Nuclear Weapons: A Source of Instability Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1189 Words
Date:  2022-05-06

Nuclear weapons are the world's most dangerous weapons of mass destruction. Currently, nine countries own nuclear weapons. Just with the press of a button, nuclear weapons can be launched from their silos, and in the course of a few days, millions of people will be dead. Nuclear weapons are capable of wiping entire states altogether. What is even more alarming is how a nuclear weapon kills. After detonation, the heat wave of a large nuclear can destroy an area of over 100-kilometer radius. However, those who survive the initial killer heat wave would still be in danger of death from the nuclear fallout. Nuclear fallout has been known to cause a genetic modification to those affected, and the effects can still be witnessed several generations later. Therefore, nuclear weapons are a source of instability rather than stability in the international system.

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Proponents of nuclear proliferation have always cited the cold war as a perfect example of how nuclear weapons are a source of stability rather than instability. The USSR and USA experienced increased tension that threatened peace. However, the war culminated in only threats, nuclear armament and indirect warfare (proxy wars) on countries such as Vietnam and China. The possibility of complete or a large scale wipeout of either side due to the possession of nuclear weapons deterred both sides from attacking each other. The deterrence theory was developed as a result of this course of events (Rauchhaus, 2009). The theory suggests that possession of a nuclear weapon can deter a more powerful adversary from attacking, by virtue of the high destructive power of the weapon, as long as the destruction of the weapon by the adversary can be averted.

However, proponents of nuclear proliferation overlook key details in their quest to [prove their theories. First is the disposition of humankind to error. Yes, states with nuclear power may have no intentions for attacking each other, but there is no preventive measure against accidents. In the course of handling nuclear weapons, accidents might sometimes occur and cause unintended deaths. The United States has several times almost nuked itself after accidents involving nuclear bombs occurred. For instance, on January 24, 1961, a plane carrying two nuclear bombs lost control and crash-landed on American Soil. Luckily, the nuclear bombs ejected safely and did not explode. Investigations, however, revealed that only a low voltage switch prevented the explosion. This is just one of many accidents involving nuclear weapons or material that have occurred. It is justified to deduce as such that nuclear weapons cause instability.

Second is the change of the global political and economic situation. During the Cold War, America and the Soviet Union were the only two major powers creating a bi-polar world. Other countries were either in support of the Soviet Union, USA or remain neutral. However, this platform has since changed to a multi-polar world (Sullivan, 2013). Great political, military and economic powers have emerged with some acquiring the nuclear weapons. Although the United States and Russia are still the most powerful regarding nuclear weapons, it is illogical to ignore nuclear threats from other countries. Due to the current multi-polar situation, disputes are bound to occur especially with countries that have just acquired nuclear weapons (Sullivan, 2013). In essence, nuclear weapons are a cause of instability, and the Iran-Israel conflict is a perfect example.

Another theory used to promote the development of nuclear weapons is the Mutual Assured Destruction theory. It is similar to the deterrent theory only that it also assumes that both states can strike twice and that the authority from both sides is rational (Sokolski, 2011). The theory is evidently flawed regarding the current situation in the world. The then American and Soviet Union (USSR) leaders were rational people. In Nikita Khrushchev's own words, what prevented actual war from occurring was the fact that it was either peaceful co-existence or destruction.

Nonetheless, the situation in the world is very different right now. A crop of leaders with no regard or respect has emerged. North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is a perfect example of why nuclear weapons cause instability. Despite the fact that 40% of the North Korean population living below the poverty line, North Korea spend more than 30% of the country's GDP on Nuclear weapons. Although reports on the actual situation in North Korea are limited due to the harsh nature of the regime, social institutions in the country are alarmingly underdeveloped. Still, there is the issue of the illegal missile launches. North Korea has been known to launch nuclear weapons in disregard to international laws. This has created a state of instability in the country due to the numerous sanctions placed on it by other countries.

Iran is another country of concern. Although it owns no nuclear weapons, its longtime conflict with Israel is an area of concern. Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, is quoted saying that as long as the current Iranian regime stays in power, Iran is the biggest threat to Israel's security. The tensions stem from Israel's effort at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is a no-brainer which country would be under threat if Iran acquired the nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly targeted Israel for destruction. As such, nuclear weapons have been a source of instability in the area.

Another valid concern with the proliferation of nuclear weapons is the possibility of non-state parties acquiring them. The Global Terrorism Index indicates that the global terror scene is growing at an unprecedented rate. Terrorists are increasingly multiplying while coming up with cruder methods to inflict the most significant damage to their target; both regarding human lives and the economy. If such terrorist groups, like ISIS, can acquire nuclear weapons, it is anyone's guess the events that would follow. Despite the fact that the chances of such an occurrence are quite slim, the risk is still there. Henry Kissinger accurately described the situation to a wall street journal where he is quoted saying that "far from making the world safer, nuclear weapons are on the other hand a source of intolerable risk." (Kissinger et al. 2011)

Although nuclear weapons were deemed a source of stability during the cold war, in the current world, nuclear weapons have turned to be a source of instability. There is the constant threat of a full-scale nuclear war especially with countries such as North Korea that handle such weapons of mass destruction with an appalling attitude. Supporters of the acquisition of nuclear weapons state that there is no intended use of the weapons and that they serve only to deter attack from other countries. However, the amount of money spent on nuclear weapons is at loggerheads with this line of thought. The world should instead embark on a total nuclear disarmament campaign.


Kissinger, Henry A., Shultz George P., Perry William J., & Nunn Sam, March 7, 2011. Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Proliferation. Retrieved from

Rauchhaus, R. (2009). Evaluating the nuclear peace hypothesis: A quantitative approach. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 53(2), 258-277.

Sokolski, H. D. (2004). Getting MAD: nuclear mutual assured destruction, its origins and practice. DIANE Publishing.

Sullivan, B. (2013). Nuclear Stability. Do nuclear weapons contribute to increasing or decreasing stability?.

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