A Case for Monitoring Nuclear Weapons

By Gwyneth Dixon

Following Jus in Bello, the laws of war, which forbid engaging in morally repugnant actions and targeting civilians, nuclear weapons should be eliminated because they have the potential to kill millions of people, civilians and militants alike. Despite this, I argue that nuclear weapons should be controlled instead of eliminated. The lack of a common power or governing institution in the international world results in a constant state of war due to competition, diffidence, and glory. Thus, as Hobbes argues, states are consistently working to ensure their own security and livelihood. In this environment, the elimination of nuclear weapons is not feasible, for an actor will always try to go undetected and continue to build a nuclear arsenal. In fact, some realists even argue that no nonproliferation policy, no matter how sound or supported, could eliminate the future spread of nuclear weapons.[1] Instead of risking the unregulated and undetected weapons that would appear when nuclear weapons are eliminated, governments should instead control and regulate the ones in existence. Control of nuclear weapons is not only more feasible and realistic in the international, anarchic world, but when regulated correctly, the control of nuclear weapons could actually enforce order, diplomatic relations, and peace.

Assuming, like many realists, that all states are motivated to survive,[2] a state’s stance on nuclear weapons will be influenced by the state’s perception of its own safety and security. The security model, as introduced by Sagan, argues that any state wanting to maintain its national security must balance out nuclear advancements of its rivals by gaining access to its own nuclear deterrent.[3] According to this model, one might expect a never-ending security dilemma, yet both history and theory prove that the mere existence of nuclear weapons can reduce the likelihood of war. Rational deterrence theory furthers this thought, explaining that the possession of nuclear weapons by two powers reduces the likelihood of war because it makes the costs of war higher.[4] Nuclear weapons, when properly controlled, can actually promote peace and diplomacy because leaders recognize that a second-strike will cause significant damage; leaders thus are incentivized to find other means, instead of violence and war, to resolve disputes. Put simply, if there is a chance of retaliation, any state will be deterred from using nuclear weapons.[5] Historically, countries who acquired nuclear weapons felt increased pressure from the international world and were aware that they were now closely watched by major powers.[6] While some could argue that this situation, which promoted increased value on security and threats, had detrimental effects, such as being more sensitive to threats and demanding high level of arms,[7] the reality is that the strength of nuclear weapons and threat of retaliation deters this reaction. Even if a leader began acting in such a hypersensitive or irrational manner, there are measures that could be put in place to redirect these effects and monitor potential nuclear usage.

In essence, the threat and use of nuclear weapons pose a great threat to all of society, yet for these same reasons, nuclear weapons promote positive international interactions. When properly regulated and controlled, the illegal, underground proliferation is limited and de-incentivized, and nuclear power instead serves as an overarching, overpowering incentive for deterrence and peace.


1 Sagan, S. 1996. “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models
in Search of a Bomb.” Retrieved February 12, 2019, from International Security 21 (3): 62.

2 Waltz, K. 1979. Theory of International Politics. Chapters 3 & 4. Retrieved February 12, 2019

3 Sagan, S. 1996. “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb.” Retrieved February 12, 2019, from International Security 21 (3): 57.

4 Sagan, S. 1996. “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb.” Retrieved February 12, 2019, from International Security 21 (3): 67.

5 Sagan, S. 1994. “The Perils of Proliferation – Organization Theory, Deterrence Theory, and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons.” Retrieved February 12, 2019, from International Security 18 (4): 66-107.

6 Waltz, K. 2012. “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb.” Retrieved February 12, 2019, from Foreign Affairs, July 1.

7 “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma.” Retrieved February 12, 2019, from World Politics 30 (2): 174-175.