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Zero Deaths from Nuclear War

Zero nuclear arms or zero deaths from nuclear war? If you had to choose, would it make any difference which goal you picked?

Will Nukes Simply Go Away? Actual achievement of the goal of zero nuclear armaments still appears to be far in the future. Even if the world could achieve the goal of zero nuclear weapons, there would still be concerns about cheating. The major nations would still possess the knowledge of how to produce nuclear weapons and might be hiding a few weapons, “just in case.” If a major war again occurred, the warring nations would be tempted to rebuild these weapons or take them out of hiding.

Will Nuclear War Always Be Deterred? Just as the threat of capital punishment does not deter all murders, the threat of nuclear retaliation cannot deter all nuclear attacks by nations. Various doctrines of nuclear deterrence may reduce the likelihood of nuclear war in any given year, but they cannot eradicate this possibility entirely. Moreover, irrational, suicidal, and genocidal people do exist, and some may become national leaders. Barring a radical change in the conduct of international politics, nuclear war among separate nations will eventually occur. Over the long run, even small chances for a nuclear war will eventually accumulate to a near certainty.

A Non-Killing Use of Nukes. Another way to prevent deaths from nuclear war is to change the way a nuclear war would be fought. Instead of using nuclear weapons to destroy cities, nuclear weapons can instead be used to coerce cities. Just as a gun can be used either to kill or to threaten and coerce, a nuclear bomb can also be used either to kill or to threaten and coerce. During the Cold War, this alternative use of nuclear weapons was rarely or never discussed.

Evacuations, Not Bombings. Instead of bombing a city, one can instead use a nuclear weapon to order its evacuation. The nuclear weapon would be used conditionally to order evacuations, rather than unconditionally to destroy cities or other targets. The threat would be, “If you evacuate this city, we will not bomb it. If you do not evacuate this city, we will bomb it.” By agreement, the city need not be 100% evacuated, but may simply be evacuated by some reasonable amount (say 90%). If the evacuation order is complied with, the city is not bombed. This conditional use of a nuclear weapon spares both life and property.

A Non-Lethal War. In a war of evacuations, each side must decide whether and to what extent to use nuclear weapons to order the evacuations of cities and other targets. Just as possession of nuclear weapons deters their actual use by other nations, the potential to order evacuations deters evacuation orders by other nations. Nations must decide whether to order up a small number of evacuations or a large number of evacuations. The war of evacuations may continue for a few months or a few years. Eventually, one side or the other side will give up, or both sides will come to a compromise. The evacuated people will return to their cities and life can return to normal. Evacuations are reversible. Nuclear bombings are not reversible.


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