Nuclear Tensions, Nuclear Weapons, and a Long History of Nuclear War

About this Episode

Guests
Christopher Gelpi, Dakota Rudesill, Matt Ambrose

In the last year, tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, a false nuclear missile alert in Hawaii, and debates over the Iran nuclear deal have renewed public attention to the development of nuclear weapons and armament and the potential for war. But from the Cold War, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, to Chinese nuclear tests in the 1960s, the U.S. and the world have frequently faced these fears, and attempted to place particular countries’ access to nuclear weapons technology under international control. So how concerned should we be about nuclear weapons and who has them? How did the U.S. become so central in efforts to control them? And how can past attempts to limit nuclear proliferation inform how we address these questions today? On this episode of History Talk, hosts Brenna Miller and Jessica Viñas-Nelson speak with experts Christopher Gelpi, Dakota Rudesill, and Matt Ambrose to discuss the history of nuclear armament and control.

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Brenna Miller, Jessica Viñas-Nelson , "Nuclear Tensions, Nuclear Weapons, and a Long History of Nuclear War" , Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective
June, 2018
https://origins.osu.edu/historytalk/nuclear-tensions-nuclear-weapons-and-long-history-nuclear-war?language_content_entity=en.
June, 2018

Transcript

Brenna Miller

Welcome to History Talk, the podcast that brings together a panel of experts to discuss current events in historical perspective. I'm your host Brenna Miller.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson

And I'm your other host, Jessica Vinas-Nelson. In the last year, tensions between the US and North Korea renewed public attention to the role of nuclear weapons and armament, while a false nuclear missile alert in Hawaii has raised concerns about the likelihood of nuclear war and underscored how underprepared we are.

 

Brenna Miller         

While policy experts have debated the extent of a threat and what to do about nuclear weapons and proliferation, there's a long history of grappling with similar questions and issues, from the Soviet Union to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Chinese nuclear tests in the 1960s. The US and the world have frequently faced fears of nuclear war and attempted to place particular countries access to nuclear weapons technology under international control. So how concerned should we be about the existence of nuclear weapons and who has them? How did the US become so central efforts to control them? And how can past attempts to limit nuclear proliferation inform how we address these types of incidents today? From the Ohio State University, we have Dr. Christopher Gelphi, a professor of political science, director of the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, and chair of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at OSU's Mershon Center.

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

Thanks for having me.

 

Brenna Miller         

Also, in the studio, we have Professor Dakota Rudesill, a scholar and teacher of national security law and process with the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and recent author of "MIRVs Matter:  Banning Hydra-Headed Nuclear Missiles in a New START II Treaty" in volume 54 of the Stanford Journal of International Law.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

Great to be here.

 

Brenna Miller         

And finally, by phone we have Dr. Matt Ambrose, a graduate student of the Ohio State University Department of History, and recent author of "The Control Agenda: A History of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks" with Cornell University Press.

 

Dr. Matt Ambrose       

Hello. Nice to be here.

 

Brenna Miller         

Thanks for joining us today. So, our first question is, we've been hearing a lot in the news lately about North Korea, Iran and nuclear capabilities. So can you briefly explain why the US is concerned about these countries' nuclear capabilities, and where are our negotiations and issues at with them?

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

Well, Iran and North Korea are connected in some way, going back to 2002, when President George W. Bush gave his Axis of Evil speech, and he identified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as threats to the United States. There are a variety of nuclear activities on part of all of those countries before that, but I think that speech and the perception of threat that it created among all of those governments accelerated the nuclear programs, and so we're now currently dealing with these dates, in part because of that speech and the perception of threat that it created.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

So I would just add that part of the concern about Iraq, Iran and North Korea, and of course, now just Iran, North Korea, because Iraq is had regime change that we carried out but you know, going back to 2002, the 1990s, and before. One of the concerns about these countries, which have been often labeled rogue states, is that they might not basically play by the rules that the established nuclear powers have played by. So if you look at the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the way it works, basically is it allows five states to have legal nuclear weapons arsenal, what's called the P5 powers, the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom, the same five that have vetoes at the UN Security Council. So they're the haves, and then you've got the rest of the world, which is the have nots, and the deal in the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty was that you'd allow the established nuclear weapons powers to keep their nuclear arsenal if they made a commitment to eventual disarmament, and they assisted the non-nuclear weapons states with Peaceful Uses. And in exchange, the have nots agreed not to go for nukes. And so what North Korea represents now that it's gotten nuclear weapons is it is a breakout from this, and the concern, obviously, has been that Iran would try to break out of it too, and the concern about the states has been not simply that their nuclear programs are not compliant with the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty. But they wouldn't play by the rules in the sense that they might not be deterrable. They might not be able to be dissuaded from employing their nuclear weapons, or threatening the use of their nuclear weapons in the way that Washington and Moscow were during the Cold War, and still are today and or Beijing, you know, and you often hear the stories like they're, you know, people say, like, "Oh, they're crazy. They're these crazy regimes." And there's a lot of a lot of reason to be skeptical of that. But they're different in the sense that they're not these established nuclear powers.

