The Nuclear Option

A World Without Suicide States

There is a well known puzzle in the universe called the Fermi Paradox which asks, why haven't we encountered intelligent life? As an intelligent species it’s one that we should worry about because the paradox, which is sometimes called “The Great Filter”, theorizes that maybe something about the universe has a tendency to kill intelligent life before it can travel to the stars. One fairly obvious explanation, if you've been following the numerous occasions on which we've almost destroyed ourselves, is nuclear weapons. Obviously, in the development of our global civilization, before we have been able to solve hunger, disease and travel anywhere in space we have been able to annihilate ourselves. I think it’s the leading cause because it seems more a principal of physics than any competing theory. The power of the atom is like discovering fire. With time it can be harnessed to cook food, sterilize equipment and power engines but initially as an uncontrolled wildfire it delivers only death and destruction. All it takes is one careless village to start smoking desolation, or in the case of nuclear desolation one crazy dictator, hacker or software glitch.

On earth it only takes a barely functioning nation with a determined government about 10 years before they have the ability to destroy any neighbouring state that threatens them. Add another 10 years and they can take a fair chunk of the world out with them. Even the smallest nuclear armed states would disrupt the world economy. An exchange between Indian and Pakistan alone would end the lives of more than a billion people directly. If that isn't bad enough, the catastrophic levels of climate change and global economic impacts would make all wars or human caused catastrophe of the past look like nothing. Remember what a mortgage crisis in America did? Try wiping out the world's second most populous country and 5th largest economy. We all sink and swim together.

We blew the opportunity to pressure politicians to sign arms control agreements at the end of the Cold War. Steadily, more and more states have built nuclear stockpiles both secretly and publicly, yet  we’ve got so few rules on how to wield them. So now that the issue is coming up again, what’s a practical target for people concerned about this? Let's start with a simple premise when it comes to responsible ownership of nuclear weapons. Let's assume that your goal as a nation is to make sure that no aggressor could ever invade you without risking their own country's existence. But that at the same time, you shouldn’t have so many that using them wipes out the aggressor and the human race with it as collateral damage. That seems fair. A single modern thermonuclear weapon detonated on the capital of your adversary would make it the worst conflict since World War 2 but let's be generous and assume that your country has the right to destroy the largest 10 cities of the enemy. Further that they could have 10 warheads with a 5 megaton yield for each of those cities. That gives you a total of 100 warheads and you’re down the burning cities list as far as San Jose. Any country deciding to enter that conflict would end the existence of their own country automatically. That's a decision that only the most insane dictator would choose to make, but it's a level of destruction that wouldn't end life on earth.

Is it acceptable that countries have so many warheads that they could not only destroy any adversary but also ruin or end the lives of billions of people - people living their lives in nations that had nothing to do with the original conflict? It's not. Having a military industrial complex or level of bravado that builds hundreds or thousands of warheads isn't an act of aggression against America, Russia or Iran. It's an act of aggression against every country in the world because of the collateral damage and it’s time to stop being complacent.

It's time for voters to do what we can, and I would start with the simple push that future trade agreements for my country should have a responsible nuclear stockpile policy in it. Trade agreements are great for our economies and are probably the single biggest thing that governments can do to affect the livelihood of their citizens. Citizens in the vast majority of countries with no nuclear weapons should not accept anything that doesn't come with the stipulation that "We don't want to be collateral damage in your petty border dispute".

It's a simple policy and it's one that the vast majority of countries can sign on with. If you're a British or Indian citizen wanting to see this happen, trimming down the nuclear arsenal by 30% is a totally achievable thing to attach to a trade agreement. Of course America and Russia have obscene levels of warheads, but you can see over time as their economic importance fades their desire to succeed could push them to move in that direction. You could have an agreement that capped imports at different levels depending on their reductions of arms; For every 100 warheads we’ll take trade tariffs off 10,000 more cars. Remember that the level of weaponry they have is totally insane, it's expensive for them and it is not necessary as a deterrent. The real pariah states of the world are the ones that have decided our fates for us. It’s really as simple as stipulating as a citizen that you don't want our governments to help countries that have signed our death sentences for us. I don’t want my government doing business with a suicide bomber strapped with explosives anymore. It’s just not worth it.