Instigator / Pro

Conservative Nuclear Arsenals are Preferable to Total Nuclear Weapons Abolition

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Debate details
Publication date
Last update
Category
Politics
Time for argument
One week
Voting system
Open voting
Voting period
Two weeks
Point system
Four points
Rating mode
Rated
Characters per argument
6,000
Contender / Con
Description
Full resolution: In a near-future, hypothetical anarchic interstate system in which total nuclear weapons abolition is possible, we ought to prefer nuclear states maintaining conservative nuclear arsenals.
Burden and Objectives:
-Pro must affirm the resolution.
-Con must negate the resolution.
-Thus, the burden of proof rests with Pro.
Definitions:
"Near future" - For the purpose of this debate, "near future" really just means that in the hypothetical anarchic interstate system, weapons technologies are the same as today. This prevents either myself or my opponent from desperately inventing some potential weapon that upends the spirit of the debate.
"Anarchic Interstate System" - A system of international relations in which there is no central governing power (i.e. no world government). Today's international system is anarchic. The United Nations does not count as a central governing power, because any of the great powers can prevent binding UN resolutions.
"Total nuclear weapons abolition" - Disarmament of every nuclear weapon on the planet. Total disarmament. "Nuclear Zero," as some call it.
"Conservative nuclear arsenals" - For the purposes of this debate, conservative nuclear arsenals means 1) Nuclear states reduce their arsenal size and capabilities down to the level of bare-minimum 2nd-strike capability. 2) Nuclear states adopt No First Use policies. 3) Nuclear states maintain their nuclear arsenals by keeping nuclear warheads separated from delivery vehicles under normal conditions. Only during extreme crises would the nuclear warheads be coupled with delivery vehicles, thus rendering them ready to fire.
"2nd-strike capability" - The ability to suffer a massive nuclear 1st strike from an enemy and still retain enough nuclear weapons to retaliate with a destructive 2nd strike. This is generally considered the bare-minimum for nuclear deterrence. If you possess 2nd-strike capability, it would be suicidal for an enemy to launch a nuclear first strike.
"No First Use policies" - A declaratory policy on the part of a nuclear state, in which the state promises it will never use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, UNLESS they have suffered biological/chemical attacks or a major conventional attack on the homeland.
Round Structure:
R1 Introductory arguments
R2 Response to R1 arguments
R3 Response to R2 arguments and closing remarks (no wholly new arguments may be introduced in this round)
Round 1
Published:
Thanks to Lucy for accepting. I look forward to an interesting debate.

I shall affirm the resolution by making a three-part argument. Sections A and B explain the risks of total nuclear disarmament, while C demonstrates the superiority of conservative nuclear arsenals (IMPORTANT: read the debate description to understand this term) in comparison.

A: THE INCENTIVE TO CHEAT
The nations of the world have agreed to abolish nuclear weapons. Now what?

Cheat. The late realist and nuclear theorist, Kenneth Waltz, argued "Nuclear weapons are small and light. They are easy to hide and easy to move ... Because a ban on all nuclear weapons would be impossible to police and enforce, some countries would be tempted to break the rules. Since some might cheat, all would have a strong incentive to do so."

Readers may ask, in the hypothetical world in which all states agreed to do away with nuclear weapons, why would any state cheat? There are several factors to consider:

#1 Time passes and leaders/situations change. What may have seemed like a good deal to one President may seem like a foolish risk to another 10 years later, when the international landscape seems more hostile.

#2 Atomic monopoly is more attractive than mutual deterrence. As an example, take Countries A and B. They have historically been enemies, and they are both nuclear powers. They are in a state of mutual deterrence - neither can initiate major aggression against the other, for fear of nuclear war. Then, Nuclear Zero Fever sweeps the world, and Countries A and B, along with every state in the world, sign an agreement to completely denuclearize. After a few years, Country B reveals they have developed a small nuclear arsenal in secret. Although its warheads are few in number, it could destroy Country A's major population centers with virtual impunity. Essentially, by agreeing to the deal, and then by violating it, Country B has gained a massive upper hand over its enemy, Country A.

#3 States engaged in all-out war would be under extreme pressure to sprint for nuclear capacity, if for no other reason than fear that their opponent is secretly sprinting for nuclear weapons.

#4 Even if a state might not desire nuclear weapons, it may be so concerned about the possibility of other countries cheating that it feels compelled to protect itself by cheating. Since every state knows every state must be thinking along these lines, the incentive to cheat would seem quite strong. Taken in conjunction with points #1, #2, and #3, one could even say a responsible national leader would cheat, in order to protect their state against the disasters that could occur if even a single state cheated.

