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The Instability of a Post-Nuclear World

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Katherine Bowers.

The first election of US President Barack Obama in 2009 saw a renewed commitment – at least rhetorically – to the goal of multilateral nuclear disarmament on the part of the world’s greatest military power, a commitment that has been echoed by the UK governments of Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Yet just how achievable is a world free of nuclear weapons? And if a multilaterally disarmed world were ever achieved, just how militarily stable would that world be? This presentation and associated paper begins from the premise that the knowledge and associated ability required to reconstruct nuclear weapons can never be expunged from the world, meaning that rearmament – even in a world where all nuclear powers had agreed to dismantle their extant weapons – would always be a theoretical possibility. That being the case, there would always be the possibility of an escalatory race towards nuclear reconstitution during serious international crises between latently capable major powers – and crucially, unlike contemporary deterrence, which is made stable by the survivability of the major powers’ seaborne nuclear arsenals, the facilities of rearmament would not be survivable. As such, the argument that conventional military aggression would be more likely in a world free of nuclear weapons may indeed be commonplace, and a risk that disarmament advocates are willing to bear. But this paper’s analysis suggests that nuclear aggression may also be more likely in a world that had dismantled its extant nuclear warheads, casting serious doubt on the desirability of the multilateral disarmament goal.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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