Jack Oughton - Science Challenges The Nation State.doc
In a time when nation states where clearly defined by the boundaries of
the Polis, and wars where not fought with atomic fire, but in the phalanx,
shield-wall to shield-wall, Aristotle writes in his work that Politics are the
‘affairs of state’ (Hammerton 1936). The codification of his writings and
of his philosophical contemporaries arguably form the foundation to the
politics which modern Western countries are built upon.
In this essay I shall define politics by the simplified term social relations
[on either a macro or micro scale; between individuals, or between
nations], and political processes as the metaphorical cogs in the machine
that makes these social relations work.
In this essay I define a nation-state as a recognised political entity, that
has defined national borders, territory and a population. (McLean
2003). I will use this term to refer to both countries and collections of
nations arranged within alliance structures.
The Scientific community; A collective struggle to overcome subjective
truth and rise above human shortcomings.
It is somewhat harder to define a scientific community. There is not and
never has been a singular body which represents all professional
scientists. Science is not so much a sociological identification but an
activity, which ties its practitioners together outside of more organized
Theoretically the Community should show continuity and solidarity
through the scientific method, which is the closest thing to a
systematized search for objective truth that humanity has. Unlike
political theory we do not hold scientific truths to be self evident, we
continually challenge them with measurements.
For example, if a persuasive enough individual, one can make a
convincing argument citing ethics and reasons favouring one political
stance, however one cannot argue against the existence of gravity in the
same way. In science, one must provide physical evidence of the
challenging theory that specifically undermines Newton. One must be
able to defend this evidence against scrutiny. This is the scientific
method, and our empirical safeguard.
Surely then, science should by default be nonpartisan as empirical truth
cannot be obtained through politics. And if apolitical, science must be
international, ignoring political boundaries. Science should be separate
from politics. A snag though; obviously, scientists are people, and a
science divorced from politics will continue to be fundamentally
impossible as long as humans have emotions and are part of the society in
which they live.
Science IS a trans-national Community.
Though not formal in structure, scientists can converse across imposed
national boundaries, even in times of war. International conferences bring
thought leaders of many nationalities together. Science is a message,
communicated internationally in the physical data, academic publications
and theories of its practitioners.
An example of a more organized scientific community is the
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). In
1981, physician Bernard Lown and a Soviet colleague, Evgeni Chazov,
launched a USA-USSR medical antinuclear movement: bringing more
than 150,000 Soviet and American doctors together against nuclear
proliferation. Over the next four years Lown and Chazov met with
numerous world leaders, and were at the forefront of organized nuclear
pressure groups. In 1985 they both accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on
behalf of IPPNW. Their actions are a case study that the scientific
community can directly influence political changes and challenge the
nation state. (Castillo 1990)
The Bomb; science’s second challenge to the nation state’s power
Science gave us the bomb, the bomb disrupted political balance; and by
extension; threatened the nation state, which had developed on the pre
atomic paradigm. Following this simple logic I would state that the
scientific commonwealth threatened the nation state. It had created a
monster which although was beyond science’s control, could not have
come about without science. Furthermore I argue that nuclear weapons
caused increased fear in both governments and civilians. Decision
making was influenced by politicians trying to appease a population and
a political system driven by fear of nuclear annihilation. In the 20th
century this fear of nuclear war affected policy. In the 21st century the
source of this emotion has now shifted further to nuclear terrorism,
although war has never gone away.
This is the core of my argument. Science gave us the bomb. The bomb
gave us the fear.
In the Cold War, military treaties such as NATO and Warsaw pact saw
nation states once again banding together for mutual protection. Like
previous world wars this was driven by an ‘us and them’ perspective and
an all pervasive fear mentality.
Division into ‘camps’ is the symptom of an underlying large
cultural/political difference. In the Cold War Communism and capitalism
became more than differing political systems, but also polarising
ideological divisions, drawing a line across the world. With the Axis
destroyed, Communism was perceived as the primo threat to Western
way of life. Communism opposed free trade and suppressed freedom of
expression. It was a fast growing weed, to be uprooted wherever found!
