political revue


Anno XXIX, 1987, Number 1, Page 63



The Reykjavik meeting has ended in stalemate. But the willingness to hold negotiations has not disappeared. Two possibilities remain open: a long-term possibility, the abolition of nuclear arms before the year 2000, and a short-term possibility, the zero option for European based missiles and a 50 per cent reduction in ICBMs. Are they serious possibilities? Is there really a chance of abolishing nuclear arms? Would it mean ending the nuclear nightmare?
The issue which is hard enough to assess in itself becomes impossible to judge if incorrect criteria of analysis are used. Such criteria merely empty the facts of their true meaning, particularly when we fail to keep all the various aspects of the problem with their different possible developments in mind. So, first of all, we need to reflect a little and establish a list of criteria and facts as a guide to our reflection.
1. Very often the problems in question are tackled by asking which of the parties is right and which is wrong (as if in international politics, law and morals held sway). Alternatively, the question asked is who has won or who has lost at the negotiating table (as if winning or losing depended on the choice of astute negotiating tactics), or even who has sprung a trap for the other, etc. All this is nonsense. Underlying this line of thinking is the idea that international politics depends only on the free choice of the parties, i.e. is merely a matter of their wishes.
This mythical opinion is closely related to the distortion of the notion of raison d’état which should, instead, be taken for what it is: a need to which states must bend by arming themselves and observing the laws of power politics. On the contrary, it is used as an expression indicating a despicable preference as for example implied in the choice of a “morally reproachable action justified by the advantage of one’s own country” (Giuliano Toraldo di Francia, “Quando scoppia la pace”, La Repubblica, January 2, 1987).
2. In the political sphere, whatever may be right or wrong is filtered through the fact that interest and duty must coincide. Every "right" solution, which does not fit in with the interests of the protagonists, is by definition off-limits. In international politics this interest is the protection of one’s own power (for the USA and the USSR, the refusal to be placed in a position of military inferiority, of having to undergo threats, blackmail, etc.). This implies that only solutions which permit full expression of the resources of each country’s power are possible. If this is not immediately visible, it is only because people often equate power with a mere quantity of arms at this or that moment without considering that power also depends on the context in which it occurs, economic and technological development, people’s way of life, the degree of attachment of citizens to their state, the faith in its future, etc. (Kant noted the relationship existing between "the force of the state in its external relationships" and development of culture, trade, and so on, and hence also of "civil liberty" itself).
3. In this classic conception of international politics (full expression of every state’s power resources) nuclear arms have introduced a radically new state of affairs. Arms have always been conceived of in relation to war, and war, in its turn, in relation to politics. This made it possible to make a precise calculation: given a certain policy, i.e. given a set of relationships with other states, within certain limits the quantity of the arms necessary was known. This depended, naturally, on the fact that states were always ready to use arms and go to war with any state that, having made an error in calculation, manifested claims not justified by its real force. Thus, war still depended on errors in calculation, and had the function of correcting them; thus, wars were, and still are, inevitable since errors are always possible.
Now, nuclear arms have altered this picture, and undermined the (instrumental) rationale of foreign policy, because their quantity, quality and evolution is no longer an easily calculated means for the old purposes (war as a correction of errors of calculation). Rather they are a means (which is hard to calculate and has no precise relationship with any political plan) for an entirely new purpose: reducing the risk of nuclear war to the minimum, and thus of all the wars that could end in a war of this kind. Since the rational link with politics has now disappeared, the possibility of fixing precise limits for the quantity and quality of the arms needed also disappears, with adverse consequences as regards the way in which the arms race needs to be conducted and as regards establishing a balance between expenditure on arms and expenditure on economic and social development. This state of affairs has not changed power politics’ old character. It is still a means by which to govern the world and solve the political, economic and social problems that interfere with the international equilibrium. But it has given rise to a new logic that is developing side by side with the old one and making it both more complicated and less effective (simultaneous presence of a maximum degree of force and weakness in the true powers: the USA and the USSR). It even turns the situation into sheer madness (stocks of nuclear arms sufficient to destroy the entire human race many times over).
4. The nuclear logic. We often forget that when the problem of nuclear arms first arose there was an immediate understanding, at least by some people (including Einstein), that the only effective solution lies in a world government able to control the military aspects of the technological evolution and deterrence was conceived of only as a means for reducing the risk of nuclear war to the minimum, and gaining time whilst waiting for a solution which ensured that it would be certainly impossible. This issue, the lack of certainty, soon came to the fore with the first form of deterrence, mutual assured destruction (MAD, which certainly lives up to its name in its lack of wisdom).
The plain fact is this: it is true that you can build many arms guaranteeing one’s capacity to launch a second strike after having suffered a nuclear attack (deterrence), but it is equally true that, by its very nature, the second strike is an uncertain reality because it entails not only the destruction of the adversary, but one’s own. For this reason there is no absolute certainty about the functioning of deterrence. In the last analysis things always reach this point. And this can only cause an infinite repetition of the attempt to reduce uncertainty, also because the mechanism of foreign policy, war and the generals’ plans is constantly at work.
This is, in actual fact, what has happened. This tendency which has developed very rapidly in the USA due to extended deterrence (nuclear guarantee for Western Europe, made, however, absurd by the fact that the USA would, with its commitment to a second strike, decree its own self-destruction to protect Europe from a nuclear attack) has become apparent in the sequence known to all: a flexible reply, tactical nuclear arms, limited nuclear war, space defence (which would give back a nuclear monopoly to the USA in the form of a monopoly of their effective use). It is at this point that the idea of victory in a limited nuclear war could take shape. But an absolutely perfect space defence would be necessary and this is impossible by definition because of the unceasing evolution of science and technology. We must therefore note that none of these phases in the strategy of deterrence has been able to remove its radical and intrinsic defect: the lack of certainty. The process thus still remains open and comes back to the two starting positions (world government and deterrence).
5. As regards the abolition of the nuclear arms, which both entails the impossibility of creating new nuclear arms, and non-proliferation, it should be said that it will be impossible until we are able to govern the world with law (world federal system) instead of force (system of states with exclusive sovereignty, and no effective legislative means for the recognition of the rights of the peoples). Nevertheless, the fact that Gorbachev has made a proposal to abolish nuclear arms, and a presentation by Reagan of the space defence initiative as a means for making them useless, shows that the superpowers can no longer refrain from holding out to world public opinion the vision of a world freed from the nightmare of extinction of the human race. These are the first signs of the development of a power that will become decisive in the future.
6. What the world now needs is an orderly transition from bipolarism to multipolarism. Only in this case will US-Soviet détente be lasting and gradually spread to all countries, and make a lesser commitment possible as regards arms and a greater commitment as regards the development of Third World countries. We thus need to bear in mind that this orderly transition is impossible without regional integration (the first of which ought to be European integration, which, being the most advanced, constitutes an example). Such an orderly transition will have no chance of succeeding without strengthening the first world policies within the UN and, in the final analysis, without the formation of a world awareness of the unity of the human race, that is already taking place, albeit at the present only objectively and not yet subjectively.
Mario Albertini



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