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Nuclear Weapons – An Instrument For Peace?



A 61-kiloton nuclear device is fired
at the Nevada Test Site in 1953.
Photo by :
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Published in Romanian on our partner website

On February 19, 2013, during an UN debate, a North Korean official said “erroneous behaviour of South Korea will lead to its final destruction“. While such a statement is reprehensible, it is simply another example of Pyongyang’s aggressive rhetoric, designed to fuel the perception of a state willing to use nuclear weapons to eliminate threats of the capitalist imperialism. North Korea will not use its nuclear arsenal in an eventual confrontation with the South. The equation is simple: a nuclear strike is an act of national suicide, and for the regime of Kim Jong-un maintaining power is of paramount interest. The peninsula will not change a lot in the near future, if we consider the current variables – the same bellicose rhetoric discretely supported by the super powers.
Immediately after September 11 our world has entered a period of transformation and subtle mutations whose effects are still diffuse, and nuclear weapons have not signed contractual arrangements.
In the last six decades there have been no major wars among the super powers, but affairs were settled by low intensity conflicts or wars restricted both in terms of losses and geography. The liberals strongly argue that this is the effect of democratic peace, constructivists add the evolution of social norms and the realists close the game saying the reason are nuclear weapons and the deterrence brought ​by it. Behind all of these perspectives there is a profound transformation of war and how it should be carried, and nuclear weapons are one of the things that weigh much in this equation. The veil covering this transformation was partially removed after 11 September. Conventional War is obsolete. Conventional confrontation tends to provide increasingly less performance sought out by the stakeholders who initiated it. Most times the earnings of a war are measured by the increase or decrease of the security level of those involved, but we must not forget that security is now represented by a huge list of things. Insurgency is the future of war: robust flexible groups, capable of producing hybrid threats and jeopardize the security of an entire state. This transformation is caused by: the evolution of combat, the deterrence provided by nuclear bombs, the changing nature and complexity of the international system. Talking about the crisis in Cuba, Waltz wondered: Why fight when you can win some or you can lose everything? Waltz’s question is still valid because of the changes mentioned above.
Conventional wisdom tells us that force is used in four ways in the international system: offensive, defensive, deterrence and coercion. Conventional War is an attribute of offensive and defensive. Provided that its prevalence on the international stage will gradually diminish, force will continue to be used in the other two ways that will add force as a vector in a move to combat insurgency – a hybrid mix between offensive, defensive and stabilization actions. These assumptions do not belong to the realm of ideas, but some of the changes we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Allies entered in the two countries prepared for war, conventional and short-lived, but theatre of operations quickly turned into a battle of insurgency versus counterinsurgency. Success in this type of war is not ensured just by raw military power: it does not matter that you have 100 tanks and 10 000, because the operative cells in Waziristan can not be wiped out anyway just with their help. Success requires the existence of legitimacy.
So can nuclear weapons be regarded as a legitimate method? Is owning a nuclear arsenal a moral thing? Is the state justified to pretense nuclear arming? Nuclear weapons are moral and legitimate as long as they are used in the service of peace. The rest is now history…
How can an instrument of mass destruction be in the service of peace? How can destroying a target be considered a moral act of self-defense? What would happen if a terrorist group would get their hands on a nuclear warhead?
Morality is not determined by a semantics, but on how the technology is used. Is the technology used in the V-2 Rocket German moral? At a first glance an idealist would say loud and clear No! but we must not forget that the same technology was the starting point for the latter space programs and for the development of the aviation industry. If nuclear weapons help maintain peace then they are legitimate and moral (nuclear deterrence or negotiation tool).
Clausewitz tells us that war is an act of force which seeks obedience from the opponent by his own will. Although there have been many years since Clausewitz wrote his work, his ideas remain valid for because it treats an essential part of human nature and our history. A war is triggered by hostile intentions having as basis the security interests of the states involved. Firstly, states have a responsibility towards its own population and only secondly is the responsibility to the international community. Hypothetically speaking, if the security of their own collectivity is ensured through a nuclear strike then that is a legitimate action for the state that initiates it. When talking about the legitimacy and morality you need to be lined up with on side or they other because in a general note one can not say that a war was or was not a legitimate / justified measure.
Was the great conflagration from 1939-1945 justified and legitimate? An answer to this question is difficult. Instead we can say that it was justified under the Allied or the Axis powers perspective.

What would happen if a terrorist group would obtain nuclear technology? 

