The most common argument given for why we have nuclear weapons is that they make us ‘safe’.
The first part of this argument is that nuclear weapons deter other countries from attacking, and therefore make us safe without even being used.
Although it is not often spelt out in this way, the second part of the argument is that if deterrence ‘fails’, nuclear weapons will still keep us safe by being used as powerful weapons against an enemy.
And the third part of this argument is that nuclear deterrence is so effective it is actually deterring war itself, thus making us all safer than we would be without them.
To understand whether any of these arguments stand up to scrutiny, we need to look more carefully at how nuclear weapons have been used to keep us safe in the past, present and future:
- did they end the Second World War?
- did they prevent a Third World War?
- do they keep us safe today?
- how would they keep us safe in the future?
Underlying all this is the simple question, who is ‘we’? Since only nine countries in the world currently have nuclear weapons and 184 do not, are the 184 countries by some kind of measure ‘less safe’ than the 9 nuclear ones? That is a question that can easily be answered statistically…
Here are the countries with nuclear weapons:
And here are the rest of the countries without nuclear weapons:
Statistically speaking, is there any correlation between ‘being safe’ (i.e. not being involved in wars, not being attacked, not being threatened) and ‘having nuclear weapons’?