In a recent opinion column for the Bulletin, "Deterrence, without nuclear winter," Seth Baum argued that the biggest danger posed by world nuclear arsenals is a nuclear winter that could be sparked by even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons. Baum's piece went on to suggest that "the world’s biggest nuclear powers [might] meet their deterrence needs without keeping the large nuclear arsenals they maintain today. They could practice a winter-safe deterrence, which would rely on weapons that pose no significant risk of nuclear winter."
In his column, Baum, executive director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, proposed that alternatives to nuclear weapons be explored, in terms of their ability to provide the deterrence now assigned to large nuclear arsenals. "Exploring 'good' options for threatening large destruction is a peculiar and regrettable task in which no civilized person should take any joy," Baum wrote. "But if doing so can save many lives, and indeed save civilization itself, then it should be done. The two weapons that stand out are non-contagious biological weapons and nuclear electromagnetic pulse. The former could work well if deterrence requires threatening large human populations. The latter could work well when deterrence requires threatening large amounts of infrastructure. In both cases these are tentative conclusions, backed only by my limited, preliminary study. Governments should not move forward with either weapon without more careful examination."
Baum's column and the study from which it draws, "Winter-safe Deterrence: The Risk of Nuclear Winter and Its Challenge to Deterrence," published in the journal Contemporary Security Policy, have been vigorously disputed in social media. In this roundtable, security experts Gregory Koblentz, Martin Furmanski, Brett Edwards, Gigi Kwik Gronvall, and Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley and Baum debate his column and winter-safe deterrence ideas in more depth.
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