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

I agree with everything Dakota said. One thing, I think that his answer points out is that while on the one hand, nuclear non-proliferation is this sort of issue of international law that's kind of framed as how can we maintain the peace and avoid nuclear destruction, and I think it does play some of that role. But the same time, it's also really a tool of American power. That we treat states like Iran and North Korea differently than we treat states like say, Israel, and that doesn't have anything to do with sort of international law, and it has a lot to do with American power, American interests, and who we think is threatening to us.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

Right, if you do a quick Wikipedia search for nuclear weapons states, you'll see there are nine, there aren't five. The newest entrant to the nuclear club is North Korea. But there are three others; one, Israel, which Chris mentioned. The Israelis are thought to have had the bomb since the early 1970s. The two other states rounding out the nine are India and Pakistan. And the Indians were understood to have had the bomb for a number of decades in what they call the Peaceful Nuclear Program. But then in 1998, first Pakistan and then India, tested nuclear weapons. And since then they've been modernizing their programs. And to come back to Chris's point, I just think it's very interesting that you have these five countries, which are basically legal possessors of nuclear weapons. You've got three other countries, Israel, Pakistan and India, which are not in compliance with the nonproliferation treaty, right. But we're not planning wars against them. Now you've got another one North Korea that does have the bomb. And there's been a very realistic concern that we're going to get into a shooting war with North Korea over it. And there's a lot of concern about Iran getting the bomb. And so I think a really reasonable question is to say, you know, why is North Korea having the bomb or Iran having the bomb less manageable than Israel, Pakistan or India, and a lot of that comes down to different ways of just kind of looking at how the world operates, right? One view is maybe North Korea, Iran, these are states which are disruptive to a world order, which has been very favorable to the United States. That's one view, another view might be, these states might not be deterrable, because Korea, or Iran, just might not be thinking in a way that we think, right. So a lot of this comes down to not only the law, as Chris mentioned, but even more so to kind of our understandings of how the world works and power and predictions about human psychology.

 

Dr. Matt Ambrose       

One thing I think it's worth noting is that when discussing a non-proliferation treaty regime, though, is that Israel, India and Pakistan never signed the NPT after it first came into force. So there was a significant international effort after the initial construction of the treaty to get as many countries in the world on board as possible. And so those three countries having made relatively clear from the start that they weren't interested in it, it poses a sort of a different set of issues when thinking about proliferation challenges, because they're not actually bound by the same system of international laws as countries that did sign it, and either made or appeared to make some attempts to divert it or later withdrew as the case with Iran or and North Korea.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson              

So when did the US first become concerned about the threat of nuclear war or nuclear attack? And have there been times when these concerns were more acute or realistic?

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

Well we've been concerned about it since before nuclear weapons even existed that the Manhattan Project, right, was a race to get the bomb before Hitler did so we've been concerned about it since before we knew how to do this. In terms of times there been a real chance of nuclear war? In my own views there are probably only a couple of times when people actually thought about launching them deliberately. One would be the Cuban Missile Crisis. And the other one I think we came pretty close in was the October War of 1973, where Israel mobilized its forces, the US mobilized its forces, and I think there was a real chance there. There been lots of other times where we had accidents, you know, nearly accidental launches, but those standout in my mind as the times when we came close to somebody actually deliberately doing this.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

I would just add to that to another moment at which there in retrospect, there is enormous risk of nuclear war and what you might call and inadvertent nuclear war, maybe, I think, I actually liked the term impulsive nuclear war, right? So there'd be an affirmative decision to launch nuclear weapons, right? But it was based on misperception, right, so that was late 1983. The NATO alliance was carrying out an exercise called Able Archer and this is something that they an exercise that was pretty similar to other exercises that they'd been doing involving the Western Alliance and both conventional and nuclear forces. What was different about Able Archer 83 was that the most senior leadership of a number of NATO countries, including the United States and Britain, were involved in this and there was a big nuclear element to it. Well, the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies, as you can imagine, had been monitoring these Able Archer exercises pretty carefully over the years, just as we really carefully monitored their exercises. What happened in Able Archer 83 was that great concern had grown within the Soviet Union, that Reagan and Thatcher were warmongers, that they intended a first strike against the Soviet Union, and specifically that they would try to do this under the cover of an exercise. And so when the Soviet Union saw this exercise, and saw, oh, there's something different, they got very senior people involved. And there was a lot of activity, in the general environment between the superpowers was extremely poor. We now know thanks to historians, the Soviets became very, very concerned and started to do things to get themselves ready in case it looked like NATO was actually going to pull the trigger. And when, so when you have a situation like that, with misperception, because in the West, it was just an exercise, there's obviously no intent to carry out a first strike against the Soviet Union. But there was enormous risk that you'd have essentially impulsive release of nuclear weapons, or just even the preparations themselves as the parties get closer and closer to postures where it looks like they're about to shoot. You know, as one party gets closer and closer, escalates, raises readiness, then the other side feels compelled to respond. And so you can see both parties just kind of marching towards it. And you could end up with a war that nobody wanted. But so that was late 1983, Able Archer 83. Not a lot of people know about it, but some will say just as perilous as the Cuban Missile Crisis,

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson              

Matt?

