Are We Heading towards a Nuclear Winter? A Theoretical Framework: Rameez Raja

Guest post by RAMEEZ RAJA

The discovery of nuclear energy or radioactivity in 1930s and 1940s by the scientists in a sense murdered the true spirit of science. After the bombings by the United States over Japan in 1945, physicists and nuclear scientists practically got to know about the massive amount of energy a nuclear explosion can release. At around the same time, scientists started experimenting to harness nuclear energy for generating electricity as well. However, after the destruction caused by atomic explosions in Japan, Albert Einstein changed his stance towards using nuclear energy after witnessing the horrifying episode in human history. Along with him, many other nuclear scientists and bomb designers like Ted Taylor, John Gofman, Michio Kaku turned anti-nuclear activists after studying about the harmful effects nuclear radiation can cause.

Kennette Benedict, a senior advisor to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists argued that the three communities which benefit by supporting nuclear warheads are “weapons scientists and engineers, private military contractors, and the government nuclear weapon bureaucracy.” Some realists and neo-realists like Hans Morgenthau (Politics Among Nations), Kenneth Waltz (Theory of International Politics) and John Mearsheimer (The Tragedy of Great Power Politics) championed the deterrence theory for avoiding major wars. Surprisingly, the nuclear hawks feel proud of their nuclear achievements and development, despite the fact that nukes failed to provide them with total security and also that nuclear energy is not a cheap source for generating electricity as reported by physicist, M. V. Ramana in his book The Power of Promise. 

The most important question is, why are the majority of peoplesilent about the current nuclear crisis? It is because of the belief system created by nuclear hawks and nuclear nationalists to control our minds  – that for national security, nukes are the first priority. In addition to this, nuclear scientists keep insisting that nuclear energy is pollution free and a cheap source for electricity generation. However, the statements are completely contrary to the claims made by many physicists and scientists who argue that nuclear energy can never be economical for generating electricity. The notion that nuclear energy is pollution free has also been challenged by the Japanese nuclear chemist, Jinzabura Takagi.

Several social scientists and physicists have challenged the concept of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes as it is totally hazardous in terms of mishaps and nuclear wastage. For instance, the reprocessing, breeder reactors are hazardous and tanks for storing spent fuel are prone to rapture and leakage. The radioactive fallout can happen because of technical or mechanical errors. Natural calamities such as earthquakes, tsunamis, fast winds, and cyclones are often disregarded by the authorities. For instance, Fukushima nuclear disaster happened due to an earthquake and tsunami and similarly many nuclear plants are located in seismic zones IV which is in total violation of the international safety provisions.

The ‘Atoms for Peace Programme’ was a poor decision put forward by Eisenhower which culminated in chaos and instability. There is hardly any difference between the reactors used for electricity generation or for manufacturing of nukes. It is interesting to note that most nuclear states passed a finance bill in the name of peaceful utilization of nuclear energy, however, secretly utilized it for weapons development programmes.

In the name of peaceful utilization of nuclear energy, the nuclear industry in the US like Westinghouse, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, and the nuclear industries of other states like Canada, the UK (Sheffield Forgemasters), France (company Areva), Russia (Atomstroyexport company, a subsidiary of Rosatom) and Kazakhstan (Kazatomprom) have sold nuclear equipment to countries which are not even members to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The claim of “peaceful nuclear energy” is nothing but a hidden ploy to continue their nuclear weapons programme.

The US itself is directly involved in nuclear proliferation by collaborating with the United Kingdom. Similarly, France’s nuclear collaboration with Israel, Soviet-China nuclear relationship, Pakistan-China and Pakistan-North Korea nuclear relationship, India-Israel nuclear relationship and currently India-US nuclear relationship are some of the best examples. India, although, not a party to the NPT got Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) waiver in 2008 with the help of the US by altering the Act 123. The reason put forth was simple that India has shortage of nuclear fuel to continue its nuclear programme.

With the help of nuclear commerce, India will get enough fuel to continue its weapons programme to counter China. That is why the US is interested in nuclear trade with India although several member states were against the NSG waiver to India. It was actually Mearsheimer who in his master piece The Tragedy of Great Power Politics guided the US to help a neighbour country (India) of China to counter it for becoming a hegemon to surpass the US that is why he called his theory Offensive Realism. Mearsheimer also used the term Buck-Passing that means the distribution of power when facing a dangerous rival, for instance, Indo-US relationship to counter China.

To hold that some nukes are good particularly those of the declared nuclear states while other nukes are bad like North Korea, is absurd. The generally held view is that the United States is a responsible nuclear state because it is believed that its nukes are in the safe hands, whereas, North Korea’s nukes are a threat to world peace because it lacks rational actors and has been declared a rogue state. However, the truth is that it was the US president Truman with the support of scientist, Robert Oppenheimer and military engineer, Major General Leslie Groves who carried out the nuclear experiments by killing thousands of non-combatants and innocent people of Japan in 1945. The atomic bombs were dropped without any warning in Japan and the zeal for acquiring nukes started after the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States. There are two assumptions: if North Korea behaves reasonably then it is wrong to assume North Korea a rogue state and if unfortunately, North Korea responds with nukes, then Waltz’s deterrence theory is disproved!

