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Introduction, definitions


In a time when nation states where clearly defined by the

boundaries of the Polis, and wars where not fought with
atomic fire, but in the phalanx, shield-wall to shield-wall,
Aristotle writes in his work that Politics are the ‘affairs of
state’ (Hammerton 1936). The codification of his writings
and of his philosophical contemporaries arguably form the
foundation to the politics which modern Western countries
are built upon.

In this essay I shall define politics by the simplified term

social relations [on either a macro or micro scale; between
individuals, or between nations], and political processes as
the metaphorical cogs in the machine that makes these
social relations work.

Nation State…
In this essay I define a nation-state as a recognised
political entity, that has defined national borders,
territory and a population. (McLean 2003). I will use
this term to refer to both countries and collections of
nations arranged within alliance structures.

The Scientific community; A collective struggle to

overcome subjective truth and rise above human
It is somewhat harder to define a scientific community.
There is not and never has been a singular body which
represents all professional scientists. Science is not so
much a sociological identification but an activity, which
ties its practitioners together outside of more organized
social structures.

Theoretically the Community should show continuity and

solidarity through the scientific method, which is the
closest thing to a systematized search for objective truth
that humanity has. Unlike political theory we do not
hold scientific truths to be self evident, we
continually challenge them with measurements.

For example, if a persuasive enough individual, one can

make a convincing argument citing ethics and reasons
favouring one political stance, however one cannot argue
against the existence of gravity in the same way. In
science, one must provide physical evidence of the
challenging theory that specifically undermines Newton.
One must be able to defend this evidence against
scrutiny. This is the scientific method, and our empirical

Surely then, science should by default be nonpartisan as

empirical truth cannot be obtained through politics. And if
apolitical, science must be international, ignoring political
boundaries. Science should be separate from politics. A
snag though; obviously, scientists are people, and a
science divorced from politics will continue to be
fundamentally impossible as long as humans have
emotions and are part of the society in which they live.

Science IS a trans-national Community.

Though not formal in structure, scientists can converse

across imposed national boundaries, even in times of war.
International conferences bring thought leaders of many
nationalities together. Science is a message,
communicated internationally in the physical data,
academic publications and theories of its practitioners.

An example of a more organized scientific community is

the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear
War (IPPNW). In 1981, physician Bernard Lown and a
Soviet colleague, Evgeni Chazov, launched a USA-USSR
medical antinuclear movement: bringing more than
150,000 Soviet and American doctors together against
nuclear proliferation. Over the next four years Lown and
Chazov met with numerous world leaders, and were at the
forefront of organized nuclear pressure groups. In 1985
they both accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of
IPPNW. Their actions are a case study that the scientific
community can directly influence political changes
and challenge the nation state. (Castillo 1990)

The Bomb; science’s second challenge to the nation

state’s power

Science gave us the bomb, the bomb disrupted political

balance; and by extension; threatened the nation state,
which had developed on the pre atomic paradigm.
Following this simple logic I would state that the scientific
commonwealth threatened the nation state. It had
created a monster which although was beyond science’s
control, could not have come about without science.
Furthermore I argue that nuclear weapons caused
increased fear in both governments and civilians. Decision
making was influenced by politicians trying to appease a
population and a political system driven by fear of nuclear
annihilation. In the 20th century this fear of nuclear war
affected policy. In the 21st century the source of this
emotion has now shifted further to nuclear terrorism,
although war has never gone away.

This is the core of my argument. Science gave us the

bomb. The bomb gave us the fear.

In the Cold War, military treaties such as NATO and

Warsaw pact saw nation states once again banding
together for mutual protection. Like previous world wars
this was driven by an ‘us and them’ perspective and an all
pervasive fear mentality.

Division into ‘camps’ is the symptom of an underlying

large cultural/political difference. In the Cold War
Communism and capitalism became more than differing
political systems, but also polarising ideological divisions,
drawing a line across the world. With the Axis destroyed,
Communism was perceived as the primo threat to
Western way of life. Communism opposed free trade and
suppressed freedom of expression. It was a fast growing
weed, to be uprooted wherever found!