What happens if a state cheats? If it is caught before it completes its objective, the nations of the world will have to decide whether go to war with the offending state to ensure compliance with nuclear zero, or allow the state to develop a nuclear arsenal.

If states allow the offending state to successfully develop a nuclear arsenal, will they allow themselves to be blackmailed by the offender's atomic monopoly, or will they also renuclearize?

If states were to go to war against the offending state, the next crucial question is: would they succeed before the offending state managed to develop a nuclear weapon? If not, the offending state could conceivably use nuclear weapons to beat back their opponents, potentially killing millions. Even if the attacking states succeeded in subduing the offending state before they developed nuclear weapons, many lives would still have been lost in the fighting.

B: EVEN IF NO STATES CHEAT...
Even if no states cheat, a Nuclear Zero world would be more war-prone. I again turn to Waltz: "Abolishing the weapons that have caused sixty-five years of peace would certainly have effects. It would, among other things, make the world safe for the fighting of World War III."

Simply put, nuclear weapons prevent wars. Obviously, wars have been fought since the development of nuclear weapons. But as Robert Spalding argues, "direct conflict between nuclear powers always deescalate[s] back to dialogue," because the consequences of "nuclear holocaust" are too daunting. Spalding credits nuclear weapons with preventing WWIII and saving millions of lives, as do many others.

Without the constraints of nuclear deterrence, tens or hundreds of millions could die in conventional wars made possible by nuclear zero.

C: THE ALTERNATIVE: CONSERVATIVE NUCLEAR ARSENALS
Conservative nuclear arsenals carry all the supposed benefits of nuclear disarmament and none of the drawbacks.

By supposed benefits of disarmament, I mean the lack of nuclear war. If every nuclear state maintains second strike capabilities and No First Use policies, there are no conditions under which nuclear exchange could logically occur. Consider:

#1 If a state were to launch a massive nuclear first strike, the victim state would be able to respond in kind. Thus, the initiating state would be deterred and not initiate.

#2 If a state were to launch a major conventional attack on another nuclear state's homeland, they could suffer nuclear retaliation. Thus, the aggressor state would be deterred and not invade.

#3 In times of crisis, competing nuclear states would not engage in nuclear war, simply because they both possess No First Use policies and retain second strike capabilities.

By "none of the drawbacks," I of course mean that conservative nuclear arsenals possess none of the risks of total abolition (as detailed in Sections A and B).

CONCLUSION
Nuclear zero poses a serious threat to the international system's stability. All states would have strong incentive to cheat; if even one attempted to, the results could be tragic, regardless of whether the offending state ultimately succeeded in its attempt. Even if no states cheated, the stage would be set for WWIII.

Alternatively, conservative nuclear arsenals offer the benefit of abolition without the downsides. Thus, I affirm the resolution.
Published:
The plaque pleads, "LET ALL THE SOULS HERE REST IN PEACE FOR WE SHALL NOT REPEAT THE EVIL" This is Hiroshima Peace Park, a beautiful, harrowing homage to the horrors of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons, along with chemical weapons, are the most horrible devices anyone could ever hope to unleash. These horrors are no secret; even arguments for their existence are predicated on ensuring that they are never used. Must we be resigned to accepting that, at any moment, hundreds of millions or even billions of people could die within the span of a few cataclysmic hours?

Mutually assured destruction is madness. There is only one way to ensure that the evil is never repeated, and that is the complete abolition of nuclear weaponry. The abolition of nuclear weaponry, as proposed by advocacy group Global Zero, pushes us to "stop the spread of nuclear weapons, secure all nuclear materials and eliminate all nuclear weapons: global zero."

Since much research into nuclear weapons is conducted through academic sources, it is often behind paywalls. While I have library access to them, I've substituted publicly available discussions so my sources aren't locked away. Some day, the broken system will change...

My Case
My opponent's plan results in a situation identical to the status quo, the costs of which are unacceptably high. Only abolition solves.

The World With Nuclear Weapons
My opponent's world looks much like the world we live in today. Here is a quick read on the US government's current nuclear strategy. The concerns: whether we have modern enough nukes for deterrence, whether we have enough kinds of nukes for deterrence, whether our adversaries commit to treaties to limit nuclear weapons. And the answers: our nukes are never modern enough, we never have enough, and our enemies tear apart the deals all the time. Nuclear weapons expert Matthew Kroenig describes the situation:
"Few would argue that one or two tanks is enough if your enemy has dozens. Yet when it comes to nuclear arms, scholars have maintained that one or two is more than enough to ruin anybody’s day, so a small nuclear arsenal is sufficient to deter any adversary . . . if this is correct, we have a puzzle: the United States maintains a robust nuclear posture, including thousands of nuclear warheads and missile defenses, and has always pursued nuclear advantages over enemies. . . . my book explains the logic of American nuclear strategy. It shows how nuclear superiority limits a country’s expected damage in a war, which enhances its resolve in showdowns with other nuclear states, and ultimately strengthens nuclear deterrence."
"International relations scholars have consistently shown that military parity is associated with conflict whereas preponderances of power are correlated with peace. If anything, therefore, U.S. superiority over Russia should be more stable than the current balance of terror."