The principles of deterrence theories are nothing but, simply a myth. For deterrence, rational decision making is an important element, but who is rational and who is irrational is a difficult thing to determine. Interestingly, the US has positioned some of its nuclear warheads on high alert. According to the 2017 nuclear report published in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, there are nearly 15000 nukes located at some 107 sites in 14 countries and surprisingly some 1800 nukes are on high alert and ready for use on short notice.

Donald Trump’s aggressive behaviour and the threat to “totally destroy” North Korea would exacerbate the tensions rather than bringing stability in the region. North Korea is a nuclear state and the world should accept this. It is because of the flawed policies of the declared nuclear states which has eventually resulted in nuclear instability. The US has not ratified the CTBT and even praised its nuclear weapons for battle field role.

The US war on Afghanistan and Iraq has been analysed by the experts who believe that nukes were not used because both Muslim states were non-nuclear. However, the case with North Korea is totally different; it has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the US and a hydrogen bomb test has worried many political scientists like Scott Sagan and many others, who have suggested that US should accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

The aggressive behaviour and attitude of Donald Trump towards North Korea has been analysed by several writers and political analysts, who believe it may not trigger a nuclear war. After all, it is the United States that helped the world to know about nuclear weapons and the deterrence theory was mostly championed by Americans. But the US is not a believer of the status quo that Waltz believed deterrence promoted, but is actually following Mearsheimer’s offensive realism that states can only be secure when they eliminate all significant foes to their power.

Glenn Snyder while differentiating between neo-realists argued that Mearsheimer’s states are ‘haunted by fear’ while Waltz’s states are ‘less fearful’ as quoted by Krieger and Roth in their piece Nuclear Weapons in Neo-Realist Theory. Both the neo-realists undermine peace research, humanity, and ethics and shared their cognition in relation to strategic studies. Alexander Gralnick in his piece Trust, Deterrence, Realism, and Nuclear Omnicide has challenged Realism thought and is of the view that “Certainly we know there is concealment, exaggeration, and misrepresentation meant to gain advantage but not the goal of mutual trust. Honesty and truth are sacrificed. Peace is the price paid. Mankind continues threatened. Realism is unknown!”

Snyder argued that it is because of nukes that  a stability-instability situation has been created. S. Paul Kapur in his work India, Pakistan and the Bomb: Debating Nuclear Stability in South Asia, argued that nuclear weapons have created instability-instability paradox only due to the constant aggressive behaviour of the nuclear states. Similarly, Saira Khan in her book Nuclear Weapons and Conflict Transformation: The Case of India-Pakistan argues that stability cannot be equated with the absence of war only, while crisis persists. Stability should mean both absence of war and absence of crisis and in the context of India and Pakistan, there is only instability and crisis. Furthermore, Timothy Hoyt in his piece The Buddha Frowns? Tactical Nuclear Weapons in South Asia argued that because of the unresolved Kashmir dispute, South Asia still remains a dangerous area in spite of statement of few analysts that nukes would induce stability.

In a nut shell, nukes are not an important factor for deterrence, it is actually actors who make nukes an important factor for deterrence. However, actors are prone to mistakes as previously done by the President Truman by dropping atomic bombs over Japan. Whether it is the US, North Korea, India or Pakistan, nukes have no role to play in inducing stability in the region. The only way to reduce the tensions is to devise and analyze policies for establishing peace in the region through peace research rather than by strategic studies as argued by Ramesh Thakur in his work Nuclear Weapons and International Security. But unfortunately, the nuclear industry is helping states to accelerate their nuclear weapons programme by supplying nuclear equipment for money factor and international community hardly cares about the issue of nuclear radiation except few NGOs and analysts. Nuclear omnicide is the better term to define the worst future that might result with the exchange of 15000 nuclear warheads. It is actually distrust that culminated in the deterrence theory. It is better to share John Somerville’s argument that the term “War” is now both incorrect and misleading due to availability of nukes.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to say that nukes/deterrence prevents war with hundreds of nukes at high trigger alert. In addition, missiles have been developed to hit the target within minutes. The only thing I understand while studying nuclear policies of respective states is that the deterrence theory has culminated in a never ending race to achieve superiority in weapons development that will definitely someday be used and that might be a reason Israel has used the phrase Doomsday Weapons. Einstein’s painful words after Japan’s bombardment by the US should be given weightage: “Everything has changed except human thinking.” It is vital that worldwide, economists should ask the nuclear states what they had gained by spending countless amount of money on nuclear deterrence which could have been used for eradicating poverty and diseases across the globe.

Finally I quote Amitav Ghosh in Countdown, in relation to the Indian subcontinent

The pursuit of nuclear weapons in the subcontinent is the moral equivalent of civil war: the targets the rulers have in mind for these weapons are, in the end, none other than their own people.

Similarly, Ramesh Thakur argued that if nuclear war is an evil, then threatening and preparing for such a war is also morally wrong.

Rameez Raja is a doctoral scholar at Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He specializes in India’s nuclear policy.



One thought on “Are We Heading towards a Nuclear Winter? A Theoretical Framework: Rameez Raja”

  1. What an awesome but enlightening article.Yes the economists must ask themselves and also the state about the so-called deterrence theory which is throughly misleading.Yes there are certainly some ones who are benefitting from these nuclear programmes . The world is literally sitting on the piles of nuclear weapons. It betrays the suicidal tendencies of the nuclear power protagonists.
    Such revelations as contained in this article must be spread to wide public so as to beware of the policies of the powers that be.


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