The Concept of 'Nuclear Peace' and Its Implications on Armed Conflicts


The concept of ‘nuclear peace’ was cited in a post Cold War era to indicate the relationship between the USA and USSR. After the world witnessed the destructive power of nuclear weapon on 6th August, 1945, the big powers of the world ascertained the grim and threatening future to their sovereignty and the heads of the States took the silent oath of deterrence herein. However, the world had too many great powers and the ideological difference between these countries was inevitable. USA, being the controller of the nuclear weapon, proposed to interfere into the world affairs and put the ‘Truman Doctrine’ on the table against Soviet Expansion. Thus, in the year of 1949, an unannounced war initiated between the USA and USSR, which has been marked as Cold War in the world history.

The timeline of Cold War was not free of armed conflicts. The War of Vietnam, Korean War, South African Border War and Cambodian Civil War are some of the notable armed conflicts during the era of Cold War which had an extensive effect on the lives of millions of people. Even though the era of Cold War did not escalate into a direct confrontation between two big powers, armed conflicts between smaller States with supports from the USA and USSR continued for more than two decades. Thus, this essay shall focus on the concept of ‘nuclear peace’ and how nuclear weapons worked as an avenue of deterrence between the USA and USSR. This essay shall also critically analyze how the big powers have made other smaller States their puppets to avoid a nuclear confrontation but kept their power expansion intact through armed conflicts in the nature of civil war herein.


The Theory of ‘Nuclear Peace’

Nuclear peace in the neo-liberal era can be defined as an act of deterrence between two super powers, fostering a sense of peace in the free world. This concept of nuclear peace was supported by Brodie, the American Political Scientist, who was of the opinion that when the rival super powers gain the same weapons to hold against each other in a way that any uncontrolled conflict between the two powers can be potentially devastating for both parties, a sense of peace prevails where both the powers try to resolve any conflicts by applying a peaceful approach herein. Also the theory of “Mutual Assured Destruction” or MAD, coined by John Ve Neumann in the year of 1950, states that the “the possibility of mutual destruction caused by the threat of nuclear weapon between two countries, leads mutual deterrence and it can be termed as nuclear peace”. Thus, nuclear peace is nuclear deterrence between the US and the USSR during the time period of Cold War (1947-1991) when both the countries avoided any direct confrontation which might have concluded the end of the world.

Armed Conflicts during the Cold War era – USA and USSR’s indirect stance at the global affair and Nuclear Peace

The subject matter of Nuclear Peace and armed conflicts during the era of Cold War always had the greatest example of the Cuba Missile Crisis. According to scholar Garthoff, during the Cuba Missile Crisis, both USA and USSR gathered their army in Cuba and both of the countries followed cautious approach to evade the possibility of a full-fledged war between two great powers due to the presence of nuclear weapons. Among many other armed conflicts that happened during the Cold War era, having USA and USSR taking sides herein, Cuba Missile Crisis is one such example where both the powers provoked each other and the whole world predicted a nuclear war. But following the theory of nuclear peace or nuclear deterrence, both Kennedy and Khrushchev approached the concept of restraint afterwards.

However, if we critically analyze the events of armed conflicts that happened in between 1947 and 1991, the theory of nuclear deterrence or nuclear peace shall be presented as a rhetorical humor. To elucidate the statement, we shall herein take some examples to weigh in. First we can conclude the war of Vietnam in the year 1945, where USA and USSR both took active part to pose a battle of communism versus democracy and millions of Vietnamese people lost their lives. In the second instance, the Korean War plays an important role to conclude this discussion. In the year of 1950, communist North Korea invaded South Korea and under the Truman Doctrine, USA joined in the war with South Korea. From 1950 to 1953, a devastating war took place that vandalized the whole of Korean Peninsula where North Korea was extensively supported by Soviet Union and communist China. While the then President Truman understood the consequence of using nuclear weapon and he resisted from using nuclear weapon to secure an instant victory, the armed conflict between North and South Korea did not approach a peaceful negotiation for a long time. The same approach was followed in the case of Cambodian Civil War or the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Did Nuclear Deterrence prevent armed conflicts during the Cold War era? – A Critical Analysis

