Thirty years have passed since the official end of the Cold War—when tensions surrounding the use of nuclear weapons was at its highest—and the world is seeing a resurgence in the use of nuclear threats by leaders as a way to display power. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, one certainly doesn’t want nuclear weapons to fall into the wrong hands; however, Russia, followed by the United States and China, have the highest number of weapons in their nuclear arsenal. The United States has already proven it will use nuclear force if deemed necessary, but is the threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD) enough to convince leaders to completely disarm their nuclear stockpiles?
After moving to Nevada, one of the first topics I remember being introduced to during my education was the nuclear test sites of the Cold War, just north of Las Vegas. Little did I know the purpose of testing nuclear weapons wasn’t just to make sure they worked, but it was to deter other countries from attacking the United States so long as they knew that the consequences would be devastating. This is a similar tactic employed more recently by North Korea and Russia, and is the heart of the concept of mutually assured destruction.
Though the United Nations has registered many multilateral agreements about bans on nuclear testing, including the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty, agreed to by many of the world’s most prominent nuclear forces including Russia and the United States. Not to mention, nuclear energy can be particularly harmful to the environment it is stored in while harming those around it. While nuclear energy has been revered as an alternative source of power due to its low carbon output, its waste can take hundreds—or even thousands–of years to decay while potentially contaminating water supply to agriculture.
The next steps proposed at the United Nations seem to be promising, so long as states are concerned about the potency of future relations. Some seem to be common sense solutions, such as regarding the destruction of inactive nuclear weapons—which does not happen, reflected in the reports of nuclear weapon amounts. But other proposals seem to pose more of a difficult, but not impossible, journey. These include removing the focus on nuclear weapons in military strategy, especially for NATO countries, as well as forbidding new fissile material production for military purposes, and the establishment of new nuclear-weapon-free zones, each of which might leave states feeling more vulnerable to outside attack.
There’s a concept in international relations, especially when dealing with military and armament, called the security dilemma: As countries build up their security capacity, they in turn become weaker and more vulnerable due to the higher risk of war. The creation and modern testing of nuclear weapons exemplifies this dilemma as we slip further into a nuclear scare reflective of World War II and the Cold War. If the harmful effects that storing nuclear waste has on our environment is not enough to make today’s leaders disarm, perhaps the concept of mutually assured destruction will keep nuclear war at bay, as it has since the end of WWII. States, in focusing on the well-being of their domestic populations and their future relations, should consider collaborating with the United Nations on their proposed solutions. These proposals are not distant aspirations, as the UN seems to receive backlash for in its work; these solutions are most certainly attainable and could save innumerable lives.