Four of Canada’s top political minds, Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark, Ed Broadbent, and Lloyd Axworthy (henceforth, CCBA), published an op-ed recently in The Globe and Mail discussing nuclear (counter)-proliferation. With their faces cleverly drawn to resemble Mount Rushmore, the Venerable Four laid forth their hopes for abolishing nuclear weapons.
I want to contest four of their arguments:
1) CCBA: After World War II, Canada “renounced” the option to build nuclear weapons.
Canada decided against building nukes in 1945 not because it didn’t want to but because it didn’t need to. Our decision to forgo nukes had little to do with “renouncing” nuclear weaponry and everything to do with the alternative nuclear security arrangements we established for ourselves. Canada happily snuggled itself under the fledgling American nuclear umbrella and concurrent security guarantees and bolstered its alliance partnerships within NATO and NORAD (which included French, British, and American nuclear armaments). The bottom line is that we understood the protective value of nuclear weapons. We just passed the cost of their development, storage, and utilization to our allies.
2) CCBA: Nuclear proliferation is necessarily dangerous to global peace and security.
Peace, in one sense, is the absence of war. It is not at all “ironic”, then, as CCBA suggest, that nuclear deterrence (including the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction) kept the peace during the Cold War. It is precisely because the Cold War rivals retained nuclear weapons that the West-East struggle failed to ignite into a global hot war. History is replete with bloody conflict pitting Great Powers against one another. That the Soviet and American Blocs failed to engage in open warfare for over 45 years was in large part a result of nuclear deterrence. Unlike any previous global rivalry, both sides of the Cold War divide understood that neither could expect to gain much from attacking the other. The costs of war had simply become too high. Similar ‘peaceful’ relationships have emerged between regional nuclear rivals (i.e. France vs. UK; India vs. China; China vs. Russia; India vs. Pakistan). Nuclear weapons, by openly and astronomically raising the costs of war, institutionalize the absence of it.
3) CCBA: Nuclear terrorism is a near certainty.
To be sure, the fear that al Qaeda or others may seek to develop, steal, and/or purchase nuclear weapons is a real one. However, terrorists have repeatedly run into familiar problems. First, nuclear development is difficult even for states. If Iran, with its territorial, financial, and scientific infrastructure struggles to produce nukes, how much easier will al Qaeda find the process? Second, state sponsorship of WMD terrorism carries enormous risk for the state in question. How certain can a state sponsor of terror be that its anonymous WMD facilitation won’t eventually end up at its door step and result in massive retaliation and regime change? Third, stealing a weapon may be possible, but we can complicate the process by better securing stockpiles, ensuring safety mechanisms accompany all weapons, rendering nukes unusable in case of theft, and deterring global criminal networks and syndicates from facilitating the black market.
4) CCBA: Abolishing nuclear weapons is a good thing.
The paradox of making war so costly and ruthless is that we diminish its occurrence. If nuclear deterrence makes war between rivals less likely, then the absence of such weapons should raise the risks and prospects of war. This is not to suggest that nuclear proliferation is a good thing, but only to note that there are dangers to “abolishing” nukes, too. In a nuclear-free international system, the costs of conflict are manageable and war once-again becomes “winnable”.