February 1, 2018

Division of Social Sciences Organizes Panel on Nuclear Weapons

Five University faculty members gathered Monday to debate the social and political implications of nuclear weapons.

The event was sponsored by the Division of Social Sciences, the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST), and the Institute of Politics (IOP). Steve Edwards, former executive director of the IOP, moderated the debate.

Some of the debaters called nuclear weapons a threat to civilization, while others argued that they are a stabilizing force in international relations.

Professor Robert A. Pape, professor of political science and director of CPOST, argued that nuclear weapons can be a force for peace. He emphasized that the advent of nuclear weapons brought a stop to great power wars, and that the frequency of hugely destructive wars has been reduced drastically due to the fear of mutually assured destruction.

Pape ended by saying, “The way ahead with North Korea is to end the game of ‘nuclear chicken’ between countries in tension, and to de-escalate on both sides.”

Paul Poast, assistant professor of political science and author of Economics of War, spoke about nuclear weapons and peacekeeping, particularly in relation to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which he believed was closely entwined with nuclear weapons.

He argued that the mission of NATO since its inception has been for nuclear weapons in America to be “deployed” (armed), Russian weapons “deterred,” and German weapons “denied.” “NATO exemplifies the state of nuclear weapons in the world, and as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain,” Poast said.

Austin Carson, assistant professor of political science, took a different stance. He acknowledged that many theorists consider nuclear weapons a sign of innovation or a means of maintaining peace, but expressed concern about their destructive power and the way in which certain states monopolize nuclear arms. Carson called this disparity a form of “nuclear apartheid.”

Carson ended by emphasizing that we must consider the social and political implications of nuclear weapons and understand that fear is not stability or safety.

Paul Staniland, associate professor of political science and chair of the Committee on International Relations, spoke about nuclear weapon–related tensions in South Asia. He specifically touched on India and Pakistan, two countries which are “stable” but have a hostile relationship, with periods of peace followed by sudden tension and proxy wars.

Paige Price Cone, nuclear proliferation fellow of CPOST, discussed the effectiveness of positive inducements to stop nuclear proliferation. According to Cone, U.S. policy towards North Korea seems to be stuck in a loop of imposing ineffective economic sanctions.

Cone suggested offering positive inducements by lifting previous sanctions, offering aid, or changing the language surrounding North Korea in order to convince the country to de-escalate its nuclear weapons program.

She also explained that positive inducements are an incremental process, and that denuclearization is not necessarily immediate. She ended by saying, “It is clear we need a different solution, and for a different solution, we need to take different actions.”