The relative quantity and quality of nuclear weapons matters. In practice, our efforts to limit proliferation have fallen apart. Since there is incentive to proliferate, and incentive to defect from deals, conservative nuclear arsenals in practice would quickly come to resemble the world today. We'll discuss why that's bad when I rebut my opponent's case next round.

Main point: conservative arsenals as described will result in a situation identical to the status quo.

The status quo has only one merit: we haven't driven ourselves off a nuclear cliff yet. More and more states that are less and less stable are acquiring them, leading to greater and greater risk of interstate nuclear conflict or even non-state actors acquiring them.


Main point 2: The costs of using nuclear weapons are extreme.

The World Without Nuclear Weapons
Abolition does not happen on its own; it must be accompanied by a plan. The same is true for conservative arsenals, of course, and it's up to my opponent to advocate for that plan. 

To understand how abolition could happen, let's look at the Iran nuclear deal (RIP) and talk about the process of making nuclear weapons. The limiting factor is the fuel. Weapons-grade uranium/plutonium is difficult to make. It requires enriching naturally found isotopes through complex and time-consuming processes, and building reactors and centrifuges is not exactly cheap.

The first step, then, is to force states to give up large amounts or all of their uranium stockpiles.
The second step is to limit enrichment of said uranium stockpiles
The third step is thorough international monitoring and inspections, including open access to any facility upon request.
These actions would be tied to economic incentives--namely, sanctions for defecting.

This strategy of disarmament worked and should be extended to a comprehensive plan through the United Nations or a similar international body. While the Iran nuclear deal was unfortunately ripped apart by the Trump administration, the principles behind it were sound. I look forward to defending this plan in future rounds.

Don't allow the world to hang perpetually on the brink of collapse. Complete abolition of nuclear weapons is the only way to escape the shadows of "duck and cover", to escape the ever-growing nuclear anxiety as states like North Korea and Iran go/threaten to go nuclear.
Round 2
Published:
A: Seriousness of the nuclear threat
I want to make clear I do not scoff at the damage nuclear weapons can do.

However, my opponent, in her argument, and with the source she provides, overstates the risks. She claims the use of nuclear weapons "would likely lead to global climate catastrophe." I assume she relies on this passage from her source to justify this:
Nuclear weapons are the only devices ever created that have the capacity to destroy all complex life forms on Earth. [...] The smoke and dust from fewer than 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear explosions would cause an abrupt drop in global temperatures and rainfall.
Although the Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons doesn't say it, they are alluding to the concept of Nuclear Winter. Here and here judges can see the notion of apocalypse via nuclear war is dubious. From my first link:
And so, while the nuclear winter scenario is a good prediction of the effects of a worst-case scenario, when all the variables are at their least favorable, the strongest probabilities favor a much less catastrophic nuclear autumn; and even those effects depend strongly on variables like whether the war happens during the growing season.
My opponent also implies, with rhetoric involving nuclear cliffs, that continuing with nuclear weapons all-but guarantees tragedy. But this is far from assured. MAD is a very powerful phenomenon; no rational state would use nuclear weapons first, for fear of being destroyed. The result has been nearly 75 years of great power peace.

To recap my points in this section:
1) Nuclear war would be awful, but likely not apocalyptic.
2) There are good reasons to believe in the stability and benefits of MAD. My opponent has not done enough to explain why we should so seriously doubt MAD.

Why do these points matter?

My opponent suggests nuclear weapons are a terrible trade-off, as they pose a serious threat to human existence, which negates any benefits (e.g. averting WWIII). But when one realizes a nuclear exchange is unlikely and need not be apocalyptic, the trade-off seems much more reasonable. Although I believe conservative nuclear arsenals make nuclear exchanges less likely than abolition would, I feel this is an important point to make nonetheless (since a judge could disagree with my claim that abolition would make nuclear use more likely than conservative arsenals, but agree that nuclear weapons are a worthy trade-off, thus preferring conservative arsenals over abolition).

B: Durability of a conservative nuclear arsenals (CNA) regime
My opponent argues the incentives to build robust nuclear arsenals are too strong for a CNA regime to resist. My reply is two-fold: 1) There are less incentives to violate CNA than there are to violate abolition. 2) CNA's collapse would be much less dangerous than abolition's.

