Deterrence Makes Nuclear War Likely

By Julia Islam on January 30, 2018

On January 25th, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unveiled a new time of the Doomsday Clock. It is now two minutes to midnight. The time hasn’t been this close to midnight since 1953 which was the height of the Cold War in which America and Russia tested their first thermonuclear bombs. The Doomsday Clock is supposed to measure the time humanity has left before a nuclear war starts. With a time that close, people are scrambling for solutions.


One such solution is simple: abandon nuclear weapons. But, by abandoning nuclear weapons, one must also abandon deterrence. Deterrence is the belief of discouraging a nuclear war through the fear of a nuclear war. Henceforth, the increase and modernization of nuclear arsenal are justified to keep “the peace.” However, David P. Barash, who is the Professor of Psychology Emeritus from the University of Washington, claims that there is no proof that deterrence has ever worked. According to Barash, deterrence has flaws that can lead to risks. Barash states that deterrence is flawed because it assumes that humans are rational actors.

Barash disputes the assumption of rationality by claiming that humans can make irrational decisions. Barash explains how deterrence implies that “that each side will scare the pants off the other with the prospect of the most hideous, unimaginable consequences, and will then conduct itself with the utmost deliberate and precise rationality.” However, Barash notes that one cannot remain rational under stressful circumstances. In fact, during times when either side is convinced that war is inevitable or they are about to lose, they will proceed to engage in an “irrational” yet “lethal” act.

Barash gave notable examples of irrational decision making from WWI and WWII. In a prominent example, Hitler stayed in his bunker and refused to defend Nazi Germany because he believed the Germans had “failed” him. That was not a rational move, but it was certainly an irrational one. Hitler’s thoughts were dictated by his emotions rather than strategies. For that, Berlin fell easily to the Soviets. Now, you must consider emotional thinking when it comes to nukes. All of a sudden, deterrence carries the ultimate risk.

Overall, deterrence is risky because it assumes humans are rational actors. However, Barash states that it’s not true as shown by history. Henceforth, humans cannot be trusted with nukes. Therefore, nukes must go. But, to let go of nukes, one must let go of deterrence. By letting go of deterrence, hopefully, the doomsday clock won’t get close to midnight once more.

Hi, what up, my name is Julia Islam, a poli sci major in John Jay and I write about political stuff.

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