 

Dr. Matt Ambrose       

So I think another case that deserves to be mentioned, but that often gets overshadowed by the Cuban Missile Crisis is the Berlin Crisis. We don't talk about it as much because it didn't have quite the same firmness in terms of like the definitive “start and end.” They have, though the end of the crisis is really pretty much when the wall goes up. But that was a period of extremely high tension that lasted over a month in the early Kennedy administration, trying to figure out a settlement for the status of West Berlin, which had been left over from the end of the Second World War. During that time, Soviet Premier Khrushchev made a number of increasingly inflammatory statements that forced the United States to do a number of assessments of what would happen if it came to a shooting war, and that, that kind of ended up shaping the understanding of the nuclear balance going into the Cuban Missile Crisis. So I'm thinking here of Fred Kaplan, and his book, “The Wizards of Armageddon” wrote a little about this, some of the studies and analysis that came out of that showed disturbingly lopsided nuclear balance in favor of the United States. I say disturbingly, because it could have been read in such a way as suggested a preemptive strike by the United States had a fairly decent shot of coming out favorably, potentially minus a couple of American cities on the east coast. But considering the devastation that the Soviet Union would have endured, it was lopsided. And when that lopsided balance played itself out during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviets were not unaware of the disadvantage, and that forced them to recommit to their holistic missile programs to find new ways of delivering nuclear weapons to the United States. So when talking about nuclear weapons and vulnerability in the United States, the entire 1950s, to fear starts out as something abstract, because the United States is very far away from the most likely trouble spots. And so the only way is that considering how nuclear weapons that arrive on our shores were primarily through long range bombers. But it wasn't until the development of the ballistic missile that the fears went from sort of abstract in the beginning, to devastating but not the end of civilization, to something very mathematical and definite that these weapons could move so quickly, and that they could have such a high degree of success, Once activated, that the prospect of nuclear war started to become something truly civilization and dangerous.

 

Brenna Miller         

So as these fears of the possibility of nuclear attack, more, become more intense, what efforts have been made to try to introduce international agreements on nuclear weapons, and how did the Cold War shape those efforts?

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

So efforts to control the nuclear relationship between Washington and Moscow started in earnest in the 1960s. And one of the first projects was basically to put some guard rails on the testing of nuclear weapons in the placement of nuclear weapons. So there was the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, which banned testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, and in space, and at that time, there was a lot of atmospheric and what's called Hydrologic Testing, testing in the Pacific in particular, and it was causing all sorts of environmental damage. And there's also concerned that testing was fueling the arms race is validating all these technologies. And so the LTBT, the Limited Test Ban Treaty was put in place, then efforts started on a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the CTBT, which wasn't signed until 1996. And it's still, the United States is still not ratified it. So basically, the limited Test Ban Treaty left in place the option for testing underground. Then there's the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which had the deal that I referenced a few minutes ago between the nuclear haves and the have nots where they tolerate some nuclear weapons states with an eventual commitment to disarmament, which is pretty gauzy, and then basically nuclear power systems, so the nuclear have nots. The next phase in this kind of nuclear arms control process was the Bilateral Nuclear Arms Control Process between Washington and Moscow. The negotiation started in the 1960s, and finally produced the first deal in the early 1970s. There were a couple Salt Treaties in the 1970s. I'll let Matt talk about that, that eventually went on into the 1980s to produce first the intermediate range nuclear forces free of the INF Treaty, which is a very hot issue right now because it looks like the Russians are violating it, they argue we're violating it too, and two Start Treaties, Strategic Arms, Reduction Treaties, and INF and Start were the first that actually reduced nuclear delivery capabilities. And then we've had a couple of treaties since then, a 2002 Moscow Treaty and then New Start in 2010, which continued on the path of bilateral, that is Washington-Moscow nuclear reductions.

 

Brenna Miller         

Matt, do you want to tell us about Salt Treaties?

 

Dr. Matt Ambrose        

Sure, it's important to think about arms control, kind of as a sort of distinct concept that starts to develop out of the post-World War Two period. I mean, there were some halting efforts at bringing some sort of international controls over nuclear technology in general, almost immediately after the war with I believe it was the Baruch Plan and this is like 1946, it was a sort of half page scheme for the United States to sort of relinquish nuclear weapons to the United Nations in a way that they would still basically maintain control, but in exchange for other countries, not developing it at all. That didn't go very far. And then you have the Atoms for Peace initiatives in the 1950s, where Eisenhower tried to put a sort of soft veneer on the development management nuclear technology by offering to share the Peaceful Uses of nuclear technology, they've described, the promise of nuclear power is electricity too cheap to meter, and that it would transform the world. And that led to some peaceful nuclear technology sharing, but it didn't do a whole lot to control the growth of weapons. And then you have the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which is the first one that really seems to put any strong binding controls on the use of nuclear weapons, in this case, they're testing. Now, it is worth noting that while this treaty kind of grew out of the effort to control arms and as a way of reducing the threat of war and the devastation that war would cause if it were to occur, that the public debate in the United States especially that led to the ratification of the treaty, very much kind of presages the environmental movement, and that those arguments about the impact of hydrologic and open air testing on the environment to the point that it posed a public health threat. Those arguments proved to be the, in some cases, the most persuasive more so than the strategic ones. The way that the treaty, it passes the data, if everyone is able to assure policymakers that some form of testing will still be able to continue, that they'll still be able to have reliable nuclear weapons. And these restrictions will be binding on others. So from that, though, that did form kind of an effective basis for cooperation between United States and the Soviet Union that culminates later on, as my co panelists said, with the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the 1960s. The, the agreement explicitly but very vaguely, was that in exchange for the P5 powers becoming approved nuclear powers and all the other countries forsaking that capability, those P5 powers had to agree to eventual disarmament, and which was broadly understood to mean that the United States and the Soviet Union would take the first moves. So they were going to have a meeting in 1968 of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, but it was scuttled by the invasion of Prague by the Soviet Union. And so it was postponed until the first year of the Nixon administration in 1969. So those are the main agreements that I explore in my book, The first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty in 1972, which was composed of the anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was the only binding international treaty that came out of it and a political commitment that was enshrined by law approved by Congress to restrict US ballistic missile forces to specific numbers. The problem, though, is that, as has often been the case that the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union were very different, because they're very different countries that had different security requirements. And they had different successes and failures of different technologies over the years that has caused significant variations in their forces. So Salt didn't address those except to say that by 1971, they agreed that it would be a halt or a cap on the ballistic missile forces that they did have. But that meant that the Soviet Union had significantly greater numbers of land based intercontinental ballistic missiles and also submarine based ballistic missiles than the United States. The United States justified this by saying that they had more accurate weapons, and they were more reliable in general. And the United States also had significantly greater numbers of long-range bombers, which is the technology the Soviets never quite managed to master in mass production, and so that those sort of even at the ledger. But living with nuclear parody proves to be a politically very difficult problem for the United States. It was not a situation that they were accustomed to, as early as you know, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the clear balance was extremely favorable towards the United States. And so, over the course of the next seven, eight years, United States trying to negotiate a follow on SALT2 agreement that scores the circle of acknowledging that the United States was not going to get nuclear superiority back while at the same time trying to come up with a formula it could sell politically, that would have actual equal numbers. Nixon attempted it haltingly, because he was crippled by the Watergate scandal. Ford diligently attempted to expand on what Nixon had done, and then Carter managed to come to an agreement called SALT 2 that, while the United States signed it, it did not end up becoming ratified. And it became a significant issue in the election of 1980, when Ronald Reagan and a resurgent anticommunist movement criticized it on a number of levels for either inadequately restraining growth in the Soviet nuclear weapons force, inadequately constraining the Soviet ability to put multiple warheads on single ballistic missiles, and/or that it was not adequately verifiable the way it was written. Those arguments had some merit and some demerits. And it was certainly a contentious debate, but it was sort of put to bed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, at which time the agreement was withdrawn from the Senate. It was never ratified, and the process was effectively dead from that point onwards.