1) Stability of CNA regime
(a) Under a CNA regime, nuclear states' survival would be guaranteed even more so than they are today. With all nuclear states adopting CNA, MAD would be permitted to operate in a highly stable environment. See Sec. C of my R1.
(b) Under an abolition regime, survival would not be guaranteed. States would feel intense pressure to violate abolition. See Sec. A of R1.
(c) The advantage of adopting arsenals and declaratory policies consistent with a First Use posture when all other nuclear states are in a No First Use stance is less than the advantage of atomic monopoly. Although a nuclear state can gain some additional leverage from threatening first use, these threats can only do so much against the unavoidable logic of MAD. Conversely, under atomic monopoly, a sole nuclear state could engage in nuclear blackmail and win any war.

In sum, there are stronger incentives for states to violate an abolition regime than there are for states to violate a CNA regime.

2) Comparing consequences of regime collapse
If a CNA regime were to 'collapse,' the consequences would likely be mild. States might engage in nuclear arms-racing and adopt more threatening declaratory policies, but ultimately, MAD would prevent true disaster. To be sure, a world in which states nuclear arms-race and refuse to forego the option of first strike is more dangerous than a CNW regime, but we have lived in such a world for almost 75 years. As my R1 makes clear, this world has been relatively stable (no WWIII).

Aboltion's collapse could be catastrophic. As I detailed in R1, if even one state cheated, conventional war and/or nuclear exchange could be the result. Since this particular point was previously fleshed out, I will add only this: what happened the last time a state engaged in war gained atomic monopoly? The answer, of course, is Hiroshima and Nagasaki. MAD is stable. Atomic monopoly is not.

C: There exists a plausible plan for nuclear abolition
My opponent briefly outlined the structure of a nuclear abolition regime. To my understanding, her argument in this section merely establishes the plausibility of such a regime - it does not defend its expected durability. In lieu of arguments defending the regime's durability, I will keep my reply simple with a quote from Thomas Schelling on the stability of abolition:
...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' nuclear facilities. . . . 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.
Closing
The aboltion regime's danger lies in its instability. The incentives to cheat are powerful, and if even one state violated the accord, nuclear disaster could follow. Even if abolition held, MAD's absence would permit WWIII.

CNA is less likely to break down. Even it does, the results are far less likely to be disastrous. Most importantly, CNA preserves MAD, the bedrock of international and nuclear stability.
Not published yet
Round 3
Not published yet
Not published yet
Added:
--> @Lucy
Kroenig's book is a really good read, but I think it also represents that stereotypical notion of the out-of-touch academic who places too much faith in pure logic and theoretical models. I've been poring over transcripts from the Cuban Missile Crisis and 1973 October Crisis, and to put it simply, I don't think his proposed model is represented in reality very well.
Instigator
#7
Added:
--> @Jeff_Goldblum
Kroenig came to my school and debated one of my professors a few years ago. I watched that and read one of his articles while doing a certificate program in international security. I remembered him during this debate, crazy coincidence he's a central figure for your thesis.
Contender
#6
Added:
A couple points I want to get across after posting my R2:
1) One of my sources is a Foreign Affairs article. If anyone does not have access and would like it, feel free to ask for a copy of the article from me. I will be happy to provide.
2) I did not mention it in the text of my R2, but I am actually writing my thesis - to a large extent - on Matthew Kroenig's book, "The Logic of American Nuclear Superiority." I have a bone to pick with his conclusions, but I did not think my opinions on the matter were important enough to justify taking up precious characters. But if anyone wants to chat about Kroenig, I'm down.
3) I can't stress enough that I think it's vital readers/judges understand the definition of "conservative nuclear arsenals" as listed in the debate description. I use the term a lot but I don't take up characters to continually re-state its meaning within the context of the debate. Same goes for abolition, I guess, but that's a lot more clear.
Instigator
#5
Added:
--> @GeneralGrant
The debate description makes clear we're considering this question within the context of an anarchic interstate system that could accommodate nuclear abolition.
Instigator
#4
Added:
--> @Lucy, @Jeff_Goldblum
My question is would these conservative amount of nuclear arsenals be respected by China and Russia? I think this debate is mute point because while the US would abide by these numbers or even got rid of all their arsenal, everyone knows that China, Russia, Iran and North Korea would not.
#3
Added:
--> @Jeff_Goldblum
Had to keep you on your toes :)
I had a different R1 but scrapped it. Wanted to get into the game theory weeds this round, but it didn't fit my structure
Contender
#2
Added:
--> @Lucy
You had me thinking I had a win via forfeit coming my way.
But I think we've got a live one here. I'm glad you submitted your argument.
Instigator
#1
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