Go nuclear, it will bring peace!

Kenneth Waltz is an authority of scholarship in international relations. He is best known for his 1979 book Theories of International, where he proposes a theory entitled structural realism. However, what people would find more interesting his idea that nuclear powers do not engage into war with each other. 

For the sake of background information, a couple of words in neorealism.

Kenneth Waltz

Kenneth Waltz – going nuclear may prevent you from being attacked 

Structural realism

Structural realism (also known as neorealism) builds upon the classical realist theory that the international arena is anarchic. However, Waltz moves beyond Morgenthau’s theory by arguing that there is an international structure in international relations. Waltz argues that Morgenthau’s

approach to international politics was in the mainstream of political science in its day, in the sense that it inferred from the acting units what the outcomes would be. There was nothing but the acting units to shape their outcomes.  … Now the advantage of the structural approach is that one sees the effect of the environment … on the acting units and how this precisely defined environment affects the outcomes we are concerned with.

(Neo)realists believe that in the anarchic international system, the main concern of states is their survival through self-help. And this can lead states to develop military capabilities and engage in foreign intervention for the sake of increasing their relative power.

Go nuclear! It will keep foreign states from intervening

On the basis of the above, for states to prevent from being attacked by nuclear powers – of which the United States has the most interventionist – these less powerful states must acquire nuclear capabilities.

The fear that people – pundits, politicians and citizens – tend to have of states acquiring nuclear weapons is unfounded, according to Kenneth Waltz. He argues that these states become responsible actors when acquiring nuclear weapon capabilities.

The fact is that people worry that a new nuclear country, once it gets a nuclear shield, would then begin to behave immoderately or irresponsibly under the cover of its own nuclear weapons. Well, that has never happened. Every country that has had nuclear weapons has behaved moderately. If you think of the Soviet Union and China, both behaved much more radically before they had nuclear weapons.

Quite an interesting argument. Going nuclear is a way or deterring a military threat from other states, without the need to have to use them.

I would argue that this is an argument that assumes a sense of responsibility by a state. To further substantiate this argument, we should consider that states have decision makers, and decision makers have people who implement what they are told to do.

Now, if a ‘mad man’ dictator thinks it is time to use a nuclear bomb, not considering the risks, it decision still has to be implemented. Whether that would actually happen, is debatable. Because, the ‘implementers’ are the ones who might decide not to do so.


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