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

One thing that I think Matt’s history of arms control points out to me that's important, I think, today is that, in my view, the United States has never really been entirely comfortable with nuclear deterrence as a foundation for our defense. That this idea that we would just have Mutual Assured Destruction between ourselves and other countries that have nuclear weapons. We were never entirely comfortable with that with regard to the Soviet Union, which had all the consequences that Matt described. I think that's part of why we're so concerned about countries like North Korea as well, setting aside whether Kim Jong Un is crazy or not, which I don't think there's a lot of evidence that he's crazy, but even if he's not, the United States has never been comfortable with the idea that we would be in this sort of situation of Mutual Assured Destruction. We've always hung on to this idea that we can secure ourselves and somehow win a war of nuclear escalation domination, which to me is, given the nature of the technology, is just a fool's errand.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

And I would just add to that, to that, that we can't forget that deterrence is not just about nuclear weapons. Conventional weapons are a big part of thinking about it. And strategic thought about conventional forces has always been very much integrated into thinking about nuclear forces and has often been a driver of it. So for example, the Soviet Union during the first decades of the Cold War felt that they were conventionally inferior to the United States. And that's part of why they developed nuclear weapons. By the 1970s, the 1980s, it was in the West, it was NATO that they thought, well, we're conventionally inferior to the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union has so many more armor divisions in Europe, and so US nuclear weapons in Western Europe, tactical nuclear weapons, then our strategic deterrent were understood to be a counterweight to the Soviet conventional, perceived Soviet conventional lead. If you look at the situation on the Korean peninsula, as it's been for decades, the United States protects South Korea, its ally under its nuclear umbrella, meaning we will potentially defend them with nuclear weapons. North Korea has been working really, really hard to get nuclear weapons for decades, and now finally has them and understandably that's important, but one of the fascinating pieces of this is that one of the underlying dynamics on the Korean peninsula is that North Korea has a conventional gun to the head of South Korea. The North Koreans have tens of thousands of artillery pieces dug in in the mountains, just a few miles from the mega city of Sol. Sol is a city of about 15 million people the metro area, it's now grown right up to the demilitarized zone, the DMZ. And right on the other side of it is about a million-man North Korean army, including tens of thousands of artillery pieces. The North Koreans, conventionally, by our standards are really, really primitive. I mean, this is from what we know, this is probably like World War Two level quality stuff. But they just have so many of them that if you talk to anybody in the US military who's involved in war planning in the Korean Peninsula, they're going to tell you, yeah, we would defeat the North Koreans, but it would take us so long to knock all that stuff out that the North Koreans would be able to kill hundreds of thousands, millions of South Korean civilians, just with World War two era artillery, and probably a lot too of the 28,000 US troops who are on the Korean peninsula. And so ultimately, what's so interesting about this whole thing is that, you know, we're arguing about nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons are important. But it's the North Koreans who have a conventional gun to the head of our ally, South Korea, and to our troops on the peninsula.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson              

It's a really interesting point, especially as US troops might leave the Korean peninsula.