“The problem in defense is how far you can go without

destroying from within what you are trying to defend from
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Nuclear weapons were an integral part of this divide. They

greatly increased perceived distance by becoming a
metaphorical wedge, exacerbating a level of mistrust and
fear and pushing the opposing ideologies further and
further apart. For example, The Cuban Missile crisis saw a
fearful and defensive USA almost instigate a direct attack
on the USSR, which would likely triggered global war.

Nuclear weapons became a vital part of competing

ideologies, and were ingrained into the culture of the
times. The threat of annihilation was everpresent, and
atomic weapons made that threat tangible. This post
atomic world demanded political change.
Internal Strife
In 1950s America, the country was racked by socio-
political purges and what is now termed McCarthyism,
which in hindsight seems little more than an out of hand
Communist witch-hunt. This period saw paper thin (or
nonexistent) evidence of ‘Un-American activities’
destroying careers, reputations and lives.

One casualty was the formerly respected physicist Robert

Oppenheimer, responsible for organizing the Manhattan
project, yet an outspoken critic of the hydrogen bomb. He
was publically accused of anti American activities, and
stripped of his security clearance during the McCarthy
trials. The reason? A ’defect of character.’(Schweber
2008, p.223). This period saw many, many other
promising political careers ruined. Indirectly, fear driven
by the bomb had created a climate of mass hysteria and
subsequent internal political strife within America.

International Strife

The bomb also changed international politics. An

underlying threat of nuclear annihilation rearranges the
balance of power. It is no longer a finely tuned balance
reliant on calculable tactical weighting such as the quality
of country’s armaments or the size and training of it’s
military. Now the scales are completely broken.

The outcome of any nuclear conflict was the expected to

be the same, everyone lost. There was no advantage to be
gained from being the first to attack. In any scenario there
would be Mutually Assured Destruction. MAD was not an
official political doctrine as such, but was a term to
describe a number of political and military strategies,
which employed nuclear deterrence to prevent nuclear
aggression.(Schmitz & Walker 2004)

Nuclear weapons were essentially so well defended and

dispersed that there would be no chance that one side
could ‘first strike’ the other and not face a nuclear
retaliation of some magnitude. This is nuclear deterrence,
and was a legitimate US policy (Policy Subcommittee of
the Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) 1995). Even in a
hypothetically successful first strike scenario, radioactive
fallout would harm the entire planet. Any first strike
‘victor’ would have made his bed with plutonium, and
would have to sleep in it. He would also have to deal with
the possibility of becoming a pariah state in the
international community. Such a county is perceived as
acting ‘out of line’ with international law and suffers
severe economic and reputational penalties because of
this. (Harkavy 2009). The power of nuclear weapons had
changed the rules of international politics.

Making War Differently

As previously mentioned the nuclear resulted in
international relations tainted by fear and paranoia. A
symptom of this sickness was the cold war, a complicated,
standoffish approach to conflict, unlike any before it.

It is arguable that war is a political process, to simplify; it

is another scenario by which countries attempt to try and
gain advantage. In the past the superpowers did not let
fear get in the way of direct military confrontation. Recent
terrible examples included both world wars. Weapons
technology advancements such as mechanised warfare
and automatic weapons had increased the efficiency of
killing past anything the world knew. Now; nuclear
advancements promised to take this efficiency to truly
obscene effectiveness. In nuclear scenario predictions,
the death toll was now more conveniently quantified in
megadeaths – 1,000,000 lives extinguished at a time.
War could not be the same. Atomic energy had changed
the rules of war as well.

The usage of the A-Bomb by the USA on Japan in 1945 was

important for two reasons. Firstly, it demonstrated the
horrific power of the weapon, including cataclysmic
humanitarian and environmental destruction. Secondly, it
showed how unbalanced conventional war became when
one side had the weapon, and the other didn’t.
This gruesome ‘case study’ of one sided war resulted in a
frantic arms race. For effective nuclear deterrence,
countries needed a bomb, and a means of delivering it.
Not having nuclear weapons was a impermissible
weakness; it left a country open to nuclear blackmail from
a country that did have them.

The Race For The Bomb

The need to acquire nuclear weapons created an arms
race between the USSR the USA, and their respective
allies. This dated back to World War II with USA’s
Manhattan Project and the USSR’s Nuclear Project. Over
the four decades to follow this would see countries
spending extraordinary amounts upgrading the
technology and quantity of nuclear armaments that they
hoped to never use, but couldn’t do without.

