figuratively or literally).
 

radcen

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I'm not sure how much of a problem this actually is. A well-known IR theorist, Stephen Walt, made an interesting point once that 'mad' leaders are still surrounded by people who aren't crazy who would stop them if they wanted to irrationally unleash nuclear weapons.
So, basically that tool of a terrorist in True Lies wouldn't be likely to actually happen.
 

MarineTpartier

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He's talking about nuclear weapons not genocide. In other words, his theory does not make any claims about what those around a "crazy person" would do when it comes to genocide. Let me explain why a theory about nuclear weapons does not apply to a theory about genocide: Genocide puts a segment of society at stake. Nuclear war puts the entire nation at stake and perhaps an entire region or the world. Higher stakes equals more caution.

When a theory is specifically about nuclear weapons and the specific implications that come with it, bringing up genocide doesn't do anything to the theory. It's just a red herring.

I beg to differ. When the nuclear weapon will be used as a tool of genocide, such as the scenario Iran speaks of where they nuke Israel in order to wipe them off the face of the earth, I believe its pretty relavent. In addition, which takes more hate and insanity? Allowing the murder, torture, slavery, and starvation of a people for many years or the split second decision to push a button? The first is much more calculating and takes a level of sickness and evil rarely seen. The second can be done in a flash of anger, without much foresight, and then regretted (maybe). I would bank on a split second of anger being much more easily accomplished than a few years of sickness. The scary thing is, the first one happens a lot. The second is just a matter of us and other nuclearly responsible nations flinching when Iran tries to flew its muscle. All it will take is a few years of us balking at taking the capability from Iran before the above scenario is a reality.
 

ThePlayDrive

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It's more about doing stupid things. Committing genocide and using nukes offensively are stupid things. Doing either will incur the wrath of the rest of the world and cause far more problems than it solves. Mostly likely either one will result in the beheading of the leadership (figuratively or literally).
A lot of things are stupid. Not allowing democracy is stupid. But there are levels of stupid. Committing genocide is a high level of stupid, but it's not a guaranteed suicide mission. Many governments who have committed genocide have stayed in power. The United States attacked Hitler, not because of genocide, but because of his attempt to pretty much conquer Europe. So while genocide causes more problems than it solves, it does not at all put a nation at risk even close to the level that using a nuclear weapon on another state would put them. That's why his theory is about nukes and not anything else. Nukes are completely different ball game.
 

ThePlayDrive

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So, basically that tool of a terrorist in True Lies wouldn't be likely to actually happen.
Ha! Never seen it - can't stand Schwarzenegger, but I guess so.
 

ThePlayDrive

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I beg to differ. When the nuclear weapon will be used as a tool of genocide, such as the scenario Iran speaks of where they nuke Israel in order to wipe them off the face of the earth, I believe its pretty relavent.
Okay, but now you're talking about attacking another state and not intra-state genocide which was the subject of your other examples. Your examples of genocide that I addressed are not relevant to Walt's argument because Walt's argument is specifically about the implications of nuclear weapons and how states use them against each other.

In addition, which takes more hate and insanity? Allowing the murder, torture, slavery, and starvation of a people for many years or the split second decision to push a button? The first is much more calculating and takes a level of sickness and evil rarely seen. The second can be done in a flash of anger, without much foresight, and then regretted (maybe). I would bank on a split second of anger being much more easily accomplished than a few years of sickness. The scary thing is, the first one happens a lot. The second is just a matter of us and other nuclearly responsible nations flinching when Iran tries to flew its muscle. All it will take is a few years of us balking at taking the capability from Iran before the above scenario is a reality.
When IR theorists talk about "rational" vs "crazy", they are talking about "people who are interested in staying alive" vs "people who don't care". No matter how much "hate" a state has, they can still be entirely rational, or interested primarily in their survival. So if there are leaders around a crazy President or Dictator who are rational, then the implication of Walt's argument is that they will put their survival above their hate. The fact is that rational people can commit genocide and torture their people and such because it is OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE SUFFERING. However, when they become the potential sufferer or the person that's obliterated, they restrain themselves more.

In other words, your argument amounts to "if they can be so cruel to other people w/o nuclear weapons, they will be even more cruel with them", but what your argument ignores is that the change that THEIR safety will be obliterated greatly increases if they use nukes and their safety and dominance is paramount.
 

MarineTpartier

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Okay, but now you're talking about attacking another state and not intra-state genocide which was the subject of your other examples. Your examples of genocide that I addressed are not relevant to Walt's argument because Walt's argument is specifically about the implications of nuclear weapons and how states use them against each other.


When IR theorists talk about "rational" vs "crazy", they are talking about "people who are interested in staying alive" vs "people who don't care". No matter how much "hate" a state has, they can still be entirely rational, or interested primarily in their survival. So if there are leaders around a crazy President or Dictator who are rational, then the implication of Walt's argument is that they will put their survival above their hate. The fact is that rational people can commit genocide and torture their people and such because it is OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE SUFFERING. However, when they become the potential sufferer or the person that's obliterated, they restrain themselves more.

In other words, your argument amounts to "if they can be so cruel to other people w/o nuclear weapons, they will be even more cruel with them", but what your argument ignores is that the change that THEIR safety will be obliterated greatly increases if they use nukes and their safety and dominance is paramount.