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

That, by the way is part of why Kim Jong Un is so interested in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, right, because what that means to him is that North Korea would give up their nuclear program, but it also would mean that the United States would no longer have a nuclear umbrella over South Korea, that all US nuclear forces would be removed from the equation, and South Korea would not get the bomb. And so then you would just have the conventional weapons situation that Dakota was describing which would give North Korea tremendous advantage. So when Kim Jong Un says he agrees to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula that's what he wants.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

And I think that that's a really important point. And it's that I think is just not gotten enough focus, which is that there are different understandings of what denuclearization means on the North Korean side, and on the Unites State's side, and you don't have to push very hard when you start diving into this to see that the North Korean view is exactly as Professor Gelphi articulates to the north, it's yeah, they give up nuclear weapons, but the US troops, which always carry the nuclear umbrella of the United States, the US troops leave, too, and South Korea doesn't get the bomb. 99% of people reading the paper or surfing the web in the United States or Western countries, denuclearization to them means "Oh, North Korea gives up their nukes and plays nice." So we have just a fundamental disconnect here. It would just be profoundly hard for me to imagine US troops actually ever leaving South Korea in our lifetimes, unless both the North Korean nuclear program went away, and the massive North Korean conventional force went away. And as Professor Gelphi alluded to, right, I mean, there's good reason to think that the North Koreans want this kind of mutual denuclearization. So they're conventionally in a much better place. Well, in that position, why then with the United States, not have its conventional forces in South Korea, right? So this is a really, really complicated issue. And the public conversation about it, I think, does not fully surface a lot of these issues.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson              

The US and the Soviet Union are probably the most well-known for proliferation, and talks to curb it during the Cold War, but did other countries like North Korea factor into the fear of nuclear warfare?

 

Dr. Matt Ambrose       

So a great example of this, especially something like a country like China as a third nuclear power, when the salt talks were first convened in 1969, the two parties, the United States and the Soviet Union, were trying to suss out some of the same questions that we were just talking about, like, we're using the same words here, but do we mean the same things? So in this case, arms control, or our arms limitations and some measures that could be taken, the Soviet Union made pretty clear that it wanted a number of sort of feel good measures that would talk about these anonymous third countries that, you know, ensuring that an attack by a third country wouldn't trigger an attack by the opposing superpower. And over time, it became clear that this third country that they were so concerned about was actually China. If United States had been willing to read more into it, they would have discovered quite early on just how much the fear of China and its nuclear weapons impacted the Soviet strategic perspective. China and the Soviet Union did share a border after all, and the United States did not have a lot of insight into it. But one of their missions was to deter China. They wanted special provisions within the agreements that gave them kind of a set aside over and above the agreement they had with the United States, that allows them to continue to turn China with extra weapons. The United States never really gave in on that issue but it was a continuing problem.

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

In terms of other countries being involved in sort of in proliferation during the kind of Cold War period where that was the main focus would be the two other countries that we spoke about earlier. Which would be Israel and India, and Pakistan didn't really get it till well, Cold War still on when I'm when Pakistan started to get the bomb, but especially early on in the 70s, Israel and India, those two cases, I think, in some ways, show how, in my view, maybe we should be a little bit less concerned about nuclear proliferation than we are in the in the sense that in both of those cases, you have the atomic bomb being introduced into extremely intense regional rivalries. And arguably, the presence of the atomic weapons actually helped to stabilize both of those conflicts. Not that South Asian conflict or the Israel-Palestine issue is resolved, but that we haven't seen the scale of warfare over those issues that we used to before those countries had nuclear weapons.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

One other one that I would mention is the environmental element of that. I mean, a nuke is a nuke doesn't matter, you know, which country has it, and it has certain effects. And nuclear weapons release radiation, something else they do, especially ground bursts of nuclear weapons, is that when this incredibly hot nuclear fireball was created, which was actually hotter than the sun for about a second or two, as it rises up in the atmosphere, as warm air does, it pulls up with it, just a massive amount of soot and dust and dirt from the area that it's devastated. And that fireball goes up into the stratosphere, the highest layer of the Earth's atmosphere and brings with it all this soot and dust and smoke. And so starting in the late 70s and early 80s, scientists started looking at the effects of nuclear weapon from an atmospheric standpoint, from a climate standpoint, and they were building on what we knew about how volcanoes actually affect the atmosphere and effect the climate. We know really, really well that volcanoes in pumping all sorts of sudden ash into the upper atmosphere can have a cooling effect on the planet. Well, they started thinking, well basically kind of isn't a nuke of like a big volcano? And so they started to think, well, what if you had a general war between the United States and the Soviet Union with hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of nuclear detonations, and the models showed really clearly, you get this effect of nuclear winter, and it would destroy the crops, the ecosystem would collapse and humanity might extinguish. Well, obviously arsenals between the United States and Russia have come down considerably. Now we have just a fraction about a tenth of the deployed nuclear weapons we did during the Cold War. But there's new scientific research being done about the potential global climate effects of even a much more limited nuclear war on the South Asian continent between India and Pakistan. And so depending on what you read, somewhere between 50 to 150 nuclear detonations will the effects would extend beyond India and Pakistan, you'd have all the sudden ash in the upper atmosphere, and it could have massive global climate effects. It would not only reduce global warming, it would go pretty far in the other direction, and a lot of predictions about massive crop failures, famine, so every nuclear weapon is important. Let's put it that way. And even just one right even one nuclear weapon, get fall out thousands of miles away, which is, in part how that how the first nuclear weapons treaty, the limited Test Ban Treaty came about because there was a nuclear weapons test in the Pacific. Fallout traveled thousands of miles of the atmosphere and radioactive material came down on probably the worst named boat ever, which was "The Lucky Dragon," a Japanese fishing boat, and sickened a lot of people.