How To Win A Cold War

The cold war as a larger event is an example of how the
nuclear threat changes the victory conditions for a war.
After World War II the division of countries into communist
and capitalist camps had established the geopolitical
framework for a nuclear “World War III”. Both sides
wanted to ‘win’ – and to do this they could not face open
thermonuclear (‘hot’) war. They had to try new tactics.

Win Via Proxy: Throughout the world there were many

regions, which had internal political friction between
capitalist and communist elements. Superpowers found
that they could help promote their political system by
aiding their favoured country either through providing
arms and training, or directly intervening, such as in the
Korean and Vietnam wars.

Win Via Detente: After losing the bloody and extremely

unpopular Vietnam , America looked for more non violent
methods to contain the spread of Communism. Broadly
speaking; it tried to do this by spreading capitalism as a
form of economic evangelism. The dollar was a powerful
weapon, and was used well. In the end the US won the
cold war through superior economics, they prospered. The
USSR collapsed.
How To Win Armageddon (Hint: You can’t)

“Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with

bloodshed.“ – Mao

Now that all sides were armed, they had to find a use for
this nuclear firepower. The practical uses, dare I say it, of
the bomb, were limited. Too powerful to be deployed en
masse, it’s application in warfare like bringing an assault
rifle to a paintball game. However, its proven effective
use is as a political tool. In simple terms nuclear
armaments were a powerful threat. Regardless of what
happens, any country that possesses them can use them
as an ace in the hole; a kind of suicidal tiebreaker. A
country losing a conventional war can always instigate a
nuclear one, with the vindictive logic of “If I’m going I’m
taking you with me.”

Recent developments in nuclear weapon technology have
lead to the creation of ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons. These
are weapons with a smaller nuclear yield that would be
deployed in hypothetical ‘limited’ nuclear conflicts. Could
we wage a limited Nuclear War? Recent evidence suggests

You don’t grow crops in Nuclear Winter

Even if the cause of the war were local, the entire globe
would feel the repercussions of a hundred nuclear
detonations; a small fraction of the U.S. stockpile. A
regional nuclear war in South Asia would deplete up to
40% of the ozone layer in the mid latitudes and up to 70%
in the high northern latitudes. (Mills et al. 2008). This
would be combined with the climatic impact of a regional
nuclear war; which would reduce crop yields and starve
hundreds of millions in a Nuclear Famine.

Since it was well established that nobody could

really win.. Political changes brought about in the form of
treaties, aimed at limiting the usage and number of
nuclear weapons. Broadly speaking there are 4 types;

i. Nonproliferation: Signatories agreed not to proliferate

the spread of nuclear weapons, not
ii. Test bans: Signatories of these treaties agreed to
cease or limit nuclear weapon tests. A worldwide
monitoring system including 170 seismic stations ensured
iii. Arms Reduction: Signatories agree to reduce
quantity of warheads in the arsenal
iv. Arms Limitation: These ban or restrict quantities of
certain sorts of weapons systems, these have included
Multiple Re-entry warheads (MIRVs) and subterranean
silos(state.gov n.d.).

Since the cold war there have been many such treaties.
Although we are making progress (at least in terms of
decreasing the amount of warheads amongst certain
states), not everyone in the ‘nuclear club’ has signed
them. For example, India has not signed the test ban
treaty. In 1998 it conducted subterranean H Bomb Test,
which it did not choose to forewarn the international
community about. Overall, progress has been slow and
international compliance elusive.

New Millenium – New Enemies

In the 21st century, the nuclear threat continues to be a
major arbiter of political change.
"The next generation of terrorists, rather than going for
little dramas, will go for the big one...something so horrific
that it gets into the Guinness Book of Records for
terrorism.” Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to
the UN, November 2001"

Nuclear terrorism, Dirty bombs, Rogue states

The new millennium has seen the rules of the game
change again.
Though not directly related to nuclear weapons, the
control of radioactive substances is an important part post
atomic policy. In the West, terrorists and rogue states are
now seen as the main threat, but cannot be dealt with in
the same way as communism was.

Mutually assured destruction may not function in a world

where more and more nations have access to nuclear
weapons. This is made worse, if these states have widely
varying political goals and philosophies, which could be
the case if a large number of countries from different
political backgrounds possess nukes.

