Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament

Issues with the nuclear deterrence


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Nuclear deterrence and issues with it

On 6 August 1945 world witnessed the destructive potential of the nuclear weapons. Today’s nuclear weapons are several times more destructive than the one used there. This calls for the close scrutiny of the idea of the nuclear deterrence. This article dwells over the same issue.


  • While Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been the last two cities to be destroyed by nuclear weapons, we cannot be sure that they will be the last.
  • Since 1945, several countries have armed themselves with nuclear weapons that have much more destructive power in comparison to those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


  • Over 1,26,000 nuclear weapons have been built since the beginning of the atomic age.
  • There is no realistic way to protect ourselves against nuclear weapons.
  • The invention of ballistic missiles has made it impossible to intercept nuclear weapons once they are launched.
  • Neither fallout shelters nor ballistic missile defence systems have succeeded in negating this vulnerability.
  • Nuclear weapon states are targets of other nuclear-weapon states, but non-nuclear-weapon states are vulnerable as well.

Idea of nuclear deterrence

The idea of nuclear deterrence consists of following two proposition.

  • 1) That nuclear weapons are so destructive that no country would use them.
  • 2) Such use would invite retaliation in kind, and no political leader would be willing to risk the possible death of millions of their citizens.

Issues with the idea of deterrence

  • 1) It is claimed that nuclear weapons do not just protect countries against use of nuclear weapons by others, but even prevent war and promote stability.
  • These claims do not hold up to evidence.
  • 2) The apparent efficacy of deterrence in some cases may have been due to the more credible prospect of retaliation with conventional weapons.
  • 3) Implicitly, however, all nuclear-weapon states have admitted to the possibility that deterrence could fail.
  • they have made plans for using nuclear weapons, in effect, preparing to fight nuclear war.
  • 4) The desire to believe in the perfect controllability and safety of nuclear weapons creates overconfidence, which is dangerous.
  • Overconfidence is more likely to lead to accidents and possibly to the use of nuclear weapons.

So, what prevented the nuclear war if not deterrence?

  • While a comprehensive answer to this question will necessarily involve diverse and contingent factors, one essential element in key episodes is just plain luck.

Consider the question “What are the problems involved in the idea of nuclear deterrence. Also, examine the factors responsible for the failure of nuclear disarmament.”


Humanity has luckily survived 75 years without experiencing nuclear war, can one expect luck to last indefinitely?

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