Stability vs. instability

Since the mid-1900s, we have witnessed several countries introduce the nuclear bomb to their defence strategy. This is commonly seen as being a dangerous prospect as nuclear war could potentially be the end of the world as we know it today. This therefore suggests that nuclear proliferation causes an air of instability between the world’s superpowers; through the threat that owning a nuclear weapon creates. This “intense standoff between two countries, ‘without direct conflict’ is what is known as the stability-instability paradox“.

The Cuban Missile Crisis is a prime example of cold conflict based around the possession and movement of nuclear missiles, with no physical confrontation taking place. The paradox seems actively apparent in Southern Asia due to long standing disagreements between neighbours, India and Pakistan. It is arguable that the ownership of nuclear weapons has brought stability in terms of the lack of conflict between the countries. The sense of danger and fear of each other due to the possession of these weapons could source an instability of threat between the two opponents. However, theorists argue that nuclear weapons can in fact nuclear proliferation can be alternatively seen as a cause of stability. One reason for this is that the weapons in fact prevent large scale wars due to the sheer size and mass of the weapons. Moreover, countries who possess nuclear power often feel secure with their defence strategy, making them less inclined to retaliate as quickly, especially when both countries have mutual nuclear weapon ownership. In this case, it shows that nuclear possession is a deterrence for an outbreak of large scale conflict, with no such outbreak taking place in the entire lifetime of the nuclear bomb. But as former Secretary of State Dean Acheson said after the Cuban Missile Crisis, is this just “plain dumb luck”? All in all, the debate surrounding the question of whether nuclear weapons create stability or instability is ongoing, however as no nuclear war has erupted as of yet it could be seen as a stabilising aspect of a countries defence strategy (for now).

Bridie Smith & Katie Doherty


S.P Kapur, Dangerous Deterrent: Nuclear weapons proliferation and conflict in South Asia, NUS Press, Singapore, 2009



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