“The problem in defense is how far you can go without destroying from
within what you are trying to defend from without.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Nuclear weapons were an integral part of this divide. They greatly
increased perceived distance by becoming a metaphorical wedge,
exacerbating a level of mistrust and fear and pushing the opposing
ideologies further and further apart. For example, The Cuban Missile
crisis saw a fearful and defensive USA almost instigate a direct attack on
the USSR, which would likely triggered global war.
Nuclear weapons became a vital part of competing ideologies, and were
ingrained into the culture of the times. The threat of annihilation was
everpresent, and atomic weapons made that threat tangible. This post
atomic world demanded political change.
In 1950s America, the country was racked by socio-political purges and
what is now termed McCarthyism, which in hindsight seems little more
than an out of hand Communist witch-hunt. This period saw paper thin
(or nonexistent) evidence of ‘Un-American activities’ destroying careers,
reputations and lives.
One casualty was the formerly respected physicist Robert Oppenheimer,
responsible for organizing the Manhattan project, yet an outspoken critic
of the hydrogen bomb. He was publically accused of anti American
activities, and stripped of his security clearance during the McCarthy
trials. The reason? A ’defect of character.’(Schweber 2008, p.223). This
period saw many, many other promising political careers ruined.
Indirectly, fear driven by the bomb had created a climate of mass hysteria
and subsequent internal political strife within America.
The bomb also changed international politics. An underlying threat of
nuclear annihilation rearranges the balance of power. It is no longer a
finely tuned balance reliant on calculable tactical weighting such as the
quality of country’s armaments or the size and training of it’s military.
Now the scales are completely broken.
The outcome of any nuclear conflict was the expected to be the same,
everyone lost. There was no advantage to be gained from being the first
to attack. In any scenario there would be Mutually Assured Destruction.
MAD was not an official political doctrine as such, but was a term to
describe a number of political and military strategies, which employed
nuclear deterrence to prevent nuclear aggression.(Schmitz & Walker
Nuclear weapons were essentially so well defended and dispersed that
there would be no chance that one side could ‘first strike’ the other and
not face a nuclear retaliation of some magnitude. This is nuclear
deterrence, and was a legitimate US policy (Policy Subcommittee of the
Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) 1995). Even in a hypothetically
successful first strike scenario, radioactive fallout would harm the entire
planet. Any first strike ‘victor’ would have made his bed with plutonium,
and would have to sleep in it. He would also have to deal with the
possibility of becoming a pariah state in the international community.
Such a county is perceived as acting ‘out of line’ with international law
and suffers severe economic and reputational penalties because of this.
(Harkavy 2009). The power of nuclear weapons had changed the rules of
Making War Differently
As previously mentioned the nuclear resulted in international relations
tainted by fear and paranoia. A symptom of this sickness was the cold
war, a complicated, standoffish approach to conflict, unlike any before it.
It is arguable that war is a political process, to simplify; it is another
scenario by which countries attempt to try and gain advantage. In the past
the superpowers did not let fear get in the way of direct military
confrontation. Recent terrible examples included both world wars.
Weapons technology advancements such as mechanised warfare and
automatic weapons had increased the efficiency of killing past anything
the world knew. Now; nuclear advancements promised to take this
efficiency to truly obscene effectiveness. In nuclear scenario predictions,
the death toll was now more conveniently quantified in megadeaths –
1,000,000 lives extinguished at a time. War could not be the same.
Atomic energy had changed the rules of war as well.
The usage of the A-Bomb by the USA on Japan in 1945 was important
for two reasons. Firstly, it demonstrated the horrific power of the
weapon, including cataclysmic humanitarian and environmental
destruction. Secondly, it showed how unbalanced conventional war
became when one side had the weapon, and the other didn’t.
This gruesome ‘case study’ of one sided war resulted in a frantic arms
race. For effective nuclear deterrence, countries needed a bomb, and a
means of delivering it. Not having nuclear weapons was a impermissible
weakness; it left a country open to nuclear blackmail from a country that
did have them.
The Race For The Bomb
The need to acquire nuclear weapons created an arms race between the
USSR the USA, and their respective allies. This dated back to World War
II with USA’s Manhattan Project and the USSR’s Nuclear Project. Over
the four decades to follow this would see countries spending
extraordinary amounts upgrading the technology and quantity of nuclear
armaments that they hoped to never use, but couldn’t do without.
