Talk (finally) about the bomb

Its destructive potential would make states responsible and would avoid a Third World War; the triggering process would be controlled; we must avoid proliferation, but modernize the arsenal. To get rid of the myths about the atomic bomb, debate is essential.

Given its terrifying power, nuclear weapons were designed during the Cold War as a weapon of deterrence. It is only supposed to intervene in defense and to prevent vital harm. this title, she is a weapon of non-employment. This is the paradox: if we have to use nuclear weapons, it is because it has not played its strategic role. In other words, deterrence will have failed.

Vertical proliferation

Current doctrine states that, for more than half a century, nuclear deterrence was a fundamental element, even a fundamental element, for the confrontation between the United States andUSSR does not degenerate into World War III. In short, if the war remains cold, it would be thanks to nuclear weapons. The events in Ukraine and Russia's use of the nuclear threat to cover a war of annexation seriously call this narrative into question and give the work of Benot Pelopidas a singular relevance.

The author's ambition is to submit the great story of the bomb to a factual and critical analysis by confronting its elements of language, disseminated by the authorities, taken up as such by the media, and abundantly justified by experts, with the reality of the data and events that we can know about, despite the culture of secrecy.

First element of language, the existence of a phenomenon of proliferation horizontal. A growing number of countries are seeking to equip themselves with weapons, particularly since the fall of theUSSR. However, the quest for the bomb was much stronger in the 1950s! At the time, even a country like Switzerland was trying to make its own bomb and, moreover, the United States and its allies participated more in the diffusion of the bomb than theUSSR. The observable phenomenon is a historically well-documented slowing trend. Fewer and fewer countries are seeking to obtain the bomb.

One continent, Africa, even signed a treaty to be free of nuclear weapons, a treaty made possible by South Africa's renunciation of the atomic weapon it possessed. If there is one proliferation that is doing well, on the other hand, it is vertical proliferation, namely the continuation by the grip of nine nuclear powers in all of the development of their ranges of weapons, whether by the declination into weapons of different powers or by the development of new projection media. The narrative of proliferation seems to have two functions in endowed countries: to mask vertical proliferation and to make the process of renunciation inconceivable.

Second element of language, the technological irresistible, namely that the only countries which have renounced the bomb are those which did not have the means. Any country that can develop this technology is expected to do so, the author calls the phenomenon capability determinism and inevitably lead to the establishment of a nuclear arsenal. However, this principle leads to denying any political dimension in the choice of the bomb and, of course, to avoiding other options, including in terms of defense.

It is remarkable that many countries with the know-how or for which it was accessible ultimately gave up, in favor of other strategies deemed more effective. Many criticisms of nuclear programs have also come from military circles, judging that the effort required would be to the detriment of other, more efficient types of equipment. Conversely, economically more fragile countries like Pakistan, North Korea and Libya sought to acquire the bomb and, in the case of the first two, succeeded at an extravagant cost.

It is indeed a position and a strategic and political analysis which bases the quest for the bomb, more than a capacity a priori. In a chicken-and-egg dialectic, it becomes difficult to know whether a country is developing the bomb because it is threatened or whether it is threatened because it is developing the bomb. The bomb appears as an element of an increase in conflict of a political nature. The interest of the technological irresistible thesis is to justify interference, control operations and asymmetrical supervision of arms programs.

Nuclear deterrence tense

Third element of language: technological irresistibility led to the development of the theory of shock as a condition of renunciation. As any country capable of equipping itself with an army will do if left to its own devices, only a shock can dissuade him. This shock takes the form of targeted assassinations against leaders or actors in army acquisition programs, or even outright, in the case of Iraq, an invasion and destruction of the regime.

However, the case of Libya, dissected by Benot Pelopidas, shows that this is not the case. As long as the Libyan regime is in political conflict and feels threatened, it will seek to acquire the bomb, and only when the conflict is resolved will it give it up. In short, it is the threat of shock that drives the search for the bomb, rather than the other way around. It can be noted that, in total contradiction with the theory, the elimination of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 occurred when he had renounced the bomb, which could only reinforce the desires of the regimes as in North Korea.

In the paradigm of proliferation, the only choice to ensure the security of a country forced to give up the bomb is to put itself under the protection of a nuclear power within the framework of a nuclear deterrent. tense. However, this is not the case for the immense majority of countries, which do not have such agreements and do not seek to have them. Furthermore, this story does not take into account the very serious doubts of countries with such agreements regarding the reality of this protection.

