What effects can the nuclear attack on a non-nuclear country have on the deterrence and nonproliferation?

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The Politicus
Nov 23, 2022 02:00 AM 0 Answers
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The media occasionally mentions the possibility of the Russian Federation using a tactical nuclear bomb in Ukraine. The last and only case like that was back in August 1945, and after the Soviet Union got a nuclear bomb all the deterrence and non-proliferation principles started to emerge.

As far as I understand, the key deterrence principle between the nuclear powers is mutually assured destruction (MAD): "don't attack me cause eventually we'll attack each other with nukes, and thus both of us will be destroyed".

But what if the attack is committed against a non-nuclear state that one of the sides is an ally of? The effects of such an attack will probably reach the countries supporting Ukraine: economically (as the influx of refugees, the increased support costs, etc.) and politically.

If these countries respond with military power (and there have been statements by current and ex-officials in the US and the EU that imply that they may do so but with conventional weapons, not nuclear ones) then these will probably change the deterrence principle. There will be nuclear powers in direct military confrontation, so the original wide statement won't apply anymore.

If these countries don't respond with military power, this will probably change the non-proliferation principle. The Budapest memorandum, whether legally binding or not, provided some security guarantees to Ukraine for it giving up on its nuclear arsenal and joining the non-proliferation treaty. It's questionable what would have happened if they had kept the arsenal (deadly sanctions by most of the world or yet another nuclear superpower in the middle of Europe) but the fact will be that a nuclear state attacked a non-nuclear one with a nuclear weapon and this state's allies didn't act despite some guarantees.

Still, the non-response will also reinforce the deterrence principle. So why would any country that is capable of creating nuclear weapons not do so? The deterrence doesn't work here. The presence of nuclear arms in the US didn't prevent the USSR from getting them. Same for India and Pakistan. All of them having nukes didn't prevent North Korea from getting them as well. It's unclear if/how anyone can stop Iran or Israel from getting them. South Africa used to have nuclear weapons but gave up those, they should definitely still have the technology and they are one of the exporters of Uranium. And we can continue with many more countries on this list.

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  • November 23, 2022