Evidence, Commentary, and Judgment

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4.2 Deterrence and the Evolution of Technology

The problem with the deterrent system as it operates now is that one side seeks what it perceives as a significant strategic superiority in nuclear weapons systems because they don't feel safe until they are superior. The other side then reacts to this and seeks parity by taking counter measures. This reciprocal process is an unstable system.

This instability is enhanced by the data which each superpower gleans from the other side by surveillance activities. The interpretation which each puts upon it is a worst-case one, usually the most pessimistic, since both sides are deeply suspicious of each other. This data is then used to justify further military expenditure.

This upward spiral did not surprise a number of the witnesses since the military traditionally have to prepare for the possibility of war. So faced with this prospect they take on board the newest and most complex weapons which are being produced by the research and development portion of the military industrial complex.

The Tribunal believe that one way out of this endless upward spiral is to move firstly towards a position of minimum deterrence. Even at this low level there is still risk, but this move should be part of a plan to ban nuclear weapons altogether.

The meaning, scope, objectives and effectiveness of "deterrence" are not clearly understood; that there has been no use of nuclear weapons in a war since 1945 is clear; that the non-use is due to "deterrence" is not clear. If nuclear weapons are supposed to deter war and aggression per se, they have clearly failed on a massive scale, on the the simple fact that since 1945 millions of people have died as a direct consequence of war and armed conflict. Many of these millions have died by weapons used or supplied by the nuclear powers. All the nuclear powers have been involved in international armed conflict which was not prevented by the possession of nuclear weapons. Millions more have died in circumstances which could have been relieved by a small proportion of the resources which have been devoted to weapons of mass destruction. Therefore it is not clear at all what is being deterred or defended by the possession and deployment of nuclear weapons. As an instrument of national policy to prevent war and armed conflict, nuclear weapons have failed profoundly in the face of the fact of more deaths during the nuclear age due to armed conflict than deaths during the mainly conventional World War II.

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© 1985-2005 Geoffrey Darnton. All rights reserved.