These doubts were expressed by Norway which, although a member of theNATO, did not wish to host nuclear weapons. The country considered, on the one hand, that it was doubtful that the United States would take the risk of nuclear war in the event of an invasion of Norway by Russia and that, if a nuclear war scenario were ultimately to come true, the presence of such weapons on its ground would make the country a prime target in the event of a Russian attack aimed at destroying the American response potential. In short, Norway felt threatened by the presence of the weapons of the so-called protector!

If Great Britain and France early sought to acquire nuclear weapons, it was on the one hand for reasons of imperial prestige, on the other hand because the two countries doubted the real desire of the United States to use it in the event of conventional war. in Europe. The history of the French bomb also demonstrates that it is a long way to get the army to have a credible deterrent. It was at best from 1979 that the French army acquired a certain credibility. The end of the Cold War was already behind us.

The last element of language invalidated by the facts, the discourse on total control of the triggering process, control supposedly achieved by the elimination of hazards. In short, if no nuclear war broke out, we owe it to a sort of rationality attached to this total weapon: technical rationality and political rationality which border on infallibility. Its potential for incredible destruction would make responsible.

However, in the still very short history of nuclear weapons, it is quite the opposite that we observe: it is often by chance, the clear insubordination of an intermediary agent, that de-escalation occurs. Conversely, it is now clear that a president as emblematic as Kennedy deliberately chose escalation, against the advice of his services who did not consider that Cuba's missiles would fundamentally change the strategic balance. The bomb did not make the desire to play with fire disappear.

Benot Pelopidas draws up a very detailed inventory of the official narrative, stating his goal: to make possible a political debate on nuclear weapons. In doing so, it strives to make audible the many voices speaking from within the system. The rapporteurs of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Services Committee wrote in July 2012:

If we had to design a weapons format from scratch today, it is very likely that the need to acquire a nuclear strike force, with two components in addition, would not be part of our defense ambitions. () If there is consensus in our country around nuclear forces, it must be based on solid arguments, not on repeated catechism (p. 266)

Difficult to get out of the rut Breaking with official catechism is indeed the ambition of Benot Pelopidas, who castigates the authority without responsibility of the prophets of the impossible, or the exit from nuclear power (p. 247). He also denounces an official expertise that justifies the choice of the army without concern to verify the truth of its statements.

Science and politics

We owe Max Weber, in The scholar and the politician, the fundamental distinction between two behavioral and ethical attitudes. Benot Pelopidas rearticulates these two figures by demonstrating their complementarity. This is because independent research is capable of carrying out a critical analysis of the official determinist discourse (the bomb is inevitable) which restores the essence of politics: choosing.

In this sense, Benot Pelopidas, claiming a position as a researcher, does not claim to replace the political choice, even if the annoyance provoked in him by the pro-nuclear mantra inclines him to educate exclusively in charge. But his work, acting as a counterweight, intends to restore the possibility of choice.

A critical science does not replace politics, but makes it possible by restoring the indeterminacy of the future. Furthermore, an indeterminate and unpredictable future leads one to base one's decision on moral values, and not on logical reasoning that has become ineffective due to lack of knowledge of the future, thus resolving the dilemma between ethics of conviction and ethics of responsibility in favor of the first: when It is impossible for us to calculate the consequences of the different choices; all that remains is the ethical compass.

Yes but, the author will object, do politicians (and individuals in general) really want to be in politics?? To help society make informed choices? Do they not prefer experts who provide them with determinism (There is no alternative) and free them from the moral weight of the decision by removing any degree of freedom: no more dilemma between the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility, just fatality and the guilt-free enjoyment of the advantages of power. This is the main weakness (or strength) of Benot Pelopidas: he has a high opinion of his contemporaries. Not sure qurasme, author oflodge of madness, would have proved him right. But that's another book.

The only real criticism: the first part of the work would have benefited from closer editorial work to make the language and reasoning more fluid and avoid redundancies. Let this criticism not distract the reader, quite the contrary, but invite him to overcome these difficulties to reach the end of the work. The author's reflection, in the second part on the relationship between expert and policy, has a general scope of great interest which goes well beyond its object of study and which deserves to be applied to the role of research in general. Research whose sole function would be to validate the official discourse would be of no use. Like salt having lost its taste, it would be good to throw away and trample under foot.