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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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The end of the cold war, is often considered as marking the dawn of a fundamentally different political environment. This change in environment, has brought about new salient questions by scholars and policy makers about the relevance of nuclear weapons in the world. In his article, ‘learning to love the bomb’ Jonathan Tepperman calls president Obama’s plan to rid the world off nuclear weapons wrong, dreamy, unrealistic and a big mistake. I found this article interesting as it seems rather paradoxical as he implies that the world would be much more dangerous without nuclear weapons. In this paper, I will analyse and criticise Tepperman article. Before getting down to criticisms of the points made in the article, I will try to place Tepperman’s approach conveniently in one of the theoretical shelves of strategic studies.

Jonathan Tepperman manging editor, foreign affairs magazine spent his years working on International Affairs. The proposition of his article, which dwells on the build-up of nuclear weapons and deterrence agrees with Kenneth waltz, whom asserts that nuclear deterrence is one of the greatest, if not one of the best ways to bring about peace (Waltz, 1981). The presence of nuclear weapons, is argued to have made the theoretical notion of absolute war a reality. This can be seen with the cold war, where both parties were equipped with nuclear weapons. Though it was not used, the continuation of politics as Clausewitz termed it (Clausewitz, Howard and Paret, 1976) can be viewed as a relevance in Clausewitzian concepts in the form of deterrence. The political objective between two nuclear states is the avoidance of war and protection of national security. The inactivity and defence applied during the cold war era is applicable to Clausewitz concept as his works affirms that there are long period of inactivity in war (Barr, 1991). The strategy of defence, or in this case deterrence, can be considered as a concept in line with Clausewitz in the thought that defence, as opposed to offense, is the stronger form of war.

In the rest of the paper, Tepperman’s article is criticized in three ways. First I will begin with challenging his view that the call by president Obama and policy makers to eliminate nuclear weapons is a mistake. After that, I will argue that contrary to his belief of nuclear weapons being safer for citizens it makes citizens more unsafe. Finally, I will try to show that his notion that deterrence creates peace is untrue.

Tepperman, in his article, condemns the actions of president Obama and policy makers in their attempt to rid the world off nuclear weapons. He calls this idea a mistake and undesirable as he proclaims that nuclear weapons are agents of peace (Tepperman, 2009). Andrew Futter, denotes this as he asserts that the role nuclear weapons play in United States security policy has come to an end. He asserts that after the cold war, the U.S no longer needs it’s thousands of nuclear war heads originally intended to deter the Soviet Union (Futter, 2016). The global zero movement, to rid the world of nuclear arms by 2030 has not only been supported by Obama but also by other world leaders such as Vladimir Putin, hu Jintao, Benjamin Netanyahu Mikhail Gorbachev, and Jimmy Carter whom Contend that a world with nuclear weapons in the hands of for instance Syria would be far more unstable (Williams, 2016).

Tepperman, does not consider that Obamas actions are geared towards leading nations to focus on the greater threats facing the world which nuclear weapons cannot fight but instead make worse. These new threats, have called for the widening of security rather than dwelling on the traditional approach of military defence of state territory. Two strands of theoretical thought which goes against Tepperman have risen from the wideners and deepeners. The wideners (Buzan, 1991) have argued that military security does not acknowledge that major threats to state survival may not be military, but can take forms of economic, social, political and environmental. While, deepeners (Booth, 1991) calls for security to focus on individuals as the primary referent objects instead of the state. President Obama’s idealistic views, falls in place with this school of taught as he’s campaign for a global nuclear zero is not only an attempt to bring all nuclear powers in cluding Russia, china, Great Britain and France to rid the world of nuclear arms (, 2009) but also is a step in engineering global corporation amongst nations which encourages them to focus on other threats to security such as non-state actors, climate change and human security.  