How To Win A Cold War
The cold war as a larger event is an example of how the nuclear threat
changes the victory conditions for a war. After World War II the division
of countries into communist and capitalist camps had established the
geopolitical framework for a nuclear “World War III”. Both sides wanted
to ‘win’ – and to do this they could not face open thermonuclear (‘hot’)
war. They had to try new tactics.
Win Via Proxy: Throughout the world there were many regions, which
had internal political friction between capitalist and communist elements.
Superpowers found that they could help promote their political system by
aiding their favoured country either through providing arms and training,
or directly intervening, such as in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Win Via Detente: After losing the bloody and extremely unpopular
Vietnam , America looked for more non violent methods to contain the
spread of Communism. Broadly speaking; it tried to do this by spreading
capitalism as a form of economic evangelism. The dollar was a powerful
weapon, and was used well. In the end the US won the cold war through
superior economics, they prospered. The USSR collapsed.
How To Win Armageddon (Hint: You can’t)
“Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.“
Now that all sides were armed, they had to find a use for this nuclear
firepower. The practical uses, dare I say it, of the bomb, were limited.
Too powerful to be deployed en masse, it’s application in warfare like
bringing an assault rifle to a paintball game. However, its proven
effective use is as a political tool. In simple terms nuclear armaments
were a powerful threat. Regardless of what happens, any country that
possesses them can use them as an ace in the hole; a kind of suicidal
tiebreaker. A country losing a conventional war can always instigate a
nuclear one, with the vindictive logic of “If I’m going I’m taking you
Recent developments in nuclear weapon technology have lead to the
creation of ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons. These are weapons with a smaller
nuclear yield that would be deployed in hypothetical ‘limited’ nuclear
conflicts. Could we wage a limited Nuclear War? Recent evidence
You don’t grow crops in Nuclear Winter
Even if the cause of the war were local, the entire globe would feel the
repercussions of a hundred nuclear detonations; a small fraction of the
U.S. stockpile. A regional nuclear war in South Asia would deplete up to
40% of the ozone layer in the mid latitudes and up to 70% in the high
northern latitudes. (Mills et al. 2008). This would be combined with the
climatic impact of a regional nuclear war; which would reduce crop
yields and starve hundreds of millions in a Nuclear Famine.
Since it was well established that nobody could really win.. Political
changes brought about in the form of treaties, aimed at limiting the usage
and number of nuclear weapons. Broadly speaking there are 4 types;
i. Nonproliferation: Signatories agreed not to proliferate the spread of
nuclear weapons, not
ii. Test bans: Signatories of these treaties agreed to cease or limit nuclear
weapon tests. A worldwide monitoring system including 170 seismic
stations ensured compliance.
iii. Arms Reduction: Signatories agree to reduce quantity of warheads
in the arsenal
iv. Arms Limitation: These ban or restrict quantities of certain sorts of
weapons systems, these have included Multiple Re-entry warheads
(MIRVs) and subterranean silos(state.gov n.d.).
Since the cold war there have been many such treaties. Although we are
making progress (at least in terms of decreasing the amount of warheads
amongst certain states), not everyone in the ‘nuclear club’ has signed
them. For example, India has not signed the test ban treaty. In 1998 it
conducted subterranean H Bomb Test, which it did not choose to
forewarn the international community about. Overall, progress has been
slow and international compliance elusive.
New Millenium – New Enemies
In the 21st century, the nuclear threat continues to be a major arbiter of
"The next generation of terrorists, rather than going for little dramas,
will go for the big one...something so horrific that it gets into the
Guinness Book of Records for terrorism.” Richard Holbrooke, former US
ambassador to the UN, November 2001"
Nuclear terrorism, Dirty bombs, Rogue states
The new millennium has seen the rules of the game change again.
Though not directly related to nuclear weapons, the control of radioactive
substances is an important part post atomic policy. In the West, terrorists
and rogue states are now seen as the main threat, but cannot be dealt with
in the same way as communism was.
Mutually assured destruction may not function in a world where more
and more nations have access to nuclear weapons. This is made worse, if
these states have widely varying political goals and philosophies, which
could be the case if a large number of countries from different political
backgrounds possess nukes.
