Searching back on this blog, I see I posted quite a lot of material on nuclear weapons as I originally read about them in January. Here’s my summary of the realist argument for promoting nuclear weapons, partially reposted below:
[Waltz] thinks it’s clear that no state ever has an interest in using nuclear weapons, so long as it’s clear that deploying them ensures a retaliatory attack from the victim that will in turn obliterate the aggressor’s cities and ensure the original act didn’t pay. This is, of course, more commonly known as Mutually Assured Destruction, and Waltz thinks the prevalence of peace amongst Great Powers in the post-World War age can be largely put down to this threat. The mere possibility of a retaliation is sufficient to wipe out any good reasons to use them, and so with mutual ownership of nuclear weapons comes mutual deterrents and subsequently mutual peace.
The natural response is to invoke the criticism most people make when noting the limits of economics: is it not the case that such models are severely constrained in their ability to apply responsibly and accurately to real phenomena, given they start with the premise that the actors in question are maximally rational. Clearly, consumers do not really pick how to spend their pounds in line with what makes them happiest, and why think states will similarly unanimously and continuously come to the conclusion that nuclear warfare does not pay? It would only take one megalomaniacal nuthead to fail to see the Waltzian logic, and then civilisation could be kissed goodbye.
But once more Waltz’ response is bold, and he thinks any such concerns are preposterous. If there’s anything we have learnt from history, he claims, it is surely that even the maddest of tyrants grip tenaciously to power and value their role as leaders of a country at all costs. Their interest in thinking through the use of nuclear weapons, then, will always be of utmost importance in their minds, and it’s simply absurd to suggest anyone would be so stupid to use them.
Iran will have no incentive to use its nuclear weapons in aggression… [T]he main benefit to Iran of acquiring nuclear weapons is to deter military threats by its primary adversaries, Israel and the United States… Its main incentive for proliferating apparently is to lock in the regime’s security in the long run.
Iran’s leaders, like those in other states, want to remain in power. They want the regime in which they have invested and which serves their interests to endure… Possession of a nuclear weapon will likely make Iran more impervious to attack and may make Iran bolder in its support for armed groups. However, possessing a nuclear weapon will is not likely to alter Iran’s paramount foreign policy goals of national and regime security.