Resolved: States Ought Not Possess Nuclear Weapons

The Fall 2014 Public Forum debate topic in China is, “Resolved: States ought not possess nuclear weapons.”  This sets up a debate about the core issues of nuclear disarmament.

nucleardisarmAdvocates of nuclear disarmament argue that global nuclear weapons stockpiles must be reduced dramatically (500-900 weapons for each the US and the Russians) and reduced and eventually reduced to zero in order to eliminate the risk of nuclear war.
US President Obama has been a strong proponent of sizable nuclear reductions.
Disarmament promoters argue that unless the weapons are eliminated that they will eventually be used in war, that norms against nuclear weapons use need to be strengthened, and that denuclearization will boost multilateral cooperation that is needed to solve global problems.  They also argue that US leadership on denuclearization will strengthen nonproliferation norms that will reduce, and eventually eliminate the spread of nuclear weapons.  Given this, Con teams may wish to suggest eventual disarmament as an alternative to striking nuclear proliferators.
In their report, Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report, retired General James Cartright, et al., argue for a combination of de-alerting and unilateral cuts, combined with negotiated reductions with Russia, that will reduce arsenals to 500-900 nuclear weapons on each side.  They argue that these reductions and negotiations will set the stage for multilateral negotiations that will lead to further cuts for all sides.

The reductionsand de-alerting proposed under this illustrative plan could be carried out in unison by the United States and Russia through reciprocal presidential directives, negotiated in another round of bilateral arms reduction talks, or implemented unilaterally. In any case, these cuts would lead to yet another round of talks that would reduce the nuclear arsenals on each side to 500 total weapons. These cuts to 500-900 total weapons apiece should be sufficient to bring China and other nuclear weapons countries to the table to begin multilateral negotiations for further cuts on the path to global zero. The consensus of former Russian senior military officers in Global Zero, led by Col. Gen. (Ret.) Victor Esin who once served as Chief of Staff of the Stra-tegic Rocket Forces and now consults to the SRF Commander, is that a 900-warhead Russian arsenal should consist of: 450 deployed strategic warheads; 150 reserve strategic warheads, and 300 reserve tactical warheads. The strategic warheads would be deployed in either of these configurations: (a) 150 sin- gle-warhead ICbMs (50 silo-based and 100 mobile) and 8 “borey” class SSbNs with 300 total warheads; OR (b) 300 single-warhead ICbMs (100 silo-based and 200 mobile) and 4 “borey” class SSbNs with 150 total warheads. Dr. bruce blair and Col. Gen. Victor Esin (personal communications, February 2012).

These deep cuts will arguably strengthen the Non Proliferation Treaty, reducing the spread of nuclear weapons.  They continue:

A strong case can nevertheless be made that unilateral U.S. deep cuts and de-alerting coupled with strengthened missile defenses and conventional capabilities would not weaken deterrence in practical terms vis-à-vis Russia, China or any of the more plausible nation- state challengers that America may confront in the years ahead. While preserving effective deterrence against all but non-state actors, unilateral steps would lay the groundwork for increasing security cooperation among the former Cold War adversaries and encourage them to consider comparable unilateral actions. If unilateral U.S. de-alerting of its strategic offensive forces would cause Russia to follow suit, it would buy a large margin of safety against the accidental or mistaken launch of Russian missiles on hair-trigger alert aimed at the United States. More broadly, this illustrative agenda with its deep cuts and de-alerting would strongly validate the Non-Proliferation Treaty and help preserve it in the face of challenges by North Korea, Iran and other prospective proliferators. In strengthening the NPT, inhibiting the spread of nuclear weapons and setting the stage for multilateral negotiations among the nuclear weapons countries to reduce and eventually eliminate their nuclear arsenals, this initiative would go far toward building a new security architecture embodying the vision of Global Zero – a world without nuclear weapons

Although some (see below) argue that it will be difficult to get Russia on board with the reductions, Podvig argues that the US can pressure Russia to negotiate.