The mutation of war after September 11, 2001 brought on stage a discreet global enemy which demonstrated that it is able to strike in the heart of the symbols of our world. An analysis of a terrorist organization is based on the identification of two aspects: the totality of the capabilities of the structure and the power of its will. Based on past experience, obtaining nuclear weapons is a difficult road and many states gave up this ambition, forced by the security environment circumstances, the high costs of a nuclear program, the interposing bureaucracy, the diminishing of their international prestige and attracting international sanctions. But terrorist organizations don’t have similar objectives to those of a state so for them it should be much easier to gain access to nuclear technology. Religious terrorist groups (Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda) have political goals built on ideological, ethnic, nationalistic or religious paradigms, and therefore need popular support to operate. In connection with this dilemma, a RAND expert says: “Terrorists want lots of people watching, not lots of people dead.” By spreading terror is intended to send a message and obtain political benefits. You do not need the huge number of casualties resulting from a nuclear strike to do this: the bomb in Oklahoma, September 11, the attacks in Madrid and London – all these moments created the atmosphere of terror sought after by the originators. That does not mean that nuclear proliferation in the terrorist groups is not possible, it is a real threat, but like every threat can be countered by necessary means. In our world there choices aren’t simple and therefore we must weigh the advantages and disadvantages.

Nuclear weapons is the kind of technology that brings important strategic and geopolitical benefits, ie it is an advantage owning it. You should not use it and should look with fear at the thought that one day someone will click on the red button.

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The History Question: Is It Better to Remember or to Forget?



Years ago, a philosopher by the name of George Santayana said a phrase that fuels many debates to this day. His original saying is “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, although, many sources now present it as variations of “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The latter definitely has more substance to it in the light of the ongoing debate about how much history we should be learning and how.

Is It Better to Remember or Forget About the Past?

On one hand, Santayana was right. Learning about the past is essential in order for people to progress. One also shouldn’t overlook the importance of remembrance and paying respects to the dead, both those who pushed the progress forward and those who have fallen victims to major tragedies that could and should have been averted.

The main argument in favor of learning about the past is that its knowledge is necessary for preventing the same thing happening in the future. Having it one can see the signs and stop the tragedy before it gains momentum.

That’s sound in theory, but the reality is always different. For example, today people are surely forgetting, and the much-critiqued education system is only partially at fault here. Even the greatest of tragedies weren’t spared this fate. It’s a proven fact that about two-thirds of millennials today don’t know about the Holocaust, and this number is surely greater for generations that follow them. In the school history course, the subject of one of the greatest disasters in history is barely touched, if touched at all. And outside of a history classroom, one can only see small, but terrifying, glimpses of it at the Holocaust Museum and other museums that rarely attract many visitors. And now we are witnessing a rise of antisemitic crime.

Are these two facts related? Does the lack of awareness about the horrors done in the name of Aryan supremacy contribute to the fact that right-winged extremists seem to be gaining popularity again?

It does, but by how much? That is the question that no one can truly answer.

And what about other genocides? The Holocaust had the highest death toll, but it was far from the only genocide in history. And quite a few of those happened after World War 2 and before the memory of the atrocities against the Jews began to fade. This means that while forgetting history is a factor, it’s not the deciding factor in its repeats.

But what is that thing responsible for the reenactment of past mistakes and tragedies?

Learning. This is the important thing that is most often overlooked when citing Santayana’s famous saying. It’s not enough to learn about the past and know the facts of things that happened. It’s important to learn from those facts and put in place protections that will prevent them from happening again. And this is something that humanity, as a whole, has yet to succeed in doing.

Dwelling in the Past Can Be Just As Bad

One also shouldn’t forget that there is such a thing as “too much history”. The Bosnian War and genocide that happened there in the 1990s is a vivid example of how the past can be exploited by political powers. Used as a part of propaganda, which fueled the war, history can become a weapon in the hands of those who want to use it for their own goals.

And this is what humans have been doing since the dawn of time. There is always someone who will use any means necessary to achieve whatever it is they wish. This results in wars and genocides, and hundreds of smaller but no less devastating tragedies.

Therefore, the problem isn’t whether people should be learning history but human nature itself. Perhaps, teaching this can help fix this fundamental flaw and truly stop the worst of the past from repeating.

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Is there such thing as cyberwar?