Another criticism, is directed to Teppermans notion that nuclear weapons make citizens safer. He encourages states to build up nuclear weapons as it brings peace. Stating, that after 64 years of Hiroshima and Nagasaki there has not been any nuclear war amongst states as such it is very likely that the next 64 years will play out that same way (Tepperman, 2009). It is true until one day it isn’t asserts Eric Schlosser, who notes that every country who possesses nuclear weapons must contend with their inherent risks and like every man made object which are imperfect so also are the people who control them. He further notes that the U.S being the first to devise the nukes have perfected it and gained more experience with it than any other nation but still yet has on numerous occasions come close to having American cities destroyed accidentally. Schlosser, states that there has been over a thousand accidents involving U.S nuclear weapons and that the recurrent political stability in more than half of the countries possessing nuclear weapons is a potential source of catastrophe; “had Saddam Hussein built nuclear weapons, they might have posed a greater threat to Baghdad than to any of his enemies as it could go off if a rifle bullet hit it” (Schlosser, 2014).

Tepperman, also fails to recognise that the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was so catastrophic that the effects of the radiation from the nuclear weapons are still a leading cause of suffering, deformity and death till date (Project, 2012). Even if nuclear weapons are never used on any state again, there are intolerable effects from the production, testing and deployment of nuclear arsenals. Nuclear weapons programmes also divert public funds from health care, education, disaster relief and other vital services. According to the Ican, the nine nuclear armed states spend in excess of 105 billion dollars each year maintaining and modernizing their nuclear arsenal. The U.S alone spends more than 60 billion dollars annually and the British government plans to replace its ageing fleet of nuclear-armed trident submarines could cost taxpayers over 100 billion pounds (, 2015).These funds could have been directed for other use as till date most people in these countries are poor and homeless. Also there is no guarantee that rogue states or terrorist groups won’t result into using nuclear weapons in the future and this inflicts a physiological fear amongst citizens.

The last criticism, comes from Tepperman notion that deterrence is one of the greatest ways to bring about peace what he calls the “nuclear peace”. Tepperman argues, that a deterrent strategy makes it unnecessary for a country to go to war. According to mark Williams, he argues that these don’t mean that deterrence works. He states that since 1945, there have been numerous wars which have occurred where one side had nuclear weapons. He asserts that nuclear weapons did not deter North Korea and china in the 1950s also in 1973 Israel’s nuclear weapons did not stop Cairo and Damascus from going to war(Williams, 2016). Schlosser also notes that deterrence has not prevented Pakistan and India who have the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal from fighting each other (Schlosser, 2014). Concluding that deterrence shows more obvious failures than successes.

According to Scilla Elworthy, deterrence is a failure as it depends upon fallible human beings acting in an ultra-rational manner when under pressure in crisis, at a time when their capacity for rationality is at its lowest (Elworthy, 2015). During the Cuban missile crisis, john Kennedy and the soviet Nikita Khrushchev did all they could to avoid a conflict; But still events beyond their knowledge or control such as the u-2 spy plane that accidentally strayed into soviet territory, the test of an American ballistic missile without Kennedys approval, the delegation of authority for the use of nuclear weapons to soviet commanders in Cuba and the captains of soviet submarines almost started a war that neither leaders wanted (Schlosser, 2014). Though the cold war is over the risk of failing deterrence increases in the technologically advanced 21st century with the numerous cyber-attacks from which nuclear systems are not immune to. Deterrence interferes with the efforts to address the serious transnational threats facing the 21st century prevents the global cooperation and collective action to curb these threats especially when nations continue to perceive each other with massive nuclear retaliation(Elworthy, 2015).

In conclusion Tepperman’s article contributes to the larger debate on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Though even with the best intentions and sincere desire to avoid nuclear war, the complexity of weapons systems, the unreliability of communications system and human fallibility can precipitate disaster. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain which arguments are correct. It is unclear is nuclear bombs are the reason we have had comparative peace or perhaps we haven’t had comparative peace and so we are looking at the wrong things.

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