One of the problems that the United States will face in its attempts to get Russia on board with new nuclear reductions is that it has few incentives to offer, especially if it stays within the framework of New START. For Russia, the numerical ceilings established by the 2010 treaty are hardly a matter of importance. It is well aware of the fact that the United States maintains a sizable arsenal of reserve warheads—a hedge—that would allow it to deploy more than 4,000 strategic warheads on existing delivery systems, almost three times as many as the notional New START limit. The White House’s newly-released nuclear guidance confirmed the US commitment “to maintain a robust hedge against technical or geopolitical risk,” albeit probably at slightly lower numbers. With this hedge in mind, it doesn’t matter that much whether the United States reports 1,000 or 1,550 deployed warheads in its annual New START declarations. This discrepancy may seem like an opening for future negotiations—the United States could offer to reduce the hedge and establish a verifiable limit on non-deployed warheads. But Russia has shown no interest in this kind of proposal; it accepted the reality of the US hedge, judging (probably correctly) that these numbers are not as important as they may seem. Also, for Russia a lower ceiling would mean curbing its strategic modernization program—under which it plans to build new nuclear warheads and delivery systems—just as money has started flowing to its defense industry. If there is budgetary pressure in Russia, it’s not the defense sector that feels it. If offering a lower ceiling won’t work, then what might serve as an incentive to bring Russia to the negotiating table? One of the most important benefits of New START is the transparency and verification framework provided by the treaty. But this is the part of the treaty that Russia is likely to miss least, as it values secrecy much higher than transparency. This leaves only one option: The United States could threaten to take Russia’s “nyet” for an answer and give up on New START follow-on negotiations. For Russia, the value of the treaty is not necessarily in the numerical limits or verification provisions. Rather, it is in the fact that New START codifies the special status of the US-Russian nuclear relationship, and gives Russia an opportunity to voice concerns about all kinds of US military policies and programs. What Moscow worries about most is that one day the United States might decide that it doesn’t particularly care if Russia develops another heavy missile with multiple warheads. Indeed, the Bush administration came very close to this stance when it pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and openly questioned the need for new arms control agreements. That was not a happy time in Moscow, as it realized it was losing its coveted position as equal partner in nuclear arms control negotiations. The Obama administration is facing a much more difficult task than its predecessor: The goal is to preserve the US-Russian nuclear arms reduction process, not kill it. But if the United States is serious about getting Russia on board with further nuclear cuts, it should start with unilateral reductions to its number of deployed warheads that go beyond the New START limits. Strictly speaking, these reductions would be reversible and somewhat symbolic, as the hedge is not going away any time soon  and the legally-binding upper limit would still be set by New START. But they would demonstrate that the United States could set its nuclear policy without being held hostage to numerical parity with Russia. Russia would then face a choice between joining the nuclear cuts and keeping the leverage that comes with being an active participant in the process, or risking a US decision to embrace unilateralism and steer nuclear policy in a discomforting direction, whether this means expanding missile defense or strengthening precision strike capabilities. This is a risk that Russia would not be willing to take. If it rejects a New START follow-on agreement, it would lose what little leverage over these issues it may now have. Russia, of course, would threaten to build more missiles and warheads, but it knows that this threat would ring hollow: The US Defense Department concluded last year that Russia “would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario under the New START Treaty.” The United States indeed does not particularly care if Russia wastes its resources on new missiles. By unilaterally cutting its forces below New START levels, the United States would reinforce this message and make sure that Moscow gets it.  Given the political climate in Washington, unilateral reductions are not going to be popular or easy. But neither are they impossible. And at this point they probably offer the best chance of breaking the impasse on the way to deeper cuts of nuclear arsenals. The big question is what will happen to the ability of the United States to deter conflict if such substantial denuclearization were to occur.

Most advocates of disarmament argue that improved convention forces, primarily Precision Guided Missiles (PGMS) could compensate for the lack of nuclear firepower and targeting.  They also point out that not only are these weapons as effective as nuclear weapons in achieving deterrence but that they are more credible deterrents because countries think that we are more likely to use these weapons than to use nuclear weapons.  Cartright et al explain:

While our nuclear arsenals may be perceived by some as playing a role in deterring a nuclear -armed state like North Korea from attacking us or our allies, outsized arsenals are unnecessary for this purpose. We surely do not need thousands of modern nuclear weapons to play this role vis-à-vis a country with a handful of primitive nuclear devices. In fact, strong conventional forces and missile defenses may offer a far superior option for deterring and defeating a regional aggressor. Non-nuclear forces are also far more credible instruments for providing 21st century reassurance to allies whose comfort zone in the 20th century resided under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Precision-guided conventional munitions hold at risk nearly the entire spectrum of potential targets, and they are useable.