 

Brenna Miller         

We just want to make sure to ask a little bit about the fact that so many of these agreements have been directed, or in part controlled by Moscow and Washington. And so what had been the successes or challenges, and even emissions of the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms control regime?

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

Yeah, so they've accomplished a lot the bilateral nuclear arms control regime, which started in the early 1970s, as Matt was talking about a second ago. So the number of nuclear weapons possessed by each side have come down dramatically. The number of deployed weapons, way down, the number of what, what's called strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, bombers, submarines, and missiles, they've come down dramatically. So just in the history of the planet, right, this has got to be one of the most amazing things that's happened, right, just dramatic reductions. On the other hand, as these agreements have gone on at every point, as Matt noted a second ago, in talking about the SALT accords in the 1970s, things were left out or left unaddressed. So the first SALT accord in 1972, left out bombers, left out long range bombers, and bombers were eventually taken into the process. But if you jump ahead to the new START treaty from 2010, the most recent bilateral nuclear arms control agreement between Washington and Moscow, still left out of this thing are smaller nuclear weapons called tactical nuclear weapons. The Russians still have a couple thousand of them, we've got a few hundred of them. But there's been a lot of concern, especially on the Russian side, because of just enormous problems with warhead security in the former Soviet Union. It also looks like the Russians really integrate their non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons into their war plans in a way that looks like it's bigger than it has been for the United States and for its allies. So the smaller nuclear weapons are left out. But make no mistake, I mean, they have yields that range from about the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima to tens of times that size. In fact, many of their yields are as large as the ones that we people just think are a bigger deal, which are strategic nuclear weapons, those are long range nuclear weapons. Also, warheads themselves actual warheads. There's no limitations on the stockpiles that are just in storage. All that gets limited are the numbers that you can load onto missiles, bombers and submarines. So we're actually not getting to the warheads. The warhead stuff is just voluntary. And just the last thing I mentioned is there is no ban on putting multiple warheads on one missile. And this might sound abstruse people used to mock this during cold war negotiations by saying like, "Oh, you know, you've got all these hotels in Geneva filled by people who are debating how many warheads can dance on the head of a pin." But the concern is that if you have a nuclear crisis, if one side has a lot of its warhead loaded on a relatively few number of missiles, there's going to be a lot of pressure to fire those first or fire at them first. This is called the "use it or lose it" concern. And these. what are called MIRVs, Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles, multiple warheads on one missile, these are not banned, they're still permitted. In fact, the Russians, the backbone of the Russian nuclear force, is on land-based missiles, with a lot of warheads loaded on just a few missiles. And so the concern is that if we ever did get into a nuclear crisis with Russia, that the Russians would feel a lot of pressure to shoot first, and we would feel a lot of pressure to shoot first at them. That's the opposite of strategic stability. Strategic stability means the incentives are aligned against shooting first, but with these multiple warhead missiles, the concern is that they'd be aligned towards it. So that's left out. I don't think the outlook is good at all, for getting an agreement which addresses that because the politics and the relationships between the US and Russia are just, they're so poisonous right now. But it's, this is unfinished business of the Cold War.

 

Dr. Matt Ambrose       

Yeah, so the Washington-Moscow approach, you know, had significant success towards the end of the Cold War at the SALT crisis did end in failure. But that doesn't mean that it was not worthwhile. The ten years of negotiation, actually imparted a number of very important lessons, especially to US policymakers who, once the opportunity to do something more productive did present itself later on in the 1980s, they were much more prepared to take advantage of it. And so the star treaties, especially were great successes in reducing the number of nuclear weapons. I do think it's interesting, though, that as the Cold War has ended, I think the investment in the Washington-Moscow approach to privacy reduction has started to bump up against its limitations. Increasingly, the non-proliferation challenges are dealing with so called rogue states or other countries that are in some way, not fully integrated into kind of the US led international order. And as a result attempts to attempts to control it, since the end of the Cold War has been much more rooted in things like sanctions, the United Nations, or even coercion and the implied threat of force. I'm thinking here of disarmament and inspections regime imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War that was, it turned out successful but still very corrosive in terms of actually reducing conflict, because it created many, many opportunities for Saddam to show how he was opposed to this enclosed system of sanctions opportunities to still appear, at least to threaten his neighbors and the stability of the order that the United States and the United Nations is trying to impose. Libya would be perhaps a slightly more positive outcome. When Gaddafi decided to give up his weapons programs, he stated quite specifically that he was looking at the example of what happened Saddam Hussein. But on the other hand, we're looking at Iran and North Korea, and which sanctions by you know, a sort of united international community, theoretically, are supposed to bring that party to the table. Those are totally absent from the Cold War experience. I mean, the Soviet Union was not facing pariah status based on its possession of ballistic missiles, it was looking to achieve parity, it was looking to be recognized as an equal to the United States. And the first SALT agreement basically conceded that this is the case. So we're trying to get a very different outcome through very different means. And our historical precedents aren't necessarily totally analogous.

