Democracy versus Deterrence: Nuclear Weapons and Political Integrity
journal contributionposted on 31.08.2017, 10:47 by Steve Cooke, Andrew Futter
This paper argues that the practice and performance of nuclear deterrence can never be fully representative or democratic due to the particular pressures placed on leaders by the nuclear condition. For nuclear deterrence to be effective – and for nuclear weapons to have any political value – a leader must always convince both their electorate as well as any possible foe, that they are willing to use nuclear weapons in extremis, irrespective of whether this is their true position. In any nuclear-armed state, where politicians privately believe that using nuclear weapons is always wrong, but publicly stress that possessing nuclear weapons to use as a deterrent is right, they are forced to act dishonestly. These tensions are particularly acute in the UK context given the reliance on just one form of nuclear weapons system for deterrence and the concurrent requirement to pre-delegate secret orders through a “letter of last resort”. The consequences for democratic nuclear-armed states are troubling; for public morality, the personal integrity of democratic leaders, and for true democratic accountability. The paper concludes that public criticism of political leaders, and citizen voting choices, ought to take account of the problem of transparency posed by policies of nuclear deterrence.