Drawing from the abovementioned subject matter and discussions, if we critically analyze the abovementioned armed conflicts and wars that lasted for years and cost a fortune for both USA and USSR and dozens of full-fledged armed conflicts that took the lives of millions of people, it can be concluded that nuclear deterrence or nuclear peace did not aid at preventing any of the armed conflicts. In the Korean War, after Dwight D. Eisenhower became the president of the USA in the year of 1953, he took the nuclear weapon in the War field and put a hostile approach towards the USSR. The threat of nuclear weapon worked against Soviet Union and the Korean War eventually ended in the year of 1953. However, before Dwight took such an approach towards USSR and China, the Korean War had already caused a great devastation and took lives of millions of people across the Korean Peninsula. The same approach stands true for the Vietnam War as well. In the Vietnam or the Second Indochina War, both USA and USSR took active part in the name of democracy versus communism. The war continued for more than ten years and no conclusive proof can be given in favour of USA or USSR approaching the nuclear peace herein.

From these circumstances, it can be concluded that the concept of nuclear peace or nuclear deterrence worked only as a threat to the other power or it had always been used as a last resort by USA or Soviet Union. While from the Cuban Missile Crisis, it can be said that nuclear deterrence stopped a full-fledged war which could turn into a Third World War, the same cannot be deducted from the other armed conflicts as have been discussed above. Nuclear weapons have never used as a first resort in any of the armed conflicts during the Cold War era to stop the conflict in the first place. As we can critically analyze from the abovementioned discussion, the theory of MAD as proposed by John Ve Neumann might have an effect on USA and USSR in a direct conflict but nuclear peace does not have any functional role when these two great power indulged themselves indirectly to other country’s internal affair or engaged in an indirect warfare. Thus, as it has been proposed in the title, it can be critically analyzed and concluded that nuclear weapons had very little role to play in the prevention of the several armed conflicts during the Cold War era. In discussing the Vietnam or the Korean War, Truman and Stalin showed no restraints while engaging in an indirect conflict. Although, during the Korean War, Staling made it clear that USSR does not intend to go on a full-fledged war with USA due to the obvious questions of nuclear power, that did not stop USSR from providing North Korea with innovative aircrafts, experienced pilots and medical aids.

A critical standpoint herein shall conclude that a threat of nuclear weaponry have not prevented any of the wars during the Cold War era in the benefit of the smaller countries. Nuclear Deterrence has worked greatly in protecting the respective lands of the USSR and USA but nothing else. The dozens of armed conflicts across the world, where USA and USSR took active part during the Cold War era, drained these two powers economically. Also, the smaller provinces or countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Greece, South African countries, were severely affected by the indirect interference by these two great powers until the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989. Even in the recent times, under the control of Vladimir Putin, Russia continues to be constant threat to USA and with the world taking the shape of a multipolar globalization, the armed conflicts will only rise and nuclear deterrence will only act as a false sense of peace which does not benefit any of the under developed countries of the world. In a sense, it can be said that nuclear peace deterrence is essentially a product of capitalism which helps in protecting the rich but exposes the poor.

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As it has been clarified already, nuclear weapons did not prevent any of the armed conflicts to take shape during the Cold War era. It might have prevented from breaking into World War – III which would have forced all the great powers to draw their best weapons up their sleeves. Nuclear peace or deterrence is a luxury of the corporate capitalism where only the rich benefits and the poor suffer. To conclude the abovementioned discussion it can be said that nuclear weapons only encouraged USA and USSR to provoke other countries for an armed conflict as these two great powers could not confront each other head on. Thus, if we twist the statement herein, nuclear deterrence between USA and USSR only gave them an excuse to use other less developed countries to their own benefits or interests.

However, with the current multipolarity of the world, nuclear deterrence might work at a greater peace negotiation than it did in the past. During the Cold War era, only the great powers had their access to the nuclear power but now, all of the developing and developed countries possess the mighty nuclear weapons. Thus, with a step towards a multipolar world, it can be concluded that nuclear deterrence can work a great deal in attaining peace in the future. However, the scientific progression in the weapon industry is not at a halt. The current globalization is bringing different subtle weapons to conquer the world where nuclear deterrence shall slowly become an irrelevant subject. Biological weapon and the cyber world weapon – are two greatest powers any country in a multipolar world can acquire and the day might not be very far where the use of nuclear peace shall be events of the past.



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