As China makes its nuclear forces more credible—less vulnerable to pre-emption, and more likely to get through missile defences—America grows nervous, argues Caitlin Talmadge of Georgetown University. If America cannot hope to destroy most of China’s missiles, then it cannot easily threaten China with a nuclear strike without putting its own cities at risk. American policymakers worry this will embolden China and unnerve American allies like Taiwan and Japan.... Chinese officials are overconfident about their ability to prevent a conventional war from turning nuclear, they argue, while American ones are overconfident about their subsequent ability to keep a nuclear war limited in scope. Making things worse, the two countries lack a dedicated nuclear dialogue, largely because China is wary of giving away too much information. China’s nuclear arsenal was strikingly modest, but that is changing, the 'Economist', 23 NovemberThe stakes here are enormous, but we are proceeding haphazardly toward an unknown, perhaps catastrophic, destination. There are people and resources aimed at minimising the risk of nuclear conflict but I think there are too few, given the potential for calamity. Unfortunately, we have no way, under our current national and supranational political systems, to channel more resources - more effective resources, that is - into minimising the risk of nuclear conflict.
Actually, the goal of sustained nuclear peace makes an ideal target for the Social Policy Bond idea. One, because it's a complex, long-term goal that will require diverse, adaptive solutions. Two, it's an easy goal to verify. And lastly, it's a goal that, on all the evidence, including that of the Economist article, is unlikely to be reached under current policy.
My proposal would be to issue bonds that reward a sustained period of nuclear peace. This could be defined, as, say the non-detonation of a nuclear device that kills more than 50 people for 30 years. They could be backed by a combination of governments, non-governmental organisations, philanthropists and members of the public. With sufficient backing the bonds would help offset and (one hopes) outweigh the the incentives currently on offer, which essentially are those of the military and weapons manufacturers to maintain a nuclear posture.
Those billions of us who would benefit from nuclear peace are presumably a massive numerical majority, but we have few means of channel our wishes effectively. The tendency is to assume that governments will do what's necessary, with the support of hard-working, well-intentioned people in the private sector. But the rewards to all these people are not linked to their success. This is unhelpful in itself but, more importantly, it discourages investors who, seeing little opportunity to benefit from working to reduce nuclear conflict, will focus instead of less edifying enterprises. Most important of all is that our current strategy is just not working.
We need to reward those who achieve nuclear peace at least as much as those working to undermine it. We don't know exactly how to reduce the chances of a nuclear exchange, nor who will be best placed to do so, over the long period during which our goal is to be achieved, but we have no excuse for not encouraging people to find out. Nuclear Peace Bonds would apply the Social Policy Bond principle to this goal. Investors in the bonds would form a protean coalition of people dedicated to achieving it as efficiently as possible. Their goal would be exactly the same as society's. Human ingenuity knows no limits. Currently, too much of it is devoted to relatively unimportant or socially questionable goals. Nuclear Peace Bonds would channel our ingenuity, and stimulate more of it, into minimising the risk of a global catastrophe.
My short piece on Nuclear Peace Bonds is here. The links in the right-hand column of that page point to papers on similar themes: Conflict Reduction, Disaster Prevention, and Middle East Peace