Terrorists, for instance, are outside the bounds of old

deterrence strategies. They are often driven by unusual
motivations. Many cannot be threatened by conventional
force, and are driven by a fanatical disregard for life. They
often hold agendas that cannot reasonably be satisfied by

Pariah status or not, rogue states empowered by nuclear

weapons (and disregard for international law) have the
capability to attack and decimate a superpower, even if
the counterstrike would decimate them also.

The 2009 Report Of The International Committee on

Disarmament was pessimistic. It found that new nuclear
states may not have well-developed safeguards and
controls to prevent nuclear accidents or unauthorized
launches. It stated “That the horror of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki has not so far been repeated owes far more to
luck than to good policy management.” (Evans &
Kawaguchi 2009)

Saddam Hussein’s former chief physicist Obeidi described

“How easy it was for him, backed by an open chequebook,
to acquire blueprints and components on the open
market”(Obeidi 2004)

Worse, multiple undercover studies have shown how well

the black market organizes the sale and distribution of
fissile material, especially obtained from former Soviet
Union sources (Belyaninov 1994) (Shelley 2006).

All of this suggests that the nuclear threat from terrorists

and well-funded rogue states is certainly legitimate. Newly
nuclear countries like Pakistan and India now have the
opportunity to settle their individual differences with
mushroom clouds. A question that now requires
answering, how similar will their behaviour be to the older
members of the nuclear club?

Pt IV.
Conclusion: Keep your hands away from that red

“I don’t know whether war is an interlude during peace, or

peace an interlude during war.” - Georges Clemenceau
I believe that the threat of nuclear annihilation acts as a
catalyst for political change. The slew of soviet bloc
economic meltdowns (driven in part by excessive Soviet
defence spending, including on nuclear weapons), nuclear
non proliferation treaties, 20th century proxy wars and anti
nuclear pressure groups are clear examples of this.

Even into the 21st century the threat of the bomb has not
gone away, with the nuclear threat now shifting to rogue
states and terrorist groups. The imperatives of U.S.
nuclear security policy are ultimately inseparable from the
imperatives of the global war on terrorism. (R. Lee 2006)

Regardless of an individual nation’s hunger for political

gain, most rational leaders understand that the laws of
international relations, war and internal policymaking are
changed by the release of atomic energy. The need to
retain an effective nuclear deterrent, maintain
international relations, and appease an increasingly
nuclear aware population(Lifton 1984) must all be

Since the first sharpened stick, disruptive technological

weapon advances have forced political changes to
compensate for shifting military conditions. The ongoing
problem is that it is a lot easier to kill a million people with
hydrogen bomb than a stick.

Maybe the reason why the entire planet is not yet a

smoking pile of radioactive ash is a heady mixture of good
political commonsense and downright underwear fouling
terror. Perhaps the wisdom of our science has been
smothered by the collective madness of nations engrossed
in political and ideological struggle.

Despite what I have said, it is not all doom and gloom, and
in some ways, the future is looking brighter.

I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment

to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear
weapons - Barak Obama,
End: A new START.
The START treaty is the latest step in reducing the
quantity of nuclear armaments and was signed on 8 April
2010 in Prague by Obama and Medvedev. It will limit the
number of operationally deployed nuclear warheads to
nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty (J. Lee

Viewed optimistically this treaty suggests a trend towards

further agreements which may continue reducing the
warhead total, perhaps one day all the way to zero.

Personally, I believe that the continuation of nuclear

treaties between the superpowers is a positive sign. If the
international community can take the lead of the USA and
the USSR, perhaps countries which have recently acquired
the bomb can follow their example in responsibly reducing
their own arsenal sizes, and overcoming political
differences through diplomatic action.

Obviously, the largest political change we could hope to

see from the release of nuclear energy would be the
outright ban on nuclear weapons. However, the release of
nuclear energy has been, in some ways like the opening of
Pandora’s Box. Regardless of political action, until we can
find an equivalent technology or means to completely
regulate the flow of fissile substances in the world, the
nuclear threat will remain a challenge to world peace and
the stability of the nation state. And suppose, even if we
do, how do we deal with rogue elements who refuse to
comply with international law?
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McLean, I., 2003. The concise Oxford dictionary of politics.

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