My entire point is this. Westerners don't understand the train of thought Islamic fanatics possess. They don't care about self-survival. They don't care that they will lose everything if they kill someone else first. That's just martyrdom to them. The highest honor that can be bestowed upon a practioner of their religion. Wrap your head around that. That was the one thing that binded the Third Reich together. The idea of the Aryan Nation. Islam is what binds these wierdo's together.
 

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I'm really not pursuaded by these arguments that our nuclear arsenal makes us safer. The historical record strongly suggests the opposite.

The only surefire way to avoid nuclear annihilation is global disarmament. This isn't some pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It also happens to be extremely popular. The United States government is actually the biggest roadblock to such measures.
 

ThePlayDrive

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I'm really not pursuaded by these arguments that our nuclear arsenal makes us safer. The historical record strongly suggests the opposite.
Really? How does the historical record suggest the opposite?

The only surefire way to avoid nuclear annihilation is global disarmament. This isn't some pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It also happens to be extremely popular. The United States government is actually the biggest roadblock to such measures.
That might be the only surefire way to avoid nuclear annihilation, but it's entire possible that the only way to avoid another world war is by having nuclear weapons.
 

ThePlayDrive

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My entire point is this. Westerners don't understand the train of thought Islamic fanatics possess. They don't care about self-survival. They don't care that they will lose everything if they kill someone else first. That's just martyrdom to them. The highest honor that can be bestowed upon a practioner of their religion. Wrap your head around that. That was the one thing that binded the Third Reich together. The idea of the Aryan Nation. Islam is what binds these wierdo's together.
It's interesting to me that you say, "Westerners don't understand the train of thought Islamic fanatics possess," and then you proceed to explain what you perceive as their train of thought. It seems to me that when you say, "Westerners don't understand", you actually mean, "people who don't agree with me don't understand". I guarantee that Stephen Walt understand them 100x more than you do because this is his specialization just like a doctor understands the human body 100x more than you do. So if the best point you can make is, "You just don't understand," then that's not much of an argument.

Moreover, you've moved the goalposts. First, you talk about intra-state genocide. Then when I counter than argument, you change it to inter-state genocide. You also mention Iran. Now you're talking about Islamic fanatic suicide bombers. You need to stick to a subject and I'll address it. Now if you're trying to say that Iran "doesn't care about self-survival", then I think that's a bold statement that requires proof since Iran's actions say the exact opposite. However, if you're talking about terrorists, then yes, you've definitely moved the goalposts as Walt's theory and our conversation doesn't have anything to do with terrorists although I imagine it could work for some terrorist organizations as well.
 

NGNM85

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Really? How does the historical record suggest the opposite?

The disturbingly long, and growing list of narrow misses. The most striking, of course, being the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both the USSR and the United states, flirted with Armageddon in manner that can only be described as criminally insane, or suicidal. Subsequent revelations, since then, have shown that the situation was even more dire than anyone realized.

That might be the only surefire way to avoid nuclear annihilation, but it's entire possible that the only way to avoid another world war is by having nuclear weapons.

This is a kind of circular logic. It’s like Sean Connery’s monologue from The Untouchables. It just results in a relentless, endless cycle. The only solution is to break it, which would require global disarmament. I would add to that the end of Nation-States, and religion.
 

Kal'Stang

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It is a deterrant in 2 ways for any sane person.

1: You know that if you push that button against someone that has the same capability that they will push that button also. That ole saying "I'm not going down without a fight" didn't just spring up on a whim ya know. ;)

2: You know that the moment you push that button millions of people are going to die by your hand. No sane person with a conscience can take that lightly.
 

Kal'Stang

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The disturbingly long, and growing list of narrow misses. The most striking, of course, being the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both the USSR and the United states, flirted with Armageddon in manner that can only be described as criminally insane, or suicidal. Subsequent revelations, since then, have shown that the situation was even more dire than anyone realized.

And yet, it never happened.
 

ThePlayDrive

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The disturbingly long, and growing list of narrow misses. The most striking, of course, being the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both the USSR and the United states, flirted with Armageddon in manner that can only be described as criminally insane, or suicidal. Subsequent revelations, since then, have shown that the situation was even more dire than anyone realized.
Yeah, but that doesn't prove that nukes don't make us safer. In fact, that's pretty good evidence that deterrence works. On the one hand, the Soviet Union used them to intimidate the United States making that event one of many reasons why the US would have never directly attacked the USSR. In the same light, the USSR didn't strike because it understood that had it done so, it would have been destroyed. Deterrence theory doesn't argue that states become immune to aggression, it argues that nuclear weapons prevent escalation and prevent states from going farther than they would. I think history, an understanding of humanity and an understanding of the international system support that.

This is a kind of circular logic. It’s like Sean Connery’s monologue from The Untouchables. It just results in a relentless, endless cycle. The only solution is to break it, which would require global disarmament. I would add to that the end of Nation-States, and religion.
No, it's not circular logic. Obviously nuclear annihilation would be impossible without nuclear weapons. That's a tautology. However, nuclear deterrence theory isn't effected by that reality. Nuclear weapons prevent states from pushing nuclear powers into a corner which is what happens in a world war. Getting rid of them because people are afraid of something that is beyond unlikely to happen (nuclear annihilation) at the expense of preventing another world war or other escalations of conventional war just doesn't make much sense to me.
 
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