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

I think that that Matt's quite right that we have a sort of a different policy problem these days in the post-Cold War environment. I would argue that if we look at what has been successful, and what has been less successful in the post-Cold War era, it suggests that carrots are more effective than sticks in getting states to give up their nuclear weapons programs. If you look at Libya, and South Africa and Ukraine, and then eventually the, when we had to deal with Iran, the carrots that we were willing to offer to Iran, that those kinds of measures have been more effective than simply trying to use sticks to get nuclear weapons away from the States.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

And also political change too, that just, you know, just politics, right? International politics, internal politics to countries. Professor Gelphi mentioned, South Africa. South Africa is so fascinating in the history of statecraft and nuclear weapons because South Africa is the only country ever to develop its own nuclear weapons, and then give them up. The South Africans in the 1980s, based on what we know, now built about a half dozen nuclear warheads. And then when there was massive political change within South Africa, when apartheid ended, and black people in South Africa got to vote got to participate in government and the white government, its day was over. One of the last things they did is they dismantled their nuclear program. And so the post-apartheid government would not inherit it. And you could look at that. And you can say, well, you know, this was internal South African politics and maybe kind of a racial sense, you know, the white government didn't want the black government to follow to have nukes. That's one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is, it didn't make much sense for South Africa to develop nuclear weapons in the first place. There was no state anywhere near South Africa, that would attack South Africa. What on earth would South Africa do with nuclear weapons? I mean, the most, the most realistic conflict scenario for the apartheid government was that the white minority government would fight the black majority population, well, you can't fight inside your own country with nuclear weapons. It just, it just didn't make any sense. And so that's an example of you know, there was no treaty negotiated between two countries that did this. This was this was political change within a country.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson              

So have these sticks of sanctions ever worked?

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

So there's a huge literature on whether sanctions work. And I think the answer is that they usually don't, but sometimes do. They, they tend to work on, more frequently on governments that rely on broader popular support, because sanctions can hurt the power base of those kinds of leaders, they're less effective against leaders who have very narrow base of support. So that makes somebody like Kim Jong Un, a very, very hard case for these sorts of things to work. Similarly, sanctions against states like Cuba have not been very effective, because they're very narrow power base. And part of the reason that I would argue that they worked, for example, a place like South Africa, or at least helped in a place like South Africa, is because as much as South Africa was, you know, a racist, oppressive state under apartheid, there was democracy among the whites who are about 15% of the population, right. So if you can hurt the South African economy, you can hurt the support of the white leadership, so it tends to, they tend to be more effective against relatively more democratic states. However, we are more likely to use them against less democratic states. So we often tend to choose to use them in the places where they're least likely to work.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

I would agree with that. And I would just say, you know, another great example is Iraq, where they're all sorts of sanctions put on Iraq, and they didn't do anything to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And, you know, again, it's a non-democratic state. And he just built a, you know, a security state and, you know, there's no semblance of democracy, and it just took force to remove him. I would kind of suspect North Korea is pretty similar. And I thought that President Trump did something really smart when he met with Kim Jong Un, which was to pitch him on a different vision for North Korea. Reportedly, he talked about how, "Imagine your country with wonderful real estate developments on the coasts and condos and you know, you're open to the world" and showed him pictures on an iPad, evidently, of just, you know, basically a North Korea that looks like China. And I think that the probably the most promising game change in terms of just the way things are on the Korean peninsula is that you have a decision by Kim Jong Un in the North Korean leadership that they want to go in the direction of the Chinese model, they want to maybe retain one party rule, but they want to liberalize economically. And that's what that's what China did. So but again, the problem is the economic sanctions probably have very, very little impact on North Korea, because they're almost completely walled off from the world already. So it, so it's a complex issue.

 

Brenna Miller         

Matt, thoughts on this?

 

Dr. Matt Ambrose       

I couldn't even begin to weigh in on whether sanctions in general are effective. But I think it also depends on what your goals are, I mean, sanctions work in that if you want to, say cut a country off from the international system, the international financial system, you can pretty much do that. It's with whether or not you can then get them to do something that you want. And even if you do manage to succeed, that doesn't necessarily change the fundamental nature of the regime. So the case of Iraq post-Gulf wars is I think constructive. The whole regime that was imposed, it turns out, worked very well at removing the chemical weapons, removing the biological weapons. It didn't completely end the programs. So there was some latent capability there. And obviously, it wasn't enough to actually give the rest of the world assurance that that was what had happened. But what it didn't do was change the fundamental, you know, nature of the Saddam Hussein regime, which was that it was not really willing to be part of the US- led international order that you know, that part of Saddam's them security state, and that the sanctions, in fact, might have made things worse, because they gave him something to be against.

 

Brenna Miller         

So based on all the history that we've talked about here about sanctions and carrots and sticks, what are the best ways do you think today to deal with countries that are attempting to develop nuclear weapons and who we have these kind of sticky negotiations with, like North Korea and like Iran?

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

I think the number one thing we could do is not add to their reasons to want nuclear weapons. Both with regard to Iran and North Korea, I think the US has done a lot of things in terms of our own policy statements in terms of say, with regard to Iran, our own stance in support of Saudi Arabia and Israel, we do a lot of things that make those countries think that they need nuclear weapons in order to defend themselves. And so we could stop doing those things.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

I would agree with that. I would just add that, I think we need to have a conversation about the value of predictability versus the value of uncertainty. You know, we have a president who very explicitly says that he says it's in our interest to be not predictable, to be less predictable. He said that during the debates, everything about his entire governance style reflects that as well. He generates uncertainty through his own statements, which vary day by day in terms of kind of what his intentions and plans are. And he thinks that this is strategically good, that if you create uncertainty with others, right, they're less likely to mess with you. And they're going to want to make a deal that's favorable to you. That's his theory of how things work. There's another theory, which is, which has a lot going forward to which says, actually, the best approach, especially on really perilous matters of war, and peace is to be really, really, sedate and careful and very consistent, reduce uncertainty be extremely clear about the circumstances under which you might have escalation to use of nuclear weapons, extremely clear about our commitments, not generate uncertainty about these things. And I think that's I think that's the conversation and the current context, I think it'd be valuable for the country to have is how much how much? How much clarity Do you need versus how much uncertainty?