Terrorists, for instance, are outside the bounds of old deterrence
strategies. They are often driven by unusual motivations. Many cannot be
threatened by conventional force, and are driven by a fanatical disregard
for life. They often hold agendas that cannot reasonably be satisfied by
Pariah status or not, rogue states empowered by nuclear weapons (and
disregard for international law) have the capability to attack and decimate
a superpower, even if the counterstrike would decimate them also.
The 2009 Report Of The International Committee on Disarmament was
pessimistic. It found that new nuclear states may not have well-developed
safeguards and controls to prevent nuclear accidents or unauthorized
launches. It stated “That the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has not
so far been repeated owes far more to luck than to good policy
management.” (Evans & Kawaguchi 2009)
Saddam Hussein’s former chief physicist Obeidi described “How easy it
was for him, backed by an open chequebook, to acquire blueprints and
components on the open market”(Obeidi 2004)
Worse, multiple undercover studies have shown how well the black
market organizes the sale and distribution of fissile material, especially
obtained from former Soviet Union sources (Belyaninov 1994) (Shelley
All of this suggests that the nuclear threat from terrorists and well-funded
rogue states is certainly legitimate. Newly nuclear countries like Pakistan
and India now have the opportunity to settle their individual differences
with mushroom clouds. A question that now requires answering, how
similar will their behaviour be to the older members of the nuclear club?
Conclusion: Keep your hands away from that red button!
“I don’t know whether war is an interlude during peace, or peace an
interlude during war.” - Georges Clemenceau
I believe that the threat of nuclear annihilation acts as a catalyst for
political change. The slew of soviet bloc economic meltdowns (driven in
part by excessive Soviet defence spending, including on nuclear
weapons), nuclear non proliferation treaties, 20th century proxy wars and
anti nuclear pressure groups are clear examples of this.
Even into the 21st century the threat of the bomb has not gone away, with
the nuclear threat now shifting to rogue states and terrorist groups. The
imperatives of U.S. nuclear security policy are ultimately inseparable
from the imperatives of the global war on terrorism. (R. Lee 2006)
Regardless of an individual nation’s hunger for political gain, most
rational leaders understand that the laws of international relations, war
and internal policymaking are changed by the release of atomic energy.
The need to retain an effective nuclear deterrent, maintain international
relations, and appease an increasingly nuclear aware population(Lifton
1984) must all be balanced.
Since the first sharpened stick, disruptive technological weapon advances
have forced political changes to compensate for shifting military
conditions. The ongoing problem is that it is a lot easier to kill a million
people with hydrogen bomb than a stick.
Maybe the reason why the entire planet is not yet a smoking pile of
radioactive ash is a heady mixture of good political commonsense and
downright underwear fouling terror. Perhaps the wisdom of our science
has been smothered by the collective madness of nations engrossed in
political and ideological struggle.
Despite what I have said, it is not all doom and gloom, and in some ways,
the future is looking brighter.
I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the
peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons - Barak Obama,
End: A new START.
The START treaty is the latest step in reducing the quantity of nuclear
armaments and was signed on 8 April 2010 in Prague by Obama and
Medvedev. It will limit the number of operationally deployed nuclear
warheads to nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty (J. Lee
Viewed optimistically this treaty suggests a trend towards further
agreements which may continue reducing the warhead total, perhaps one
day all the way to zero.
Personally, I believe that the continuation of nuclear treaties between the
superpowers is a positive sign. If the international community can take
the lead of the USA and the USSR, perhaps countries which have
recently acquired the bomb can follow their example in responsibly
reducing their own arsenal sizes, and overcoming political differences
through diplomatic action.
Obviously, the largest political change we could hope to see from the
release of nuclear energy would be the outright ban on nuclear weapons.
However, the release of nuclear energy has been, in some ways like the
opening of Pandora’s Box. Regardless of political action, until we can
find an equivalent technology or means to completely regulate the flow
of fissile substances in the world, the nuclear threat will remain a
challenge to world peace and the stability of the nation state. And
suppose, even if we do, how do we deal with rogue elements who refuse
to comply with international law?
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