Monday, December 3, 2012

Does Getting a Nuclear Weapon Change much for a Country?

Apropos of the alarmism about Iran getting a bomb, Stephen Walt asks what happened when other countries went nuclear:
Did British and French acquisition of nuclear weapons slow their decline as great powers? Not in the slightest. . . .

Did China's detonation of a bomb in 1964 suddenly make them a superpower? Hardly. China remained a minor actor on the world stage until it adopted market principles, and its rising global influence is due to three decades of economic growth, not a pile of nukes. . . .

The white government in South Africa eventually produced a handful of bombs, but nobody noticed and apartheid ended anyway.

What about India and Pakistan? India's "peaceful nuclear explosion" in 1974 didn't turn it into a global superpower, and its only real effect was to spur Pakistan -- which was already an avowed rival -- to get one too. And it's worth noting that there hasn't been a large-scale war between the two countries since, despite considerable grievances on both sides and occasional skirmishes and other provocations.
There is no reason to suppose that Iran's situation would change very much if it acquired the bomb, either, and therefore no reason to agonize about it. Let alone go to war.

1 comment:

leif said...

ok, i'm going to go waaaay out on a limb here and suggest that countries with a history of extremism and very little to lose on the world stage, are clearly unfit for having what is our current 'ultimate' weapon. now, i question whether *any* country should have any atomic, hydrogen or nuclear weaponry, but there's more than a little truth to admonitions to steer clear of 'loose cannons'.

this is not to say that self-protection is unmerited; rather, that a country whose government is so unstable, simply cannot be relied on to, well, do nothing with that weapon.

further, highly unstable regimes can't account for all of those weapons. recall how old soviet nukes went missing from the ukraine; those don't magically land in the arsenal of stable countries like, oh, finland.

if every unstable, radical regime had nukes... imagine how long we all would last. would any sane person argue for providing nuclear arms to the most-failed states: somalia, congo, sudan, chad, zimbabwe, afghanistan, haiti, yemen, iraq, central african republic? there are more, and i could go on.

again, i think no one really needs nuclear arms; but it's truly ridiculous to allow them to fall under control of unstable countries with extremist or fundamentalist agendas. (and this could be the US some day; i have no delusions that we could fail that test and thus be unfit for wielding that power.)