A World Without Nuclear Weapons

nuclear-ICBMDo all sane people agree that a nuclear weapons-free world is best?  Are nuclear weapons militarily obsolete, desirable only for political posturing?

That seems to be the consensus of an influential group of European leaders making the rounds in Washington this week.  Among their stops was the Atlantic Council, where  the delegation from the  Pugwash Conferences and the Top Level Group joined us for working lunch on the future of the U.S. nuclear posture in Europe.

I outline the major arguments in “Are Nuclear Weapons Obsolete?

My major rejoinders:

At first blush, it sounds like a wonderful idea.  After all, nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction that can kill innocents by the thousands if not the millions.  Who wouldn’t want to be rid of them?  Getting to that point might be absurdly fanciful from a practical standpoint, but it’s a wonderful ideal, no?

Certainly from an American standpoint it is.  By most estimates, we spend more on defense than the rest of the planet combined.  A nuclear-free world would be one in which our conventional military might would give us even more freedom of action than we now enjoy.  North Korea would be rendered a minor irritant and our relationship with Iran and Russia would improve decidedly in our favor.

Presumably, the same is true of the Western Europeans and the NATO countries, who would be far less constrained in their relations with Russia and far less worried about Iran.

But the opposite would seem obviously true as well.  Surely, North Korea and Russia are much happier as nuclear powers.  And there must be some reason Iran is so actively pursuing nuclear capability. There are decided advantages to being a member of the club.


Clausewitz taught us that war and politics are inextricably linked.  So, the distinction between the “political” and “military” viability of nuclear weapons is one without meaning.  The bottom line is that deterrence theory still works, at least amongst state actors.   After all, no nuclear power has ever been attacked by another state. The same can’t be said about attacks by nuclear powers against non-nuclear states.

Much more at the link.

FILED UNDER: Europe, National Security, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jeff says:

    how about a world without guns …

    or a world without sharp sticks …

  2. steve says:



  3. William d'Inger says:

    The greatest flaw of the human species is its propensity to waste time and resources on foolish ideas. If the time spent just on praying for the coming of various messiahs had been put to productive use, we would probably have explorers on the way to distant planetary systems by now. Get it through your heads people, the only way to rid the Earth of nuclear weapons is to destroy it or to create a more cost effective means of annihilating enemies. This issue is simply another case of politicians/pundits talking nonsense. I’m surprised James uses bandwidth for such silliness.

  4. Drew says:

    And from another deep thinker: “can’t we all just get along?”

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    Imagine a world that never had nuclear weapons. The 330k American dead in WWII is doubled with the invasion of Japan. The doubled again as the Japanese planned September 1945 germ warfare attack goes forward.

    Post WWII we see a second Dunkirk as Stalin’s hordes pour through Fulda gap.

    Who wouldn’t want a nuclear free world?

  6. Richard Gardner says:

    Breaking news – Breaking news

    VERY left leaning UK organization whose founding members in 1958 (Um, I wasn’t alive then) were anti-Nuke are, wow, still anti-nuke. Because white man is evil, or some such.

    Bur every 10 years they make some stupid announcement to make sure they get more donations.

  7. Rick DeMent says:

    If nuclear weapons are outlawed only outlaws will have nuclear weapons.

  8. DL says:

    Gosh, I’m for nuclear war -isn’t every right-wing, God fearing, family values, gun -clinging conservative America patriot?

  9. I think “without” is better. at lease we don’t have to worry it will get in the wrong hands.

  10. Brett says:

    Do all sane people agree that a nuclear weapons-free world is best?

    Yes, but it’s one of those wishful hypotheticals like “Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world without hunger, war, or disease?”.

    That seems to be the consensus of an influential group of European leaders making the rounds in Washington this week.

    I personally think it’s a wholly ridiculous idea. A world without nukes is a world in which you can have every type of war from small skirmish to full-out conventional conflict between Great Powers, and where the barriers to starting a major war are significantly less than they are now. It’s also a world where defense expenses are significantly higher.