New Delhi: International relations scholarship has often debated the consequences of ‘nuclear proliferation’ — whether the spread of nuclear weapons increases or reduces the likelihood of war. Proponents of ‘nuclear deterrence’ have argued that proliferation of nuclear weapons has “stabilising effects” — reducing the likelihood of war among those who own them.
On the other hand, scholars have argued that the spread of nuclear weapons enhances the likelihood of destructive warfare — intended or unintended — often described as the “perils of proliferation“.
While there is still no precise answer to the debate between the ‘destabilising’ or ‘deterrent effects’ of nuclear proliferation, there have been several crises that have taken the world to the brink of nuclear warfare and back. These crises provide context amid Russia’s current nuclear rhetoric during its invasion of Ukraine.
History of past nuclear crises do little to resolve the unending debate in international relations on the deterrent-inducing or war-enhancing nature of nuclear weapons. Together, they reflect a common theme of nuclear warfare among states being averted. Whether through military sagacity, tactful diplomacy, or institutionalised negation— nuclear warfare has been thwarted. For Ukraine and the world, the hope must be that nuclear weapons deter war, and Putin has only “escalated to de-escalate“.