January 10, 2008

New Wine in Old Bottles? The New Salience of Nuclear Weapons


Yury E. Fedorov
Fall 2007


..... by the beginning of the XXIst century two contradictory tendencies are emerging. The first is the appearance of security challenges that cannot be resolved, managed, deterred, neutralized, or otherwise overcome by nuclear weapons. On the one hand, this trend demands the development of new strategies, methods and equipment other than nuclear forces. On the other hand, it produces the illusion that nuclear weapons themselves are being marginalized by the revolution in military affairs and the growing effectiveness of conventional forces. But this belief is fundamentally flawed. Nuclear weapons are not being marginalized. Rather, their roles are evolving in the global strategic landscape. In short, the rise of non-traditional threats does not make nuclear weapons go away, it only serves to distract from their enduring significance.

T The emergence of these new threats risks obscuring a second fundamental trend that is likely to grow ever more significant in the future. The fundamental uncertainty that characterizes international relations today encourages nuclear states to keep their nuclear arsenals, and encourages non-nuclear states to develop their own nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantee of security. Thus, Chinese and Russian nuclear strategies result in the formation of new axes of nuclear deterrence. Continuing nuclear proliferation is fraught with the growing danger of nuclear terrorism and regional nuclear wars.

Instead of a hierarchical, petrified, and fossilized nuclear order typical of the Cold War a new system is emerging. This system is more dynamic, more decentralized, and far more fragmented than the one it has replaced. The fourth world war outlined by Jean Baudrillard may be acquiring a nuclear dimension.

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