The case for radical nuclear reductions and disarmament is strong, but there are also compelling arguments against the proposal.
First,  Josef Joffe and James Davis argue that significant nuclear reductions by the major powers won’t result in reductions in nuclear proliferation because countries develop nuclear weapons to enhance their own security vis-à-vis regional enemies and to enhance their own prestige. Nuclear reductions by the major powers won’t change these calculations.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970 enshrined a deal in which the five original nuclear powers promised to reduce their nuclear arsenals in exchange for a pledge by the nonnuclear states to refrain from acquiring them. But the premise that the have-nots will arm be- cause the haves have not disarmed does not hold. It reflects neither history nor present-day realities. The truth is that the decision-making of aspiring nuclear powers is only remotely related, if it is related at all, to the strategic choices of the existing nuclear powers and that the two top nuclear powers have indeed cut back, with little effect on proliferation. Competitive proliferation does ex- plain the choices of the original five proliferators. The United States went nuclear because it thought Nazi Ger-many was working on the bomb, and the Soviet Union went nuclear because the United States had done so. France and the United Kingdom wanted their own deterrents against the Soviet Union, as well as the shiny badge of great-power status that nuclear weapons were thought to confer. China then ex- plicitly invoked the superpowers’ mo- nopoly on nuclear weapons to justify its own decision to go nuclear.After China’s decision, however, the “bad example” theory of proliferation explains only part of the story at best. India, the next official nuclear power, was surely eying Beijing. But the Indian nuclear effort was not mere competitive emulation of China’s nuclear status; it was also designed to offset China’s conventional military superiority. Second, it was driven by concerns over India’s rivalry with Pakistan, with which India had fought three wars since 1947. A similar regional military calculus lay behind Pakistan’s decision to go nuclear in 1998. Israel may have been practicing “propor- tional deterrence” against the Soviet Union during the Yom Kippur War— hence then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s purported quip that “it is just as far from Tel Aviv to Moscow as from Moscow to Tel Aviv”—but the principal purpose of Israel’s bomb was to neutralize the Arabs’ superior strength on the conventional battlefield. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was staring firmly at Iran when it embarked on its nuclear weapons program. The shah laid the groundwork for an Iranian pro- gram by ordering four German nuclear power reactors in 1975—with an eye on his neighbors, especially Iraq. Nuclear weapons offered Iran a nice shortcut to regional primacy, which is the most important reason the shah’s successors in the Islamic Republic have continued his efforts—to dominate the Arab states, deter (or destroy) Israel, and devalue the conventional superiority of the United States. Did Pyongyang reach for the bomb because Moscow and Washington had thousands of them? More likely, dreams of intimidating local rivals such as South Korea and Japan came first and foremost. Then, North Korea learned an interesting lesson: the mere process of proliferation was laden with wonderous profits. A reactor here and a fizzled nuclear explosion there paid huge dividends, and North Korea, as a nuclear “rogue state,” garnered the solicitous attention of many other powers. Washington’s bribes of oil and food de- liveries were flanked by its offers of civilian nuclear assistance; never has nuisance value been parlayed so profitably into political and economic gain.  The main focus of all proliferators since China, in short, has been regional. As the Duelfer report, based on the de- briefing of captured Iraqi officials following the Iraq war by the Iraq Survey Group, revealed, the Iraqi leader had not armed against Israel, let alone against any of the official nuclear powers: “Saddam’s rationale for the possession of weapons of mass destruction de- rived from a need for survival and domination … particularly regarding Iran.”

Both the United States and Russia have substantially reduced their nuclear arsenals over the last 15 years, but other countries have developed nuclear weapons during that time.  This does not bode well for the signaling/credibility argument. Barry Watts, 2013:

We have reduced the number of nuclear weapons, the types of nuclear weapons, considerably reduced and limited the conditions under which we would be willing to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons, and this is really a consistent trend over decades.
So, the question then, is what’s been happening in other parts of the world while this has been going on? Other nations have acquired or pursued nuclear weapons, whether it’s India and Pakistan testing in ’98. North Korea starting a series of tests in 2006. Syria’s efforts to covertly build a reactor that would produce plutonium which was destroyed by Israel in 2007.