Alexandra Goman



Two decades have passed after Arquilla and Ronfeldt in 1993 warned the public about an upcoming. They were also the first to introduce a concept of cyberwar and give an elaborated opinion. They referred to a conduct and preparation of military operations using information-related principles and also invoked a link between intelligence (the collection of information for political or military purpose) and cyber operations. Now, the scale of intelligence has significantly expanded.

Interestingly, before cyber appeared, there was a radio which was used for intelligence purposes and was weaponized later in the World War II. From that time on, electronic warfare became standard characteristics of a modern conflict. Despite this, there is a key difference between electronic warfare and a cyber one. Traditional electronic warfare aimed to guide, target, or protect weapons systems (Ibid., p. 24). In contrast, cyber makes today’s weapons and military systems smarter but also more vulnerable for an attack.

At the moment everyone still wonders what the whole idea of cyberwar means. There is no accepted interpretation or definition. Furthermore, many experts even say that such war does not even exist (or cannot be referred to the notion of “war”). Perhaps, it is due to the fact that a war in cyberspace has not yet happened. To make it clear, cyber capability has not actually killed anyone and a code has not been used as the use of force.

Similarly, the dangers of a nuclear bomb were recognized only after its use, the same goes to the notion of “nuclear war”. Although there have been many cyberattacks, none of them have been raised to the level of war because none of them, in fact, caused the level of damage which could be adhered to the level of a large-scale conflict.

Cyber warfare has derived from different aspects of conventional warfare and traditional definitions of war. It usually involves organized units within nation-state in offensive or defensive operations which are part of a war or a conflict.

In general, since cyber study is relatively new, there are many competing terms and definitions to explain cyber phenomenon. The following concepts – the revolution in military affairs, electronic warfare, information warfare, and cyber war – have been all offered to describe the new emerging area of conflict. Experts do not agree on any particular term, more often using different notions when talking about cyber issues. Nonetheless, it is vital to understand the facts of the 21st century similarly to the need that rose along with the invention of atomic reaction. A major concern now is no longer weapons of mass destruction, but weapons of mass disruption. (2009, p. 47).

One of the central elements to define a cyberwar, is that it has to meet the same criteria, applied to any other type of war. Vandalism or spying is an act of crime, but they do not start wars. So, assumingly, there has to be physical destruction and casualties in order to declare a war.

Therefore, a cyberwar should have real world damage similar to a conventional war. For this matter, it should probably take place in a digital world. What is not clear, however, is whether it should be fought exclusively in cyberspace or it can accompany a conventional attack too. This aspect is quite interesting, because cyberattacks can easily be used in combination with a kinetic attack and can multiply the force and power of the attacker.

In this case, it does not make sense to create a new term “cyberwar” as it falls down under the same definition of war. It is the same example when aerial bombings supported the attacks on the ground during the World War I, but in the end we called it a war, not a particular type of war. Consequently, cyber introduction resembles more a revolution in military affairs, rather that a new emerging type of warfare.

What is clear, though, is that the difference in definitions complicates the matters of regulating cyberspace and prevents achieving a common ground on cyber issues and/or developing new treaties and agreements between the states. So far there is no international agreement on the cyber principles, despite some attempts of the states to engage into negotiations (Budapest Conference on Cyberspace, the World Conference on International Telecommunications). There is, however, the Convention on Cybercrime, the first international agreement that addresses compute crime, adopted by the Council of Europe. Interestingly enough, Russia (as a part of the Council) neither signed nor ratified the agreement, whereas US (not part of the Council) recognized it and ratified it.

Apart from these difficulties in defining cyberwar, there has been a hyperbolic use of the word itself, mostly by media and tabloids (e.g. The Washington Post, “We are at cyberwar and we are our own enemy”; The New York Times, “How to prevent Cyberwar”; Zdnet, “Cyberwar: a guide to the frightening future of online conflict”; Komsomolskaya Pravda, “Are we expecting the First World Cyberwar?” etc.). They do not usually give any concrete information but are eager to use this term and apply it randomly to different cases just because it sounds good.  All in all, uninformed public use of the word has enormously contributed into the heat surrounding cyber implications.

Futher, cyberattacks are too often discussed equivalently, regardless of its impact. In this sense, minor cases like ransomware or phishing might be raised to the level of an armed attack (especially if they affect multiple computers worldwide). Yet, these cases are good examples of cybercrime, and crime is not a war. When individuals engage into this type of activity, they do not engage in a war.  The same goes for espionage in cyberspace. Catching a spy on one’s territory will certainly put pressure on bilateral relations, but it would not start a war.

