Surviving Nuclear Zero

Surviving Nuclear Zero

With the sporadically torrential outbursts of rain perhaps the UNA event I attended on Friday should have taken up the challenge of “Surviving British Weather.” But instead we were taking on the (arguably) more difficult and complex prospect of “Surviving Nuclear Zero.” This event considered the hypothetical situation – what would the foreign policy of

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With the sporadically torrential outbursts of rain perhaps the UNA event I attended on Friday should have taken up the challenge of “Surviving British Weather.” But instead we were taking on the (arguably) more difficult and complex prospect of “Surviving Nuclear Zero.” This event considered the hypothetical situation – what would the foreign policy of a United Kingdom, entirely disarmed of their nuclear arsenal, look like? The event went about unravelling this absurd proposition by forming two groups – the Experts and the Youth – who both presented concise 2 minute pitches on a number of issues related to the scenario such as “managing nuclear threats” and “maintaining influence.”

The Youth opened the series of pitches; drawing attention to the fact that the nuclear threat is not the only threat, and even then it’s not the biggest threat. Cyber security, the threat of natural disasters (especially flooding in London), and naval defence capabilities were presented as more pressing issues. These points were contrasted with more interesting suggestions such as trust-building exercises, cultural exchanges and other forms of bilateral agreements with Russia. Similarly, the image of the UK as a powerful non-nuclear state paving a new non-nuclear path for other nuclear states to follow reminds me of a friend trying to walk her unwalkable dog, with the UK being the unfortunate owner of a strained leash with Russia and USA snarling and barking on the other end.

The Experts views were not entirely different – indeed they believed that nuclear is not the biggest threat, but they did reaffirm that complete nuclear disarmament can only occur if the nuclear threat is completely dead. They did also consider the change in international relations – how would NATO and the UNSC react to these changes? Specifically, how keen will the USA be in becoming the only nuclear power in NATO, especially in the current geopolitical climate. Again, the argument of UK leading the way was mentioned but the phrasing of the UK being a “moral authority” sparked shuffling chairs and whispers; with conversations in the following coffee break asking a question that remained unanswered by both sides – what authority, let alone moral authority, will the UK keep if they disarm their nuclear arsenal?

At the end of these pitches by the two groups, us in the audience were asked to vote on who was most convincing. Each time, only 2/3 votes separated the victors from the losers, which highlights that there are no wrong or right answer to the truly endlessly complex issue of nuclear politics. As with any good discussion, we raised more questions than answers. To what extent is the current youth’s thinking about nuclear weapons stuck in the (outmoded) Post-Cold War mentality that without deterrence we are strategically vulnerable? Is deterrence a useful strategy? And to reiterate a question above, the scenario was based on the assumption that the UK would maintain its international standing without nuclear weapons – how realistic/true is this assumption?

In the end, many audience members had their minds changed and indeed voted for complete nuclear disarmament in the UK. A final sobering thought presented by the experts was that in politics and international relations there will always be some form of competition and conflict. However, in this present day, the weapons with which we can wage these competitions and conflicts have the capability of unimaginable large scale damage. We cannot disinvent nuclear weapons, but we can reinvent the way that the international community uses them.

Peter Tse
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