Moreover, many argue that one of the drivers of nuclear proliferation is the fear by many other countries of a US conventional attack. To that extent that nuclear disarmament proposals are coupled with proposals to increase conventional strength to compensate for reductions in nuclear deterrence, those proposals may not solve the proliferation problem and could even result in adding incentives for countries to proliferate
Evan Braden Montgomery from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs wrote in Rethinking the  Road to Zero that

Another possible reason that past U.S. nuclear reductions have not held global proliferation in check is that they have correlated with a period of American conventional military dominance. In general, the assumption that U.S. nuclear reductions will lead others to reciprocate in kind presupposes that the nuclear strategies, capabilities, and postures of other nations are developed largely in response to American actions. Oftentimes, however, the development of nuclear capabilities has been driven by local considerations, from India’s need to counterbalance China, to Pakistan’s quest for parity with India, to Iraq’s search for an advantage over Iran. Moreover, to the extent that other nations (especially weaker nations and prospective rivals like North Korea and Iran) do pursue nuclear weapons with the United States in mind, they almost certainty see these weapons as the best means of deterring a U.S. conventional rather than nuclear attack.

Another reason that denuclearization proposals could encourage proliferation is that they could create a window of opportunity for other countries to establish nuclear parity, or even to exceed US nuclear dominance. Montgomery also writes:

One possible reason why substantial nuclear reductions do not seem to have slowed or stopped nuclear proliferation is that they have not been substantial enough. That is, the destructive power of nuclear weapons is so great, and the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal at its peak was so large, that even the considerable reductions that have been achieved to date have not meaningfully diminished Washington’s ability to inflict a devastating attack on other nations. In short, for nations viewing American nuclear capabilities through the prism of their own vulnerability (not, as the United States does, through the lens of multiple adversaries and many different target sets), past reductions have not represented a genuine indication of Washington’s claims that it is decreasing its reliance on nuclear weapons and is committed to the vision of global nuclear disarmament. Rather, because the United States still retains a larger and more sophisticated nuclear arsenal than any other nation, these efforts can easily be dismissed as motivated by pragmatism rather than principle—shedding excess weapons that were a legacy of the Cold War but are no longer needed to meet existing or emerging security challenges. Of course, it is impossible to pinpoint in advance the threshold where U.S. nuclear reductions would suddenly be viewed as meaningful rather than inconsequential in the eyes of other nations; reassurance, like deterrence, is subjective. By this logic, then, only major reductions that significantly narrow the existing gap between the United States and other nuclear powers would be viewed as a true indicator of America’s commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world. Unfortunately, such large reductions could create a window of opportunity for smaller nuclear powers to build up rather than draw down, either to attain numerical parity with the United States (e.g., in the case of China) or to avoid a growing relative gap with a neighbor (e.g., an Indian response to a Chinese buildup and Pakistani efforts to keep pace with India). Ultimately, a race to the bottom could actually trigger a sprint to the top.

And countries such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Japan that rely on US extended nuclear deterrence for their own security may begin to develop nuclear weapons if they see a reduction in the credibility of the US nuclear guarantee.

Bruno Tertrais, 2010, “The Illogic of Zero,” The Washington Quarterly (April 2010); https://csis.org/publication/twq-illogic-zero-spring-2010 (Bruno Tertrais is a senior research fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Strate ́gique in Paris, France, and a member of the editorial board of The Washington Quarterly)
Countries which are protected by a nuclear umbrella such as Japan or Turkey might feel less comfortable with the U.S. commitment, regardless of any soothing words that may be uttered by Washington, and reopen their own nuclear debates at home. Others in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, would be even more inclined to look for independent means to assure their protection. It would take more than just dialogue to reassure them. Smaller countries that seek to balance Western power may actually feel encouraged to develop nuclear weapons or a ‘‘breakout’’ option if they believed that the West is on its way to getting rid of them.

Beyond problems that the proposal would have for controlling proliferation, there is also the problem that nuclear weapons reductions could create for deterrence. If there is a deterrence failure, war could erupt because other countries might see the US as week and be tempted to take advantage of the opportunity.
And without nuclear weapons, war may not appear to be so terrifying.
Josef Joffe and James W. Davis explain:

Of course, such factors would not matter if nuclear disarmament ushered in perpetual peace. But such a heaven did not exist before nuclear weapons were deployed, so why should it exist once they are removed? The peace that disarmament advocates take for granted has been the product of the very arsenals they want to eliminate. The correlation between nuclear weapons and great- power peace is perfect—65 years, the longest such period in world history. Conversely, with the nuclear threat lifted, conventional war among the great powers might no longer look so terrifying. If the last rung on the escalation ladder is gone, stepping onto the first one might not lead straight to Armageddon.

