In today's Finshots we see why countries continue to invest in their nuclear arsenal
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On 6th August 1945, the United States of America dropped a nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima. 3 days later, they dropped another bomb on Nagasaki effectively killing close to 200,000 people in the process. The destruction was unimaginable and the world witnessed for the first time the true horrors unleashed by the atomic bomb.
And while no country has deployed a nuclear bomb in an armed conflict since, this monumental event would nonetheless mark the beginning of a global nuclear arms race, with multiple countries stockpiling nuclear weapons en masse.
It started with the Cold War — as both the US and the Soviet Union tried to outcompete each other by building up their nuclear stockpile. This was triggered by a deep sense of paranoia and perhaps an errant belief that nuclear deterrence would effectively prevent a full-scale war.
It’s like this — If you have nuclear weapons and I have nuclear weapons and we both decide to go to war, then that would mean mutually assured destruction. Nobody’s escaping this alive. So the idea goes that building deterrence of this sort effectively dissuades both parties from acting up. The only problem however is that if you have a bigger/more-sophisticated nuclear arsenal, then I must also invest in building up my own stockpile. Else, the deterrence wouldn’t work all that well, would it?
So at the height of the Cold War, the US had stockpiled 23,000 nuclear weapons, while the USSR held 39,000 nuclear warheads in their arsenal. It was tense. Luckily for everyone involved, both countries managed to deescalate and have since taken steps to pare down their nuclear arsenal. But that being said, even to this day, the world’s nine nuclear-powered nations possess a combined total of 12,700 nuclear warheads.
And what’s worse?
One report by Allied Market Research notes that the global market for nuclear missiles and bombs will exceed $126 billion within ten years, up nearly 73% from 2020 levels.
And that’s the focus of today’s story. Why on earth are countries still investing in nuclear bombs while we have other more pressing matters at hand — like a global pandemic?
Well, it’s complicated. For starters, not everybody’s participating. Only 9 countries so far have access to nuclear weapons —the US, UK, China, France, North Korea, Israel, India, Russia, and Pakistan. Which means the majority elsewhere, have either refrained from building their stockpiles or lack the technology/resources to do so.
Also, the countries that do have access to nuclear weapons have tacitly agreed to use them only for “peaceful purposes” and they have effectively created a walled garden of sorts, dissuading and actively preventing countries from pursuing their own nuclear weapons program.
So full disclaimer on that bit.
However, the countries that do invest in nuclear technology still believe in the gospel of deterrence. For instance, take the case of North Korea. As it stands, tensions between North Korea and South Korea are still quite high. But there’s a disparity here. South Korea has a defence budget totalling a whopping $44 billion. North Korea’s budget meanwhile pales in comparison. It stands at a measly $1.6 billion.
Now how does a country like that project itself as a military superpower when they are so clearly outmatched?
Well, invest in nuclear technology. Because then, it won’t matter if your military budget doesn’t stack up. A few nuclear warheads will act as effective deterrents. Or at least that’s what North Korea believes.
Elsewhere geopolitics has also played a role. Consider, for instance, NATO — a military alliance of several European and North American countries. As NATO’s influence spread across the globe, many countries have formally expressed an interest in joining the alliance — since “an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America.”
It offers considerable protection.
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed popular perception. On the one hand, NATO countries, including the US are beginning to re-evaluate their weapons arsenal and smaller countries that aren’t part of NATO are working on increasing their defence budget. Sweden for instance is planning to up its military spending by $300 million in 2020 while Finland has decided to increase its military spending by $2.2 billion over the next 4 years.
And finally, bear in mind, that more investments don’t always mean more warheads. In fact, as we already stated, we have fewer warheads today than we did back in 1980. But countries are now working on modernizing their nuclear arsenal and developing new weapons delivery systems. They’ll probably do more damage and they’ll probably be more precise.
So yeah, despite the progress we’ve made in de-nuclearizing the world (from a military standpoint), it doesn’t seem as if we are going to zero anytime soon.