On 25 October 2023, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) together with the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations hosted an in-person First Committee Side Event: the book launch of “It is Possible: A future without nuclear weapons” by Ward Wilson, the Executive Director of RealistRevolt and the author of Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons.
Mr. Adedeji Ebo, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, highlighted that the book is being released during rather dire times, when the risk of a nuclear weapon being used is the highest it has been since the Cold War. “It is against this unnerving backdrop that the works of Ward Wilson are especially valuable,” he added, noting the publication can serve as a “safeguard” against complacency to the presence of nuclear weapons, and a preventative “tool” in comprehensive peace and security responses.
Mr. Ward Wilson presented the key thesis of his book, explaining why he perceives nuclear weapons as overvalued. While we cannot “disinvent” nuclear weapons, through studying the evolution of technology and our history, we can learn how to eliminate them, he claimed.
Mr. Wilson suggested that every invention goes through the phases of adoption, use, and eventual abandonment. In his opinion, the transition between these phases depends on the matter’s utility.
Following this logic, one should consider the military utility of nuclear weapons – which in Mr. Wilson’s words is nonexistent. “Nuclear weapons are too large to get the job done,” he noted, suggesting that the non-use of nuclear weapons is no accident. Referring to the Berlin crisis, Korean war, Arab/Israeli War, Gulf War, and finally the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mr. Wilson underscored the fact that the efficacy of nuclear deterrence remains unproven, carrying with it a persistent risk of failure. Should it fail even once, the consequences for humanity would be catastrophic. In his view, it has been “pure luck” that has so far spared human lives from a nuclear disaster.” Furthermore, as nuclear deterrence is inherently flawed, it would eventually fail. “Human beings make errors, and it is these human beings who are involved in maintaining deterrence,” he explained.
Finally concluding that when viewed objectively, “nuclear weapons are not useful,” Mr. Wilson suggested the next step is the consideration of their abandonment. Once a consensus on the lack of their utility can be reached, “the ban will come quickly,” he believes.
On that note, Mr. Wilson urged the participants to use their knowledge to build consensus on the fact that nuclear weapons do not belong in our future.
H.E. Mr. Alexander Kmentt, Director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Nonproliferation Department at the Austrian Foreign Ministry, appreciated the new way of thinking, and offered his perspective. Referring to the recent developments in the international discourse of nuclear disarmament, he noted the concerning trend of normalizing the existence of nuclear weapons. Bringing the participants’ attention back to the theory of nuclear deterrence, he suggested that “we do not have the data to prove or disprove it,” noting that making assumptions based on nuclear deterrence as a ‘fact’ is dangerous. At the same time, thanks to scientific data, “we know the impact would be much bigger than originally assumed.” This clarity surrounding the devastating repercussions stands in stark contrast to the vague argument underpinning nuclear deterrence which is a ‘theory’. It is this juxtaposition that makes a compelling case for choosing a future centered on nuclear abandonment—a conclusion that becomes increasingly self-evident.
The presentations were followed by a lively discussion with the author. The participants inquired about the practicality of nuclear weapons elimination, as well as the multilateral processes surrounding nuclear weapons diplomacy. On the note of future weapons, Mr. Wilson shared that he is convinced that future weapons will be smaller and more precise: “like going from CDs to iPods,” he jokingly shared. Regarding the argument that nuclear weapons have contributed to preventing another major war of global scale which could have occurred in their absence, he asserted that proving the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence is “proving by absence,” which cannot be considered a reliable method. Finally, it was noted that nuclear weapons are “great terror weapons,” especially for non-state actors, which in Mr. Wilson’s eyes should contribute to the argument for their elimination.
“It is Possible: A future without nuclear weapons” by Ward Hayes Wilson is now available on Amazon.