Of course, advocates of nuclear reductions and disarmament do argue that conventional weapons could pick-up the slack, but others argue that these weapons are not as effective of deterrents than nuclear weapons.

Bruno Tertrais, 2010, “The Illogic of Zero,” The Washington Quarterly (April 2010); https://csis.org/publication/twq-illogic-zero-spring-2010 (Bruno Tertrais is a senior research fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Strate ́gique in Paris, France, and a member of the editorial board of The Washington Quarterly)
A more interesting argument is that the strategic and technological context has changed so much in the past 20 years that long-distance conventional weapons could effectively be a substitute for nuclear deterrence. It is true that ‘‘[the U.S.] current conventional military power is more than sufficient to defeat any other conventional military force,’’ but this argument misses the point. First, it only applies to the United States; none of its allies or adversaries has the same capabilities. Second, it is far from certain that even modern conventional weapons alone would be able to hold a major power such as Russia or China at bay. Such countries could very well believe — not entirely without reason — that Western public opinions would not support a sustained and prolonged conventional bombing campaign against them. Third, it may not even be a practical option to deter regional powers. Proponents of abolition often argue that threatening regime change through the use of force could be enough. Saddam Hussein, however, was not impressed by the threat of regime change. And the U.S.-led coalition’s difficulties in Iraq since 2003 have probably devalued the threat of invasion as a deterrent for at least another two decades. The equivalent destructive power of nuclear weapons can be unleashed in a matter of seconds. The horror associated with their use makes them particularly terrifying due to their deadly effects because
of radiation. It is because of these anticipated effects that nuclear deterrence
has been much more effective in
preventing wars than any other previous
instruments or mechanisms.

It is simply the case that there have been no new world wars since the advent of nuclear weapons. Tertrais continues:

As Margaret Thatcher once reportedly said, ‘‘There is a monument to the failure of conventional deterrence in every French village.’’ Thomas Schelling reminds us that the
worlds of 1914 and 1939, the years that
mark the beginning of each world war, were nuclear-free ones. Yet, they resulted in the loss of approximately 80 million lives. Today, with nuclear weapons, the idea of a major war between great powers seems unlikely. The last time a war took place between major powers was more than 70 years ago, which is an historical anomaly. Children born in 1945 are now reaching retirement age without having ever having seen a world war. In recent history, the fact that World War II took place only two decades after the first one shows that leaders and peoples can have very short memories. Although globalization and economic interdependence have advanced, history shows that political passions can easily trump economic rationales, as they did in Europe in 1914Ñ the year in which World War I began even though the continent was at the height of ‘‘the first globalization’’ and war was believed to be a ‘‘Great Illusion’’ (Norman Angell) because it had no economic rationality.

These deterrence and proliferation arguments are strengthened if you are able to win that other countries won’t reciprocate the nuclear reductions.
There is a strong argument that Russia will not reciprocate.

Barry Watts, 2013, Nuclear-Conventional Firebreaks and the Nuclear Taboo, http://www.csbaonline.org/publications/2013/04/nuclear-conventional-firebreaks-and-the-nuclear-taboo/
Regardless of whether one views the global elimination of nuclear weapons as a realistic goal or not, the fact remains nuclear weapons currently exist. Even if one is skeptical about global zero, might not the United States and Russia further reduce their arsenals? In January 2012, the Obama administration issued strategic guidance containing the observation that “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our arsenal as well as their role in national security.” While this formulation omits the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in reassuring allies, it certainly reflects a desire to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal below the New START limits. It also raises the question of whether the Russians will be inclined to co- operate. Putin remains adamant that under no circumstances will Russia give up its nuclear weapons: to the contrary he has supported modernizing Russia’s nu- clear arsenal. Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces have now fielded an 18-launcher division of RS-24 (SS-29) “Yars” road-mobile ICBMs designed to penetrate U.S. missile defenses, and Putin hopes to add 400 new ICBMs and SLBMs to Russia’s strategic forces over the next decade. Russia’s leaders do not appear to view nuclear weapons as diminishing in value or assess their continued existence as a growing source of danger. As of September 2012, the Russian Federation was be- low the New START limits, especially in deployed launchers. Putin may therefore resist further reductions in Russia’s nuclear forces. If he does, that would leave the United States with the less palatable option of making additional reductions in the U.S. arsenal unilaterally.