This exaggeration of cyberattacks can be explained through securitization theory. The notion offered by the Copenhagen Security School describes how a certain concept can be politicized and securitized to the extent that it becomes a threat to national security (See Buzan, 2006).

To conclude, it should be mentioned that there is no guidance for the conduct of “cyberwar”.  There are no internationally agreed definitions and, to that extent, the whole idea of cyberwar so far seems unrealistic. At this moment technology is not sophisticated enough to ensure a military conduct entirely in cyberspace. Besides, any cyberattack of such scale would presumably result in a physical destruction, which consequently might provoke a conventional retaliation attack. This, in result, would cause a war we know for years, so there is no need to introduce a particular type of war. On another note, using cyber operations to support a conventional war and/or conflict is the way to go, but in this case it is just a revolution and modernization in military affairs.

I would be interested to hear your opinion about that in the comments below.

For further information see:

1)    A movie “War Games” (1983)

2)    Arquilla, J. and Ronfeldt, D. (1993). The Cyberwar is Coming! RAND Corporation, [online] Available at:

3)    Cetron, M. J. and Davies, O. (2009). Ten critical trends for cyber security. The Futurist, 43(5), pp. 40–49.

4)    Stiennon, R. (2015). There Will Be Cyberwar: How The Move To Network-Centric War Fighting Has Set The Stage For Cyberwar. Michigan: IT-Harvest Press.

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On the issue of cyber security of critical infrastructures

Alexandra Goman



There is a lot of talk in regards to cyberattacks nowadays. A regular user worries about its data and tries to secure by all means necessary. Yet, no one really thinks whether the power plants or nuclear facilities are well secured. Everyone assumes that they should be secured.

The reality, however, differs. According to many reports of cyber security companies, there is an increased risk of cyberattacks, targeting SCADA and ICS. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is used for the systems that control physical equipment – power plants, oil and gas pipelines, they can also control or monitor processes such as heating or energy consumption. Along with Industrial Control Systems (ICS) they control critical elements of industrial automation processes. Exploiting vulnerabilities of critical infrastructures can lead to the consequences of unimaginable scale. (These types of attacks are actually used in a cyberwar scenarios and hypothetical military settings).

Source: Fortinet, 2015

There are many reasons why these systems are vulnerable for attacks. First of all, the main problem is that these systems have an old design; they were built before they were connected to any networks. They were later configured to connect via Ethernet, and that’s when they became a part of a larger infrastructure. The more advanced SCADA system is becoming, the more vulnerabilities are these to exploit. The updates should be regular and on time. Secondly, there is a lack of monitoring. New devices that are connected allow remote monitoring, but not all devices have the same reporting capabilities. There are also authentication issues (weak passwords, authentication process), however, this is supposed to restrict unauthorized access (See Common SCADA Threats and Vulnerabilities at Patriot Technologies, Inc. Online).

In these scenarios, there is no certainty to know what is going to backfire because of the complexity of communications and power networks. This is also called a cascading effect of attacks. Not knowing who is connected to who may cause major disruptions. The example of the US East Coast power blackout in 2003 proves this point (a failure in one element of the grid spreads across other electrical networks). However, given this, it is also complicated for an attacker to predict consequences, if an attack executed. This kind of attack can easily escalate into more serious conflict, so it might not be the best option for states to employ such methods.

Moreover, there is a risk to damage a critical infrastructure unintentionally. That is if a virus or worm did not intend to target SCADA but happen to spread there as well. The uncontrollability of the code may seriously impair the desire to use it, especially when it comes to nation-states. For instance, in 2003 a worm penetrated a private network of the US Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station and disabled a safety monitoring system for 5 hours. In 2009, French fighter jets could not take off because they were infected with a virus.

Indeed, a scenario where an attacker gains access to a SCADA system and manipulates with the system, causing disruptions on a large-scale, might be hypothetical but it does not make it less possible in the future. However, the only known case so far, which affected an industrial control centre, is Stuxnet. It did not result in many deaths, yet it drew attention of the experts on the plausibility of future more sophisticated attacks. These potential upcoming attacks might cause the level of destruction, comparable to that of a conventional attack, therefore resulting in war.

Further reading:

Bradbury, D. (2012). SCADA: a Critical Vulnerability. Computer Fraud & Security, 4, p. 11-14.

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