• Global Security in the Post-Cold War Era and the Relevance of Nuclear Weapons

      Bluth, Christoph (2021-06)
      Are nuclear weapons still relevant to global security? Compared with the nuclear confrontation in the depths of the Cold War, nuclear weapons and deterrence appear to have lost their salience. Considering the conflicts in which the major powers engaged, the focus in strategic studies changed to counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and subconventional conflict.2 Only recently, with the conflict in Ukraine and the increasingly confrontational relationship between the United States and China has this narrative come into question. The general perception on international security exhibits a strange paradox. On the one hand the US-led military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts, the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, the nuclearization of North Korea and the conflict between India and Pakistan among other regional security issues have given rise to a view that the modern world is less secure than ever, and we live in a world of chaos riven by unpredictable patterns of violence. By contrast, Steven Pinker has demonstrated the casualties from armed conflict are at their lowest point in human history, and interstate warfare has virtually ceased to exist as a phenomenon.3 The imminence of a global nuclear war in which at a minimum hundreds of millions of people would die appears to have dissipated. In some respects, it appears that war has become almost a phenomenon of the past. Most of the recent literature on nuclear weapons has focused on regional crises areas, such as South Asia (India and Pakistan) or the Korean peninsula.4 However, the modernization of arsenals by the nuclear powers, the integration of strategic conventional and nuclear weapons in strategic doctrines and the more confrontational dynamics in Great Power politics is cited as evidence that the risk of nuclear use is increasing. This paper contests the emerging narratives on an increased threat of nuclear conflict and considers the sources of insecurity in the contemporary period and in particular the risks of armed conflict between the United States, Russia, and China in order to assess the role of nuclear weapons in contemporary security.