Russiareciprocate
And this is true of many other countries as well. Watts continues:

Russia’s leaders are not alone in ascribing greater value to nuclear arms than the Obama administration. The perception that the risks of nuclear weapons increasingly outweigh their benefits has not, as Frank Miller has testified, had great resonance in the capitals of other nuclear states Not in Paris. Certainly not in Moscow or Beijing, where nuclear weapons have become central to their security policies. Not in Islamabad, or Tel Aviv, or New Delhi. And definitely not in Pyongyang—or in Tehran for that matter. Given this divergence of opinion regarding the value and roles of nuclear arms, the remainder of this chapter will survey the reasons that other nuclear states and aspirants appear to have for seeking or maintaining nuclear arsenals and suggest how these incentives may affect various nuclear-conventional firebreaks.

But even if countries of the world could agree to eliminate nuclear weapons, it is impossible to eliminate the knowledge of how to build them and no international treaty or agreement could effectively suppress that knowledge. Watts adds:

Proponents of “nuclear global zero” could counter Schelling by insisting that arms control agreements could be put in place that would preclude states from reconstituting nuclear weapons even under the exigencies of a major power conflict. The difficulty, as Perry and Schlesinger observed in 2009, is that even achieving the global elimination of nuclear weapons would require conditions that “are not present today and their creation would require a fundamental transformation of the world political order.” Agreements and organizations that could enforce a prohibition against reconstituting nuclear arms appear even less likely. Indeed, these very obstacles to preventing the return of nuclear weapons suggest, in themselves, that nuclear arms can, and do, serve other, broader ends than the narrow goal of deterring the direct use of nuclear weapons by American adversaries against the United States or its allies.

And since history proves that at least global conventional war is inevitable, every major war then would turn into a nuclear crisis as countries reassembled arsenals for at least the purpose of coercing defeat. Watts again:

In light of this conclusion, an important question to ask is whether a world without nuclear weapons is likely to be safer and more secure than one in which the threat of thermonuclear disaster persists. The nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling is skeptical. In 2009 he made the following points. First, if “a world without nuclear weapons” means a world in which nuclear weapons could not be reconstituted by any nation, “there can be no such world.”  Second, assuming all the world’s nuclear weapons had somehow been eliminated, great power conventional conflict would still be possible: “One might hope that major war could not happen in a world without nuclear weapons, but it always did.” Third, in the event of a major power conflict after nuclear arms had been abolished (and none had been secretly preserved), would not the leaders of all the belligerents be compelled to make every effort “to acquire deliverable nuclear weapons as rapidly as possible” in order to coerce victory? In summary, a “world without nuclear weapons” would be a world in which the United States, Russia, Israel, China, and half a dozen or a dozen other countries would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons and mobilize or commandeer delivery systems, and would have prepared targets to preempt other nations’ nu- clear facilities, all in a high-alert status, with practice drills and secure emergency communications. Every crisis would be a nuclear crisis, any war could become a nuclear war. The urge to preempt would dominate: whoever gets the first few weapons will coerce or preempt. It would be a nervous world.

The debate over the need for radical nuclear reductions and potentially disarmament is an interesting one. There is some intuitive sense to the notion that unless we abolish nuclear weapons that they will inevitably be used and that such use would have horrible consequences. At the same time, however, there are very strong arguments against a move, particularly a unilateral move by the United States, to dramatically reduce, and perhaps eliminate, nuclear weapons. I encourage you to read the sources above, as well as those below, on your own and to draw your own conclusions.
Read more –
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
http://www.cnduk.org
Parliamentarians for Disarmament and Nonproliferation
http://www.pnnd.org
Ploughshares Fund
http://www.ploughshares.org
The Road to Zero: A New Report on Nuclear Disarmament
http://www.ewi.info/path-zero-opportunities-and-challenges-disarmament-and-nonproliferation