Debate | Do WMD help to keep us safe?

Once again, Weapons of Mass Destruction have been pushed to the forefront of public consciousness. Last week, Iran agreed to scale back their nuclear programme; on December 10th the OPCW will receive this year’s Nobel Peace prize for their work in Syria following president al-Assad’s sarin gas attack on civilians and, as it is 50 years since JFK’s assassination, we are also reminded of the Cuban Missile crisis – the closest the world has been to a full-scale nuclear war. LS Debate asks, do Weapons of Mass Destruction help to keep us safe?


Annie-Rose Peterman

First Year Politics and Parliamentary Studies

It seems that Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) have once again surfaced as a topic of international debate, making it appropriate to to re-question whether they actually keep us safe, or if they are simply an incredibly dangerous waste of money. It almost seems counter intuitive to argue that such a destructive force actually contributes to our safety and well being, but that is what I am going to do.

In our current world, it is simply impossible to win a nuclear war. Nuclear states are governed by the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.), the assumption that launching a nuclear attack on a state with the capacity to strike back will result in a counter attack. It is very difficult to challenge this assertion, as leaders of nuclearised states have repeatedly stated since the advent of technology, that they will retaliate to any form of nuclear attack. In many cases it isn’t only the victim state that promises revenge, the powerful alliances between states would turn any nuclear attack into a war, encompassing the whole world and probably turning us into ashes. It’s never in the interests of a state to enter a war which will inevitably result in its own destruction, with almost no possibility of recovery. One must also note that even if it was possible to win a nuclear war, what would actually be the point? Most parties in war seek one thing: power, something which is hard to come by when most of the world has been turned into a wasteland. Who is there to dominate when everybody is dead?

An even spread of nuclear weapons between world powers doesn’t only prevent nuclear war, but conventional war too. It is a fact that two nuclearised states have not engaged in direct combat with one another since the end of the Second World War. Despite completely opposing ideologies, a huge arms race and massive feelings of hostility, the Cold War only turned hot when the super powers intervened in other conflicts. Indeed, there were countless occasions when another world war seemed incredibly likely, but the key thing that prevented the Cold War turning hot was ‘M.A.D.’. In a world without nuclear weapons, communist and capitalist powers would have undoubtedly engaged in direct conflict, leaving the world as battered and bruised as the two world wars of the 20th Century. History would have been forced to rename the Cold War, ‘World War Three’.

When you look at the world since the invention of WMDs, particularly nuclear weapons, international relations actually seem more stable than ever, and surely this is a measure of our safety? It is clear that rather than threatening international peace and security, nuclear weapons actually promote safety and peace by forcing states to engage in other means to resolve conflicts rather than simply resorting to war as, ultimately, war is simply no longer an option for two nuclearised countries.

Surely humanity’s goal is to create a peaceful world without war. Nuclear weapons may seem a radical way of achieving this, but when one looks at the past 68 years, it is clear that nuclear weapons of mass destruction have protected us from the horrors of war and continue to keep us safe.


Matthew Smith

Fourth Year English and Philosophy

There is a scene in The Simpsons in which Homer presumes that the distinct lack of bears in Springfield is directly correlated to the installation of a bear patrol in the town. Lisa questions his logic by saying “by your logic, I could say this rock keeps tigers away”. Rather than recognise the folly in his argument, Homer duly purchases said rock on the basis of its supposed powers. When we move from the fictional cartoon world of Springfield and back to reality, there are incidents when this type of incongruent and illogical thinking may be only slightly harmful. However, with regards to nuclear weapons, it is the reasoning that has led us to buy an idea so potent in lethality that it could cause the inconceivable destruction of human life: the idea that Weapons of Mass Destruction help keep us safe.

The proposition that nuclear weapons have a casual relationship with the fact we have not yet had a war of such magnitude as the Second World War, is inherently tenuous. Firstly, there has not been a single day since WWII when a country has not been at war with someone or intently been killing the civilians of other countries for political purposes. Before the Second World War, it is estimated that there had only ever been three war-free days in the world. So to suggest that nuclear weapons are preventing war is simply not true, neither is it empirically verifiable that using human life as collateral has ever prevented warfare. During the Cold War, Russia did not dare attack the West, simply because they knew they would have been resoundingly defeated by the USA. A system that could barely produce enough potatoes to eat could hardly have produced an effective raid on the most powerful country in the world.

This does not mean that the problem with nuclear weapons is that they are simply not as effective as politicians claim. They are, in actuality, a serious threat to our lives. All it truly takes is for one psychopathic despot to wantonly engage in nuclear attacks with a smaller state to precipitate the end of life as we know it. It is not beyond the realm of the imagination to imagine a scenario in which a country will be governed by a ruler with no empathy and who sees being a leader as an opportunity to play with dangerous ‘toys’. It is this which makes the nuclear threat so palpable. Watching North Korea covered in the news for their missile programme is unsettling to say the least, and would not make anyone feel safe at all.

There are those who defend the nuclear deterrent by citing the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as providing a viable end and much needed closure to the Second World War. However, the USA wold not have dared attack Hiroshima had it not been for the fact that the axis powers did not have a nuclear weapon of their own as a rejoinder. Furthermore, Germany was close to the point of mutiny, as it had used up all of its resources on a suicidal foray through Siberia. So for the USA, it was likely turning up to a knife fight with a gun. In this way, WMDs promote a power imbalance that can easily be abused.

With these things in mind, would anyone scoff at the proposal that a world unilaterally disarmed of nuclear and other such weapons would be a more safe world for us and our children to live in?

Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) is a term that refers to nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical weapons.

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