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

I think that's a great point. I also think that there's probably not one answer to that question, right? Because probably different leaders respond differently to uncertainty depending on how they feel about risk. And so it may be the case that we need uncertainty in some areas in order to deter some types of leaders, and clarity in order to deter others.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson              

Matt?

 

Dr. Matt Ambrose       

Something I have learned through my research that I think has continuing relevance is the importance of verification. It's something that often gets short shrift when negotiating these agreements. But in fact, when these agreements fail, verification is often the weak point, and the part that either is exploited to prevent the agreement from coming into force or is the point around which it causes one or the other party to decide to leave. It is a very delicate issue. And just in terms of the way, you know, the US government in particular is structured, verification issues often don't have a home. So in the Cold War, there was an arms controlling disarmament agency that was created to be an independent voice for arms controls. The idea was out there that kind of like the State Department doesn't want to do arms control, because it's, you know, it's too technical. And that's not their thing. And the Department of Defense, it doesn't really want to give up weapons that they have. And they said they fought hard to get appropriations for the needs to be an independent bureaucratic force. And there may have been something to that approach at the time. But since then, the same arguments have been raised about the ability to make determinations on whether or not countries are complying, or whether or not the ability to verify a given agreement is adequate. You know, partly, that's because these issues naturally lend themselves to so called fear, uncertainty and doubt, flood arguments. How do you really know that the Soviet Union going to abide by the term of this agreement? That's a really great way to keep people from being totally comfortable with it. But on the other hand, it really does matter, because sometimes countries either do not have the same understanding of what they're agreeing to, or they will subvert the agreement if they think they can, and they can get away with it, because it would provide this net security benefit to them if they did get away with it. And so there's not necessarily a lot of downside. But in terms of the bureaucratic politics of it, it is a common refrain to hear that unless we have independent verification authorities, then it becomes a political question. And the negotiation of future agreements will become more important than determining whether or not countries are in compliance with their current ones. And that that's not good for the political environment. In some cases, it can prevent resources from actually being directed towards those abilities.

 

Jessica Vinas-Nelson              

As we're running out of time, any ideas, any points that we didn't get to that you want to discuss?

 

Dr. Christopher Gelphi       

I agree with Matt's point about verification, and I think in in today's world, I think what that means, that one thing that we could do would be to invest more in the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, who ends up having to do much of the inspection. And I think supporting that organization and also supporting the reputation and perception of that organization, as a kind of a legitimate force in international politics would improve the credibility of these agreements, because I think a lot hangs on what the IAEA says and how much everybody else believes them.

 

Professor Dakota Rudesill        

I guess the final thought I would offer is that I think it's really, really important that people keep focusing on nuclear issues, not only just because nuclear weapons are always potentially consequential, but because the risk of use of nuclear weapons has, if anything, gone up since the Cold War. The Cold War itself was scary. We talked about Able Archer and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the massive nuclear capabilities and the bipolar structure of the world actually had a really big stabilizing effect. And powers were actually really, really reluctant to upset that at all. Well, that's gone. Now we have a multipolar order. We have a Russia, which is nationalist and assertive, and is using force much more frequently than the Soviet Union did. China's become a massively rising power, a lot of historians who study this sort of thing and political scientists note that when you have a major rising power, and it disrupts the status quo, that you generally get war, and China has been massively modernizing their nuclear forces. They're not as good as ours yet, but they're actually very modern. And it's only going to become easier to build nuclear weapons, just with computers advancing and technology advancing. I don't think anybody would put money on saying we're not going to have a non-state actor, like a terrorist organization, being able to acquire or build a nuclear weapon in the next 200 years and use it, I would put good money on the fact that that's going to happen, right? The World Order is much less stable than it was. You have rising disruptive powers, you have proliferation of technology. So all that just adds up to I think the risks of abuses going up. I'm not trying to be alarmist. I'm not trying to scare people. But I think that's the reality. And I think we need to pay attention to this over the long run. And that's hard in this really short-term thinking culture we've got right now.

 

Brenna Miller         

All right, we'll wrap it up. On that note, thank you to our three guests, Dr. Christopher Gelphi, Professor Dakota Rudesill, and Dr. Matt Ambrose. For more on this topic, see the recent origins article by Jonathan Hunt, titled "Learning to Love the Nuclear Pariah, from China to North Korea." Dakota Rudesill's article, "MIRVs Matter: Banning Hydro-headed Nuclear Missiles in a New START 2 Treaty," in the Stanford Journal of International Law, and Matt Ambrose's new book, "The Control Agenda: A History of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks" with Cornell University Press. This episode of History Talk podcast was brought to you by Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the Public History Initiative and the Goldberg Center and the History Department at The Ohio State University in Columbus and Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Our main editors are Steve Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle, our executive producer is David Staley, our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer, our audio producers and hosts are Brenna Miller        and Jessica Vinas-Nelson. Song and band information can be found on our website. You can find our podcasts and more on our website at origins.osu.edu, on iTunes, and on SoundCloud, and as always, you can find us on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for listening.

 

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